What’s new in iOS 5
It isn’t only about the iPhone 4S – owners of older handsets can get an upgrade too by downloading iOS 5, complete with several new features
Whether you’re buying a 4S or just updating your existing iPhone, the new version of iOS brings, if not a complete overhaul, then at least a level of much-needed refinement. We’ve installed it on the iPhone 4 and 3GS, as well as on the iPad 2, and while the process wasn’t totally smooth – we lost apps and settings on several devices – now the initial rush has passed, things will hopefully be easier.
At first glance iOS 5 doesn’t look new, but there are small signs: rounded sliders in menus, an optional split keyboard and tabbed browsing in Safari for iPad users. Twitter is now integrated, so you can share things from within the stock Apple apps. And it feels slicker and more responsive on devices new and old.
The first big change is to the way iOS 5 handles notifications. Previously, alerts would sledgehammer their way to the front of the screen, and they’d require your input to leave again. Now, they flash up discreetly in a bar at the top of the screen; if they’re not urgent, ignore them and they’ll vanish in a few seconds.
To see them all, swipe down from the top edge to reveal the Notification Centre. As well as messages, calls and mails, you can set apps to appear too – you get Weather and Stocks by default, but you can add Facebook or even Angry Birds if you want. They lack a nice widget like the weather one, but you can choose how many recent push notifications each will show.
It’s a big improvement over the clunky way things worked before, although it all feels rather familiar – particularly if you’ve used an Android device. We also had one or two issues with notifications becoming stuck – one persistent calendar entry drained our battery in mere hours.
Less immediately obvious, but every bit as useful, is iOS 5’s approach to text messaging. Perhaps responding to the several popular free messaging apps atop the App Store, iOS 5 users can now talk to each other for free with no additional software required.
Type the recipient’s name into the Messages app, and the OS will check it against Apple’s servers. If it’s found, the Send button turns blue and your message is sent over your data connection. If it isn’t found, the button stays green and it’s sent as a normal charged text. It’s so simple most people won’t know even know that they’re using it. It is a genuine boon if your mobile plan charges for individual text messages, but its real genius is its transparency.
No longer will you be forced to connect to your laptop or PC via USB. Set iTunes to allow the iOS 5 device to sync over Wi-Fi, and it will do just that – provided your laptop and device are on the same network. Note that the iPhone/iPad has to be plugged into the mains for Wi-Fi syncing to automatically occur; you can force it while running on battery from the Settings menu.
Future OS updates can also be obtained without connecting to a PC or Mac, and these have finally been revamped: rather than having to download the whole OS again, only the parts that have changed will need downloading.
iCloud is a reworking of MobileMe that retains the syncing of Mail, Contacts, Calendars and Bookmarks, but adds a few extra features. You can now sync your Camera Roll across multiple devices, with the last 1000 pictures sucked up to the cloud for free. In addition, the 5GB of storage Apple provides for free can now be filled from Pages, Numbers and Keynote, with saved documents automatically filtering to all of your synced devices. iOS 5 devices can also be backed up to the cloud, and apps can store documents and data there too.
One of the more disappointing introductions is Newsstand, Apple’s storefront for offering subscriptions and regular issues of magazines in app form. Right now, the selection is hardly stellar; navigation and search just kick you out to the Newsstand section in iTunes; and Apple’s insistence on labelling every title as free, rather than listing the in-app issue price, means most of the top titles are drowning in unfair one-star reviews from customers baffled that they can’t have a monthly magazine for nothing. The interface still needs quite a bit of work if it’s to reach the iTunes standard.
Aside from a few gripes – the upgrade teething troubles, glitch notifications and apps that won’t relinquish their grasp on the iPhone’s GPS when disabled – iOS 5 is a welcome upgrade.
Notifications might be very Android-like, but they desperately needed a revamp, and we absolutely love iMessage. If you have an iOS device, there are few reasons not to upgrade.