When Apple announced iOS 5, the company said that it would boast more than 200 hundred improvements over its predecessor, iOS 4. Those improvements range from the addition of a new messaging platform, called iMessage, to full Twitter integration across the OS.
Combine that with the new notifications system and a dashboard for quickly accessing those notifications, and just about everyone who runs iOS 4 has rightfully been excited to get their hands on the next version of Apple’s mobile operating system.
The vast majority of folks, though, will need to wait until later this year. However, Apple has released iOS 5 Beta 5 to developers, and eWEEK recently had the chance to take it for a spin. In many ways, iOS 5 is similar to its predecessor. For the most part, users won’t be able to find too many fundamental differences between these two versions of the operating system.
But the improvements that have been made are major. And they’re a welcome addition to a platform that was already standing atop the mobile space.
Note that this is a review of a beta version and not the production version of iOS 5. Therefore, some of the features and quirks in this version might now show up in the final offering released to consumers this fall. But if the production version delivers on the promise shown by this beta release, iOS 5, it might prove to be the best version of Apple OS yet
The first thing users will notice with iOS 5 is that it offers the same basic look and feel of its predecessor. The same unlock screen is there and the design of the operating system itself hasn’t changed all that much. The only noticeable difference is the toggle buttons, which, unlike their rectangular predecessors, are now oval. It’s also worth noting that in some cases, Apple has ditched the tired old blue notification box.
For example, if users set an alarm, they’ll now find a black notification box with a red “Snooze” button. Previously, Apple used the standard blue design.
When digging deeper, it’s clear how many changes went into the update. For example, if users swipe from the top of the screen down, they’ll be able to find a new notifications dashboard that lists text messages, missed calls, application notifications and more.
The iOS 5 Settings page has also been drastically changed, due mainly to the addition of so many new features. The most notable addition, of course, is iCloud. In the Settings pane, users can turn on iCloud and determine what it should synchronize, including Mail, Contacts and Bookmarks.
The iOS 5 settings pane also includes a Twitter page, allowing users to input their social-network credentials. Once complete, the much-anticipated Twitter integration across the platform is turned on, allowing users to tweet from built-in applications.
Apple’s decision not to change the design of iOS 5 all that much can be taken two ways. Some critics might be discouraged by the company’s decision not to offer a new default background image or change its basic layout. But others will be happy to see that Apple hasn’t changed much.
After all, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. And so far, iOS 5 Beta 5 works as well as any previous version of the OS.
Twitter Integration, iMessage Are Valuable Additions
There are a host of new additions to iOS 5 Beta 5, including Twitter integration, a new way to read content on the Web, iMessage and much more. However, it’s Apple’s new and improved Notifications system that might be most important to users.
Previously, when users received notifications in iOS, the platform would interrupt whatever they were doing. So, if they were playing a game and received a text message, iOS would show them the message and make them cancel the notification to keep playing. This time around, everything is different.
While in an application, users who receive a notification will no longer be forced to interact with a message box. Instead, when a notification is received, it’s displayed at the top of the screen, away from the action in the particular application. At that time, users can either opt to click on the box to go to the application sending the notification or simply ignore it. If the latter option is chosen, the notification disappears after a few seconds.
What’s more, Apple has also added a notification dashboard, called Notification Center. By swiping from the top of the display down, users can be anywhere in the operating system and see what notifications they might have missed. Everything-from text messages to missed calls and application notifications-is listed there. The Center also features weather and stock information.
When clicking a notification in the Center, users will go right to the respective application. In addition, notifications are listed on the lock screen, and can be accessed by swiping.
Overall, the Notification system in iOS 5 is outstanding. It’s no longer intrusive, and giving users the option to do what they want, when they want, was a smart move on Apple’s part. However, the Notification Center could be a bit more useful; the application doesn’t allow users to add other content alongside weather and stocks to the page. Hopefully, in the finished product, Apple will allow users to do so.
Apple has also taken aim at BlackBerry Messenger with iMessage. That application essentially allows users to send instant messages to those on other iOS-based devices, rather than waste cash on a text message between those platforms. Because so few people have iOS 5, I wasn’t able to send a non-SMS (Short Message Service) communication to others. However, the platform appears to work quite well, which indicates it should be a nice addition when the final build of iOS 5 is launched.
The addition of Twitter integration across iOS 5 is another nice option for the social network’s users. With the help of the feature, users can tweet content from a host of built-in programs, including Photos, Camera, Safari, YouTube and Maps. To do so, users need only tap the tweet button, input a message and they’re all set. In my experience, the application works exceedingly well, and delivers on Apple’s promise of making it easier to be social. However, considering the popularity of Facebook, it would have been nice to send messages through that social network, as well.
Its Easy to Set Up iCloud on iOS 5
Aside from that, Apple added the ability to edit images from within the platform’s Photos application. Although it offers cropping, rotation and the ability to remove red-eye, I was a little disappointed by the editing features. Editing images was simple enough, but the tools didn’t appear to be as powerful as they could have been, and I’m not sure too many users will find much value in them.
That said, the ability to snap a photo from the lock screen is a great addition. In order to do so, users must double-click the home button from the lock screen. From there, a camera icon pops up, allowing users to quickly snap a photo. It’s an addition for which I’ve been waiting a long time, and it makes catching those fleeting moments much easier.
Apple’s addition of Reminders is also welcome. It’s easy to add tasks, and the customization options make setting up timed reminders quite easy. The application is a little basic, and there are better options in the App Store. But those who want a simple solution will find a lot to like in Reminders.
Thanks to iOS 5, users are also able to access Apple’s free iCloud service. That offering allows users to store some content in the cloud, as well as sync Mail, Contacts, Calendar and more.
I was pleasantly surprised by how quick and easy it was to integrate iCloud into iOS 5. As soon as the software was added to my iPhone, I was able to configure the cloud service and determine what files and data I wanted to synchronize. What’s more, I was able to access the service online, and find my information with ease.
What’s nice about iCloud is that it keeps everything up-to-date without requiring users to do anything. So, when I added Reminders on my iPhone, it was immediately available on the iCloud Website. And when I added a task to my calendar in iCloud, it was added to my iPhone in seconds.
In many ways, iCloud might be a fine solution for business professionals. The Calendar function can be accessed from anywhere, and content is quickly added across all platforms. It’s an advantage that many other services don’t have, and could be a go-to option for many professionals.
In the end, I was impressed by iCloud. As Apple said, the service “just works” and it makes keeping up-to-date much easier than before. If this is the beta version of the service, I can’t help but be excited to try out the release version.
From beginning to end, Apple’s iOS 5 Beta 5 was impressive. The process started out with an over-the-air update that took just a few minutes and had no hang ups. Best of all, this evaluation ended with the feeling that this is the best version of iOS so far.
Prior to the announcement of iOS 5, many folks could find several features on Android, BlackBerry OS and even Windows Phone 7 that trumped Apple’s option in some way. For some folks, that’s undoubtedly still the case. But iOS 5, as a whole, is the best mobile operating system on the market, and it sets a new benchmark for all others to match.