Apple iOS 5 Review

The latest version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 5, is such a significant overhaul that users who install it today will feel like they have a new device.

Among the 200 or so new features are some big changes, none bigger than the overhauled notifications system. The iPhone and its cousins the iPod touch and iPad have handled notifications poorly for a long time.

If a text message arrived while you were playing a game, for example, then it would interrupt everything and place a message in the middle of the screen. The game would not resume until you had dealt with the message. Alerts that arrived when your device was inactive caused a different problem: unlock the screen without thinking and the notifications would disappear, leaving you wondering which app required your attention.
iOS 5 sweeps all of that away with Notification Centre. Swipe down from the top of your screen and you'll see all of the notifications that require your attention. Weather reports, stock prices, calendar entries and more can all be stored there. Android users will rightly point out that Apple's implementation here is very similar to the way notifications work on Android.
However, as ever with Apple the important bits are the details, the 'fit and finish' of the feature, and it is these that make notifications a triumph. Whether it's the ability to 'unlock' a notification itself and go straight to the relevant app (instead of unlocking the screen and then opening the app) or the way that notifications subtly roll in at the top of the screen while you're doing something else, the implementation is excellent.
The slight texture to the background of Notification Centre and the way that incoming notifications slide the graphics of the app back into place are both pleasing touches. These are subjective things but they matter to Apple users and they help to make iOS devices such a joy to use. 
Notification Centre is the change that will have the most impact on how you use your iPhone or iPad but there are plenty of other significant changes.
Another longstanding weakness in iOS devices has been the requirement to connect them to your computer with a cable so that you can sync. This seemed outdated in our WiFi world and, thankfully, iOS 5 has done away with it. Your device will now sync with your computer whenever it is plugged in to charge, provided it is on the same wireless network. Moreover, new iOS devices can be set up and managed without ever being connected to a computer at all.
You'll notice new features in iOS 5 as you explore the system. Whether it's the Reader mode in mobile Safari, the hourly weather forecasts or the new Calendar views, little things will strike you as you play around. One thing you won't fail to spot, however, is iMessage.
This is a service that lets you send text messages, photos, videos and more to other iOS users, free. Apple thinks it will be huge among teenagers, who might have an iPod touch and either no mobile phone at all, or one with a limited data plan. It certainly turns the iPod touch and iPad into gadgets that rival the mobile phone, particularly when you consider FaceTime, Apple's video chat service.
Apple has added to-do lists to iOS with its Reminders app. It's very simple - add a task and tick it off when it's complete - but offers some deep features, such as location-sensitive tasks. Set a task that needs to be completed when you are in the office, for example, and iOS will use GPS to work out when you are in the office and send you an alert. iPhone 4S users can set reminders simply by talking to Siri, Apple's voice-controlled assistant.
There has been a lot of growth in magazine and newspaper reading on the iPad in particular and on iOS devices in general, and Apple has responded to that with Newsstand. Until now, each newspaper or magazine has lived in its own app, which can become cluttered. Newsstand treats them in the same way that iBooks treats books or iTunes treats music. Now your subscription apps live in Newsstand and you'll get an update when new issues arrive.
New camera controls make it possible to use the 'volume up' button as a shutter button when taking pictures and you can also jump straight into the camera from the lock screen, making it much quicker to take a quick snap.
Twitter is integrated deeply within iOS 5 too. Once you add the Twitter app and log in, your friends' Twitter IDs will appear in your contacts. It's also possible to send a tweet from within Safari, Photos and various other apps.
That feature does bring me to my one real criticism. Apple's iOS designs show an increasing trend towards skeuomorphic design, that is to say they add design elements that are non-functional but hark back to analogue objects. Usually this is done to make apps feel comfortably familiar but it shows a weakness for ornamentation that is absent from the way Apple designs its devices.
The worst examples are in elements such as the 'stitching' in the centre of the pages in the iPad Contacts app and the fake pages in iBooks. This can be seen in the iOS 5 Twitter integration too: tweet a link to someone and it will be attached to your tweet with a 'paperclip'. Why that's necessary is anybody's guess. It's a subjective thing but, for me, it's cheesy and pointless.
Still, that one gripe aside, iOS 5 is a brilliant upgrade to an already brilliant operating system. Different people look for different things in a mobile operating system. That's why some people prefer BlackBerry, Android or Windows Mobile. With iOS 5, Apple continues to deliver the best user experience available.
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