Hands-on with iOS5: The Memeburn review

iOS 5 is here and Apple fanboys worldwide are rejoicing. iOS 5 went live last night, while areas such as San Francisco received the Apple update first (at 10am). The remainder of the global Apple population managed to get their hands on it not long after.

After an intensely long and stressful 700MB update which involved the manual restoration of my iPhone’s data, I was good to go. For users who received the now dreaded “error 3200” during their installation, there was at least a modicum of respite with this fix. Now, on to the “the best phone experience ever”.

Better notifications
This is a biggie — an Android-style notification centre that slides down with a gentle swipe from the top of the home screen. The notifications now appear as discreet and slick updates during a calling, browsing or gaming session, removing the irritating pop-ups of old. This can be turned off if you prefer, but let’s look ahead to the future shall we? Every SMS, email, calendar or social network alert now appears in this new notification centre slider that can be configured to suit your preferences. In short, it rocks and thank god Apple had the sense to copy the Android’s notifications.

It locks!
The new lockscreen now accepts notifications as kindred brethren. Notifications stack up on your home screen, and simply swiping them takes you to the appropriate app.  Double-clicking the Home button places an instant access camera button next to the unlock slider.

Remind me what I said?
Reminders are nothing new, but combine them with location-based software and you have “please remind me to pick up peaches next time I’m at the shops” popping up when you arrive at the grocery store. You will have to use an address through your contacts list or on the iPhone map in order to activate this though.

Happy snapper
The camera on the 3GS was dire, less-so on the iPhone 4 thanks to auto-focus and a flash. Both required updates and iOS 5 delivers new features in the phone’s photo app in spades. Want to take a picture? Volume up takes a picture now, mimicking the feel of a no-frills digital camera.

Dying for basic image-editing? Any picture can now be cropped, have red-eye removed or become automatically enhanced. It’s as if Apple reinvented basic image editing. If you have more than one iDevice, iCloud (which I will speak about later) will sync them across all the devices.

On Safari
Safari has two noteworthy features — Reader and Reading list. Reader takes a text and image website, strips it of “clutter”, delivering a clean-reading experience. This is far more useful than I have made it sound (as it thankfully strips out the dreaded ads). Reading List lets you save pages for later reading. For iPad owners, they get tabbed browsing.

Much has been said of iCloud. It’s simply 5GBs (more if you need it and can afford it) of free storage which wirelessly saves your data. You can back up your content such as photos, documents, contact details, email and so on. It’s handy and it’s free. Use it. Just be weary of what you backup, 5GB seems like a lot, but fills up pretty quickly.

Hot off the presses
Newsstand, the new home of online magazines is an excellent addition to iOS5. It’s a shot in the arm for weary media, still in search of decent online revenue streams. On the iPad, Newsstand becomes an integral part of your reading experience thanks to the larger screen. Once upon a time, online magazines were lost in the clutter of apps but on the Newsstand each issue now demands your attention. It says, “hey, there’s new stuff to read”. Newsstand will work on iPhone and iPod Touch but hey, it was never much fun reading full-sized magazines on a pint-sized display. Bonus point: Magazines are automatically downloaded.

BBM for iOS
Oh Blackberry, you think. Your fate is sealed now that Apple has released its own “free” instant messaging service. Free yes, but you’ll obviously pay for the data — which will, in most cases, come out cheaper than SMSing. What this will do to mobile operators’ valuable SMS revenue streams remains to be seen. This is another key moment in the evolution that is seeing all mobile communication becoming internet-based, and the end of traditional calling as we know it. Still a while to go though.

iMessage works like a cinch. It works exactly like text messaging, sending messages instantly.

For iPad only
For iPad owners, the keyboard can now be split into two, allowing for faster two-handed typing. While interesting, the new split keyboard keys become hard to hit. Multi-touch gestures such as a five or four-fingered swipe reveals a multitask bar. Finally, and thanks to the miracle of AirPlay, the iPad can mirror its display on a compatible HD-TV via Apple TV.

Anything else?
OTA (over the air) updates are the new black. iDevice setup is now possible without a computer and incremental updates will replace those insanely massive “required” revisions of the past. Thanks to the magic of wireless, cable-free syncing is now possible.

For all the build-up, iOS5 is simply a few tweaks to an already solid base. Although a satisfying update, but won’t spin straw into gold.



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