A Quick Introduction to iOS 5: Why You Might Update Your iDevice

Smartphone EvolutionThis week, Apple has released the fifth major version of the operating system for the iPhone, iPad, and iPhone Touch. Since these updates are free, and since they always provide significant upgrades in functionality, many people download and install the updates right away.

But there are many others–we’ll call them “normal people”–who don’t follow the Apple or gadget press closely, and who don’t plug their iOS device into their computer regularly, and so may not really be aware of the new software. Or, they’re aware that an update exists, but are happy with the setup they have, and don’t like to spend time messing about with something that works. And maybe “deep integration of Twitter into iOS” isn’t really a motivation to update, and iCloud isn’t something they feel like they need right away. (One of these normal people lives in my house! It’s very confusing.)

I thought, then, that it might be worthwhile to do a post rounding up some of the ProfHacker-related features in iOS 5 that might make updating worth it. I polled the other writers, and here’s our list:

  • The ability to mark e-mail as read or unread, and to flag it as important. There are lots of people out there who mark e-mails that require action as unread, as a reminder to follow-up. (Again, one of these people lives in my house.) They will be delighted to know that you can now do this on your iOS device. It’s easy, too, as this screenshot shows. One quibble: When you tap the button changing the status of the e-mail, iOS deselects the messages. If your next move was going to be to archive those messages, perhaps in a folder, then you’ll have to select them again.
  • Sticking with e-mail: You can now add Rich Text Formatting (bold, italics, underlining) to e-mail. When you select a word or words in iOS’s Mail app, there’s a new option that invokes a formatting submenu.
  • Also, if your phone is locked, double-clicking the home button invokes, not just iPod controls, but also direct access to the camera. (Also, the camera has some new options, like a grid for composing shots.) Even if your phone is password-locked, you can still immediately take pictures. And if you want a tactile way to take pictures, you can now click on the Volume Up button to take pictures. (Or, if your headphones have volume controls built in, you can use that volume up button.)
  • Most of the ProfHacker writers mentioned the new options for notifications and alerts. In the past, alerts and notifications on the iOS devices have been mostly annoying. There was only one type of notification, and you had to deal with it before doing anything else. Now, taking cues from Android and WebOS, there are a couple of different styles of notifications. Moreover, they are much more customizable–and you can even get an overview of the weather, or upcoming events in your calendar with just a quick swipe of your finger.
  • Safari has some nice upgrades, too. In addition to a performance boost, there’s also a new button, Reader, that will give you a more streamlined version of a page, better suited for reading on a mobile device. (I have to say that this has not worked well for me–there’s a “now you see it, now you don’t” quality to the button that’s irritating.) Also, “Private Browsing” is now available on Safari.
  • Keyboard shortcuts are now available system-wide. If there’s a bit of text that you want to be able to expand regularly–perhaps, for instance, nachträglichkeit, it’s now easy to do so. (Look under Settings: Keyboard.)
  • Finally, wireless syncing. If your computer and iOS device are on the same wireless network, they can sync automatically. Moreover, coming at the end of the month, iTunes Match will stream to your device any music you have on your computer (and that exists in the iTunes Music Store), regardless of its provenance.

Chris Herbert has compiled a helpful list of tips for using the new features (via Daring Fireball).

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and kittens. As one of our writers–for anonymity’s sake, we’ll call him “Mark Sample”–pointed out, the split keyboard option for the iPad might not be Apple’s finest moment:

Regarding iOS5, surely you myst mention the split key,oard which in my
mind is the raisin de otro pf Apple. If you know me. you know that I
would never be sarcastic about new techmology, AND I AM NOT BEING
SARCASGIC HERE. I am typinf ob the split key,oard rifht now, and it is
nagical AND revilutionary. Please nenton this new featire in your

Also, keep in mind that you will need to update iTunes before installing the new iOS update, so this isn’t something that you can do in a blink.

On balance, though, the new update has lots of features that will probably make your iOS device easier to use.

Are there new features you’re fond of? Things that didn’t quite work out? Let us know in comments

Photo “Smartphone Evolution” by Flickr user Phil Roeder / Creative Commons licensed

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