iOS 5 Review

As promised, here's my review of Apple's iOS 5, released last Wednesday, October 12, for iPhone 3GS and 4, iPad and iPad 2, and iPod Touch (4th gen). With this release, Apple unified the iOS versions for all of their mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) as well as cross-integrating it with OS X Lion on the iMac platform to create a truly universal and seamless transition from desktop to mobile. It really is incredible when you get to use it in person daily, but that's perhaps for another, longer, more rambling post somewhere down the road...

For ease of reference, I'll mention I currently have an iPhone and iPad and I run these off my iMac. I have an iPod classic (160 GB) that doesn't run iOS so the update won't apply to or discuss that device.

After plugging my devices into the iMac on Wednesday, iTunes detected that a software update was available and asked if I wanted to update. I said yes and away it went. The entire process took about 75 minutes or so from start to finish.  After it was done, I unplugged the phone/iPad (from now on, when I say phone, it pertains to both devices, but I don't want to keep typing it all!) and turned it on. I was greeted with a screen that walked me through setting up the new iCloud service and WiFi syncing as well as some other improvements, which I'll discuss below.

So, what's new in iOS 5 and what do I think of each thing? And bear in mind, I've read online that Apple says there are over 200 new things/improvements in iOS 5, and I certainly don't know of them all, so I'll only list what I know and leave it to you readers to fill in the blanks in the comment section below.

-Notification Center: A simple swipe down from the top of the screen opens up the Notification Center, which, by default, has the weather and stock tickers. But in addition, it has the revamped...

-Notifications: The new notifications system is a HUGE improvement over the old one. Whereas annoying windows would pop up in the middle of your screen in a rather clunky fashion, now you can configure each app to give you notifications or not, and pop up in either a window in your screen or a banner at the top. When a notification pops up, you can either tap it to open up the notification center and read it, or ignore it and the banner will go away (but the notification is still in the notification center). Additionally, and this is one of my favorite aspects, you can have the notifications pop up on the lock screen if your phone is in standby. You can read the beginning of the alert and then, via a simple swipe of the icon, it'll open up right to whichever app it corresponds to. It's VERY cool and very convenient.

-Mail: There are a host of changes in mail, but for me the only one I've used so far, which I really like, is the ability to hold and drag email addresses when composing messages. I've read of lots of other new features, but so far I haven't used them yet.

-Dictionary: This is a little one, but now when you highlight a word, instead of just copy, cut, paste, or replace options, there's also a dictionary, which is pretty cool.

-Text Shortcuts: You can configure custom shortcuts for common words you type in order to circumvent the built-in AutoCorrect for certain words that it may not recognize.

-Tones and vibrations: You can now FINALLY customize your text and alert tones, in addition to ringtones. Also, you can customize vibration patterns for each caller (if you want to) for when it's in silent mode.

-iMessage: This is really cool. Starting now, *ANY* device running on iOS 5 can send free iMessage texts/photos etc between themselves without using your texting plan from whichever carrier you're on. And it's all done from within the same native Messaging app from before. The difference is that iMessages are now blue and white, while regular texts are green and white. It also tells you in the typing area before you begin writing whether you're writing an iMessage or a text. Additionally, iPads can now text other iPads or iPhones on iOS 5, *and* iMac's on OS X Lion can now text with iPhones (but not iPads yet). However, it's rumored that very soon, iMessage will be added to iChat so that it can then also text with iPads.

-Find my iPhone: A built in GPS app that can locate all of the devices attached to your Apple ID. For us, this is our iMac, iPad, and each of our iPhones. It's already come in handy...we were in the mall and my wife couldn't remember if she left her phone in the car or at home. A quick look on my phone showed me it was in the car, so she went out and grabbed it. Very cool. It also has options to send a ring so you can try to hear it if it's lost at home so you can find it, as well as a remote wipe. That way, if it gets stolen, you can wipe the phone remotely so none of your personal info is stolen along with it.

-Newsstand: A new built in app...basically it's for magazine subscriptions what iBooks is for eBooks. They're paid subscriptions, so we don't have any yet, but plan on perhaps getting some soon. The ones we're interested in (mainly parenting and family magazine) are cheap and new issues are delivered automatically, but you can still access older ones.

-WiFi Syncing: Finally, you can sync your iPhone or iPad to iTunes on your computer without having to be plugged into it. Additionally, you can still use the device while you're syncing...something you could never do before!

-Accessing Camera from lock screen: This is another cool feature. I can't tell you how many times I whipped my phone out of my pocket to take a cool picture, only to completely miss the opportunity because by the time I unlocked the phone, opened the camera app, and got ready to shoot, the moment was gone. Now, a simple double-tap of the lock screen opens up not only the volume/music controls (as it always has) but a camera button. Tap it and POW, you're ready to shoot a picture.

-Editing/organizing photos in built in Camera app: Now, with iOS 5, you can also edit your pictures (albeit not with a huge amount of features) in the Camera app. More importantly and exciting, at least for me, you can create new albums right on your phone and organize your pictures into them.

-Siri: This is only on iPhone 4S, which I don't have yet...the wife and I will be getting our upgrade to these in December/January, but from what I've read it sounds amazing. However, having never used it myself, I can't comment on it, but it's there in iOS 5!

-Split/undocked keyboard: This is an iPad-only feature, but if you don't feel like typing with two hands in the traditional keyboard manner (which, sometimes, I don't. If I'm sitting up, typing on the iPad is not a problem. If I'm laying on the couch holding it on either side, it's not an option), you can undock the keyboard and move it wherever on the screen you want. And then, you can split it, so half of the keyboard is on either side of the screen. You can then text with your thumbs like you would on your phone. Great for those nights slouching on the couch with your iPad. Another minor addition, for both iPhone and iPad, is the option to swipe the keyboard off the screen if it's blocking content so you can see everything on the screen.

-New Multi-Touch Gestures: Again, iPad-only, but some nice ones now. In addition to the usual Apple touch gestures, like pinch-expand/shrink and double-tap zoom, four-finger swipes, for instance, switch between apps. Very handy when multitasking, which I do a lot.

Overall, some of the changes are minor and subtle, and some are major. All, however, are really helpful and intuitive in their own way. I will say, as a matter of personal opinion (but one that seems to be shared by a HUGE host of people, judging by reviews and comments all over the Internet and in personal conversations with my friends and wife) that iOS 5 is the best OS out there for mobile devices, hands down.

I also just recently updated the OS on our iMac to OS X Lion, and so far I'm really enjoying the improvements and enhancements, but that's a MUCH larger OS and one I'm ill-equipped to write about, at least for the near future.

I'm sure I've missed some features...if I have, please let me know below in the comments! Also, let me know what you think in general about iOS 5, I'd love to discuss it.