First, it was definitely a low-key event, and while there are a lot of cool things coming for MacOS and iOS, and the new iCloud is promising, the one that stood out the most for me was cutting the cord on the iOS devices. The iCloud service, particularly the documents and iTunes synching, will make it easier to switch from machine to machine (which I do, switching between a desktop, 2 laptops, an iPad and an iPhone). The $25 or so a year you can pay to get your iTunes in the cloud really isn’t that expensive, in the grander scheme of things, and for me (with many tens of gigabytes of music from CD’s that were my “starter library” in iTunes), worth the price. The other features in all 3 platforms will help with usability and simplicity, but I don’t see them as nearly as groundbreaking as one feature announced with iOS 5 (and number 9 on a list of 10, not even as important as whatever came after, and I don’t even remember it off the top of my head).
Cutting the cord on iOS devices is a big step forward, though, and probably more important as a big-picture item than all of the other features. Android has had this from the start, and with the iPad being viewed as a PC-replacement for some people, removing the need for a Mac or PC to setup, register and manage the device is a significant step forward. I’ve written before about the need for iOS devices to be more standalone (“iPhone and iPad Need Their Freedom” from July 2010), and iOS 5 will allow that sometime this fall. A new iOS buyer will have a few options: 1) do nothing, leave everything on the iOS device and stored locally; 2) sync via iTunes on a PC or Mac over your local WiFi; 3) sync via a PC or Mac using the usual desktop cable; 4) use the new iCloud service to back up critical data on the device. For some, there is no need to change what you do now. For others, they can cut the cord a little (using WiFi-based synching) or cut it completely and not use a PC or Mac at all.
This makes an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad an independent device in its own right. Currently, these devices are, in effect, a removable accessory for your desktop or laptop computer, much like the original Palm and Windows Mobile PDA’s. They can do a lot on their own, but you still depended on a “real computer” for some of the heavy lifting, particularly things like system updates. With iOS 5, that ends, and iOS devices move to be a peer of your desktop or laptop, not an adjunct to them. The WiFi synching and iCloud services allow all of your computing devices (iOS, MacOS, Windows) to share data and share state, but without some of them being subordinate to others.
I am definitely looking forward to these new features, but in particular, I’m looking forward to my iOS machines being independent.