iOS 5 delivers 'a wealth of changes'

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It's a nice feature, and it works fairly well, although it's sometimes a bit delayed. The current implementation is a bit limited. You can't just pick an arbitrary address from, say, the Maps app; any address you pick has to be in your Contacts. Just add the local supermarket to your contacts list and you can remind yourself about groceries to purchase when you get there. It's a simple workaround, and the core functionality works well enough.

Reminders are also automatically synced to other iOS devices, and on the iPad, the date view shows the calendar and reminders side by side, which is an effective usage of the iPad's larger screen.


Apple's iOS 5 features Autocompletion, which can be modified under Settings > General > Keyboard, under the Shortcuts section. This preset is included as an example: If you type omw and hit the spacebar, "On my way!" automatically propagates. I think this is a great idea and a big time-saver. I set my email to be autocompleted if I enter a series of @-signs -- two for my work email account, three for my home account, etc.

Setting up autocompletions is great for responding to common email messages. It's no longer a hassle typing out: "Dear Android fan, I understand your enthusiasm for your choice of platform; that is why choice exists! Enjoy your phone, as I'm sure there are many lovely features and reasons you bought it. P.S. Uncalled for attack on my lineage was not appreciated. Cheers! Michael deAgonia." Thanks to autocorrect, now all I have to type is "Ugh."

Smaller changes

The new operating systems also features a variety of less obvious, b, tweaks and additions, including these:

You can now manage Apple's wireless network hardware from the iPhone and iPad. Select Settings > WiFi > choose wireless network, scroll to the bottom and tap "manage network." This will bring you to the App Store to download an AirPort Utility, which you can use to modify your Airport hardware. It continues the whole "cutting the cord" theme Apple is pushing.

There are new vibration patterns in iOS 5, including "heartbeat" (the one I use), "SOS" and "symphony." You can even customize your own vibration pattern. To activate custom vibrations, go to Settings > Accessibility and turn on Custom Vibrations. To actually edit these custom vibrations, you have to go to Settings > Sounds and scroll to the bottom section called Vibration Patterns.

There are also new sounds -- and for the first time you can customize them. (You can also edit custom gestures, which can be enabled under Settings > General > Accessibility > AssistiveTouch Custom gestures.)

You can get a word definition anywhere there is selectable text with a simple tap and hold on a word; choose the pop-up Define to get the definition.

You can mirror video via an optional Apple cable to a TV. Or, if you're using an iPad 2 or an iPhone 4S and have access to a TV with AppleTV, you can mirror your display wirelessly using systemwide AirPlay Mirroring.

And for those of you who've been hoping for this, there's an extra tidbit of privacy built into iOS 5: You can now delete individual calls from the call log with a swipe.

iPad-specific updates

There are a few features of iOS 5 specifically built for the iPad. They include the aforementioned tabbed browsing, a new retro-looking music player interface, and -- my favorite -- a split keyboard view, which can be initiated with a literal "ripping apart the keyboard" gesture. Once the keyboard is split, you can move it up and down iPad's side. Grab the keyboard icon located to the lower right side and you can position it wherever it's easiest for you to thumb-type messages. To reunite the keyboard segments, tap and hold that keyboard icon to activate the "dock and merge" pop-up or drag the keyboard to the bottom of the screen. The iPad also picks up optional multitouch gestures, which I took to right away, since many of the gestures are shared in Lion.

For instance, a four-finger-and-thumb scrunch brings up the LaunchPad on both a Mac running Lion and an iPad running iOS 5; swiping four fingers up brings up Mission Control in Lion and the multitasking interface in iOS 5. The use of similar gestures on different platforms creates a sense of consistency and familiarity that makes each device easy to master.

Cutting some of the cords

For the first time since its debut, the iPhone is computer-reliant no more. Out-of-the-box activation, wireless OS updates (deltas, actually, which result in much smaller downloads), media purchases and app upgrades, background subscription updating, and automatic wireless backups mean that the iOS devices can stand on their own. It also broadens the market for Apple products in countries where owning two computing devices is economically impossible.

If you do have a laptop or desktop computer running iTunes, you can now wirelessly sync the content there -- your songs, videos and other digital media -- with the content on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Syncing automatically kicks in when the iPhone or iPad is plugged in to the wall or to the computer. You can also start a sync manually.

To activate wireless syncing, you have to plug the device into a computer running iTunes at least once (so you can turn wireless syncing on). Select the device in the sidebar, and, on the main screen, scroll down and make sure "WiFi syncing" is enabled. Press Apply.

Once WiFi syncing is enabled, the iPhone or iPad will still be accessible in the iTunes sidebar even when ejected. Better yet, the devices will also back up wirelessly to iTunes before a sync session, which provides a safety net of sorts for your device data. Note: Wireless syncing requires that iTunes be running. From my experience, that's not much of a problem for Mac users, but it might be more problematic on Windows, where iTunes can be resource-intensive.

Here's a helpful hint: If you keep your media selections to a minimum the first time you enable wireless syncing, you'll be able to use your device sooner, since you won't be waiting for a full-blown sync. Once that first iTunes sync takes place and wireless syncing is enabled, you can then go through and select the media you want. The next time the iPhone is plugged in to a power outlet (say, to charge during the night) it'll automatically kick-start an iTunes sync and copy everything over. By the time you wake up, all of your media should be on your iPhone.

As always, you can't sync more media than your device can hold. So if you have 100GB of music and movies, and a 32GB iPhone or iPad, you'll have to pick and choose.

Your new 'cord:' iCloud

As I noted last week, I think the arrival of iCloud is a bigger deal than the arrival of the iPhone 4S.

Basically, iCloud is a collection of services that backs up your data -- everything -- to Apple's servers automatically. Every photo, document, bookmark, contact, song, movie, video, ringtone, text message -- even the layout of your home screen -- all gets backed up.

iCloud scales up. If you have other devices, iCloud makes sure those devices receive your data, too, without you having to lift a finger. It's invisible.

iCloud starts with a free email address, and any device signed in with that address automatically syncs with Apple's servers. (MobileMe subscribers have to jump through a few easy hoops to move their account over.) It won't matter now which device you use to take a picture with, or where you left your presentation or whether you bought a song through iTunes on your iPhone, iPad or desktop Mac. All your content will sync with all your devices via iCloud, though of course you'll have to use iTunes to pick and choose how much of your digital media actually stays on your iDevices permanently. You won't, obviously, be able to sync an entire 100GB library of music on a 32GB iPhone. (iTunes Match will help in this area when it arrives later in the month, by allowing you access to your entire music collection via iCloud.).

Needless to say, iCloud binds together all Apple devices and your computer in an invisible, yet important, way. I have found so far that it's awesome. Syncing across devices works as it should and happens within minutes, if not seconds.

I do wonder what the arrival of iCloud will do to data plans. Be very mindful if your data usage is limited, because you could rack up some big charges. While you'd expect the biggest culprits for data leech to be backups and media, document and Photo Stream syncing, that's not necessarily true. Backups and Photo Stream updates require Wi-Fi, and there are options to turn off syncing over cellular for purchases and documents (Settings>Store and Settings>iCloud>Documents&Data, respectively).

If you're worried about using up the free 5GB iCloud allotment Apple provides, you can keep track of how much you've used under Settings>iCloud>Storage&Backup (and you can buy more space if you need to). Remember, though, iTunes purchases and Photo Stream don't count against your iCloud allotment.

Final thoughts

There are still a few issues that Apple hasn't addressed. For instance, why is there a volume slider in the multitasking pane, but not one for brightness? I already have physical volume keys; I want faster access to brightness settings.

And I've found that if you're restoring apps on a new device using iCloud, the old saved-states -- the state the app was in when it was backed up -- don't play well with the new upgrade. The result is an app that crashes on launch, but works fine as soon as you launch it again, with no further problems.

Overall, though, iOS 5 brings about a wealth of changes that users from technophobes to technophiles will appreciate and use. Apple isn't first with these features, but it rolls them into the OS in a way that avoids needless complexity. The changes also broaden the reach of iOS in the Apple ecosystem, with iCloud in the background quietly linking everything from home computer to iPad and iPhone.

Given that iOS 5 is a free update and iCloud is a free service for up to 5GB of storage, (not including iTunes purchases or Photo Stream), upgrading to the new operating system makes sense for just about everyone with the appropriate hardware. It's a worthy update that builds on an already strong mobile OS. And it should really perform well on the new iPhone 4S. I'll have more on that after my new phone arrives.

This story, "iOS 5 delivers 'a wealth of changes'" was originally published by Computerworld.

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