The original iPhone was designed to address a significant user experience problem with smartphones of the day. The iPhone itself was just the delivery vehicle, what later became known as Apple’s iOS was what made it all happen. At its launch in 2007 many lamented the significant loss of typical smartphone features with the very first iPhone. You couldn’t multitask, there was no copy/paste support, you couldn’t tether, you couldn’t send pictures or video via MMS and there were no apps. Apple of 2007 was very much a Mac company that was gaining strength, looking to dabble in the smartphone world.

Despite its shortcomings, the original iPhone/iOS combination did enough things right to build a user base. With a solid foundation Apple did what all good companies do: iterate like crazy. We got annual iPhone and iOS updates, each year offering evolutionary but important improvements. A company that executes consistently may not be competitive on day 1, but after a couple years of progressive iteration it may be a different beast entirely.
That’s where Apple finds itself today. No longer the timid newcomer in the smartphone market, Apple has turned iOS into a major player in the industry. Given its success in convincing iPod users to embrace Macs, it was inevitable that Apple would leverage a similar strategy in growing its iOS and Mac businesses. The latest release of iOS, version 5.0, announced in June of this year is as much about updating the phone/tablet platform as it is about beginning the next phase in Apple’s expansion. iOS 5 isn’t about liberating Apple from the PC, it’s a step towards unifying the experience across Apple’s product line. As it’s still just an iOS revision, Apple needed another tool to bring about this level of change, which is why iOS 5 is accompanied by the public release of Apple’s iCloud service.
A primary goal of iOS 5 and iCloud is to enable users to access their content across any Apple device without manual syncing. You should only have to worry about carrying the right device with you and not think about whether it’ll have access to your contacts, email, files or if people can still reach you if it’s all you’re carrying. That’s the theory at least.

What Will iOS 5 Run On?

iOS 5 is releasing on a wide range of devices, including the past three generations of iPhone, past two generations of iPod touch, and both generations of iPad. It brings with it a number of headline features, including a ground-up redesign of the notifications system, a new iOS-to-iOS messaging service called iMessage, and the integration of iCloud, a cloud computing and storage service for iOS, OS X, and Windows. According to Apple, there are a full 200 new features found in iOS 5, with features like Twitter integration, wireless sync, PC Free setup and updating, display mirroring over AirPlay, multitasking gestures, and updates to core applications like the camera, browser, mail and calendar being among the more notable changes highlighted by Apple. It’s a pretty healthy list of things to cover, so we’ll get down to it. 

iOS 5 was designed around four devices: the iPad 2, the 4th generation iPod Touch, the iPhone 4, and of course, the new iPhone 4S. This time around, the iPad version of iOS 5 is launching alongside the iPhone and iPod touch versions, a nice change from iOS 4. The iPad was bumped from iOS 3.2 to iOS 4.2 a few months after the initial release of iOS 4.0 for the iPhone. 
If you’ve ever used an iOS device before, whether it be an iPhone, iPod touch, or an iPad, the iOS 5 user interface will be instantly familiar to you. When the biggest visual change is that the toggle switches are rounded instead of rectangular, you know that not a whole lot has changed from that side of things. iOS is unique in the Apple world as it's still maturing yet extremely important to Apple's overall business. Seemingly as a result, Apple has been both reluctant to mess with the UI formula while eager to adopt new features. What we get with version 5 is a significant evolution of the iOS platform without any revolutionary changes to the UI. While understandable, it's also a bit frustrating for those of us looking for improvements in areas such as multitasking.

Setup and Settings

While the look isn’t all that different, the first boot on a newly updated iOS 5 install gives away the first clue that there are some distinct changes under the hood here. You’re first greeted with a gray cloth patterned screen with the name of your iDevice (iPad, iPod, or iPhone, respectively).

Move the lock slider to begin setup, enter your Apple ID, agree to terms and conditions, and you’re given a choice opt-in for location services and iCloud, whether you want to set up a new device or restore from a previous local or iCloud-based backup, whether to backup locally or to iCloud, and then you’re all set to start using your iDevice. The new out-of-box setup is now much more Mac-like than before.

Apple’s PC independence shines through in the settings menu, where you can get iOS software updates downloaded directly to your iDevice and installed without plugging in to a host computer. Factor in wireless sync and iCloud, and it’s legitimately conceivable that after you install iOS 5, you can go without plugging into your PC at all. Apple has invoked the "Post-PC" term a number of times since the introduction of the iPad, but it's now finally letting customers set up their post-PC devices without a PC, a key factor as iPhones and iPads become legitimate productivity devices. 

Other key differences in the settings menu are the additions of iCloud, Twitter, and (if you’re on an iPad or iPod touch) Messaging panes, as well as the new notification settings, which gives users a manual switch to decide how each application sends alerts. Notifications have been something of a sore spot in iOS for a while now, and as the single largest user experience change in iOS 5, the new alert system is something of a big deal. 

Notifications and the Notification Center
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  • Aikouka - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Have you guys noticed any weird issues with WiFi sync? It seems that whenever I would unplug my phone, iTunes would start freaking out because it couldn't find the phone. That's pretty obvious why... it's no longer on the network since iOS only keeps WiFi alive while plugged in. It would constantly pop up an error about being unable to find my iPhone or iPad.

    Not to mention leaving "Open iTunes when this device is connected" would cause iTunes to constantly open up... even when closed. Turning this off caused my device to enter some weird limbo state with iTunes. Plugging it in gave me an error, "Another iPhone has sync'd with this computer." The only options were to restore or setup as a new iPhone. A little Googling revealed that the only option was to hit setup as new iPhone and quickly unplug the cable.

    It worked, but now my device just comes up as "Apple iPhone" instead of how it used to.

    I really don't like iTunes.
  • kezeka - Thursday, October 20, 2011 - link

    I just straight up cannot get it to function with my iPad 2 and MBP. I have tried pretty much everything I can think of without any luck. Not that it bothers me that much, I would just like to have it working to simplify the syncing of the two.
  • name99 - Thursday, October 20, 2011 - link

    There are two things you might want to try.

    (a) Shame on Apple for not making this clear, but you have to go to iTunes and, while the phone is plugged in, toggle the "Sync with this phone over WiFi" checkbox. It is not set by default, and when you try to sync on your phone, the phone gives a useless error message rather than telling you this setting needs to be toggled.

    (b) You have to ensure that your phone in on the correct wifi network. If you have a modern Airport base station and have a guest network setup, you must ensure that the phone is NOT on the guest network --- best is to tell the phone to forget the guest network. This makes perfect sense --- the whole point of the guest network is to contact the outside world, without allowing you to contact machines on the local LAN.
  • StormyParis - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Guys, I think devoting graphs to gains of 0.1s is... mmmm.... we French say "sodomozing flies". I think the coclusion is 1- don't do graphs for irrelevant sutff (especially, not lots and lots fo thm) 2- a 0.1s improvement is not forth more than a "slightly speedier" comment in passing, and 3- those times are so low to start with, lobel them "very good", and talk about some interesting ?

    I know benchmarking is fun and all, but we're well past the point of irrelevance.
  • dingetje - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    hmmm we dutch say f**king Ants.
    it seems u french are way more pervy than us ;)
  • cjs150 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    In depths of northern England we go for sheep - but I think that is a lifestyle choice rather than pithy phrase describing graphs!!
  • Samoht - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    interesting.. in danish it's called flyf**king. Maybe the translation from french to danish didn't carry all the way over ? Or maybe we do not need the specifics;-)
  • Kristian Vättö - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    What they show is that there is no difference, which is kind of their point.
  • grkhetan - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I didn't know AnandTech did software reviews... I have been coming here every day since the last 3-4 days to see the iPhone 4S review, but finally I see here is an iOS5 review. But even this was high quality as your hardware reviews are -- I love how you go into detail of everything and don't cut back on prose. With hardware your reviews are unmatched in the industry considering your technical depth.

    Anyway, nice review and great coverage. However, when is the iPhone 4S hardware review coming out?
  • Blaze-Senpai - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Go read an iPhone 4 hardware review; it's basically the same thing. The only (physical) changes are minute and you'll get different bar charts.

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