We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message
Operating systems software Reviews
15,669 Reviews

Apple iOS 5 review

Free

Manufacturer: Apple

Our Rating: We rate this 4 out of 5

The new operating system for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, will be released on October 12, and will include a whole host of clever new features.

It seems like every time a major software revision comes along, it’s described as the “biggest ever.” In the case of iOS 5, though, that might not be hyperbole—there’s hardly a part of Apple’s mobile operating system that isn’t altered in some way by the latest update.

Don’t think that this is just change for change’s sake, however. By and large, iOS 5’s changes are for the better, covering a number of shortcomings and gaps in functionality that have existed since day one.

Tempting as it may be to dub iOS 5 the “Snow Leopard” of iOS, though, it’s clear there’s a lot more to this than simply filling gaps. iOS 5 marks the first major revision of iOS to be simultaneously released for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. It also finally brings feature parity between the CDMA (Verizon) and GSM (AT&T) versions of the iPhone. In fact, all of Apple’s iOS devices are on the same page now (with the exception of the few specific features—such as Siri voice-control—that are limited to the iPhone 4S).

And that page isn’t exactly what you think it is, either. With iOS 5, Apple’s theory of the post-PC era finally moves into practice. No longer are iOS devices second-class citizens, tethered to the sinking anchor of a personal computer. With iOS 5, it’s possible, for the first time, to use your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad as your one and only device.

PC Free, with every purchase

Despite touting the PC-free capability on its list of features at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, the ability to use your iOS device sans PC isn’t really one feature, but a collection of them. That said, it represents perhaps the most important shift ever in thinking about Apple’s non-PC devices.

Going back to the original iPod, Apple’s non-PC devices have been viewed as accessories. You bought an iPod to go with your computer. Your iPhone synced data with your computer. Your Apple TV streamed content from your computer. By the time Apple released the iPad, that concept was straining at the seams. After all, what is the iPad if not a computing device in its own right? Why does it need to be subservient to a Mac or PC?

As of iOS 5, your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad can stand in the place where it lives, with no need for a Mac or PC to prop it up. The importance of this change is impossible to ignore. A year and a half ago, I argued that the iPad heralded a third revolution, but where that was a warning shot—a promise of things to come—iOS 5 finally delivers on that promise. 

iOS 5 reviewSetup man: The setup of a new device is perhaps where the distinction is most apparent. Whereas previous iOS devices would welcome you with the all-too-familiar instruction to plug them into a computer running iTunes, iOS devices now display a friendly welcome message—much like when you set up a new Mac.

If you’re starting with a fresh device, iOS 5 will walk you through a series of steps to get it set it up. You’ll be asked if you want to enable location services, prompted to choose a Wi-Fi network, then given the option to restore from an iCloud or iTunes backup or to set up a brand new phone (or iPad, or what have you). If you set it up as a new device, you’ll be asked to enter your Apple ID (or create a new one), then given the Terms and Conditions for iOS, iCloud, and Game Centre, as well as Apple’s Privacy Policy; if you agree to those, you have the option to activate iCloud, iCloud Backup, and Find My iPhone. As a last step, you’re given the option to allow the device to send diagnostics and usage data back to Apple—you can also opt out or, if you do choose to enable it, turn the feature off later under Settings -> General -> About -> Diagnostics & Usage. This information can help Apple improve its products, but the company also warns that it may include some location data.


iOS 5 reviewIt’s a pretty straightforward process, and one that even a technological neophyte shouldn’t have too much trouble with. Apple provides help links for most screens, explaining what a given technology is and why a person might want to use it. Much kudos in particular to the company for making Find My iPhone a part of every iOS device setup process. Having known a number of people who have lost their devices, or had them pilfered by nefarious wrongdoers, this is a feature that can genuinely help people—if they set it up. And now, thanks to iCloud, it’s available to all iOS device users for free.

Mind the Gap: Apple has also taken this opportunity to fill in numerous gaps in functionality that used to send one scurrying for their computer. For example, you can now add photo albums on the iPhone. You can create playlists. You can delete songs from your Music library (though, woe still betide you if you want to add anything to that library without going through Apple’s prescribed methods). And, joy of joys, you can now update an iOS device’s software right from the device itself, over the air—a capability that has been deployed by many of Apple’s competitors in a decidedly hit-or-miss fashion.

Other places where Apple is shucking the bonds of the PC include backups. In the past, iOS devices have backed themselves up while syncing with iTunes—and while you can still opt to keep things that way, either via cable or the new Wi-Fi Syncing (see below), those who choose to eschew a computer can back up their device online, via iCloud.

Apple iOS 5 Expert Verdict »

Apple iPhone, iPad or iPod touch
  • Overall: We give this item 8 of 10 overall

If you're hungry for new insights into iOS 5, though, there was little in Forstall's presentation that wasn't discussed back in June (see below), save for the October 12 release date.

  • iOS 8 review: It's great. It's free. So download it today.

    iOS 8: It's great. It's free. So download it today.

    iOS 8 may not look any different from iOS 7, but it brings a host of new features for iPhone and iPad users. Here’s our iOS 8 review.

  • Android 5.0 Lollipop vs iOS 8 comparison preview: Apple vs Google software showdown

    Android 5.0 Lollipop vs iOS 8 comparison preview: Apple vs Google software showdown

    Apple and Google have both recently unveiled their upcoming mobile operating system updates, both set to be released this autumn. Google's offering is Android Lollipop, while Apple's is iOS 8. Here, we compare the two in our Android Lollipop vs iOS 8 comparison preview, to determine what's in store for iPhones, iPads, Android smartphones and Android tablets later this year.

  • GarageBand 1.2 for iOS review

    GarageBand 1.2 for iOS

    GarageBand 1.2 is another impressive step forward for this remarkable, must-have app. The new sharing and iCloud features make it easier than ever to make your music available to others.

  • iTunes 10.5 review

    iTunes 10.5

    The latest version of iTunes works hand-in-hand with iOS 5 to bring many cool new features to your iOS devices

  • Apple iOS 4.1 GM review

    Apple iOS 4.1 GM

    We've been using the GM mobile operating system release for 24 hours and can say: iOS 4.1 on iPhone is the most solid, responsive iOS release to date.


IDG UK Sites

Amazon Fire HD 6 is a really good value tablet. The Amazon Fire HD 7 isn't. Amazon Fire HD 6 and...

IDG UK Sites

Why Sony's PS4 2.0 update is every gamer's dream (well, mine at least)

IDG UK Sites

ACLU's Halloween-themed animation warns of dangers of ignoring threats to your privacy

IDG UK Sites

20 lesser-known tips for Mac OS X Yosemite: use Yosemite like an expert