October 13, 2011
My iOS5 Review

So I've now been using iOS5 and the new Lion 10.7.2 update for about a day, and I figure that would give me enough insight to write up a quick little review.

In General

Mostly the same, not so revolutionary and mind bending that you'd notice any differences without looking. Good and bad of course, no one likes massive changes, but we all like something to remind us we're using something new. There are some changes in the UI of course, the on/off/yes/no switches have changed appearance, and there are other subtle tweaks.

The Bad

Sometimes Apple does things that make no sense to me and piss me off. In this release it did two of these things.

  1. Split the "iPod" app, which previously played your movies, podcasts, audiobooks, and music all from one convenient location; into two separate apps, "Music", and "Video". I don't use a lot of the video functionality from my iPhone, so the video playing parts of the iPod app were pretty much ignored, but the problem is they have now created another Apple app icon that I can't delete from the phone and have to hide away in some back corner folder like the stocks and calculator apps.

  2. The Newsstand app is great for the iPad but honestly the iPhone screen is way too small to properly appreciate the magazines that are offered. However they have created YAAITICDFMI (Yet Another Apple Application Icon That I Can't Delete From My iPhone) and has to be hidden away in the back corner with the Video app, but this app can't be put in a folder. Yes you read that right, the Newsstand application icon cannot be put in a folder on your home screen, unlike every other application icon, Apple created or not.

    I can only guess this is either a) a bug or b) some misguided attempt to give it more visibility (I think that Microsoft calls this "surfacing functionality"). Maybe because if it's in a folder you can't see the pretty magazine icons appearing as your subscription pulls them down? I can only hope that it's "a" - a bug.

    The reason for this I found is that the Newsstand application is a magic folder itself, and as you know iOS doesn't allow you to have a folder in a folder. There is also a workaround if you really don't want to have Newsstand outside of a folder.

    As for the app itself I played around a bit and the "free" magazines I installed all were just the magazine "app", and to get content you had to do in app purchases for $5 for an issue. The New York Times was the exception here, and it had a nice mobile interface. Still, I think this will be much like iBooks and simply not be used by me, until I get an iPad and have a better device for a reading experience of course.

For the bad though, that's all I've found so far, and both those problems are currently hidden away on my very last home screen.

The Good

Lots of nice little tweaks can be found. Obviously the notifications are awesome. I don't have access to an Android phone, but from what i can tell this brings iPhones dismal state of push notifications into parity with the Android OS, which is great news for iOS users. Androiders mock all you want, this makes us happy, and we're happy that Apple stole from the current best of breed notification system out there. Getting the "slide to go to action" functionality from either your lock screen or the notifications pull down is great and very useful.

The Camera
The Camera from lock screen is also a welcome change, I daresay that this is going to be my favorite new feature as a photographer. The camera app starts more quickly as well it seems, but that could be just the new-install smell. I'll re-visit this in a week or two and see if it's still as good. I don't' do a lot of image editing on the phone, and when I do it's more specific than the new functionality in the Photos app, but that's nice to have for the times you need a quick crop, red-eye, or auto-enhance.

This system is a way for you to send free text messages between iOS 5 phones. Like face time, it's baked right into the "Messages" app (where you send your SMSs), no need to open another app, no need to create an account, you just need the newest version of iOS. At first I thought this was going to be one of those "Apple giveth, Apple taketh" apps where you have to send messages to a user at their @me.com account to have it work, but no, SMS your friend at their phone number as normal, and if they have an iPhone that's got iOS5, the message bubble will be blue instead of green and you'll know that the message isn't being added to your SMS limit for your plan (if you're like me and don't have unlimited texts).

Reminders App
The new Reminders app is nice as well. I'm a bit of a slut for productivity / TODO applications, with AppiGo's "Todo" being my current favorite, but I am wanting to give Reminders a shot. It has one feature that is either a great demo or actually amazingly useful, that is the location based reminders.

If you haven't used it, you basically set a reminder like you would in any app, and in addition to a due time, you have a location field and you can set to to remind you when, for example, you leave your current location. This worked great for me in my test with two minor caveats. You can't seem to set the radius that it kicks in at, so when I was reminded down the street when I left my location tonight that might have been too far or too close for you, but that's a bit of the apple way. It might also depend on the resolution and detail of GPS coverage you have as well. Secondly (and this should be obvious) the GPS on your phone will be active until all location based reminders are completed (or else how will it know where you are when you leave). So the idea of having a bunch of these for when you are near the grocery store, home, and the office might not be a good idea depending on battery drain.

The resolution of the GPS might be set purposefully wide as well to reduce the battery drain caused by polling, causing it to not use as much battery and to have a slightly less accurate location reminder "net". Another thing that will become more obvious with testing.

Reminder will sync through iCloud (more on that in a second) with the reminders check boxes in your iCal calendar (at least on OS/X). It nicely separates them into separate lists as well, based on what calendar your reminders are for. I had a bunch that were pre-populated and I had to figure out where they were coming from, I was wondering if maybe Apple was smart enough to pull data right out of Todo! Sadly no. While you get over the air syncing with Reminder for free, the sophistication of the app leaves much to be desired, compared to Todo. However for what it is, it does it's job well and doesn't shut out competition from other apps.

Now if only the other apps would add in the location aware secret sauce!

iCloud on iOS and OS/X
I have had mobile me for a couple of years, only the last year however because I forgot to cancel it. Having it mostly because paying $99 was worth having the over the air sync of contacts and calendar entries between my phone computer and website, as well as the "find my iPhone" feature (of course that was after my iPhone was stolen in 2008).

Since then though things have changed. Find my iPhone is free, and now Mobile Me has converted to iCloud. iCloud is basically mobile me, but now it's baked even more deeply into iTunes, OS/X, iOS and the various apps that use it. Here's a video link to Apple's description of it.

Converting from Mobile Me to iCloud is easy and step by step, just run through it on the website and as long as your OS (phone or computer) is the right version, after a few seconds (you back everything up before you start this of course) you get a notification that everything is upgraded. That easy.

Using it is a bit harder. Not that it's hard to use, I mean; it "just works", but not much really uses it. I'm not a user of Keynote or Pages on mobile so that doesn't really work as a test case, and I know as time goes on more applications will put it to use. Right now though the best example is that I can take a picture with my phone and a couple of minutes later (not quite as instant as they show in the video) it will appear in iPhoto in a Photo Stream album. Of course you have to turn these on in various control panel settings on your computer, iPhone settings, and of course know to go to the 'Photo Stream' source in the left hand side. Still, once it's up and working, it seems to work well.

One downside of the move is that you lose your mobile me gallery, so if you want to access your images from a website, you're out of luck unless you share them off manually through flickr, Dropbox, email, twitter or similar. Hopefully apple will replace this functionality soon.

I'm really looking forward to what will happen with this in the future.

The "Meh" (Or The I Don't Know Enough to do Anything But Guess)

Honestly no clue, it's not available for the iPhone 4, and since Rogers would charge me an extra $340 (on top of the subsidized cost of the phone), I most likely won't be getting one until my contract is up.

There are a couple of different ways to look at Siri only being on the iPhone 4S.
The pessimist would say it's a shameless money grab by Apple to sell more of the new phone, and quite frankly, I'm sure in part it is. I don't begrudge them for making money though, they are a company whose job is to make money. Other thoughts people have put forward though, one that this is a slow rollout starting with the 4S and later moving to the 4 to see how the load goes on their new data centres. This would be nice to think (as an iPhone 4 user at least). Another idea is that there is something in the iPhone 4S hardware that is required for the Siri processing. Some new voice de-mangling chip, an accent normalizer DSP.... something like that. Again, a possibility, we'll see what happens when the iTearStuffApart guys get a hold of the new hardware.

I think of it a bit like this, if Honda was to replace the whole interior of my 2 year old car with brand new seats, trim, and everything except for the current new fancy Blaupunkt radio (leaving my crappy default version), I'd still be pretty happy.

WiFi Sync
Much as I'd love to be able to say that this feature brings iPhone in parity with what Android has had for ages, I don't think it is. Since no one has given me an Android phone to test for a couple of weeks yet (any googlers want to help me out here?) I don't know exactly how the sync works on it, so I can only tell you how the Apple system works.

My dream for Wifi sync was that when I was on a wifi connection I could hit the sync button and my phone would magically sync my podcasts, any new apps, music, etc though the internet through iCloud.

It almost works like this, except you have to be on the same network as your main "syncing" machine, and plugged in. Being the Apple media model is a single location to sync all your stuff from, this does make sense. Maybe in the future the sync system will utilize iCloud and it will work more like this. Having to be plugged in makes sense as well (for the auto-sync) for battery life, though you can trigger it manually.

Other Updates
Safari, Mail, and various other apps got tweaks and twiddles that add polish to their already great experiences. No doubt others can write about this stuff is far more detail than I can. A few details I did notice:

  • Long song or podcasts titles now auto-scroll in the Music app, resolving a huge nitpick I've had for ages where the title would cut off after a certain number of characters and there was basically no way to view the full title of a song or podcast if it was long (as they tend to be).

  • Safari now has Reader and Reading List integration, open links in background, and private browsing, and also feels faster (again this could be just the new car smell of a new OS install)

  • More fonts, Emoji, multiple routes in the maps app, and much more. Great coverage over on MacStories.net for a nice long list.

Additional resources for iOS5 information can be found at such sites as: