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Operating systems software Reviews
15,670 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.

iOS 5 reviewTo reduce the amount of space needed—each iCloud account comes with a free 5GB, and the smallest iOS device Apple sells is 8GB—only your data is backed up. And not even all of your data: Any media you’ve downloaded from the iTunes Store doesn’t count against your total, and that includes apps as well as music, video, and books. You can also selectively choose which apps’ information you want to back up in Settings -> iCloud -> Storage & Backup -> Manage Storage (or Settings -> General -> Usage -> Manage Storage).

Like Wi-Fi Syncing, backups happen when your device is on a Wi-Fi network and plugged in, so if you let your iPhone or iPad charge over night, it should be all set when you pick it up in the morning.

You can also manage your device’s internal storage. Settings -> General -> Usage provides a list of all installed apps—although many of the apps that ship on the phone are not present—and their size; tap on any to see the size of any documents or data that are being stored in that app. (Often, those file sizes are far smaller than the app itself.) There’s a Delete App option available on most of the screens as well.

iOS 5 review iOS software updates are another task that used to require running to a computer; now that’s built in as well. It’s available under Settings -> General -> Software Update though, as you might expect, we’ve been unable to test it in the final version of the software so far.

Finally, should you decide the name of your iOS device isn’t quite cutting it, you don’t have to turn to a computer to change it. Just navigate to Settings -> General -> About and tap on the Name field to enter a new one.

Notify this

By now, the pattern in Apple’s major iOS updates ought to be pretty clear. Every significant version change has brought at least one very important systemwide update that addresses a shortcoming, along with a handful of feature enhancements and other tweaks. In version 2.0, that was the App Store; in 3.0, it was cut, copy, and paste functionality; in iOS 4, we finally got multitasking. In iOS 5, that role is played by improved notifications.

It wasn’t long after push notifications were finally introduced in iOS 3 that frustrations began popping up right alongside them. The blue alert dialog that appears to let you know you’ve got a new text message or update you on your sports scores is handy and all, but it can induce plenty of annoyance when you’re in the middle of doing something else. Plus, if you dismiss the notification just to get it out of the way, there’s no way to get back to it later.

iOS 5 improves notifications in three key ways: the introduction of banner notifications, the addition of Notification Centre, and improvements to lock-screen notifications.

iOS 5 review

Banner notifications solve the problem of having notifications interrupt everything you’re doing. Instead of appearing as a dialog box, the top of the screen flips down—like one of those rotating billboards—to reveal a small icon from the notifying app and a message. Tapping on the banner takes you to the app in question; but if you don’t tap the notification, it will linger for a few seconds and then disappear again.

iOS 5 reviewBut what if you don’t quite tap fast enough? No worries—that’s where Notification Centre comes in. Just swipe down from the menu bar and you’ll drag down a sheet containing all of your recent notifications, arranged by the originating app. As with the banner notifications, tapping anything in Notification Centre will take you to that app (and usually to the relevant item).

You can clear all the notifications for any app by tapping the ‘x’ icon opposite its name, then tapping the Clear button that appears. However, there’s no way to clear just a single notification without tapping on it—my experience with iOS’s multitouch conventions tells me I should be able to swipe across a notification and have a Delete button appear, but sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case; it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.

Notification Centre gives you two choices for organising the order in which apps appear in it: manually or by time. If you choose by time, the app with the most recent notification will show up at the top, followed by the app with the second most recent, and so on. If you opt for manual organisation, then the apps will appear in the same order that they do in Settings -> Notifications. You can reorder them there by tapping the Edit button and dragging them into your desired sequence.

In addition to notifications, Notification Centre on the iPhone includes two special entries: a Weather widget and a Stocks widget. The Weather widget displays the current conditions and temperatures for the first location in the iPhone’s Weather app (if you enable the Weather app’s new Local Weather option, that’s what will show up in Notification Centre). Tap on the widget and you’ll be taken to the Weather app.

iOS 5 reviewThe Stocks widget shows a scrolling ticker of any symbols you’ve added in the Stocks app, along with their current quote, whether they’ve gone up or down, and—for companies—their current market capitalisation. You can tap and drag on the scrolling stocks, just in case the one you wanted to look at scrolled by too fast. And tapping on the widget will take you to the Stocks app.

Like the other apps in Notification Centre, you can place the widgets wherever you like, if you’ve chosen to organise them manually. (If you organise by time, they’ll always be at the top.) However, you can’t configure anything else about them, other than turning them off or on.

While I turned the Stocks widget off—I don’t need constant reminders of our economic woes—I find the Weather widget extremely handy. I hope that Apple will extend this widget space to further apps and perhaps even third-party developers at some point in the future; I can imagine plenty of apps where I’d want the option to get a quick glance at their status without launching them—a news reader for example, or social networking client, or an app that provides sport scores. Or, for that matter, let third-party makers of weather and stocks apps provide their own widgets, if users would prefer them.

iOS 5 review

The last part of the notifications overhaul in iOS 5 is the improvement to the lock screen. In previous versions ofiOS, if you got multiple notifications while your phone was asleep, they would appear in a blue dialog box along with a brief description: two missed calls, a voicemail, a text, etc. But once you unlocked the phone, those messages would disappear, so it was incumbent on you to remember what they were.

Now, your lock screen gives you a scrollable list of all your notifications, listed in the order that you received them. As with Notification Centre and banners, an icon tells you what app the notification is for, along with a short description of the alert. Swiping any icon will unlock the phone and take you right to that application.

Apple has also added granular controls for notifications along with all these new options. In addition to now being able to enable or disable sounds, badges, and alerts, as you could previously, you can now also choose whether an app’s notifications show up in Notification Centre or on your lock screen. You can also choose to retain the alert-style notification on a per-app basis, if you prefer, and dictate how many recent notifications appear in Notification Centre for the app: one, five, or ten. (The iPad also offers the ability to have 20 notifications displayed for an app.)

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.

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