3 Things Apple Left Us Hanging On: Music Streaming, Voice Control, And iPhone 5

Apple made a lot of big reveals yesterday…save three pretty conspicuous absences. Here’s what it all means for future Apple releases.

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There’s been a rush of news from Apple this week: About OS X Lion, and the number of apps that Apple appears to be co-opting; about iOS and how it’s incorporating more features from OS X; and iCloud, where Apple pushes all your details into the sky so all your devices can access them. But even with those big headlines, some hoped-for items were conspicuously missing:

Music streaming

A cloud-based iTunes and iTunes Match (which lets you store and share non-iTunes purchased songs for $24.99 a year) are transformational for regular Apple music users–they’re both systems that make sharing your music files between your computers and various iDevices much easier. Match also lets Apple monetize piracy (because Match doesn’t care if you paid for your music or not). It’s a strong rival to Amazon‘s and Google‘s own music-locker systems.

But what it lacks is music streaming. It’s a subtlety, but has big implications for how you use your music. Using the cloud-based iTunes, you can access, for free from your desktop, tracks you’ve previously synced to the iCloud database from your iPhone after the track is whisked from Apple’s servers to your device or desktop. It’s saved there, and you can play it over and over. But it’s not streamed.

It may be because Apple couldn’t land the right kind of deal with the recording industry, despite persuading them it should let files be centrally stored in Apple’s servers. It may be that Apple has yet to finalize the technology in iOS and OS X to make this work smoothly (we hear the record negotiations were going on as recently as last week). It may be that these features will pop up in a 5.x iteration of iOS 5. But they’re not here. That’ll disappoint some people who like the idea of accessing music on the fly via Rdio or Spotify. But at least the traffic-beleaguered cell phone networks will breathe a sigh of relief.

Nuance voice control and synthesis


One hotly tipped feature we were expecting to arrive in the iPhone via iOS 5 was deep integration of voice control, with similar voice synthesis. It could change how you interact with your iPhone and iPad, making things safer for driving and navigation. It’s a natural tie-in to the novel new location-aware Reminders system, and it’s a tick in the box to rival Android’s powers. We think Nuance has been in talks with Apple about the tech for ages, and there are sprinklings of the right kind of code in OS X Lion.

So what happened? Anecdotally, we hear that integrating the voice controls wasn’t completed in time for a super-slick showing during the keynote. And iOS won’t actually arrive on users’ devices until fall…and when it does arrive, Apple would love to have some shiny new features to generate buzz. Nuance/Siri tech and deep voice integration are probably still on the cards…just not yet.

iPhone 4S and iPhone 5

An Apple source has previously indicated to us that the updated iPhone isn’t due until later in the year. But there was still a definite thrill among news sources yesterday that Apple may surprise us with hardware–possibly the iPhone 5, which we hear is more of an incremental upgrade to the design for the iPhone 4 and thus potentially simpler to produce than a re-engineered iPhone design (hence the possible iPhone “4S” name).

It didn’t happen. Meaning we’re really not going to see the new iPhone until August or September. Which gives Apple a few more months to perfect the design, and potentially include new and exciting features. Here’s hoping.

[Image: Flickr user jetheriot]


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I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)