Two good things happened at Apple’s event earlier this month: firstly, we finally got to see the new iPhone which, although not as extravagant as the rumour mill would have had us believe, is a great jump from the previous iPhone thanks to the introduction of Siri in iOS 5. Secondly, we actually got a release date for iOS 5, and it will be landing on an iPhone near you today!
If you’re a little cautious about downloading new software before reading some reviews first, then worry not, because we’ve done all of the leg work for you!
Note: This review does not include ‘Siri’, the voice control software found on the new iPhone 4S. If you want to read about Siri, head over to our iPhone 4S review, and you will find all of our thoughts there.
The first thing that is immediately noticeable about iOS 5 is the setup process, which is all handled on the phone itself. Gone are the days where you have to sync your new phone with iTunes before you can get going. Instead, you are taken through a series of prompts which will guide you through the setup. This includes simple things such as setting up your Apple ID, and at the end of the process you will be able to start using your phone.
This also holds true for future updates, thanks to the introduction of over-the-air software updates which have been made smaller so that you can update over 3G if you’re particularly desperate.
Notifications and Widgets
One other major overhaul in iOS 5 is the addition of a revamped notifications system, which can be accessed by swiping your finger down from the top of the screen, similar to how you would do it on Android devices.
Instead of receiving intruding notifications that stop you from continuing whatever you’re doing until you address them, you will now see a small revolving item at the top of the screen with the notification on, and you can choose to address it straight away or ignore it. If you ignore it, the notification will disappear, but you can view it later in the notification center when you swipe down.
If your phone’s screen is currently off, you can still rely on the old ‘badge’ style notifications to alert you if you have a new text message or social network update. Third party apps can still access this functionality as well, just like they could in previous versions of iOS.
At the top and bottom of the notification center, you will notice two default widgets: one for the weather and another for stocks. Without jailbreaking your iPhone, these are the only two widgets that you will currently be able to view, but they are fairly nice to have for quick access to information. Hopefully, we’ll see more widgets making their way over to iOS in future version updates, especially if Apple opens this up to third party app developers.
Reminders is a new to-do list application which has been introduced alongside iOS 5. It’s bundled in with the operating system, so you don’t need to access it through the App Store as a separate application, which always helps to keep things simple.
Using Reminders, you can set to-do items like you would in an app such as Things, but you can also gain other advantages in iOS 5. If you’re using the iPhone 4S, then you can use Siri to set a reminder, which might save a bit of time.
Reminders also lets you set up a geo-fence, so that it knows when you’re at home, or work. This allows you to say something such as “Remind me to put dinner in when I get home”, and you will be reminded to do it when you get back home.
The camera on the iPhone has improved significantly since the first generations were released, and the iPhone 4 was a big improvement over the iPhone 3GS thanks to the addition of an LED flash. With the introduction of an even better camera still on the 4S, it’s time for the software to become more useful as well, and that’s just what it’s done.
After taking a photo on iOS 5, you can now edit it straight on the device itself, with multiple options available ranging from red eye removal to cropping, and the automatic enhancing of your shots at the tap of a button. For many, photo editing on the iPhone itself is a key part of the “post-PC” mindset that iOS 5 portrays. It means that you no longer have to sync your phone to a computer to edit your photos that you’ve taken before uploading them to an online service or transferring them to your online storage, and it really does make things a lot easier.
Every man and his dog has a Twitter account today, so integrating such a popular service into your operating system is always going to be a popular move. Now, you can enter your login details for Twitter in the System Preferences of your iOS 5 device, making it much easier to quickly share information from apps such as Safari in a couple of taps.
The interface looks simple, popping up in the middle of the screen when you choose to share something to Twitter, and allowing you to add other information that you would get from within the application, such as your location. Having Twitter built directly in to the operating system is a vast improvement over using the third party application for sending tweets, and it saves a lot of time when you’re tweeting something from the web or your photo collection.
For years, the one thing keeping BlackBerry phones remotely relevant in the modern smartphone market has been the BlackBerry Messenger, also known as “BBM”. With the introduction of a similar service on iOS 5, called iMessage, however, we may see the market share of BlackBerry devices dwindle even further in the future.
Available on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, iMessage avoids cellular networks entirely by using data networks and sending messages over Wi-Fi or, on compatible devices, 3G. You can send text or images over the protocol, and it won’t affect the number of texts that you have remaining on your plan.
If both recipients are on the iMessage app at the same time, then you can see when the person that you’re talking to is typing a new message, just like you would in an IM client such as iChat on OS X. The only problem with iMessage, like BBM, is that both recipients need to have the software in order to use it. For now, that means that you will still be sending more text messages than iMessages (unless you have an incredibly high-tech group of friends, or happen to work at Apple) but it’s a good start.
I’d personally prefer it if phone manufacturers came up with one, open standard that could be used across the board between all devices, so it would be a lot easier to eradicate text plans or at least seriously reduce them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon.
Although it’s a feature which will undoubtedly be more attractive on a device with a larger screen, such as the iPad, Newsstand is a great addition to what is quickly becoming a content consumption device. Despite the iPhone’s small display, there are numerous magazine and newspaper apps available from the App Store, and they can quickly clutter your home screen in no time at all.
Newsstand behaves similarly to a folder, but keeps all of your newspapers and magazines tucked away on a virtual shelf so that they don’t clutter up your device. If an app supports Newsstand it will appear on your shelf, and whenever a new issue is available it will be downloaded and waiting for you the next time you pick up your device.
This is quite an exciting prospect for people who regularly read magazines on their phone, as you won’t have to manually check to see if a new issue is available within the app; it will just be waiting for you and ready to read.
The jump from iOS 4 to iOS 5 is probably the biggest thing to happen to the iPhone since the App Store was introduced. Everything on my wish list, from improved notifications to widgets, has been answered, and the extras such as iMessage that I hadn’t even thought about until they were introduced are bound to make a massive impact as well.
For any iPhone 3GS, 4 or 4S owner, this upgrade is an absolute no-brainer. Apple has done a great job with the latest version of their pride and joy, so if you haven’t done so already, go and download it from iTunes for free.
If you want to read a review focused more on the iPad and iOS 5, then you can check out our iPad iOS 5 review too. Want to hear more about Siri? Check out our iPhone 4S review for all the details, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comments!