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2011 in review: The year in iOS

Lex Friedman | Dec. 30, 2011
In 2011, as in 2010, iOS received a lot of attention from Apple.

iOS 5 is alive

October also brought iOS 5, the newest incarnation of the operating system that powers the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. With it came Notification Center, a smart solution for the increasingly invasive blue alert boxes that had come to characterize the iOS experience. But iOS 5 didn't just make alerts more manageable; it also introduced long-awaited niceties like wireless syncing, over-the-air iOS updates, iMessage, Reminders, Newsstand, system-wide Twitter integration, AirPlay mirroring, and more.

GarageBand of brothers

Apple launched the iPad incarnation of GarageBand in March, alongside the iPad 2's release. An update at the beginning of November brought the app to the iPhone as well. The app combines Smart Instruments, loops, a drum machine, and support for devices like electric guitars and USB keyboards and microphones. In short, it turns an iOS device into a portable music studio.

The app makes amateur musicians sound good, and it offers plenty of powerful performance for professionals, too. If any one app raised the App Store bar--and proved that iOS devices can and should be used for creation just as much as consumption--GarageBand was that app.

Renew my subscription

Speaking of the App Store, 2011 saw one significant addition: iOS subscriptions. Introduced in February, subscriptions afford developers the option of taking recurrent payments--on a weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, semiannually, or yearly basis--for digital services.

The first app to take advantage of subscriptions was News Corp's The Daily, with its $1 a week issues (or $40 for the year). Subscriptions caught on, as a steady parade of major magazine publishers brought their publications to the iPad. Over time, Apple loosened its restrictions on how publishers could offer in-app subscriptions, allowing those publishers to offer free or discounted digital access to print subscribers.

Apple didn't relent on some stricter policies, though; apps like Amazon's Kindle were forced to remove links to their online stores to remain in compliance with Apple's App Store rules.

Send in the clouds

October also saw the release of iCloud, Apple's synchronization service for Macs, PCs, and iOS devices. With iCloud, you can backup your iOS device without needing a computer at all; sync iWork documents, contacts, emails, and calendars; locate your iOS devices; and more. With iTunes in the Cloud, you can re-download your iTunes Store purchases from your iOS devices, and newly-purchased apps download to all your devices automatically. And with iTunes Match, Apple's recently introduced $25 per year iCloud add-on, you can store your music library in the cloud and wirelessly access it from your iOS devices.

Non-competes

Numerous iPad competitors came; most of them went. The RIM PlayBook was dead on arrival; the Motorola Xoom failed to catch on; and HP held a fire-sale to divest itself of its TouchPad inventory. The only device to make any major waves in the industry thus far is Amazon's , though reviews have been mixed at best. Some conclude that the Kindle Fire makes a great Kindle, but a lousy tablet. Perhaps that's why Apple doesn't seem that worried about it.

 

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