Revealed during Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference earlier this year, iOS 5 has been hotly anticipated ever since, and it was finally made available for download at 6pm on 12 October. Promising hundreds of new features, has iOS 5 radically changed the way the iPhone and iPad operates, or is it a subtle evolution of Apple’s mobile software?
Depending on your luck, you may have already established an opinion, however there’s also a good chance you’ve not sampled iOS 5 at all, due to Apple’s servers crumbling under the pressure as millions attempted to download it. In fact, this has been the most problematic update yet; proof, as if it was needed, that iOS devices have found their way into many more hands over the past year.
Worse still, Twitter has been awash with reports of crashed and even bricked iPhones, as the soon-to-be-infamous ‘internal error code 3200′ started to cause problems. For most, the solution was to restore from a previous backup and keep trying to update, but for a minority, devices ceased to work completely. The error code comes from Apple’s activation servers going down, so it shouldn’t be a problem after the initial influx has passed.
Back to the software itself. For the first time in a while, iOS asks users to enter a variety of information before granting access to the phone, including switching on location services, Find My iPhone and entering iTunes account details to activate iCloud. Oddly though, it doesn’t take you through the other major features such as notification setup or signing into Twitter.
At first glance, iOS 5 looks identical to iOS 4.3.5, so you’ll have to dig a little deeper before finding all the changes. There are two new applications pre-installed with the update, Reminders and Newsstand.Reminders is an extension of Calendar, where you can add notes and set reminders to activate at a certain time or location, while Newsstand is an iBookstore style app for periodicals.
Dive into the Settings app and changes can be found under the Notifications, Messages, iCloud, General, the Twitter section and more. It’s here where you can sign-in to Twitter, select which data to sync with iCloud and activate Wi-Fi Sync with iTunes – all new core features inside iOS 5. Although iCloud was at least partially setup before, it’s important to check what you’re backing up, especially if you want your photos to be saved, as it’s unchecked as standard.
If you use Twitter, then the service’s deep integration within iOS should have you very excited, as although on the surface its sounds like quite a small change, it’s actually an extensive one. You can match your Contacts list to their Twitter handles (automatically too, provided they use the same names), and share photos, maps, links and videos instantly. The often single button press to open the Twitter box makes this an effortless process too. Twitter integration in iOS 5 won’t kill off the Twitter client though, as there’s no way to read tweets or get replies without the standalone app.
Tweaking the new Notification centre lets you customise what updates appear in the very Android-like drop down box. As standard you get the weather and stocks, while everything from SMS and tweets to email alerts can be added. Thankfully the stocks ticker can be turned off for those who don’t care, while a tap of the weather bar takes you directly to the standard app, which now benefits from hourly forecasts – just tap the day to see more detail.
When something new happens – a new SMS, a Twitter reply or a Reminder note for example – you’re no longer disturbed by a big box stopping whatever you’re doing, as a small rectangular-shaped banner appears at the top of the screen, then disappears if you do nothing. This is a big step forward for iOS, but if you’re not a fan of the subtle banner, you can still select notifications to appear as big boxes in the centre of the screen. In fact, each notification alert can be individually customised, so SMS could be more prominent than a social network status update.
When your phone is locked, events now appear in a long and quite detailed list, and each can be swiped aside to enter the relevant app. For a lot of users, iOS 5′s notification overhaul will not only be the most welcome change, but one of the most prominent too.
Outside of the Settings app, the volume up button now doubles as the camera shutter release, plus you can quickly launch the camera from the lock screen too. If you’re unsure where the button is, you need to press the Home button twice while the phone is locked for it to appear. A grid has been added to the viewfinder, making it easier to employ the golden ‘thirds’ rule, and some basic editing tools – crop, rotate, straighten, enhance and red-eye removal – can be found in the Photo Gallery.
Two of the other well-publicised additions, iCloud and iMessage, are very interesting, yet almost completely imperceptible! Bar iCloud’s setup earlier on, it works entirely in the background, with photos and documents whizzing between the iPhone and iPad with little delay and absolutely zero interaction from the user. If you’re a keen shutterbug, or have plenty of email, apps and documents to backup in iCloud, the free 5GB-worth of storage won’t last long; so if you don’t want to pay for more, think carefully before deciding what to add.
Apple’s BBM-rival iMessage is even more transparent. iOS 5 knows when you’re sending a message to another iOS 5 user and will send it as an iMessage instead of an SMS, meaning you don’t use any of your allowance. iMessage is activated as standard and it can be found under the Settings/Messages section, along with Read Receipts and Character Count too.
Over on the iPad, iOS 5 introduces a couple of tablet-only enhancements, along with all the above changes (apart from iMessage, obviously) too. Safari now has tabbed browsing, with a maximum of 9 tabs, which speeds up the process when you want to use the iPad for more complicated tasks. The iPad also gets a new keyboard which splits the virtual QWERTY in two, so using your thumbs to type feels more natural. Does it work? Well, it’ll take some getting used to if you’ve not used a split keyboard before! A five-finger pinch gesture has also been introduced for quitting an app, plus a swipe to bring up the multi-tasking tray or to move between open apps.
As for iOS 5 cutting the wires between your device and computer, we’ll have to wait for the next update to see how this works in that respect, but there’s also a wireless sync between device and computer when they’re both connected to the same Wi-Fi network and plugged into a power source, plus apps purchased on your computer are pushed to your phone or tablet automatically.This works beautifully, and is another big time-saver in iOS 5.
The feature list for iOS 5 goes on and on, including a redesigned iTunes music app on the iPad, Game Center changes, customisable mail alerts, AirPlay Mirroring and a few small tweaks inside the Calendar app. iOS 5 may look the same as always, but underneath it has been heavily redesigned, and the improvements all make perfect sense. Perhaps best of all, is that many of them don’t force you to learn anything new; so your iPhone and iPad will work the same as always, just better!
It may take a while before you appreciate it because of all this automation, but once you’ve used it for a day or so, you’ll see that iOS 5 hasn’t changed the way your device works – which is a good thing – but changed the way you work with it, and that’s an important distinction. Yes, it’s an evolution, and yes it’s a major one.