Apple has released iOS 5 for most recent iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad models. The new operating system features hundreds of improvements, but the biggest changes include support for wireless synchronization with a computer — and with Apple’s online iCloud service, an improved camera application, and a much better notification system.
For the first time you’ll also be able to upgrade from one version of iOS 5 to the next without a computer. Apple will push over-the-air updates that you can download and install directly from your mobile device.
If you’re using a device running iOS 4 or earlier, you’ll need to connect to iTunes at least one more time to install the software update, but that might be the latest time you ever need to use iTunes
Apple iOS 5 supports the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad, iPad 2, and 3rd and 4th generation iPod touch devices. Here’s a rundown of some of the best new features.
Apple’s new iCloud service offers online storage for your music, documents, photos, apps, and other data. This lets you easily synchronize your data between devices.
Say you buy an app or an eBook from your iPhone. Now you can automatically push it to iTunes on your Mac or PC, your iPad, or your iPod touch. As part of the service, you no longer have to backup your apps to iTunes on a computer for safe keeping. You can redownload purchased apps at any time by using the App Store on your device.
The iCloud service will also include web apps for viewing your email, calendar and other information from any device with a supported web browser.
Every iOS user will get 5GB of free storage, but if you need more space, plans start at $20 per year for 10GB of additional storage space.
Any songs you purchase from iTunes will be automatically available through iCloud, much like apps, eBooks, and other digital content. But you have to pay extra if you want to synchronize music that you haven’t purchased through iTunes.
You can do this using iTunes Match. The service costs $25 per year for up to 20,000.
The iTunes service will scan your music collection, and if you have songs that are already in the iTunes system, you don’t need to upload them. You’ll just be able to automatically download them straight from iTunes on any device — even if you’re listening to songs you ripped from a CD (or downloaded illegally from the internet).
Songs that aren’t available in iTunes Match will be uploaded automatically.
The iTunes Match feature isn’t functional yet, but it should start working later this month.
Thanks to support for iCloud and over-the-air software updates, you don’t need to use iTunes with iOS 5. But if you want to keep using iTunes to manage, play, and purchase media on your computer, you can now synchronize iTunes with your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad wirelessly.
You’ll need to connect your device to a computer via a USB cable and synchronize at least once the old fashioned way. Once you’ve done that, click on your device in iTunes, open the settings tab, and under General find the “iTunes Wi-Fi Sync” option to get started.
Up until recently iOS had one of the most obnoxious notification systems available. When an app wanted to get your attention a blue bubble would pop up and obscure whatever else you had been looking at to let you know that you have a new email, instant message, or other alert.
Now there’s a new Notification Center which you can access by swiping down from the top of the screen to see a list of recent alerts from various apps. There’s also room for little widgets in the Notification Center, allowing you to view weather forecasts and other information.
The system is an awful lot like the notification system in Android.
The iPhone 4s has the best camera of any iOS device, thanks to a better image sensor and other hardware improvements. But even if you have an older iOS device you can take advantage of some new camera features in iOS 5.
For instance, there’s a new camera icon on the lock screen that lets you whip your device out of a pocket and snap a photo much more quickly than before, since you don’t have to unlock the device first (although you do have to double-tap the home button).
You can also configure your device to use the volume button as a camera shutter button so you can snap a picture without tapping the screen.
The Photos app also lets you perform some basic editing functions. You can crop, reduce red eye, or make some other changes on your device.
Apple has built support for Twitter right into the operating system. If you have a Twitter account you can login with your username and password and automatically add your Twitter contacts to your phone’s contact list.
You can also use Twitter to login to applications that support Twitter IDs, and upload photos or other content to Twitter by opening the sharing menu in many applications.
Apple is launching its own instant messaging platform, allowing users to send messages to one another in real-time. The iMessage app also supports photo and video sharing.
Unfortunately iMessage only supports iOS at the moment, which means that while you’ll be able to chat with your contacts using iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad devices, you won’t be able to message your Android or BlackBerry-toting friends unless you use a third party instant messaging service.
The iOS web browser now includes a feature called “Reading List” that lets you save pages to read later. You’ll be able to view these pages on any device linked to your account, so you can mark a page to read later on your iPad and then find it and read it on your iPhone or desktop computer.
If you’re using Safari on an iPad you’ll be able to use browser tabs for the first time, instead of opening separate browser windows for every new web page.
There’s also a new Reader mode which reformats web pages to remove everything but the text and photos, making for easier reading on a mobile device.
Apple has also made improvements that should speed up page loading.
The iOS Mail app now supports rich text editing, which means you can compose messages with bold, italicized, or underlined text, among other things.
The new reminders feature lets you set notes for yourself and create to-do lists. You can synchronize these tasks with iCloud, iCal, or Microsoft Outlook.
There’s also support for location-based reminders which will give you an alert when you arrive at a specific location. This feature currently supports the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.
The Game Center feature in iOS lets you share your high scores and other achievements in mobile games with other users. The latest version lets you upload photos and view recommended friends or games.
Apple has added a new digital magazine and newspaper stand to iBooks. You can subscribe to digital periodicals and read them on your mobile devices using the new service.
Apple has added a few new ways to view your calendar. There’s a weekly view available for the iPhone and iPod touch, while iPad users can also see a year at a glance.
You can also now add or remove calendars.
One of the most impressive new features in iOS 5 is only available on the iPhone 4S.
It’s a voice-recognition system called Siri, which allows you to launch applications, dictate text messages or emails, or perform other actions. But you can also ask Siri questions and get actual answers. For instance, you can ask it to do a math question, or find local restaurants.
Siri gathers data from Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha. Apple acquired the technology from a company that had originally developed Siri as a standalone app for iOS — but now it’s built into the operating system, as long as you have a supported device.