Friday, June 10, 2011

iOS 5 hands-on

So iOS 5 is out and we've managed to have a play with the developer build to see what's new and exciting and how it works in the real world. Of course all of the below could change as it's not actually finalised yet, and as we've seen in the past Apple has a tendancy to alter bits and bobs along the way or add in new features at the end for some final pazzam.

Previous on iOS (said in an American accent) you had to connect your iPhone or iPad to your iTunesaccount via a cable on your computer and then follow a series of instructions on the computer.
That all changes with iOS 5 and the process, very akin to HTC Sense, is considerably easier to go through and means that the phone is set up from the get go.

For Apple that means everyone is likely to say yes to its iCloud services as well as its Find My iPhone service that debuts here too.

Our setup took less than 3 minutes.

The biggest change is notifications. Apple has finally embraced a system that won't make you shake your fist at your phone every time someone retweets you and that can only be a good thing.
Very Android, and we mean very, in its approach, you are now able to swipe down from the top of the screen to reveal all your notifications in one place including certain dedicated widgets like weather and stocks.

Each main app group – email, messages, phone calls, or app notifications are listed alongside a small version of there icon and you're able to clear the clusters individually, leaving others if you still want a reminder.

While the notifications can be accessed by swiping down at any moment you choose the biggest difference you'll notice is that they also appear on the Lock screen too.

That could be dangerous if you like getting "saucy" text messages as all will be able to see them even if you've got a passcode.

Like Android you can use these notifications to jump straight to the app and this is done by sliding the icon across the screen just like you do for the unlock slider.

The bottom line is that it's a far, far, far better system than is found in iOS 4.3 and one that makes upgrading to iOS 5 worth the effort.

Notifications can be set to be manual or "By Time" and you can also set which apps give you notifications and which don't, and more importantly whether you want them to be viewable on the lock screen. Handy.

You can also set the type of alert you want to see when you get a new notification, and if you really like the middle of the screen alerts you can see get that either for all your alerts, or just specific apps.

Currently there are two widgets available – weather and stocks.

Yes it's like Android, yes it's like Windows Phone 7, yes your friends with those operating systems will welcome you to 2011. But, hey, you've got a decent notification system now so be happy.

Taking on BBM, iMessenger is Apple's new instant messenging service built in to iOS 5. Found in Messages, the idea is that as long as you've got someone's Apple ID email address, you can start pinging them instant messages like text's without having to send a text.
We tested it with WinRumours editor Tom Warren who's got iOS 5 installed on his iPad. It works a treat, is real time, and allows you to share pictures at the snap of your camera shutter.

One concern we both have is spam, and it will be interesting to see how Apple protect you from junk messages clogging up your messages inbox, but we both agree, we like it; like it a lot.
Camera access from the lock screen, dedicated button, editing your photos, and Photo Stream 

We've all been there, wanting to take a picture with your iPhone only to miss the moment by the time you've swiped to unlock it, entered in your passcode, then found the camera app and waited for it to fire up. Now a double tap of the home key on the lock screen presents a camera button for you to use straight away.
If that wasn't enough to get you giddy with photographic excitement, Apple has added even more to the camera; like the ability to use the volume up button as a dedicated camera button.

That might not make perfect sense in the height of the summer, but come iOS 5 launch day when the weather has turned, you'll be loving the fact that you don't have to take your gloves off to snap a quick photo.

Once you do finally take your picture, you'll now get new editing features too.

Press the edit button on a photo and you get the chance to rotate it, magically enhance it using Apple's algorithm, apply red eye fix and, finally and most helpfully, the ability to crop the image either manually, or by constrain (square, 4 x 6, 5 x 7, etc).

The original image is kept intact for you to still edit, however, you don't get a separate image clogging up your photo album.

Finally, the Photo Stream feature is the ability to set the iPhone to automatically upload new photos to iCloud and then have them downloaded to your other iOS 5 devices like your iPad.
Twitter baked in 

You like Twitter, we like Twitter, it seems Apple likes Twitter a lot with the company's social networking service being baked into the OS at a core level in a way that we've never seen before.
In practice it means that everything has a Twitter button allowing you to tweet it regardless of whether you've previously had a Twitter app installed or not.

All you've got to do is put your Twitter details in via the settings pane and then you're done.

Twitter has, as far as we can tell, infiltrated everywhere. Contact details, photo sharing, web page sharing, you name it, it's there.

There is even a dedicated new keyboard that includes easy access to the hash and @ keys for you to share your love of whatever you are trying to tweet.

Sadly, there doesn't seem to be auto complete on hashtags, but there is on people you follow as soon as you start typing after the @ symbol. You are also able to add your location in.

Yep it's just like Windows Phone 7, however without the same level of Facebook integration.
Safari browsing, tabbed pages, Reader, and Reading list 

Safari has had a series of updates too. The main one for iPad is tabbed browsing allowing you to zip through webpages quickly. It works really well and as with most things, should have been their from the start.
For the iPhone and the iPad you now get private browsing that you can switch on and off via the settings. Marked by a black surround rather than a blue one, it means your history isn't captured and stored. It also means that you can ditch the need for a third party browser like Atomic browser for surfing to places you probably shouldn't be.

Private browsing or not, a new feature that has come from the desktop is Reader. This bit of technology allows you to strip out all the ads and content from the page so you can read the page easily on the screen.

Thankfully for web publishers, it looks like you still have to load the page to start with so they can still earn money from advertising, but once you've loaded the page into reader you can then change the font size making it bigger and easier to read.

It works really well.

If you've not got time to read it there and then you can opt to add it to your reading list for later.

Accessible via Safari bookmarks the new feature will list all the pages you've marked for reading and list them in two columns; All, and Unread.

You do need to be connected to read them, but if you're a fan of Instapaper's read later feature, this is the pretty much the same thing but from Apple instead.
iCloud and syncing 

The PC is dead, finally. That's going to be how you brag about this feature to your mates, before realising that Android and Windows Phone 7 users have been able to do this for some time now.
Once you install iOS 5, the software now goes off and finds out what you've bought in the past through Apple's App Store and keeps a record of it so if you lose your phone or your iTunes library goes bang, you can still get your apps.

The first thing you'll notice (we certainly did) was that its amazing how many apps you've bought in the past and then deleted.

Still that aside you now get to sync your iPhone's apps and do software updates without the need to connect it to a PC. It's also worth noting that when you do connect it to the PC you don't get the "Syncing" screen that locks out your phone during that process.

iCloud is still confusing, but ultimately means that you can back up your camera roll, accounts, documents and settings. So if you lose the phone, you don't lose your local data.

You'll get 5GB of storage to get you going although you will be able to buy more.

Within iCloud comes Find My Phone - handy if it's lost or stolen - and the settings pane lets you manage your iCloud services (Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Bookmarks, Notes, and Photo Stream).

Don't get us wrong, the iCloud back up features are welcomed. They are free (well 5GB to start) and means that, effectively, if your phone gets lost, it's not so much of headache as it used to be.
Weather, Reminders, Newsstand, and other bits 

Of course there's plenty else to mention. Weather now gets a very Android "Local Weather" feature that, aside from all the cities you've picked, will tell you the weather where you are. It gobbles up data thanks to location services like nobody's business but it's a nice feature to have if you travel a lot.
Newsstand is what iBooks is for magazines and newspapers allowing you to manage your subscriptions. It's not yet active so we've not been able to play with it and that means our shelves are empty. It will be interesting to see if Apple tries to turn this into a feed reader as well to take on Google's Reader, but we very much doubt it at this stage.

Reminders is like a shopping list feature allowing you to quickly create to do lists to your heart's content. Getting Things Done fans are going to love it. As for extra cool geekery, you can see how you're doing when it comes to completing tasks too.

Each task allows you to set a reminder to do it so that you don't forget it, the due date, the priority of the task and where it appears. You can also create additional sub-lists for set job categories that you might have – work, personal, birthday gift list, etc.
LED flash notifications 

Taking a page out of BlackBerry's book you can also set the LED flash on the back of the iPhone to flash when you get a new message. Those addicted to their email are going to love it.

There is still plenty of time to go before iOS 5 will be available on a phone near you without hacking your iPhone or signing up for the Apple dev program.

What we've seen does make a massive difference to the mobile operating system from Apple, bringing it up to speed with Android and Windows Phone 7 in what is constant cat and mouse game.

As with previous updates, Apple has managed to introduce a number of new features and options without drastically changing the overall look and feel of the OS. For some, that's going to be welcomed. For others hoping for something a little more drastic, they'll have to keep dreaming.

For us Apple hasn't done anything stupid here, or made any new feature just not work, and that's got to be a good thing.

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