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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.