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July 21, 2011 / Alistair

iOS 5 Review – a first look at the new iPhone operating system

Apple has responded to critics by adding a far improved notifications system for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch with the new iOS 5 operating system.

Along with Notification Centre, iOS5 includes a BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) rivaling free messaging service called iMessage, and an all-new Reminders app.

Yes, I need to update my apps more often

Notification Centre

Notifications have been pushed to iOS devices for a few years now, but they provided little information, forcing the user to quite what they’re doing and go to the relevant app requestion attention. Now, though, all notifications are displayed in a panel that can be accessed by swiping down from the status bar, whether you’re at the home screen, or in an app already.

Notification Centre: bringing stocks, weather, and my inbox

 Notification Centre can be customised to show a ticker of your share prices, the local weather and, of course, notifications from the phone, mail, messages, Facebook, Twitter and any other app that demands your attention. Previews of messages and emails are shown, and the notification can be acted upon by tapping it.

Before, notifications always appeared in the same way – an SMS-style box in the centre of the screen that had to be dismissed before being able to do anything else. Now, though, notifications can be set to appear as a small message at the top of the screen, which doesn’t interrupt what you’re doing. Games don’t pause, for example; and the box disappears after a few seconds.

Chose notifications to appear as banners, alerts, or nothing

The lock screen has also been tinkered with, showing a clearer list of any calls, messages, emails etc that you’ve received while the phone has been locked. Swiping over a text or email takes you right to the relevant app.


BlackBerry owners are all too aware of BBM, the free messaging service that lets BB owners sent text messages to each other for free. The service works well, and more comprehensively than regular texts because messages are encrypted through the BB servers and sent and received messages are included; but it requires adding contacts with incomprehensible PINs.

iMessages is very similar to BBM – and only available to iOS 5 users – but, to use an old Apple phrase, it just works. If your friend who you text often upgrades to iOS 5 their next text will appear just like before, in the same chat, but it’ll be sent as an iMessage. Your iMessages send exactly like texts, but they’re blue instead of the usual green. If you’re out of reach of mobile internet or have 3G turned off, messages will be sent as SMSs instead. Simple.

Delivery reports are included and an icon appears to show when the recipient is typing a new message.

It’s a shame that iMessage is only available to iOS 5 users, but everyone and their dog has an iPhone 4 these days, and note that iMessages can be sent between iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.


There’s loads of to do list apps available for the iPhone, but Apple has decided to make their own and include it with iOS 5. The app is, as you’d expect from Apple, very simple to use and does exactly what it says on the tin. Reminds you of stuff.

Reminders: clean and simple

Simply add something to be reminded of – buy some milk, for example – set a time, and you’re done. A notification just like any other will appear – along with an alarm if you so wish – and the time you set.

But there’s a bit more than that. If you want to get that milk after work you can set Reminders to remind you leave work – providing you have GPS turned on and you have work set as a contact in your address book.

Location-aware reminders. Useful

Reminders can be set to alert you at a time, or when arriving or leaving a certain location. But the requirement to have that location as a contact is annoying. If I want to be reminded when I leave the train station, I can’t pick it on a map, I have to add the station to my address book, then select it.

UPDATE: I’ve tried the location-based reminder feature and, well, it didn’t work. I asked the application to remind me to take some paperwork with me when I left my home address. It didn’t work, even when I was 20 miles away and with the GPS on the whole time. I\m currently updating to the newest beta (4) so I’ll try again later and report back.

Volume up as camera shutter

Using the camera app has always been difficult with that on-screen button that’s nowhere near your fingers actually are. Apple has finally noticed this and, as a certain camera app developer did recently, given users the option to take a photo using the volume up button, which is located roughly where the shutter button would be. The only downside is now the lens isn’t where it would be in a camera. It’s under your hand. Never mind, it sort of works when holding the phone with both hands.

Twitter integration

While Android offers great Facebook integration, Apple has gone down the other social networking group and got into bed with Twitter. The result is that once signed into the micro-blogging service once, Twitter is available systemwide, letting you tweet links and photos from anywhere in the iDevice, and attach your current location, too.

iOS 5 provides system-wide tweeting

Ability to access camera app from lock screen

Apple want more people to take photos with the iPhone 4 – despite it already being the most popular smartphone on Flickr – and to aid this along they’ve made it possible to access the camera from the lock screen.

Home button twice. Camera icon once. Snap

Tap the home button twice when the iPhone is locked and a button appears next to the slider, tapping this opens the camera app. Even if you have a passcode on your iPhone or not, only the camera can be used and your photos cannot be viewed until the phone is properly unlocked from the lock screen.

Wi-Fi Sync

iOS 5 lets devices sync wirelessly with the computer that they’re paired with. So just plug your iPhone into it’s charger and night and Wi-Fi sync does the rest, keeping your music, photos, contact and everything else up-to-date on your phone and computer – providing they’re both turned on, obviously.

Also this means that no more will you receive a text during a length sync and be unable to read it, for risk of canceling the syncing process. It works fine, as you’d expect, and is one of those ‘oh, that’s useful’ features, rather than being a flagship upgrade.

Along with the increased lack of wires, iOS 5 supports over-the-air software updates, so the operating system of your iDevice can be updated automatically an wirelessly over Wi-Fi.

There’s a load of other features too, but these are the big ones that I’ve noticed while having a play with the developer preview. iOS 5 will be available to the general public in the autumn, along with iCloud – more on that soon…



Leave a Comment
  1. azharhussain / Jul 21 2011 6:14 pm

    I was glad that Apple listened to people’s complaints about their notification system. The new alert system is by far the best new feature in my opinion! Great post, if you don’t mind can you check out my post about pirating in the app store. It’s a big problem that I think Apple should work on removing. That would have been another feature I would have wanted to see in iOS 5.

  2. Alistair / Jul 21 2011 6:24 pm

    Hi, thanks for your comment! The notifications needed an update and I agree that Apple have done a good job.


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