Apple's iCloud

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Apple's iCloud

At the Worldwide Developers Conference on June 6, Apple CEO Steve Jobs showed off iCloud, a Web-based platform, allowing users to store content online, and sync all that to iOS-based products, Macs and PCs. Apple plans to launch the service in the fall, which will add even more impetus to the cloud craze.

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Apple iOS 5

Apples iOS 5 is also scheduled to come to iPads, iPhones and iPod Touch devices in the fall. According to Apple, it will feature more than 200 improvements, including a new feature, called iMessage, which allows users to send text messages and digital media to any other iOS-based device. That alone could have a profound impact on the way communication is achieved in the mobile environment.

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Google will finally get its Chrome operating system on store shelves starting June 15 with Chromebooks from both Acer and Samsung. Those devices, which closely resemble netbooks, are running Googles best answer yet to Windows. However, because they dont work in offline mode, their growth might not be as strong as it could be. Either way, Chromebooks and their unique functionality could easily come to define the second half of 2011 as the battle between Google and Microsoft heats up.

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HP TouchPad

At the Consumer Electronics Show in 2010, Hewlett-Packard came out in support of Microsofts Windows tablet idea. However, after acquiring Palm last year, the company changed course. And now, consumers around the globe are anxiously awaiting the July 1 launch of the HP TouchPad tablet. The device comes with a 9.7-inch screen and HPs WebOS platform. Some say that the TouchPad is awfully iPad-like. And because its coming from HP, consumers might pay quite a bit of attention to it. HPs TouchPad could be a far more important launch this year than some think.

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Windows Phone 7 Mango Update

Windows Phone 7 has not been performing that well in the mobile market. The platform hasnt been appealing to consumers, and vendors have been discouraged by the slow update process. However, Microsoft hopes to address that with the launch of its Mango update later this year. According to the company, Mango will be a free update that delivers 500 new features to the platform. Considering Windows Phone 7s current standing in the mobile market, Mango could be a make-or-break moment for Microsoft.

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The Glut of Android Tablets

So far, Android tablets have been few and far between in the mobile space. They have largely been led by the Motorola Xoom. But in the coming months, a slew of Android-based tablets will be launching from a range of vendors. Though Apples iPad reigns supreme now, all the Android tablets coming to the market soon could drastically change the face of the slate market.

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Mac OS X Lion

At the Worldwide Developers Conference on June 6, Apple also discussed its next desktop operating system, Mac OS X Lion. That platform, which is scheduled to hit store shelves next month, delivers over 250 updates, including Resume, a feature that automatically brings users back to where they left off in applications after boot-up and Mission Control, which provides easy access to applications. Combine that with the Mac App Store, and Apples contribution to the OS market this year might just put Microsoft on notice that it faces stronger than ever Apple competition in software sales to the enterprise as well as to consumer.

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Microsoft Skype Division

Though Microsoft has already announced that it will acquire Skype in a deal valued at $8.5 billion, the company doesnt expect the deal to close until later this year. Thats assuming that regulatory reviews in the U.S. and Europe dont delay the closing into 2012. But when the buyout closes, Microsoft will launch the Skype division under the supervision of current CEO Tony Bates. When that division begins operation, Microsoft will start integrating Skypes service into its products. In fact, the software giant expects to bring the platform to Windows Phone 7, Kinect, and many other services. Skype could very well have a bigger impact on Microsofts products this year than any other service.

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Motorola Photon 4G

It wont be a major release in 2011, but the Motorola Photon 4G will prove to be an important one. The smartphone, which is scheduled to launch over the summer, will be available on Sprints network and run Googles Android platform. As one might guess from its name, it will be able to connect to 4G networks. The question after its launch, though, is whether it can help put Sprint back on the mobile map. With an AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile looming, and Verizon getting the iPhone earlier this year, Sprint looks to be the odd man out. It needs a smartphone to help it jump-start its operation. Will the Photon 4G be that smartphone?

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The 4G-Capable RIM BlackBerry PlayBook

Research In Motions BlackBerry PlayBook launched in April in the U.S. and Canada. However, the device only allowed users to connect to the Web via WiFi. That turned out to be an issue for that highly mobile market—considering the platform is designed with enterprise customers in mind. To address that, RIM will be launching a 4G-capable BlackBerry PlayBook later this year. That offering will arguably be the best tablet solution yet for corporate customers. Then, the market will be able to finally determine if tablets will have a major place in enterprise computing.

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