I thought i’d post this before the ‘official’ release of iOS 5 on Wednesday, to give you all a bit of a feeling for how i’m getting on with it. As part of an Apple developer, we get access to pre-release beta- versions of the new OS to i’ve been living with iOS 5 for a while now, on both my iPad and more recently on my iPhone. I have to say, i’m pretty impressed with some of the changes.
By far the biggest and most needed change is the addition of the notification center. This revolutionises the way that notifications are handled in iOS. Prior to iOS 5, notifications were just those annoying popups that came up when a text message, facebook message, tweet, etc, arrived:
That was fine if you weren’t doing anything on your phone, and you wanted to answer each notification as soon as it arrived, but it got really really annoying if a couple of messages came in at once (you lost the first one) or you wanted to deal with the messages later (there was no way to easily see what the notification had been).
With iOS 5, notifications appear at the top of your screen when you’re in an app, and then dismiss themselves if they’re not touched within a second or two. They then go into the Notification Centre, which can be accessed at any time by dragging your finger from the top of the screen.
iOS 5 Notification Center allows you to see all your alerts in one place, and to view and clear them simply from this location. The other great thing is that the notifications all stack up on the lock screen, so if you’re not by your phone when the notifications arrive, you can still see them all in once place. Want to deal with a particular text message from the lock screen? Just drag your finger across the notification and it’ll take you straight into the app that sent the notification.
I really like the new notifications system - it’s been a long time coming, and iOS feels completely new because of this.
But this isn’t the only change in iOS 5.
The other major new addition is iCloud. iCloud is a remote syncronisation service provided by Apple that lets you share data between your iOS devices, such as photos, in-app data and backups. Perhaps my favourite feature of iCloud is the Photo Stream service - take a photo on your iPhone and it is automatically uploaded to ‘the cloud’, where your Apple TV then downloads it, ready to use it as a screensaver before you even get home. The technology is fairly basic, but the application really does give some pretty neat synchronisation options. I haven’t been able to try this out on my AppleTV, as that isn’t enrolled in the beta program, but once iOS 5 launches properly, i’ll be having a play. So far i’ve been able to use iCloud Photo Stream to send my new photos straight over to my Windows PC - it’s fast, the quality is great, and it really does work. No more plugging in my iPhone just to download one photo i’ve just taken.
The iMessage concept is based around the Blackberry Messenger (BBM) service which is really popular between teens and business people alike - free worldwide messaging (data-based) with photos and videos also transferrable. Read receipts and online status indication. I can’t say iMessage offers anything that BBM or 3rd party apps (WhatsApp) don’t already offer, and infact it’s more limited - it can only communicate from iOS 5 installed devices to other iOS 5 devices. Apple are pretty good at writing their APIs for integrating these sort of things into apps - so it’ll be interesting to see where the iMessage service moves over the next few months as apps update. I can’t help but think it’s not going to be as popuplar as WhatsApp, which is crossplatform. Ultimately, Apple aren’t ever going to open this service up, so the appeal is always going to be limited.
There are a whole set of other features in iOS 5 which i’m sure other people will make use of, but for me, the new Notification Centre alone has made me happy using my iPhone again.
I do have a couple of gripes about some of the new features - Newsstand, for example, is a new way of subscribing to publications from your iPhone/iPad. Fair enough - they’re trying to take on the Kindle market - but I have no intention of using this. Annoyingly, the new Newsstand icon can’t be removed or moved into a folder, so you’re forced to give up a valuable app icon slot to a feature you don’t want to use.
WiFi sync is a nice idea, being able to synchronise your iPhone with your PC without plugging the two in - but in practice i’ve found it to be pretty unreliable from my iTunes (which runs on my work laptop) - it certainly isn’t a foolproof system, although that could be related to some corporate setting on my laptop.
When iOS 5 comes out on Wednesday it will no doubt be hailed as a huge success, Steve Jobs’ legacy to Apple, etc, and it’s probably deserved - it’s certainly the largest upgrade to iOS since it’s launch. Bravo Apple, finally catching up with Android in many places.