Apple’s released a new version of the iOS software which runs on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, so you can now upgrade your device to get access to “over 200 new features”. Apple’s being a bit cheeky with that claim, because those new features include an unspecified number of bug fixes, which are features they didn’t get right first time around. But there’s still lots of good stuff in there, and it’s well worth the upgrade.
Upgrading itself was quite smooth, although time consuming. To install iOS5, you have to update to the latest version of iTunes. In all, it took over two hours to upgrade my iPad, although you might get faster results. I’ve seen a lot of reports online from people complaining that the upgrade deleted data or caused other problems. So far, the only glitch I’ve found is that some of my iBooks (those I imported from my PC) appear to be corrupted.
So, what’s new? Most obviously, there are new apps. The Reminders app is a nice little to-do list, which you can use to give you timed and dated reminders of tasks you need to do. It’s not integrated with the Calendar app, though, so you end up having two apps for managing tasks and deadlines.
There’s also a new Newsstand app for downloading magazines, which are sold as a new app category in the app store. I was expecting something like iBooks here for magazines, but the three publications I tried had very different interfaces. Newsstand behaves more like a way to discover magazine and news apps, than a reader for standardised magazine content.
There’s also a new messages app for exchanging text messages with other Apple devices that have the software installed. I haven’t been able to update other devices yet to test this with.
Apple’s included some new gestures for switching between apps. You can use four or five fingers together and pinch to return to the Home screen, and you can use four or five fingers together and swipe up to show the multitasking bar, or swipe left and right to switch between apps. The swiping between apps works well, but the other gestures feel slightly gimmicky and clumsy given the Home button gives one-click access to the Home screen, and two-click access to the multitasking bar. These gestures might feel more natural as I use them more.
Notifications are presented in a much better way now. I didn’t really get the most from my apps before because the way notifications were presented was so intrusive that I switched most notifications off. Now you can access a notifications panel at the top of the screen, and decide whether you want alerts for each app to appear in the middle of the screen or in a bar at the top.
Untethering devices has been a key goal in this update, and iCloud will help with that. It provides remote backup, and enables you to synchronise content across multiple devices. The free space available for remote backup is fairly limited at 5GB, so power users will probably have to pay for more or continue to synchronise with the PC. Most of the setup for iOS5 was performed on the iPad itself, rather than on the personal computer, and Apple says you can now activate an iPad without connecting it to a computer.
Throughout the operating system, there are small but useful changes that have been introduced. There are some nice improvements to ergonomics: you can use the volume button to take a picture and split the keyboard into two halves for thumb-typing. The tabbed browsing in Safari is much quicker than the old way of using multiple websites. The ability to download a web page to read offline later is a good response to the way people might want to use the iPad too. The basic photo editing tools are a nice addition, although not terribly sophisticated.
There are still a couple of things missing: I still can’t subscribe to a podcast on the iPad, and still can’t make smart playlists on the device, either. But Apple’s done a good job of picking up the major things people want, and moving towards a new cloud-based architecture. After all, if they delivered everything we wanted in iOS5, what would be left for iOS6?
This guest blog post is written by Sean McManus who is the author of the book iPad for the Older and Wiser.