Hands-on with iOS 5

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Photo Stream

Like I said, Photo Stream is a great part of iCloud if you take more photos than you want to have stored locally on you device all the time. To access images stored to your Photo Stream, simply click the Photos icon, and your Photo Stream will appear directly beneath your Camera Roll.

All-in-all, Photo Stream works exactly as you’d expect. From Photo Stream, you can edit pictures, send them via email or MMS, tweet them, set as background or contact image, print, or save to camera roll. You can also play images saved to Photo Stream as a slide show.


Unfortunately, Photo Stream has a major downfall – it’s impossible to delete individual photos from the Photo Stream. That means if you have Photo Stream upload turned on, and you take a picture of something private, illegal or embarrassing, it will be on your Photo Stream unless you delete your entire stream. Not cool, Apple. Not cool. You know, not that I’m taking a bunch of pictures of illegal and/or embarrassing things, but someone definitely is. And it’s going to get them in trouble one day.


The third major update to iOS 5 is iMessage, Apple’s new iOS-to-iOS messaging system. iMessage

allows anyone with an iOS 5 device to message one another for free. That means even Wi-Fi-only iPads and iPod touches with iOS 5 can get in on the conversation. It’s basically Apple’s answer to BlackBerry Messenger, and it works fantastically.

Rather than being a stand-alone app, iMessage is incorporated directly into iOS 5’s Message app, and it works just like sending a text message. If the person you want to contact has a device running iOS 5 – something iOS 5 automatically detects – then you will send that person a free iMessage message rather than an SMS text message. The only real way to know whether you’ve send an iMessage or a standard SMS is that it will says “iMessage” in the background; text messages say “text message.”


With iMessage, you can also see whether or not the person has already read your last iMessage, and if the person is actively typing a new message to you, an ellipsis (…) appears on the screen, much like an instant message service.

As with SMS and MMS, iMessage allows for group texting. But if one of the people in the group doesn’t have iMessage, then all the messages go through as SMS, which is kind of lame.

Overall, iMessage works great – at least, it did on my iPhone 4. I can’t say what the major differences are on an iPad or iPod touch, which don’t have a phone number contact, but instead just have email. Now, there are other third-party apps, like Viber, that do essentially the same thing as iMessage, and don’t require the use of iOS 5. True – but none work with so little effort. And the other apps require that everyone has those, too. So I call the issue moot.


The last major change to come with iOS 5 is some significant updates to the Camera app. And for me, there are two key changes: the ability to access the camera from the Lock Screen, and the ability to snap photos using the volume-up button.


To quickly get to the camera from your Lock Screen, just double tap the home button when the phone is locked. A small camera icon will appear next to the unlock slider. Hit the icon, and the camera will open. It took about one second, literally, for the camera app to open and be ready to go – far faster than the start-up times of most point-and-shoots.

My second favorite feature is the ability to snap pictures by pressing the volume up button. So instead of trying to take your Facebook vanity shots while blindly pressing the screen, you can now hit an actual button to engage the shutter. Hit the volume-down button to autofocus.

hands on with ios 5 camera grid options

Other updates include the ability to lock your camera by implementing a PIN on your device (which also locks other personal data). In-phone editing, like red-eye removal, are also there, and you can now turn on and off HDR and the grid overlay under options.


As we all know, Twitter has received special treatment from Apple with its service integrated into iOS 5 at the deepest level. This means you can easily tweet photos, web pages from Safari and videos from YouTube through iOS 5. If you want to read tweets, however, you’ll have to download the Twitter app, or one of its clones.


If you’re a heavy Twitter users, this feature is fantastic, and makes it fast and easy to tweet from your iOS device. I found sending web pages and and photos the most useful.

You can add one or multiple Twitter accounts to iOS 5, and can update your on-board contacts with your Twitter contact, including profile pictures.


New to iOS 5, the Reminders app is a glorified to-do list. It enables you to set alarms for certain tasks. And, most notably, you can set location data with each task, so that Reminders notifies you to do whatever you need to do when you’re near the place you need to do it.


Unfortunately, the location part of Reminders lacks a necessary functionality – the ability to enter a location that is not stored in your contacts. Rather than just being able to type in any address, the only location data you can attach to a reminder is that which is saved in your contacts. So, if you want to remind yourself to get milk, you’ll have to add the grocery store to your contacts list. That’s so obviously ridiculous, I’m just crossing my fingers that Apple fixes this, as it’s one of the weakest parts of iOS 5, after the whole Photo Stream deletion nonsense.


Only a small number of updates are included for Safari with iOS 5. Of these, the most significant is the addition of Reading List, which is like a built-in Instapaper, and allows users to save web pages for later reading. To add a web page to your Reading List, just tap the action button in the bottom-middle of your screen, click “Add to Reading List,” and you’re done.

I can’t be sure, but Safari also feels a bit zippier, and didn’t seem to lag nearly as much as with iOS 4. Twitter integration, as discussed above, is the only other change to Safari that’s really worth going into. Moving along…

Small, but notable additions

  • Mail: Email flagging and basic font customization (bold, italics, underlined) bring the iOS mail functionality up to par.

  • Newsstand: Have all your magazine and newspaper apps in one place, and purchase new ones through the Newsstand-specific App Store interface

  • Autocompletion: Customize your auto-complete settings so your most-common phrases are easier to type out. (Settings>General>Keyboard>Shortcuts>Add new shortcut)

  • New vibration patters: Create custom vibration patterns (Settings>General>Accessibility>turn on custom vibrations; to edit custom vibrations go to Settings>Sounds and scroll to the bottom.)

  • New sounds: Hear them at Settings > General > Accessibility > AssistiveTouch Custom gestures.


In the spirit of full disclosure, I was excited for this update, as I’m sure many of my fellow iPhone users were. And, overall and in a great many ways, iOS 5 delivers the goods. Of course, there are a few things that can be improved upon, but that’s always the case with new software. In short, go download iOS 5 right now. It’s a vast improvement to iOS 4. Enjoy!

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