Our take on iOS 5


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By TAN KIT HOONG bytz@thestar.com.my

By all accounts, the update to Apple iOS 5 has been far from a smooth upgrade experience for most users — a combination of high demand straining Apple servers to various problems with the update on some PCs meant that many users failed in their first attempt at updating their iOS device.

Nevertheless, users who persevered were rewarded with a spanking new operating system on their devices, which in many ways, brings a lot of subtle but very important changes to the iOS experience.

We’re not going to have a rundown of every feature that iOS 5 offers — you can find a load of that floating around — but instead, we are going to pick out a few and look at what makes each of these features important for you and me.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here it goes.

Multi-tasking gesture support

Perhaps one of the features most likely to be overlooked by iPad 2 users is multi-tasking gesture support, a feature you probably won’t notice till somebody tells you it’s there.

Multi-tasking gesture support in iOS 5 is similar to the implementation on MacBooks running Mac OS X Lion, in that you can use four or five fingers to swipe or pinch to perform different tasks.

However, and this is a real bummer — multitasking gesture support in iOS 5 is only available for the iPad 2 and iPad users are effectively left out in the cold, even though there is no technical reason why the iPad won’t be able to support this feature.

That aside, we’ve been using it for a number of days now and find the feature very useful — for example, performing a “pinching” gesture, by bringing all your five fingers together on the iPad 2’s screen while in any app, will immediately take you back to the Home screen.

In use, this is an extremely fast and convenient way to get back to the Home screen and will at least save on a lot of wear and tear on the physical Home button of the iPad 2.

Similarly, swiping towards the left or right of the iPad 2 screen will quickly switch between running applications, similar to how its implemented in Mac OS X Lion.

In use, though, we found four-finger swipes for switching tasks a bit finicky as you need to pause a second or two as you touch four fingers on the screen to make sure that the gesture registers as a task-switching gesture.

What worked better was to swipe four fingers upwards, which opens the familiar multi-tasking menu which is usually accessed by double-clicking on the Home button.

iMessage

iMessage is Apple’s answer to the popular BlackBerry Messenger service, which takes advantage of our (relatively) generous data plans to send messages to other iOS users for free.

In iOS 5, the implementation of iMessage is pretty seamless on the iPhone — it’s completely integrated into the existing Messages application of the iPhone.

When you send a message via the Messages app, it’ll default as an iMessage to anyone who has an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch with iOS 5 installed — it’ll be obvious because iMessages will be colour-coded in blue and will have a blue “Send” button.

If you’re sending a text message to anyone without iOS 5 or who is not using an iOS device, the app will default to SMS, and will be colour-coded in green, so you always know when you are being charged by the carrier or when you are using your data plan.

Yes, iPad and iPod touch users who have iOS 5 installed will also get some iMessage love — a new Messages app appears on these devices, and allows users to send an iMessage to any iOS 5 user, including iPhone users, of course.

Notification Center

Android users will find Apple’s Notification Center in iOS 5 VERY familiar — it’s basically almost an exact copy of the implementation in Android devices.

Notification Center attempts to solve the clunky single pop-up notifications from older versions of iOS and is the new repository for all your incoming SMS, e-mail and other notifications.

Now, instead of an annoying pop-up in the middle of the screen when you get a new text message or Facebook notification, you get a less obtrusive banner on the top edge of the screen — ignore it and it will just disappear from there after a few seconds.

If you want to read all your notifications, just swipe downwards from the top edge of the screen down to open the Notifications Center.

The Notifications Center also has a couple of widgets running — a weather widget and a Stocks ticker will be running by default.

Some users may find this annoying, but luckily you can remove these widgets by going into Settings/Notifications to turn them off.

In the Settings page you can also customise every app you have that has notifications, choosing for example, whether to receive notifications, and if so, whether it will appear as a pop-up or as a banner.

iCloud

Probably the biggest new feature of iOS 5 has to be the iCloud, which brings online sync and backup to every iOS device.

iCloud is actually a collection of several different cloud services — at its most basic, it can backup your contacts list, calendar events, reminders, browser bookmarks and notes online and keep it in sync across all your devices.

Apple also offers 5GB of storage online for “Storage and Backup” which allows you to back up data from all other apps, including third-party apps — such as the Camera Roll, game saves and other similar types of data.

iCloud doesn’t actually back up an app — it saves the unique data for that app and in a restore situation, it will download this data, then re-download the whole app from Apple servers again for you, which saves you a lot of storage space because it’s only backing up the save data and not the app itself.

However, in use, we found that photos in the Camera Roll is the main culprit for consuming most of the 5GB on our iCloud — a collection of photos can take up as much as 1GB-3GB especially if you’re not in the habit of doing a bit of housekeeping and deleting photos that you no longer want in your Camera Roll.

iCloud requires that you register an account with Apple but interestingly, it does NOT have to be the same login and account as your App Store login.

This is useful in a multiple device environment — for example, if you have an iPhone, and your child has an iPod touch, these two devices can share the same App Store account but different iCloud logins.

This means that your child can take advantage of the applications which you buy on the shared App Store account, but your 5GB iCloud backup and contacts/calendar sync will not be replicated on your child’s iPod touch which has its own iCloud account and login.

Browser changes

iOS 5 also brings major speed improvements to the built-in Safari browser on supported devices, along with tabbed browsing. Yes, instead of the old thumbnail style, Safari on iOS 5 now opens up various webpages in individual tabs.

You can open up to nine tabs at a time and can tap to quickly switch between them without the long loading times of the previous browser.

Some supported webpages will also have a “Reader” icon, which when tapped, will reformat your pages and take away all the ads and various distractions so that you can read it much like a magazine.

You can also add pages to a “Reading List” which saves the link and syncs it across all your devices so that you can read it later on another device.

However, unlike our initial impression, adding a page into Reading List does not save the page for offline reading — it only saves the link and you will still need a Net connection to read the page.

Reading List does however remember where you stopped on the page so you can continue where you left off when you start reading on another device.

Faster camera launching

You can now launch the camera app faster right from the lock screen by double-clicking on the Home button when your iPhone is in sleep mode.

Apple now also allows you to snap a photo by pressing the volume up button on the iPhone, which is certainly more convenient than tapping the screen most of the time.

Photo stream

Photo stream is another one of Apple’s new iCloud-enabled features, and appears as another folder in your Photos app. The idea is simple — take a photo on one device and have it appear on all iOS devices using the same iCloud account.

In practice it works really well, but there is one catch — pictures that appear in the Photo Stream on all your devices cannot be deleted.

For some weird reason Apple does not allow you to delete any photos from the Photo Stream, which isn’t great if you have an embarrassing photo that you don’t want anyone else to see.

By default, pictures will be automatically deleted from Photo Stream after 30 days, but there is a way to clear out the cache immediately by logging in to iCloud.com with your username and password and then choose “Reset the Photo Stream” from the settings page.

However, even at icloud.com, there is no way to delete individual photos. iTunes WiFi Sync

One of the new features that iOS 5 brings is the ability to sync your device with iTunes wirelessly over your local WiFi network.

iTunes WiFi sync needs to be enabled by first connecting the device to iTunes via the sync cable and then choosing “Sync with this iPhone/iPad/iPod touch over WiFi,” after which the device’s icon will appear permanently in iTunes.

WiFi sync works automatically whenever you connect your device is in sleep mode and connected to power or if you manually initiate it from either the device or iTunes.

Updated apps

Along with iOS 5, Apple has also updated a number of apps, including Pages, Keynote and Numbers to support iCloud.

Now whenever you create a document on any of these apps, a copy is also uploaded to iCloud. Apart from pure iCloud support, Apple has also just updated iMovie on the iPad and iPhone to not only support 1080p video from the iPhone 4S, but also from a variety of other cameras as well.

For example, we successfully imported h.264 format 1080p 30-frames-per-second video from a Nikon D7000 into iMovie on the iPad 2 and it was playable and editable in iMovie.

We have no doubt that video captured on other brand DSLRs will also work if its in the same format and bit rate, although we didn’t have the opportunity to officially test this yet.

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