What’s New in iOS5

By Rajat Bhalla September 22, 2011


This is the first major upgrade to iOS ever since it was rechristened from iPhone OS.

Apple’s iOS 5 page says that they are “taking iOS to a whole new level”.

Scott Forstall, SVP iOS Software, says that this is the “widest and most extensive update for iOS, ever”.

The update boasts of 200 new updates.

Let’s look at the new features to see if that is really true or is it just old wine in a new bottle.

I am able to review some of these on an iPad running iOS 5 Beta 7.

1. Notifications

This is not a new feature. iOS users are already familiar with notification pop-ups and badged icons. What is new is the way these notifications are lending themselves to the user.

With the device in an unlocked state, you can drag down the notification bar on top and see a list of notifications from various apps. Tapping any would take you straight to that app.

While iOS users may drop their jaw on this, Android users are only yawning as this was already on Android since version 1 !!! (do I hear someone shouting “copy-cats”)

Additionally, the iOS notification drop-down also shows weather and a stock ticker.

Even in a locked state when the device shows a list of notifications, you can swipe a notification directly and open its app instead of having to unlock the device first. Now that is something that would make Android users jealous.

2. Newsstand

Apple had caused a lot of heartburn to publishers earlier this year over its seemingly atrocious terms of engagement.

However, after the two parties agreed to mutually respectable terms, it was the end user who emerged as a winner.

Newsstand is a single repository of all your newspaper and magazine subscriptions purchased from App Store.

The magazines and dailies are downloaded in the background and are available for offline reading.

Simulating your book shelf, the exploded view of the newsstand shows you the cover of each magazine and daily that you have subscribed to.

3. Twitter

Twitter app for Apple was already available since but what is new is the OS wide support for it.

Integrating Twitter into iOS and offering it as a single sign-on is a smart move by Apple and great news for the Twitterati.

Now you can sign-on with Twitter and login to any other application permitting a Twitter login without having to specify your credentials again.

Not to mention, that the OS wide integration allows you to Tweet from a lot of native applications like Photos, YouTube, Safari, Maps, etc.

Additionally, you can complement your contacts information with their Twitter information like photo, @username, etc.

4. Safari

Mozilla’s Firefox has always been my personal favourite (at least on a PC*) but the additions iOS has done to Safari really tempt me to switch.

When you are reading an article (blog post, news article, etc.) on Safari and switch on the Reader mode from the address bar, you see the article freed of all the clutter (like side bars, ads, related stories, all the junk that web developers like us put in a page). The article is displayed in a neat (I am tempted to say “sexy”) fashion with Serif fonts, a la hardcopy publication. Just focus on the article without any distractions.

Reading list is another interesting addition. It allows you to save articles for later viewing. And more importantly, this list is accessible across devices by using iCloud. So you can view articles on your iPhone while commuting home that you had saved earlier on iPad while in office.

And to top the Safari cake is the cherry of tabbed browsing. Switch among multiple tabs the same way you would on your PC*.

5. Reminders

I have always had trouble managing my to-do lists, at least on a PC. Simple text document, Excel sheet, Ta-da lists, I have tried it all.

But this simple application can be a solution to all your woes about managing to-do lists, at least on iOS.

You can create new lists and quickly add list items. Check them off as you complete them.

View all completed list items in a separate list and in the list you created.

You can mark a date and time to be reminded about an individual list item (without which it would not make sense to call the feature as “Reminders”).

Here comes the best part about reminders: in addition to specifying time and date, you can also specify place. That is, be reminded of a chore when you arrive at a place (pick up groceries from supermarket) or when you leave a place (call your wife when you leave from office so that she can be prepared with a new set of chores when you reach home).

And you can sync these reminder with your other Apple devices using CalDAV or iCloud or with your Outlook using Microsoft Exchange.

6. Camera

Now Apple claims to have the most popular camera among mobile phones and as popular has regular cameras using Flickr as a reference for this statistic.

Even if that were to be true, the new features would only serve to bolster iPhone’s camera’s position.

The chances of missing a moment worth capturing are even less with the quick access to camera even from the lock screen.

Just double click the home button to reveal the camera button and dive straight into the camera app.

And click like a regular camera with your iPhone held in landscape mode and using the volume-up button. 🙂

Also you can view grid lines on your screen so that you can align the picture even before taking it.

Want to zoom in, just pinch to zoom!

Another great feature which I doubt if any other mobile camera has is an AE/AF Lock.

Now I am not a photography expert but as I understand, on iPhone, if you select an area and lock the AE/AF (auto exposure, auto focus) and even pan a little, the exposure and focus of the selected area would not change despite the change in background light.

I would have to check this on an iPhone running iOS 5 but as I gather from Scott’s# demo, it seems to work.

7. Photos

All that beautiful pictures can me made too look even better by some handy tools now offered by the Photos app.

I hate it when my eyes in the photo appear red as if I am a Sith lord. You need not make your loved ones look like that if you use the red-eye reduction tool.

Then you can also crop, rotate, organise into albums the photos you took on your iPhone on the phone itself.

8. Mail

While the mail app on iOS devices used to appear like makeshift mail, it is going to become lot better and would come close to appearing like the mail on Mac (well, almost).

With the addition of rich text editing (bold, italics, underlines, etc.) and indentation, mails sent from iOS devices would look lot more like their Mac cousins.

Besides, you wont have to type again if you mentioned a contact name by mistake in CC instead of To or BCC. Just drag them to the other field.

Messages can be flagged / unflagged on the device itself, searching would include the mail body in addition to the to, from, and subject fields, swipe to view/hide the inbox, yada yada yada.

But one feature really made me skip a beat (I actually said “Whoa” when I saw the demo) is the split keyboard on iPad

You can split the keyboard and drag it upwards so as to type by just using your thumbs while holding the iPad. Awesome!

9. PC Free

This is actually a goood one (that wasn’t a typo, I use the ooo sound when I really like something, like “hey, that girl is goood”)

The pre-requisite of having a PC to sync your device with has been done away with.

The iOS device can be the only computing device in your home for all you care.

Activate, update it over-the-air. Not to mention that updates are now delta-updates so you just download what has changed, not everything including the kitchen sink.

10. iMessage

Well, I am not saying that Apple is trying to emulate the success that BlackBerry achieved through its BlackBerry Messenger, but…umm…yes, I think I am saying that.

But its a great feature to have anyhow.

iMessage allows you to exchange messages over 3G/Wi-fi with your friend if he/she also has an iOS device.

iMessage is built into the existing messages and allows you to exchange photos, videos, group messages, and of course simple texts.

You can receive delivery receipts (no more excuses like “I never received your message”), read receipts (or “I didnt read your message”) and even get to know when the other party is typing a message.

Besides, these messages are synced across all your iOD devices so you can resume the conversation from your iPad if, for example, your iPhone got run over by  a truck.

11. Wifi-Sync

This is another feature that aims at making your iOS device truly wireless.

No need to plug in your device to your PC to sync with iTunes. A shared wi-fi connection between your device and the PC would handle the syncing.

But, I am wondering what would be left of the poor battery if you are syncing a lot of audio and video.

These were some of the new features that iOS offers to the end users.

But even iOS developers have a lot to cheer about.

With more than 1500 new APIs, developers can unleash their creativity and develop really useful apps (and some weird ones too).

Apple claims to have done significant enhancements to Xcode, Instruments, and Simulator.

Then they have incorporated the CoreImage framework from Mac OSX to iOS that allows the developer to weave some real magic in their apps that handle images (red-eye reduction for example).

Hope you enjoyed reading the post.

Stay tuned for more (especially my soon to come blog post on Android).

Feel free to comment on this post or you can reach me at rajat(at)vinsol(dot)com.

* The term PC has been used to differentiate desktop computers, laptops from mobile iOS devices.
# iOS5 introduced and demoed by Scott Forstall, SVP iOS Software


1. Keynote Video: http://www.apple.com/apple-events/wwdc-2011/
2. iOS Video: http://www.apple.com/ios/ios5/gallery.html#video-ios
3. Features: http://www.apple.com/ios/ios5/features.html
4. Title Image Source: http://images.apple.com/ios/ios5/images/overview_hero.png

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