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iOS 5 – What’s new, and initial impressions…

2 Days ago (June 6th 2011), Apple held their annual WWDC keynote in which they unveiled three main things they’ve been working on: OS X Lion (for Mac), iOS 5 (for iPod / iPhone / iPad), and iCloud (for all!). Let’s look at iOS 5 in all its glory—some of the most anticipated features Apple has announced, as well as some of the over-200 minor features (that have been let slip by those naughty developers who must have *forgotten* about the NDA they signed with Apple!).

1. Notifications

  • Finally. I mean, finally! It took them long enough, but Apple has finally (yes, that’s three times now) decided to overhaul the workflow-inhibiting pop-up notification system of iOS past. Previously, a blue pop-up notification would interrupt whatever you were doing on screen. Now, a nice animation will reveal the notification at the top of the screen. You can swipe down to open the new ‘notification center’, Android style! Whilst this approach is seemingly a blatant copy of the Android OS, it’s certainly a welcome upgrade to iOS 5. Besides, given how the Android browser is based entirely on mobile safari (As Steve not so subtly mentioned in the keynote presentation) you Android users can’t really complain!!

2. PC-Free

  • Apple has decided to finally cut the cable between device and PC (quite literally, if you see the icon for this feature) and now doesn’t require users to connect a new iPhone / iPad / and, presumably, iPod Touch to a computer when it’s first booted up. In a move only possible with the new iCloud service, the user can now simply enter an Apple ID and password to have the device download all apps, music, books, etc., OR restore from a backup. Whilst this may be of minimal interest to users who already have an iDevice (I hate that term, but it’s easier than typing every device name!) it does open the potential customer base up to a lot of new users. A side point to note: this may reduce buying time on release days (where the ‘geniuses’ set up your iDevice for you in store) and so reduce queue lengths / waiting time.

3. iMessage

  • A bit of a strange one here, It appears Apple is attempting to create a BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) -style service, where users of iOS 5 can send messages to other iDevices (running iOS 5, of course) free of charge. A great thing for sure, but I really wish they had included support for users with older iDevices not capable of running iOS 5. It’s certainly a feature which has potential impact on a lot of third-party apps; WhatsApp for example (although these apps can provide cross-platform compatibility which iMessage will be lacking). It’s integrated with the messaging app already on your iPhone, and can automatically recognise when a phone number / contact has iMessage installed and uses it as the default method of sending the message. Interestingly, Apple appears not to have discussed this with the network carriers, so some of them may be understandably upset at the potential loss of income for SMS packages, etc…

 

4. Twitter Integration

  • As rumoured previously, iOS 5 comes with system-wide Twitter integration—something that will be welcomed by a lot of users, and equally irrelevant to a lot of other users. Yes, you can now tweet directly from many apps; Photos, Camera, Safari, etc. But perhaps more interesting is the developer API included in the iOS SDK, which will allow app developers to integrate Twitter with their apps with ease! Perhaps this explains why Twitter has been urging developers to stop making third party clients. In any case, it’s a welcome addition to iOS 5 in my eyes!

5. WiFi Sync

  • If this sounds familiar, well…that’s because it is. Remember WiFi Sync, the app that was submitted to the App Store, rejected, and became a jailbreak app? Turns out, Apple liked that idea quite a lot, so here it is in iOS5! Not much to say about it, really, except that it works over WiFi only (hence WiFi Sync!), and only when plugged into a power source. Other than that, it’s a standard sync, just like you get connecting a USB cable. Great idea if you dock your iPhone at night, and leave your Mac running… One thing I’m curious about is if this works when your Mac is in sleep mode—I suspect not, but wouldn’t that be great?

So now we come to the lesser-announced, but still all-important, minor features and changes. One of the coolest (in my opinion) is the ability to create custom vibrate patterns for different alerts. You can do this by tapping your pattern on the screen in the appropriate settings menu—great to be able to distinguish between types of notifications when your device is in silent mode. Another minor change is tweaks to the UI elements here and there: the toggle switches, for example are now rounded, rather than rectangular. A system-wide dictionary allows you to look up the definition of any word at any time, a feature which will be unexpectedly useful, especially for studenty types! Not to forget iCloud and all its wonderful synchronising goodness (another post for another day.)

Initial developer impressions (after only a day). seem to be that it’s a fairly major update to the iOS Operating System (I know, iOS OS… how would you say it?), more so than the update from iOS 3 to iOS 4. Surprisingly, it’s been reported to be running very smoothly and quickly, even on the older iPhone 3Gs. That’s great news for users who were worried that the 3Gs would not be supported at all. I’ll be installing iOS 5 on my iPhone 3Gs and iPad 2 as soon as possible, and will do my best to give personal impressions (NDA compliant, of course! :-) ) after a bit more usage.

Let us know here at TechRant if you’ve installed iOS 5, and if you find any show-stopping features (or bugs!) which Apple hasn’t announced. Alternatively, if you’re an Android or BlackBerry user, let us know how you feel about the elements of iOS 5 that steal ideas from your phone’s operating system!

 

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13 Comments

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