Apple iOS 5, What does it change for me?

There are some really nice looking changes on the way for Apple mobile users lucky enough to have a device that can be upgraded to iOS 5. I thought I’d throw together a quick look at how this will change things on a practical level for me as I use an iPhone and an iPad for work and personal use.

Update: 2011-10-13. I’ve added some more details.

Perhaps the biggest change will come from the inclusion of the new iCloud service free with 5GB+ of space. Apps, books, and music purchased via Apple don’t count towards the 5GB and neither do synchronised pictures which is handy given the size of pictures now.

In the future then, apps that are iCloud enabled (Numbers, Pages and Keynote for example) can be set to automatically synchronise between your Apple devices – this is great because I wont have to think about whether my expenses spreadsheet is more up-to-date on the iPhone or the iPad. Annoyingly though, this doesn’t extend to the PC/Mac where you have to copy documents using the web interface to iCloud.

Pictures and videos taken on the iPhone will be automatically synchronised to iCloud and then to both the iPad and the laptop. iCloud keeps the latest 1,000 photos for 30 days, a connected PC (or Mac) will keep them permanently.

Update: Synchronising Mobile Safari Bookmarks will certainly be useful. Having a single set of bookmarks on both iPhone and iPad without having to sync via Internet Explorer (which picks up loads of irrelevant IE bookmarks) will be very nice and will be a quick way of being able to start looking something up on the iPhone then carrying on at leisure on the iPad.

Update: Music, of course, can also be synchronised via iCloud and songs purchased from Apple will not count towards your space allocation. However, this isn’t a lot of use to me as I don’t like to be restricted by ridiculous, costly DRM; nearly all of my music comes from CD’s. The same applies to books; in fact, the economics are even worse generally for books since most sources of eBooks are stupidly expensive given the restrictions on them.

The iPhone and iPad will be backed up to iCloud too so I no longer have to worry about traipsing up to the office to back them up using iTunes.

There are other iCloud features of course but I won’t be using them as they are too little, too late. Google already provides me with synchronisation of calendars and contacts and allows sharing with non-Apple devices as well. ToodleDo gives me synchronisation of tasks. Dropbox, box.net and Google Docs gives me sharing and synchronisation of documents. Find My Phone is useful of course, I already have that, but Find My Friends wont be as many of them don’t have Apple devices.

Update: One exception to the above is that I will be using the Notes synchronisation as using Exchange based mail for synchronisation of Notes is pretty bad.

Update: One warning about iCloud. You can backup your iDevices to iCloud but, if like me, you have say 2 32GB devices this could get very expensive. I have a map application for example which can have many GB of data, if I back this up to iCloud, I’ll be paying a lot for the convenience (US$2 per GB per year). So the bottom line is that we are not PC/Mac free just yet. The second warning is that you will need to be careful if you connect to the Internet over 3G not just WiFi; with all of this automatic synchronisation going on, things could get even more expensive when you go over your data limit! (Thankfully, my iPhone at least is on the UK’s Three network with unlimited, uncapped data)

In addition to iCloud, Apple claim over 200 other improvements in iOS 5. The ones that will impact me are:

  • Notification Centre
    Notifications are a pain at the moment, the changes in iOS 5 should make them usable again.
    Update: Better still, you can change the settings for each app so you can have some apps with no notifications, some with the new banner style and some with the old alert format. You can also control whether the alerts for an app will appear in the lock screen.
  • Email Improvements
    At last! Email gets the capability for some simple formatting. You can also add a flag. Not much but at least a start. Apple’s understanding of heavy email use is still an awful long way from a useful reality.
    Update: You can also mark multiple emails as read which can save some time.
  • Lock Screen Changes
    You can now take photos, listen to answer phone messages and see multiple notifications without having to unlock the phone.
  • WiFi iTunes Sync
    Long overdue and maybe a lot less relavent if iCloud backup and sync works well. Of course, 3rd party apps have taken over a lot of cases where iTunes was needed – podcasts for example, currently you have to connect a wire to get podcast updates automatically so I use a 3rd party app that deals with podcasts much better and auto-updates directly. Annoyingly, WiFi sync only happens when you connect to a power source.
  • Update: Keyboard Improvements
    The new split keyboard will be useful on the iPad when using it on the go (typing with thumbs).
  • Update: Custom Alert Tones
    The constant bleeping of iPhones gets painful, you can now make this slightly better by assigning custom tones to many alert types so you are more likely to be able to know what the phone is trying to tell you.
  • Twitter Integration
    This is not terribly significant but will probably encourage me to use Twitter more (not sure that is really a good thing though!).
  • Camera Improvements
    You can now take a picture without unlocking & by using the volume + button, both nice features. You also get a positioning grid and manual focus/exposure hold. Of course 3rd party apps have had all this for ages and much more. Simple photo enhancements are also baked in to the camera app.
    Update: You can swipe left/right in the camera app to get straight to the photo albums. You can also finally create new albums.
  • Safari Improvements
    Like the camera app, Safari is playing a bit of catch-up with 3rd party apps. I’ll still be doing serious browsing in iCab though. The internals have also been updated and HTML5 support is now closer to desktop Safari.
  • Update: Map Improvements
    Directions now show alternative routes which can be very useful.
  • Update: Built-in Dictionary
    You can now look up many words in the built-in dictionary. Not sure if there is any control here though and not sure how many languages are covered or how many words.
  • Update: Keyboard Shortcuts
    Hooray! You can define simple keyboard expansions. E.g type “e-” and get your email address. Not a replacement for Text Expander but it is available to every app.