The original iPhone was designed to address a significant user experience problem with smartphones of the day. The iPhone itself was just the delivery vehicle, what later became known as Apple’s iOS was what made it all happen. At its launch in 2007 many lamented the significant loss of typical smartphone features with the very first iPhone. You couldn’t multitask, there was no copy/paste support, you couldn’t tether, you couldn’t send pictures or video via MMS and there were no apps. Apple of 2007 was very much a Mac company that was gaining strength, looking to dabble in the smartphone world.

Despite its shortcomings, the original iPhone/iOS combination did enough things right to build a user base. With a solid foundation Apple did what all good companies do: iterate like crazy. We got annual iPhone and iOS updates, each year offering evolutionary but important improvements. A company that executes consistently may not be competitive on day 1, but after a couple years of progressive iteration it may be a different beast entirely.
That’s where Apple finds itself today. No longer the timid newcomer in the smartphone market, Apple has turned iOS into a major player in the industry. Given its success in convincing iPod users to embrace Macs, it was inevitable that Apple would leverage a similar strategy in growing its iOS and Mac businesses. The latest release of iOS, version 5.0, announced in June of this year is as much about updating the phone/tablet platform as it is about beginning the next phase in Apple’s expansion. iOS 5 isn’t about liberating Apple from the PC, it’s a step towards unifying the experience across Apple’s product line. As it’s still just an iOS revision, Apple needed another tool to bring about this level of change, which is why iOS 5 is accompanied by the public release of Apple’s iCloud service.
A primary goal of iOS 5 and iCloud is to enable users to access their content across any Apple device without manual syncing. You should only have to worry about carrying the right device with you and not think about whether it’ll have access to your contacts, email, files or if people can still reach you if it’s all you’re carrying. That’s the theory at least.

What Will iOS 5 Run On?

iOS 5 is releasing on a wide range of devices, including the past three generations of iPhone, past two generations of iPod touch, and both generations of iPad. It brings with it a number of headline features, including a ground-up redesign of the notifications system, a new iOS-to-iOS messaging service called iMessage, and the integration of iCloud, a cloud computing and storage service for iOS, OS X, and Windows. According to Apple, there are a full 200 new features found in iOS 5, with features like Twitter integration, wireless sync, PC Free setup and updating, display mirroring over AirPlay, multitasking gestures, and updates to core applications like the camera, browser, mail and calendar being among the more notable changes highlighted by Apple. It’s a pretty healthy list of things to cover, so we’ll get down to it. 

iOS 5 was designed around four devices: the iPad 2, the 4th generation iPod Touch, the iPhone 4, and of course, the new iPhone 4S. This time around, the iPad version of iOS 5 is launching alongside the iPhone and iPod touch versions, a nice change from iOS 4. The iPad was bumped from iOS 3.2 to iOS 4.2 a few months after the initial release of iOS 4.0 for the iPhone. 
If you’ve ever used an iOS device before, whether it be an iPhone, iPod touch, or an iPad, the iOS 5 user interface will be instantly familiar to you. When the biggest visual change is that the toggle switches are rounded instead of rectangular, you know that not a whole lot has changed from that side of things. iOS is unique in the Apple world as it's still maturing yet extremely important to Apple's overall business. Seemingly as a result, Apple has been both reluctant to mess with the UI formula while eager to adopt new features. What we get with version 5 is a significant evolution of the iOS platform without any revolutionary changes to the UI. While understandable, it's also a bit frustrating for those of us looking for improvements in areas such as multitasking.

Setup and Settings

While the look isn’t all that different, the first boot on a newly updated iOS 5 install gives away the first clue that there are some distinct changes under the hood here. You’re first greeted with a gray cloth patterned screen with the name of your iDevice (iPad, iPod, or iPhone, respectively).

Move the lock slider to begin setup, enter your Apple ID, agree to terms and conditions, and you’re given a choice opt-in for location services and iCloud, whether you want to set up a new device or restore from a previous local or iCloud-based backup, whether to backup locally or to iCloud, and then you’re all set to start using your iDevice. The new out-of-box setup is now much more Mac-like than before.

Apple’s PC independence shines through in the settings menu, where you can get iOS software updates downloaded directly to your iDevice and installed without plugging in to a host computer. Factor in wireless sync and iCloud, and it’s legitimately conceivable that after you install iOS 5, you can go without plugging into your PC at all. Apple has invoked the "Post-PC" term a number of times since the introduction of the iPad, but it's now finally letting customers set up their post-PC devices without a PC, a key factor as iPhones and iPads become legitimate productivity devices. 

Other key differences in the settings menu are the additions of iCloud, Twitter, and (if you’re on an iPad or iPod touch) Messaging panes, as well as the new notification settings, which gives users a manual switch to decide how each application sends alerts. Notifications have been something of a sore spot in iOS for a while now, and as the single largest user experience change in iOS 5, the new alert system is something of a big deal. 

Notifications and the Notification Center
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  • ddarko - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    "Unfortunately, iTunes Wi-Fi Sync asks that your phone be connected to a power source for the feature to work. This shouldn’t be too hard to grasp considering the massive power drain issues people would have inevitably faced had it not been otherwise."

    A quick but notable clarification in the review which gives the impression the wi-fi sync function requires a device to be powered to work. It needs to be plugged in to work automatically once a day. However, a device can manually be synced over wi-fi without being plugged in. Go to settings -> general -> iTunes Wi-Fi Sync and hitting the Sync Now button.
  • darkpaw - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    On the last pic in the find my friends section, you blurred out the account name at the top,. but not where it appears again at the bottom of the screen.
  • teetee1970 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    You mentioned the newton force etc to take a picture. You can actually take pictures now with the headset using the up volume button. So you could hook up to a tripod etc or set the phone down somewhere and click away as fast as you can press the buttons on the headset. You could probably use a bluetooth up volume button too.
  • Guspaz - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I've yet to have WiFi sync actually automatically sync my phone when plugging it in for the night. Perhaps iTunes must be left running on the computer, but that kind of defeats the purpose of automatic sync; I'm not going to leave a bloated app like iTunes running 24/7 just in case my iPhone decides to sync.

    If this is a requirement, WiFi sync will be largely useless for me until they can at least have a service launch iTunes on the PC when the phone wants to sync.
  • ddarko - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Yes, iTunes has to be running for the wi-fi sync to initiate automatically. No, the iOS device won't launch and then quit iTunes.

    One other thing I've noticed is that leaving iTunes running with wi-fi sync enabled is an enormous power drain on the battery on my iPhone 4. I've noticed my fully charged phone will be down to 40% charge by the morning. Of course, if you leave the iPhone plugged in all night, it will still be fully charged in the morning but apparently, there's a lot of power-draining activities going on between iOS device and computer during the night. This is one reason I've decided not to use auto wi-fi sync since I don't want to keep iTunes running and unnecessarily using power overnight. I still like the wi-fi sync option a lot but I manually sync wirelessly and then quit iTunes.
  • Geigco - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I was a Palm/WebOS junkie since it came out.

    "A company that executes consistently may not be competitive on day 1, but after a couple years of progressive iteration it may be a different beast entirely." sums up what WebOS failed to do successfully.
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Thanks for including results from previous iOS versions to see the evolution in performance as well as the analysis of iPhone 3GS and iPad 1 performance.

    I was wondering why GPU benchmarks weren't included? The results at Barefeats show that Apple seems to have much improved GPU drivers in iOS 5 compared to iOS 4.3.5. Devices seem to show around a 25% improvement in GLBenchmark for instance. It would be good if you could validate this result in GLBenchmark and GLview as well as add in the iPhone 3GS which Barefeats is missing.

    And do you know how GLBenchmark's online results database reports it's scores? For each device, in the details they seem to list multiple GPU driver and OS versions, which makes me think they are using a running average of submissions. Seeing performance changes with OS version, that would make he GLBenchmark online database very inaccurate. It's great that you are able to run the benchmarks on your own devices so that the results are unambiguous.
  • MyTechLife2 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I haven't seen many comments about the disadvantages of using iMessage. Here's some I've noted:

    iMessage costs more when not on wi-fi. I pay a flat $6 per phone for everyone in my family to have UNLIMITED SMS/MMS. Or if I use iMessage while away from Wi-Fi, it counts against my LIMITED $15/200MB per phone data plan.

    Also, I've found SMS to be more reliable than data service in congested and rural areas. Try posting a Facebook status update or any other data service from a crowded football stadium, vs. using SMS. SMS always wins.
  • lukarak - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Most people don't have it like that. But then again, most normal people use Whatsapp. It has really been a revolution for me and my friends.

    P.S. I have 50 sms free per month, and 1GB of traffic.
  • repoman27 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    iMessage packets are very small though. You would have to send on the order of 8000 iMessages per month to use even 1% of your 200MB plan. I'm guessing concerns regarding data plans are also the reason why Apple implements compression for iMessage MMS's when even one client isn't on Wi-Fi.

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