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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  • name99 - Friday, October 21, 2011 - link

    Let me just point out that obsessing about numbers can be counterproductive. Let me give you an example:

    No phone reviews (yet, anyway) measure the speed of the file system, the speed of launching apps, that sort of thing. But we all know from desktops that, for most purposes, what makes a machine feel fast or slow is not the speed of the CPU, it is the speed of the disk.

    So, suppose one is using a phone where most of the storage is an SD card (which are, or at least can be, quite a bit slower than the internal flash storage iPhone uses). That's not going to show up in benchmarks like Linpack, or Sunspider, or how fast the GPU is --- it's not going to show up on ANYTHING that current reviews benchmark.

    Now, does this make any sense? The single most important determinant of perceived performance is not being mentioned? You can either close your eyes and say "la la la, I don't care", or you can face reality and accept that slowness in IO leads to general complaints about "feels sluggish".

    And, look, it is STUPID of Android fans to ignore these complaints. Presumably you want your phones to feel fast, right? So what is more likely to get manufacturers to install faster flash in their phones?
    - a bunch of people saying "what performance problem? The speed of our phones is perfect in every way. Heck, don't change anything ever"
    - a bunch of people saying "yeah, the phone is nice in a lot of ways, bnut damn it feels slow when I perform the following operations"
  • _tangent - Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - link

    That blog illustrates Apple's greatest achievement in technology: convincing people that choice only serves to complicates matters. The browser comparison is a perfect example. There are browsers available which perform far better than the stock android browser. On an SGS2 (7 month old handset), firefox comprehensively beats the new 4S is JS benchmarks. Yet the blogger behaves as if visiting the market and downloading a third party browser is a complication too far for the average smartphone owner.

    I wish people would stop evangelizing the dumbing down of technology. There's nothing wrong with engaging your brain a little to get the best out of your tech. Too many people are bought into Apple's belief that we're all a little too stupid or too busy to think. iOS is to technology what pop is to music: instant gratification for very little investment of time or effort. But ultimately the same rules apply to everything: you get out what you put in. And on that topic, the author of that blog can't have put much effort at all into looking for apps, because i have never struggled to find quality games/widgets/etc on the android market.
  • steven75 - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    Do you know what my friend's favorite thing about switching from Android to iPhone is?

    How much better the browser is.

    So much for benchmarks, eh?
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Products like smart phones, tablets, and computers are multi-faceted beasts. An overall evaluation of each is what reviewers typically strive to determine. Apple is not perfect by any stretch, but taken as a whole the products are quite good. What you perceive as media bias, is actually just Apple making great products.
  • windywoo - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    No, what Apple make are products which are simple, and pleasing to the eye. They "just work" because they restrict the user in how much they can do, and therefore limit the amount of mistakes they can make.They usually trade off on other features such as customisation and flexibility. Then they add in the missing pieces as they go along. Why is this Apple method so beloved of reviewers? Why handle them with kid gloves for such obvious flaws that have just now been fixed? No-one applauds Fisher Price for simplifying things. Do Apple really deserve such praise for putting stabilizers on a bike and then taking them off when their users are suitably indoctrinated?
  • tbutler - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Because, just maybe, Apple designs products primarily for people who are willing - and often even *happy* - to trade maximum customization and flexibility in return for simplicity, fewer hassles, and limiting the possibility for mistakes? Heck, I've been using computers since the late 70's and consider myself a fairly experienced user, and I still like having a platform I can just pick up and use with a minimum of fuss.

    To answer a point further upthread: Benchmarks and feature checklists are suitable metrics for people who view benchmarks and feature checklists as the primary reason for using a platform. For those who think UX trumps raw performance or features*, not so much. And how do you quantify UX?

    *(A feature with a UX that makes it more trouble to use than the benefit you get from the feature is a null feature in my book.)

    For example, let's talk about the PlayBook, which I was able to grab for $200 recently. To back out of an application and return to the launcher/task switcher, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen. This leaves your finger in a good position to either swipe between apps, or tap an icon to launch. Offscreen controls are typically located in a toolbar you reveal by swiping down from the top of the screen; again, the gesture leaves your finger in position to do what you want.

    Compare this to Honeycomb, where the home icon and app drawer controls are on complete opposite corners of the screen; the same sequence requires going to the lower-left corner to return to the home screen, upper-righte corner for the app drawer, then back to the center to select an app.

    One platform feels fluid, with one action naturally leading into another; the other feels interrupted, with your finger jumping all around the screen. How do you reduce this to metrics for a review? Measure the number of inches your finger has to travel across the screen?
  • Daniel Egger - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I have just read the one linked article and I must say I have to agree quite a bit save for the "Sharing" experience. I do have a Gingerbread phone and only an iPod Touch on the IOS side (besides my main phones are a Palm Pre for the "business" stuff and a Nokia 6310i for the phoning part).

    The Android phone, while allowing for a hell of flexibility, just feels clumsy compared to the other smart devices: animations are not fluid, the UI of all non-Google applications feel like design by blender; about every single app looks vastly different and most don't provide any classy feel, save for Wunderlist, which must be the most wonderfully crafted Android application out there.

    Apps get swapped out erratically while other uninteresting tasks stay in -- why the heck does CSipSimple get swapped out several times a day while Maps launches itself? Managing running apps is a royal PITA on Android while it is supposed to be a "don't care".

    The Android market is utterly swamped with crap; it's about impossible to find decent apps and even more so without annoying ads all over the map. There really needs a separate right "Displays Ads" rather than "Full internet access". Also the market is not really helpful in finding good apps compared to the App Store. I've literally hundreds of very good apps and games, about 90% of which didn't cost me anything, on the iPod while I'm really struggling to hit 10(!) solid ones on the Android device.

    Then there's the standby time. The Pre and the iPod have SIP accounts XMPP registrations over WLAN up for over 2 days, the Pre even with UMTS on. The Android phone will need a recharge after less than one day, without cell or GPS reception on yet it has the largest battery of all devices.

    Then there's usability issues, maybe caused by vendor modifications (but fragmentation is also another con rather than a pro), like when you plug in USB while the phone is locked is will display the USB selector but you can't select anything until you use the hardware buttons to get to the hidden lock screen and disable the lock first...

    I was about as psyched to get the Gingerbread thingy as much as I was to get the Pre and and my iPod but I really hoped for a *lot* more than I received. There're so many inherent problems in the Android platform that I'm certainly not going to let me lure into trying Android another time soon...
  • Jeff7181 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Repeat alerts indefinitely until read or dismissed.
    Set ringer based on location and date/time.
    Set WiFi & Bluetooth based on location and date/time.
  • name99 - Friday, October 21, 2011 - link

    I agree. Have you reported them as bugs to Apple?
    I've submitted maybe 30 bug reports and feature requests regarding iOS5 and iCloud over the past few days.

    Having worked at Apple for ten years, I know: engineering is DRIVEN by bug reports. If you submit a bug, especially if lots of other people are submitting the same bug, it's pretty likely to get handled before the next release. Feature requests --- maybe handled --- sometimes they agree, sometimes not, sometime it's just a low priority.
    But random rants on blogs --- unlikely to change anything unless some Apple engineer happens to read your comment and think "fantastic idea".
  • steven75 - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    "Repeat alerts indefinitely until read or dismissed."

    This is a feature, not a bug, to everyone else in the world that doesn't want to hear your phone make noises endlessly because you aren't in the room.

    "Set ringer based on location and date/time."

    Agreed, this would be nice.

    "Set WiFi & Bluetooth based on location and date/time."
    I find this unnecessary. I leave both of those on 24/7 and always make it through the day on a single charge. Push notifications and location uses far more battery than those two and having them turn on/off based on location is going to cause more battery usage than just leaving them on all the time.

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