Apple iOS 5 Review

Apple officially announced iOS 5 at the WWDC in June 2011. It was finally released to the public on 12th October 2011 (6pm UK time).

iOS 5 is designed to copy some of the best services out there and improve upon them. Apple have done some serious damage to a number of services and apps developers with iOS 5. The iOS 5 new Notifications Center is a direct response to Google's Android notifications system. Twitter integration is in response to Microsoft's Facebook-integrated Windows Phone 7 platform. iMessage takes clear aim at RIM's BlackBerry messaging and the announcement had a direct impact on RIM's share price. It will also have a noticeable impact on mobile network operators SMS bundles and pricing strategies.

BlueTooth

Apple's BlueTooth support has been patchy in the past. iOS5 brings full support for Advanced Audio distribution Profile (A2DP) V1.0 Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) V1.3. This is great news as it means I now get track information (song title, artist, album, etc.) on the dash of my new Mazda 6 :-)

iOS 5 is set to unlock BlueTooth on the Apple TV. There is no clear view on what BlueTooth kit will be supported, but a keyboard and maybe even the iPhone 4 or iPad 2 could connected quite easily.

Calendar

The calendar now has a 'current time' indicator bar. Turning the phone sideways now gives you a grid view and you can scroll through your whole calendar.

Camera

New lock screen with camera icon
To make it easier to capture those moments on camera more quickly, iOS 5 now supports opening of the camera app from the lock screen to take a picture. Double tap the home button to get the camera icon. Pressing this icon takes you straight into the camera.

The camera app also has some new features enabled with iOS5. Perhaps the most useful is the swipe left to leave the viewfinder and see last picture taken (you can keep going back further too). If you swipe back right, you get back to taking a picture view again. The HDR feature now site behind a 'options' button and grid lines is a new option. You can also pinch to zoom. A single-tap on screen will now also focus and exposure lock based on the area touched.

The LED flash can also now be configured to flash on an incoming call. This is configured in Settings / General / Accessibility and there is a toggle switch for 'LED Flash for alerts'.

The camera also now has a Panorama mode but, this is currently hidden from most users and you need to be a developer or have a jailbroken iPhone to access it.

iCloud

iCloud manage backups
iCloud comes with 5GB of free backup storage for your photos, documents, accounts, settings, and app data. On my 32Gb iPhone 4 I'm using 3Gb of this but many people found 5Gb is not enough. Apple charge for additional storage :-( To encourage this new revenue stream, iCloud backs up data for just about every app on your phone. If you go to the storage settings (Settings > iCloud > Storage & Backup > Manage Storage > This Phone) you can manually deselect all the apps you don't want to backup but, it is going to take a while to do this. You have to confirm the deletion of each one.

I've had to do this myself now because apps like VLC and WD2Go cache content on your iPhone and this then gets backed up into iCloud. As you can see, you also need to manage your camera roll and tidy up regularly.

iMessage

iMessage
iMessage is particularly interesting to me as it is very close to some research work I was doing 3-4 years ago. iMessage is limited to iOS devices only and overlays a multimedia capable, IP-based messaging capability on top of the SMS and MMS capability. It will significantly reduce the number of text messages I send to my family but, it won't replace SMS completely until it becomes and open and fully adopted standard. Mobile data allowance aside, iMessage enables unlimited multimedia messaging for free. My children will love it!

It supports text, pictures, videos, locations and contacts and there doesn't seem to be a maximum message size. One noticeable exception is the ability to send recorded voice messages. It would be nice if you could send music too :-)

iMessage replaces the current messaging functionality and works out if the SMS or MMS message can be sent via an IP connection instead. It will then replace the text balloons with blue (green for SMS messages) to show that this has been converted to an iMessage. It sends messages in encrypted form for added security and it will be interesting to see how this goes down with those governments that want access to all communications. Apple may be forced to provide access to governments much like RIM were. This has implications when used for businesses.

iMessage read update
In many respects iMessage is closer to IM because it gives an indication of people typing a response. It also works and synchronises messages across all devices. This doesn't include SMS messages arriving or being sent though. By default you can see if iMessages have been delivered. In the Settings for Messages, you can turn on read receipts too. Because we are using iMessage within the family we have done this on all our devices and it is really useful.

iMessage is feature rich and makes basic SMS feel old and clunky. It is going to drastically reduce the number of SMS we send as a family and we can potentially be on cheaper tariffs because of this. It also works on iPods too. If the iPod is off, it is still sent as an iMessage and the iPod will receive it, when it is turned back on. If you send to an iPhone and it thinks the iPhone is on, it will try to send and iMessage. If that then fails to get delivered, it will time out after about 30 seconds and send an SMS message.

It will be interesting to see how quickly the protocol gets cracked and an Android app appears to join the iMessage club. It just seems to need an Apple ID to work. In an ideal world it would become an open standard.

iTunes Wireless Sync

iOS 5 bring wireless synchronisation with iTunes. It needs to be turned on in Settings / iTunes Wi-Fi Sync. It obviously only works if you PC/Mac with iTunes is switched on and on the same network though. You can tell it is working when you see the little rotating arrows in status bar. Whilst this works well at home, it isn't going to ever work with my work laptop which has iTunes on it, to synchronise my personal iPhone with my calendar and contacts stored in Microsoft Outlook / Exchange. It is a lot slower than plugging in your iPhone with a USB lead.

One downside of wireless sync is that iTunes automatically starts when you start you PC and your iPhone is present. This slows things down quite a lot at boot-up time.

Keyboard

iOS 5 keyboard improvements
Apple have added support for a new keyboard called 'emoji'. If you go into Settings, then Keyboard you can add this as a new one. Pressing the world symbol on the keyboard in any application cycles you through the installed keyboards. Once selected, you can add a range of characters from a number of categories.

New Apps

Cards - This is a clever app and very well implemented. It allows you to send physical postcards via your iPhone. The main issue I have with it it the price. In the USA they pay $2.99 but in the UK, we pay £3.99!

Newsstand

This is basically a dedicated folder for newspaper and magazine app subscriptions. Given that most of the UK organisations that would have content in here are against Apples in-app 30% cut, this is not a particularly noteworthy or useful addition in my view. I'm with the publishers on this one and Apple is just being greedy.

Annoyingly, you can't delete the Newsstand app or put it in another folder. There are work arounds to this though.

Notifications

This is a huge and welcome change to iOS. Apple have copied some of the best bits from Android notifications and then added some more. It is still not perfect though.

When a new event triggers a notification, one of three things happens:

  1. On the lock screen, a notification will appear with an icon representing the associated application positioned to the far left of the notification. You can either ignore the notification or slide the icon all the way to the right side of the screen to open the app. This is much slicker and faster than the current model.
  2. If the device is in use, a banner will display the notification across the top of the display and you can ignore this or tap it to open the app.
  3. The old notification interface still exists, causing a pop-up to display in the centre of the screen until it is dismissed.

Apple have also introduced the iOS Notification Center. This is a pull-down list of all notifications and is clearly copy of the Android mechanism. It is an obvious refinement of Google's notification pane though, and it also allows users to customise the number of notifications each app will display in the Notification Center. It also supports widgets and and an API is available for third-party developers to build their own.

Notification Center has no off switch, so you will be disturbed at night if like me, you leave your iPhone on your bedside table. You can only disable notifications for individual apps. Apple needs to let users turn off notifications during set times. My solution is to leave my phone face down (the case stops it getting scratched) and I never use audible notifications anyway.

Photostream

If you have Photo Stream enabled in iCloud, your photos are automatically shared to all your other iOS devices. You can't pick and choose which photos make it into your Stream though. Once the feature is enabled, it is all or nothing. This could be embarrassing to some, especially if you have configured your Apple TV to use them as a screensaver! There are ways to delete them though.

Reminders

Reminders might not seem like much of an update but, this feature supports time, date and location notifications (geofencing). It also synchronises across devices via iCloud.

Safari

Safari has been updated and the biggest improvement is the new Safari Reader. This feature is accessed via the address bar and turns any web page into a long column of text for easier reading. This complete text can be emailed to others. Tabbed browsing is also now supported. whilst this feature will probably work better on the iPad, it still has uses on smaller screen devices. Tweeting directly from the browser is also added.

Siri

Siri
iOS 5 includes a new feature called Siri but, this is only enabled on iPhone 4S. This is because it uses a new IR proximity sensor that does not physically exist on earlier iPhone models. Apple have confirmed that it won't be coming to devices like the iPhone 4 but, this hasn't stopped developers trying to port it.

Siri uses a network service which Apple runs and it is tightly controlled with each device authenticating to use it. As of Nov 2011, the location elements of Siri only work in the USA.

Sync Over Wi-Fi

iOS 5 and iTunes 10.5 support synchronisation over iTunes but it has to be enabled first by checking the right option under the device summary tab in iTunes (whilst the device is connected using a USB cable).

Twitter

Apple have recognised Twitter as an infrastructural service and embedding Twitter support throughout iOS 5. you sign in once in 'Settings' and then you can tweet directly from Safari, Photos, Camera, YouTube and Maps. Contacts also applies Twitter usernames and profile pictures to simply enable mentions and replies. You can also add a location to any tweet, from within any supported app.

This is great for people like us that use Twitter a lot (@dreamgreenhouse & @robcollingridge). We have not seen anything that suggests multiple account support though :-(

Email

The Mail application has new capabilities such as draggable addresses so you can move them across from To to Cc or Bcc. Flagging and full-searchable messages have been added in too, along with rich text formatting. A built in dictionary makes it easier to keep your spelling under control, and for the iPad thumb users a split keyboard has been added.

Safari

The 'Read Later' feature added to Safari takes aim at Instapaper. The iOS 5 iCloud features will impact on cloud storage services like Dropbox. The new camera features render the many advanced camera apps much less compelling.

Shared iTunes Account

I have a lot of friends that use one Apple ID / iTunes account for their whole family. The reason cited for this is always about saving the cost of buying apps several times over but, you can share apps between family members on iTunes. iOS 5 is going to seriously break this model of sharing on account though. Simple services like iMessage will synchronise messages across all the families devices and a message sent on anyone device will appear to come from the same person.

Updates

10th Nov 2011 - iOS 5.0.1 Released

iOS 5.0.1
Apple released the first minor update and the first over-the-air (OTA) update to iOS to the general public. This uimage shows the download and update screen on the iPhone and iTunes and a PC is not required to do this update. Apparently, this process is not working for developers that have beta versions on their iPhones though.

The main reason for this update was that a bug with location reminders was causing rapid battery drain on iPhone 4S and some iPhone 4 devices.

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