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
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Brian Klug - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    That's true, however we've measured and talked about the size of iMessage messages - read/delivery reports are 53 bytes (which is literally almost entirely just overhead from JSON and APNS), and messages range upwards in size from there up to 853 bytes before being fragmented across a few different APNS.

    By that math, it's going to take 245,856 maximum length (853 byte) iMessages to eat up your 200 MB data plan.

  • steven75 - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    iMessage defaults back to SMS if it hasn't been sent after X seconds. In theory, this means you shouldn't have to worry about congestion because Apple thought of this for you.
  • FoTacTix - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I was hoping for a battery life comparison in the review. Maybe I missed it? My battery life seemed to be much worse with imessage turned on on my Verizon iPhone 4.
  • Dug - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Great review!

    The most important update for me was mirroring to the Apple TV, and I think Apple would sell millions of Apple TV's if they promoted this.

    I enjoyed airplay before, but now that it works with every app is incredible.

    I enjoy being able to put everything through my stereo and TV. Things like Pandora, MOG, videos, games, etc. is so nice and very easy. Garage Band is actually fun now that I don't have to plug into my stereo. No other product can come close to this. I have several Apple TV's now throughout the house and can control everything from my iPad.

    It makes me wish that they made a 16x9 iPad. (But with my TV's I'm able to do a little stretch so it's not so bad)
  • jsd6 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    You can easily delete items from Reading List - swipe to delete on iphone/ipad, click the "X" icon on desktop Safari.

    You can do Wifi sync without being plugged in - it just isn't automatic. The wording on the iDevice is definitely confusing. As soon as your device is within wifi range of your Mac, the device will show up in iTunes as if it were connected via a cable. You can click Sync on iTunes, or initiate it from the phone. I've actually found to be too slow for my tastes so I stick with the cable. At least now the phone is still usable while the syncing is happening. That's a big step in the right direction!
  • Galatian - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    The one thing that really made me angry about the iOS update was the removal of the multitouch gestures for iPad 1 owners. I mean it worked in iOS 4 through an Xcode developer account, so Apple can't even say that the hardware is not powerful enough, like they do with Siri.

    What is even worse is the fact that they changed their website AFTER the update has been releases and people started complaining on their support forum. Now the American site states it is an iPad 2 feature only. Strangely enough the UK, Canadian, German, ... still quote the general iPad.

    Also the change log for iOS 5 update never mentions this to be an iPad 2 only feature.

    Apple has been known to artificially outdate their products, but they have down so quietly. This time they actually announced something and are now quietly changing stuff so it fits their business model...dumb move if you ask me.
  • steven75 - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    I agree there was not a good reason to do that. I wouldn't want to be without multitouch gestures on an iPad. I never use the home button except to turn it on.
  • lurker22 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    So there is no fix?

    I have to remember to send messages to people using their email address in order for it to be sure and deliver to all their iOS device? Which means I have to know what phones all my friends use which is nuts.

    Why doesn't iMessage just route imessages sent to a cell number to all the values associated with the apple ID?
  • name99 - Friday, October 21, 2011 - link

    Truth is, there are a HUGE number of rough edges associated with iCloud and all the related services. A different set of examples would be the duplicates of events in calendars, or the duplicates of contacts in Address Book; and there is no consistent mental model for how data is supposed to behave "in the cloud and on devices". Mail behaves one way, calendars and contacts another, iTunes music a third --- and I don't think any human understands how Notes are supposed to behave.

    My HOPE is that this is all teething troubles --- Apple was faced with a deadline --- they needed to get iPhone 4S out by a certain date --- and iCloud was rushed before various bits were quite ready. If this is so, hopefully we'll see the worst discrepancies resolved in iOS5.1 and OSX 10.7.3 in three months or so.
    And if not --- well, that is NOT a good sign. Apple's whole value proposition is, of course, "it just works". And while Android seem unlikely to compete on that front soon, it is possible (not inevitable, but possible) that MS might actually get it right in Win 8, right enough at least to become the new press darling, the company whose cloud offerings make sense, unlike Apple whose every product behaves poorly and inconsistently across the cloud.
  • unixfg - Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - link

    I don't really understand your claim here:

    "So regardless of how and where you’ve gotten your music from, if its there on the iTunes Store, it automatically gets legalized and added to your account..."

    Do you mean to imply there is no distinction on Apple's servers as to the source of your Music? I know the AAC files you buy have a tag linking it to your account, and can't imagine they wouldn't keep track of the source.

    That aside, I don't see how it would "legalize" anything. I'm a huge fan of your articles, and hate that this is the first time I've felt the need to register and comment, but...

    <citation needed>

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now