Arguably the world’s most hyped smartphone platform, iOS 5 boasts a maturity in both platform and ecosystem that everyone else is trying to catch up with. Much of the iOS 5 update simply improves on features that have been available for some time, but Apple certainly has some new tricks up its sleeve. It comes installed on the new iPhone 4S and is available for the iPhone (4 and 3GS), iPad (1 and 2), and iPod Touch (generation 3 and 4).
Easily the coolest new feature in iOS 5, Siri is also the most frustrating because it’s (needlessly) exclusive to the iPhone 4S. In its simplest form, Siri is the best mobile voice activation solution on the market, but it’s much more than that. Instead of always listening for specific key words, Siri attempts to translate your words into something the iPhone can act on. The result is a very usable voice interface that allows you to play music, set reminders, reply to text messages, inquire about the weather or traffic, and a host of other uses.
Apple’s second attempt at an integral cloud service, iCloud rains down convenience all over iOS 5. It integrates nicely with Apple’s iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) to provide a means of synchronizing your documents to the cloud, or to multiple devices. The iCloud website lets you view thumbnails of these documents, and upload or download individual documents. iCloud also provides quick access to your @me.com email, and lets you manage your contacts and calendar in a central location. At iCloud.com you can “Find My iPhone”, which allows you to locate, track, and remotely lock or wipe your device if it gets lost or stolen.
For such a mature platform, notifications prior to iOS 5 were hideous. Notifications would interrupt the app you were currently using, which was especially painful during video playback or key moments in a game. In iOS 5, Apple has taken a major step in the right direction with notifications. Instead of constant popups that demand your attention, notifications appear at the top of your screen, and disappear after a few seconds. A list of recent notifications is visible by dragging downward from the top of the screen, revealing the Notification Drawer, similar to the UI in Android. iOS 5 also offers the ability to display notifications on your lock screen, adding an additional layer of visibility without being obtrusive. Using Settings you can configure notifications for individual apps, indicating when and where an application is able to notify you. You can even revert to the old method of notifications, if you’d prefer.
Messaging and Social Networks
iMessage is Apple’s implementation of a unified messaging platform. It can seamlessly switch between SMS and chat with other iMessage users. You can even begin an iMessage conversation on your iPhone, and pick up where you left off on your iPad or iPod Touch.
Twitter integration also makes its debut in iOS 5, though you won’t be removing your Twitter app anytime soon. iOS 5 uses Twitter to share photos, links, maps, or videos with only a few touches. App developers also have access to APIs that let them integrate built-in functionality, meaning more socially-aware apps should be on the horizon. What Twitter integration in iOS 5 doesn’t provide is an easy method to interact with your timeline or post a simple Tweet without going through Safari, Photos, or Maps.
There are a lot more less significant features and updates in iOS 5 as well. For example, iPads get a Split Keyboard to benefit thumb typists, and Safari adds enhanced tabbed browsing. Significant AirPlay updates mean you can now mirror your entire screen to an HDTV display with an Apple TV.