Podcast app, Power Nap, and how the future of iOS will be automated

One of the more intriguing aspects of both iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion is the way in which Apple is further enabling intelligent background activity when iPhones, iPads, and Macs are otherwise "asleep".

People hate waiting

Tapping a button or activating a gesture, only to have to wait for data or content to refresh or download, to have to stare at seemingly endless spinners and slowly crawling status bars, simply isn't a great user experience. It makes us wait, and people hate waiting.

A great user experience is is tapping or gesturing for content and that content instantly popping up because it's already available, waiting for us.

iCloud and Exchange do this already. Your email, events, addresses, etc. arrive even when your iPhone and iPad are sleeping. When you go to Mail, Calendar, Contacts, etc. all the data is already there and up to date.

Newsstand does this already. Newsstand-enabled apps "wake-up", check for new content, and then download and refresh magazine an newspaper subscriptions automatically.

That's the appeal of push technology and automatic updates -- users don't have to wait seconds, minutes, or longer for data and content to become available.

Power napping

With Power Nap in OS X Mountain Lion, Apple is bringing a similar level of service to the Mac, and adding several more. In addition to the other core iCloud apps -- Reminders, Notes, and Photo Stream, with Power Nap, system updates will automatically download in the background while your Mac is asleep. So will App Store updates. Time Machine backups will take place. Find my Mac will update its location. 

It all happens quietly and with a minimum of power drain. Our data simply refreshes while we're off getting other things done.

Podcast app

Apple is in investigating other methods of making devices "work for us" while we're not using them, and other types of content that can be refreshed automatically in the background. 

for example, today you have to manually go to iTunes and start a download and then wait for it to finish, or open an App Store app that can then wake up and start a download.

iMore recently heard there were plans for automatic background audio and video downloads. If battery and connectivity levels allowed, just like Newsstand, new content would download all on their own. 

Rumors of a new, separate Podcast app from Apple could showcase just exactly that kind of functionality. Once subscribed to a show, Podcast could wake up and download it for you, and have it ready and waiting, instead of requiring a button tap to initiate the process, keeping you waiting for it.

"Just working"

Mobile will be constrained by greater power and connectivity concerns than desktop for the foreseeable future, but it's not hard to imagine iOS eventually doing all the same kinds of background activity OS X Mountain Lion will be doing this year. iOS is already doing automatic iCloud backups. Automatic system and app updates, among other things, might not be that far away.

While we haven't heard anything specific, the potential of these kinds of processes are phenomenal. Instead of requiring risky online maps or huge offline pre-loads, iOS could silently fetch and cache a radius of maps around you, offering more reliable and efficient near-line and just-in-time navigation.

Anything that requires the management of large blobs of data or content could be handled this way. Apple products are famously said to "just work". These types of Apple services could be seen as "just working".

iOS 6 and beyond

How much of this is already in iOS 6, how much more could be announced at the presumed October iPhone 5 event, and how much will come in future updates only Apple and NDA-bound developers know for sure. But it's getting increasingly hard to imagine is not coming.

Make all the Skynet or the Matrix jokes you like, but there could soon come a time when all our Apple devices busily get to work handling all the little things, leaving us free to get the big things done.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Nicely put! :)
    Cant wait to see what iPhone 5,1 will look like and what feature it will have that no other iPhone will have. Such as, the iPhone 4S has Siri. Super Siri, perhaps? LOL
  • I mean iPhone 6,1
  • Once again, Apple puts a clever name on something everybody else already has, and it is "news"
  • Go troll somewhere else
  • How can it be trolling if it's the truth... You do no these so call future automated features exist on things use android and bb for years
  • yup. But Apple is also bringing them to OS X... Just saying.
  • ...which, as Techrunch notes, Microsoft had in Vista.
    Just saying.
  • My Android apps don't automatically poll for new information in the background and make them available. I can get an update saying someone has posted something. But I have to wait for the app to download the actual update when I finally do open the app. It works like this for all google apps that support their push service.
  • I'd really like to see this kind of functionality you described for maps. I'd like to be able to plan a trip and have my 4S download the maps ahead of time since I live in an EDGE only area. The podcast app is intriguing too.
  • Great idea! That would be awesome.
  • GPS/Navigation apps presently exist that include full maps stored on your phone... no need to wait for the next iOS, or next iPhone. If you want it, go to the app store now.
  • Thanks Keith. I am aware of navigation apps in the App Store. I won Navigon Midwest from iMore a year ago. I was specifically talking about the built in Maps app. Right now it's of no use to me and I can't delete it so I was describing how it could become useful.
  • Bad news for Jailbreakers - I hope the auto-update can be configured to allow and deny specific parts, such as iOS updates.
    If not, Jailbreaks will be a thing of the past - OTA background updates with the user not being able to say NO to it means patches for Jailbreaks can be fixed within the hour they're released.
  • JB will be fine -- I would be shocked if Apple used such a mechanism to force OS updates on users. There are legitimate reasons for many customers to stay on older versions, and a small (but non-trivial) number of phones have problems during each update. There is simply no benefit to Apple to court headaches with those customers by forcing updates.
    I would expect Apple would enable this for their own apps only, and on an opt-in basis, where you can choose to enable an app to participate in this feature just like you choose fetch interval or push. Hopefully, they will in short order allow 3rd party App Store apps to participate as well.
  • Another reason it will have to be opt-in is international roaming -- otherwise a powernapped phone is going to cost some poor traveller hundreds (thousands) in carrier surcharges.
  • +1
    Unlike automatic downloads, Software Update locks down your phone for a certain period of time. Imagine if this happens without your knowledge/permission while you're expecting a call... The user uproar could be heard from orbit.
  • Come on really... Why are these so call features being made like they are something new when you can do l these things on Android for years really... Just shows how far behind apple are behind the game yet everyone never mentions the fact that all they are doing is catching up.... Not hating but please don't make apple look like they are introducing something "magical"
  • While what you say may be true, there is a difference between doing something and doing something well. That to me is the difference between iOS and android, and Mac OS X and Windows.
    It is, of course, a matter of preference. In many areas, Apple leads. Other areas, they wait until they can put the Apple polish on it.
    I have had a couple of android users (who won't got to iOS because they like to tinker) who have said, "yeah, I can do that already, but man, Apple sure knows how to take it to the next level."
    The good thing? We all have the choice for what we like.
  • Yeah, we´ve all seen this fabled Apple polish on Siri, which is still in beta and only works half of the time, Newsstand which sucks, and iCloud, which is a poor competitor to services like dropbox.
    Let´s drop it people. Apple does not polishes anything better than anybody else. They just charge more, which makes you automatically believe its better.
  • "automatically refreshes data" could this be a data use problem when the device is in sleep mode? Like the idea, but would like the ability to control it. WiFi, or 4g, a way to toggle between the two, or on, and off.
  • "and cash a radius of maps."
    The only reason I can spell "cache" is because I once a wrote a paper on it. I spelt it about 10 different ways.
  • Once again, Rene's prescient analysis is intriguing. Pre-downloading and caching is a great idea....very browser-like. The issue becomes managing Apple's "Just works" concept with security and system resources. There is always the problem of adding functionality that power users want/understand and then having that feature become too complex for the general user (download everything, allow the user to pick and choose per application, per location, per time of day?). I think that is the fine line that separates Apple from all others.
    As someone that eagerly embraced Windows 3.1 and all the sprouting add-on applications that were once the wild west of computing, I found that in later years I was shackled to the OS with incessant tweaking and maintenance just to get it to work properly. Now new Win installations now take me 12 - 18 hours depending on home/work needs. I was always excited about the new version of Windows being released, up until Vista. By then I found myself laboring with the tedious tuning tasks one associates with Formula 1 cars but only feeling the burst of speed and exhilaration one derives from a GMC Pacer or a case of gout.
    To me Apple has done an excellent job of making things "Just Work". And though my whorish desires long for trinkets and bobbles of affection like all App Store updates working seamlessly in the background and maps just magically appearing, and better formatting in Mail (HINT), I'm not finding such functionality to be a deal breaker, nor any of the other "Android already has that" accoutrements.
    Those that still don spurs and chaps and side arms (not just those hanging out in leather bars) and wish to experience the wild west of computing can still jailbreak to their hearts content. I rather like the way that the Apple ecosystem separates the lawless from the other townsfolk. I used to be very anti-closed-system. But now I get it. It allows everyone in my family to compute without anxiety and without me on the phone with them for hours explaining the logic behind clicking on a button called "Start" to actually end things. But it also allows pioneers to break new ground, demonstrate what is possible, and live on the edge of the knife. The two seem to work well together.
    Those that complain that Apple is playing catch up have a point, until you consider that the major difference between OSX/iOS and the others is that I turn on my Apple device and immediately work and play. I don't don't spend hours everyday troubleshooting and flying into petulant tirades because the simple, basic functionality is broken...again....and again....and again.
    I am an extreme power user and tax my computers and software more than most. And it has been my experience that Apple excels like no other in making the Lion's share of features work flawlessly, intuitively and often inconspicuously while still allowing someone like me to pursue my binary interests without all the hassle. It is that attention to detail that I expect they will put into the features Rene is suggesting. When it comes, like many other features, it will work so well that most will not even notice it is there. But it is precisely such things that make you keenly aware the minute you cross the town line and come in out of the wilderness.
  • 12-18 hours? Hopefully Apple's new map application will help you be able to find your ass with both hands -- it sounds like you need the help.
  • Yah, that guy is a real creep and has some serious issues as a basement dwelling WOW player!
  • Power nap is only useful if you have your Mac set to sleep. I don't do that with my Macbook pro. Let us hope that something about the interface of iOS 6 home screen looks different. This interface is quite dated looking.
  • Apart from the new Passbook app and a new paint on the Maps app, all else is the same.
  • I could not agree with Bable more. Have started out computing many years ago on a TRS80 the early days of computing and what Apple has cultivated are very different in way of a user experience. Installs were in the past an adventure of their own, I recall the days of installing new software (that would require driver updates) only to find it broke something else unrelated. Now present day many of those issues have gone away but I am a firm believer Apple is far better at making their system "just work". In the past I was not for closed systems but understanding Apples philosophy and mindset I see it, I understand how for the masses it is a much better user experience. Most gripes against this are by the power users or techies, the general public get the most benefit from the platform not the traditional old school users. For the naysayers out there, remember what Apple is trying to do, they are not tailoring their systems for us but for the non technical population, those who do not know or do not want to know how to control or tweak their technology and just want to pick up a device and have it work as described with out fail or need to maintain it. It is designed and built for this type of person and not us, if we feel we need or want this type of functionality then we would goto a product that does and stop complaining about what Apple does not do as it's not built for us and we have no business complaining if we decide to use it or go as far as jailbreaking it to get these features.
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