Cloud features and application enhancements don't cripple older devices.
Apple's latest major revision of its mobile
operating system proves that the company is capable of learning from its
mistakes, while moving the bar for rivals such as Google's Android. Although on
the surface it appears to be an improved iOS 4, the addition of cloud-centric
networking and sharing features makes iOS 5 a true milestone for the platform.
The new version of iOS adds a number of capabilities
in the areas of personal information management and media sharing, but the
introduction of iCloud as a keystone of iOS 5 is certainly a game-changing move
by Apple. In providing users a mobile-focused, simple-to-use repository for
application data and media-albeit one that's limited in scope-Apple is having
another go at the cloud. This time, though, the recipe works.
Devices sold before the release of iOS 5 can be
upgraded in a matter of hours, at the risk of being realistic about what's
involved. The kicker seems to be the amount of media you insist on having
onboard the device when it's being upgraded. Obviously, if one's device is
already backed up and the software downloaded, the actual loading of the
software and restoration of data are the only remaining time-consuming tasks.
However, I found that the process of upgrading an iPad, an iPhone 3GS and an iPhone
4-from backing up the device, through the OS image download, restoring applications
and data, and then setting up new features such as iCloud-was a four-hour
Still, I'm impressed with the results, especially
with the way a two-year old iPhone 3GS behaves after the update. Before, I was
more than a little curious about how well iOS 5 would run on what is now
low-end gear. Apple's track record on this front took a beating last year, when
users who upgraded their iPhone 3G devices to iOS 4 consistently experienced
poor performance, including sluggish behavior and crashes. Ultimately, Apple
ended iOS development for the iPhone 3G after the November 2010 release of iOS
4.2.1. Following a few days of using a 3GS for about a week as everything but a
phone, I don't believe that history is going to repeat itself.
On first use, a newly upgraded device presents the
user with a chance to implement some basic settings for iCloud. These include
the Photo Stream image-sharing service and device backup to iCloud. After
iCloud, I've found the most useful feature of the new OS to be Reminders, which
breathes new life into the familiar to-do list. It uses iCloud to synchronize
task lists across iOS and OS X Lion devices, and if you're using the ActiveSync
feature of Microsoft Exchange, with both Mac and Windows versions of Outlook.
It offers location-aware organization of tasks, which could keep me from
wandering into a hardware store and instantly forgetting why I walked in there
in the first place.
Another noteworthy feature of iOS 5 is the built-in
Twitter client, which might make me a believer, if not a regular user. It too
is location-aware, and the client integration with the Maps, Safari and YouTube
applications may draw an entirely new pool of users to the service.
I've waited for the iPhone to get a camera that's
fit for use in the field for anything more than a snapshot, and although one's results
will of course vary with the model, the new features of the Camera application,
such as view screen gridlines and zoom-by-pinch, make composition much easier
than before. Combined with new editing abilities in the Photos application,
including automatic color enhancement, cropping, red-eye elimination and
rotating, what we now have in the iPhone-thanks to iOS 5, iCloud and Photo
Stream-is a tool for posting photos online like never before. The only flaws
here are the lack of any way to easily get older photos into iCloud, and the
lack of control one has over which photos get put into the cloud.
That's actually a problem I see across the board
with Apple's implementation of cloud-based storage for mobile users. "All or
nothing" isn't a great strategy for Las Vegas or the cloud, and being
old-fashioned, I like to choose what chunks of my data are safe to go beyond my
control. The iWork applications for iOS-the Pages word processor, the Numbers
spreadsheet and the Keynote presentation tool-performed relatively well for me,
although there were a few bumps as older files on my devices moved to iCloud.
But as with Photo Stream, it's all or nothing, and that's not granular enough
for my taste.
The next big deal for me in iOS 5 is the ability to
back up and sync with iTunes wirelessly, install software updates over the air
and back up the device to iCloud. Any opportunity I have to get another cable out
of life is one worth taking, although I won't be able to test the software
update feature for a while longer, it seems. I haven't even heard a rumor of a
5.0.1 update as of this writing, two weeks after iOS 5 became publically
There's much more in iOS 5 that will make life
easier for users: the ability to search message bodies in the Mail application,
improvements to Mobile Safari that incorporate features from the desktop
browser such as the Reader view and the Reading List, iCloud storage of
bookmarks and reading lists, and tabbed browsing in the iPad version of Safari.
And that's just scratching the surface.
This time, Apple got the big release right.
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.