Apple iOS 5 mobile operating system review

What's new in Apple's new mobile OS - and is it worth the upgrade?
Photo of Apple iOS 5 mobile operating system
£FREE download

iOS 5, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch includes over 200 enhancements that encompass almost every aspect of those products, and although many of the headline features – like iCloud – are primarily designed to integrate Apple’s various devices with each other, there are plenty of improvements that those with for example, an iPhone and a Windows PC will appreciate.

Installation
Like most Apple OS upgrades, installing iOS 5 is long-winded rather than complicated, mainly because everything has to be done via iTunes. This is the last time you’ll have to jump through these particular hoops, however – and you can almost hear the cheering. From now on, it’ll
be possible to update the operating system wirelessly, without the need for a PC. Patience is a virtue when upgrading your device, and depending on how it’s configured this may take the best part of an hour; iOS 5 works on all iPads and iPod Touches, but only on the iPhone 3GS and above.

What’s new?
Initially there’s not much to see in iOS 5 that’s new, apart from some new icons – the iPod app has been replaced by separate Music and Video apps; there’s a new Reminders app which synchronises with iCal and Outlook; and Newsstand, which is like iBooks but for magazine and newspaper subscriptions. However, spend a bit of time exploring Settings and you’ll realise there’s plenty going on.

The excellent new Notification Centre pushes alerts to the lock screen as they arrive and displays individual messages, reminders, emails, tweets and Facebook updates at the top of the screen; alternatively, you can pull the centre down from the top of any screen with your finger like a window blind – much in the manner of the Notifications bar of Android devices.

Apple iOS 5

Twitter integration
Twitter’s been integrated into the OS so that you can share photos or web links a Google Map location or YouTube video without leaving the app; Safari too gets a revamp with tabbed browsing on the iPad and a new ‘Reader’ feature on all devices that strips out everything from a web page except the text to make it easier to read – Reader items can also be saved for later.

Free text messages via iMessage
Elsewhere there’s a new free text message-style app called iMessage which works with other iOS 5 devices over wireless and 3G, the iPhone/Touch calendar gets a pseudo-week view, Mail gets formatting and the ability to manage mailboxes from within the app, while the iPad gets better multi-gesture support and a new split keyboard so you can type with your thumbs.

Apple iOS 5

Faster camera
Opening the iPhone’s camera and taking a snap has previously been a long-winded process. iOS 5 fixes that. Double-tap the Home button and – even if the phone’s locked – a camera button appears. Tap it, and the camera opens ready to take a picture. When you’re done, it drops you
back out to the lock screen again. It makes a huge difference. Apple’s also added some simple editing tools – cropping, red-eye removal and auto-enhance – which are OK, but we won’t be dumping PhotoForge2 any time soon.

Apple iOS 5
iCloud
Apple’s new cloud-based storage service is included with iOS 5 and also works with any Mac running OS X Lion or PCs running either Vista (Service Pack 2) or WIndows 7. It’s essentially DropBox, Apple-style. You get 5GB of free storage on which to keep photos, documents,  contacts, calendar items and more; purchased apps, music and books don’t eat into this allowance and neither does what Apple calls your Photostream – the last 30 days’ worth of photos.

In addition, anything stored on iCloud is synchronised with all your other devices that use the same Apple ID – so if you buy a track on your phone it’ll automatically appear in iTunes on a PC running the iCloud control panel or a Mac running Lion and so on. iCloud needs to be set up on every device and thereafter sort of disappears. Although you can access it via a web browser, it’s designed to work in the background, backing up and sychronising everything unattended. If you want to store and sync music you’ve burned yourself you’ll have to wait for for the soon-to-be-announced iTunes Match and pay an annual subscription.

Apple iOS 5

Yes, Siri… no Siri
The bad news for upgraders who’ve heard all about Apple’s new integrated, voice-activated Siri personal assistant is that most of them won’t be able to use it. Siri relies on the new Apple iPhone 4S’s dual-core Cortex A5 chip to handle the processing required to make sense of users’ commands – so existing handsets from 3GS to iPhone 4 won’t be able to install the software from the update.

The down sides…
Setup asks for your birthday when it means your date of birth, tweets won’t arrive automatically unless you’ve set your Twitter app to send alerts, the Notification Centre doesn’t support Gmail and it’d be nice if Reminders synched with Google too.

Five gigabytes of free storage on iCloud sounds like a lot, but we used it all up first time round and started getting pestered by Apple to upgrade to the paid version the next day. Elsewhere our only beef is that some of the features aren’t as well documented (or maybe as obvious) as they should be – and we’ve heard of people giving up on iMessages because they can’t find out how to set it up. (Clue: you don’t have to, it detects if the person you’re texting has iOS 5 and automatically sends them a free iMessage rather than a paid-for text message if wi-fi or 3G connection is available.)

Company: Apple

Website: http://www.apple.com/uk

Positives
  • The Notification Centre; free text messages with iMessage.
Negative
  • The way that iCloud is hidden away so you can't get at it.

Verdict

There are so many good, clever features included with this update that we whole-heatedly recommend upgrading to iOS 5. Those who prefer direct DropBox-style access to shared files and folders will find iCloud a bit restrictive and you'll gobble up that 5GB faster than you think, but the improvements to everyday features like the camera, alerts, free Blackberry-style messaging, integrated Twitter support and more make this an essential update. And of course, it's free.