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Opinion: Apple goes on the attack with iOS 5, where does the competition go next?

Apple’s iOS 5 revealed a whole raft of features- and most of them have cut across the jugular of its competition.

Establishing itself as the one to beat in the current smartphone (and tablet) climate, Apple wasn’t particularly focused on who they were looking to take customers (and their wallets) from.

Microsoft developers were quick off the mark to say they were ‘flattered’ by the improvements to iOS, taking the effort to note the camera button (did Microsoft invent this?) the jump-to-camera from lock screen, Wi-Fi sync, and better notifications. Imitation is the sincerest form, etc.

The jump-to-camera function will also leave HTC grumbling, taking one of the best uses of its new Sense interface lock-screen shortcut.

BlackBerry squash(ed)

But it’s RIM, makers of everything BlackBerry, who have the most to fear; Apple’s iMessage just blew its star player – BlackBerry Messenger – out of the water.

Despite rumours that the teen-magnet app would arrive on both Android and iOS, Apple has now introduced its own native app, and it runs across iPhone, iPad and even iPod Touch.

BlackBerry has seen decline in fortunes recently, as the smartphone market continues to get crowded, and other phone-makers attempt to muscle into the lucrative business mobile market. (Again, iOS 5 now supports email encryption- there’s no escape route.)

BlackBerry Messenger was its typical customer X-Factor, and as more phones arrive with physical keyboards, on the front or sliding, unless it can create a phone to capture the publics imagination, RIM may struggle this year (it has already seen its stock price drop more than 35% this year).

Many think the same. BGR’s Jonathan S. Geller says that RIM has a big problem, with BB fans being given only “meaningless hardware upgrades and meaningless software upgrades,” over the last few years.

iMessage,  you reply

iMessage is going to get more than just the RIM bosses riled; some sites think that the new feature, allowing iOS 5 users to send messages, pictures, contacts and more through the app, will cannibalise SMS charges.

None of the  UK networks we’ve talked to knew that the iMessage service was incoming, but one network , who preferred to remain anonymous, told us said that they didn’t see the iMessage service as cannibalisation.

The point is;  any messages used would be inclusive of any data allowance, or cost you the amount of 3G data on your tariff. Also; SMS aren’t the gold mine they once were- even on Pay-As-You-Go plans you’re often entitled to hundreds of free messages following a top-up. In fact many UK networks may be celebrating the fact that they’ll get to charge more for data at a pricier PAYG rate.

App-solute annihilation?

Despite iOS 5 being presented before a room full of Apple developers (and a fair few journalists) several of the new homemade apps could stamp some of these app developers into oblivion.

The keynote speech of WWDC 2011 mentioned that $2.5 billion was ‘given’ to app developers through Apple’s app store. Considering how much Apple has managed to cream off from these app sales, it seems a bit odd that they’ve turned on some of their developers with their own home-baked offerings.

Some successful developers are bullish, Recombu reported on InstaPaper’s response, where its founder suggested that the Safari reader would bring the ideas behind an offline synced reader to the masses, and that people would then be more likely to transfer across to the richer features of the (paid-for) InstaPaper.

Again, iMessage is the captain of the iOS 5 attack; and could easily substitute for most of the crowd of messenger apps already available on the iTunes store; there’s just under 200 apps for the iPhone alone.

Some apps will survive. Whatsapp, which allows cross-messaging across several different messenger accounts, will live on, but some of the smaller ones (in particular) won’t.

The Android elephant in the room

It’s obvious that several major features of this iOS 5 update are all aimed at its biggest, ever-growing rival; Android.

Android users proudly boasts about the subtle, very useable notification bar, with good reason- it was a big oversight in the last few iOS updates.

But Apple was working on its own, and even plucked a programmer from obscurity who’d made his own for hacked iPhones.

The new notification centre looks better than the Android offering-  I’ll begrudgingly say that Apple ‘polish,’ although we’re not sure to what extent apps are connected to the new notification feature. Some may need a simple update- others may not get the feature at all.

iOS gives its users more keyboard configuration, and although it’s still catching up to the innovative likes of Swype and SwiftKey, both found on Android Market, the two-thumb split keyboard makes a lot of sense on the iPad.

Alongside the launch of iOS 5, the announcement of Apple’s iCloud, expansive data back-up for pretty much everything on your phone, cuts to the core of what Android does.

Linking together any Apple devices mimics what Google does through the web browser; think Google Docs, Mail, and even their new Music offering.

The one-stop online shop

Amazon, too, will find its recent cloud music service in direct competition with iCloud. Apple is taking no prisoners, but these are still premium devices- unless a cheap handset is revealed later this year- that will still price out a lot of customers.

If you don’t own a library of Apple products, you may not gain much from the new iCloud services. Sign up to them, and you may find yourself chained into Apple’s services with all your music stored in their products and services.

This is the heart of the matter; we were wowed by the figures boasted at Apple’s keynote speech- and that’s because Apple has its hands on the whole phone system; hardware, software, app/music store and cloud infrastructure.

What can Google, RIM and other phone makers do? Well, Apple didn’t have a new killer weapon to flash at the 2011 conference, and recent high-end Android offerings such as the Samsung Galaxy S II give you a smartphone that I believe trumps the iPhone on several levels. The iCloud service also doesn’t arrive until Autumn, giving other, similiar, services the chance to scramble for customers ahead of its launch.

But it’s Apple’s complete connectivity that rivals have to beat; Apple has taken the fight to all levels,  and for many it still stands at the top of the pile hardware-wise with both the iPad 2 and iPhone 4. Apple wants you to pick a side, and stick with them. No-one wants to pick a losing side.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Recombu.


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