Note: This is the first in a series of reviews covering iOS 5, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.
With the release of iOS 5, Apple has put forth one of the most significant updates to their mobile operating system since its initial release in 2007. While the User Interface (UI) has the familiar look and feel of previous releases, many aspects of the underpinnings of iOS have changed in this release. Apple touts some 200 new features in this release and while it would be almost impossible to cover all of them – or even find all of them! – there are some significant ones that dramatically improve the usability of iOS.
The question that always comes up with the release of any new version of iOS: Is this the best ever?
Having been a part of the beta program from the beginning of iOS 5 back in July, having lived through the various betas and seen the new features added and stability improve, I would contend that this may very well be the best yet. First, it is fast. Very fast. Performance improvements on an already impressively fast iPad 2 are stunning and frankly I can’t wait to see it in action on an iPhone 4S. Second, it has new features that just make sense or improvements to the applications that are already built in that improve the overall use of the system. Finally, gone are the days of having to connect your iPhone or iPad to your Macbook or Windows PC to synchronize data. It is all done over-the-air (including iOS updates) which greatly improves the user experience.
For this review I’m going to focus on two key new features of iOS 5: The new setup process in iOS 5 and iCloud.
One of the new features you will see in iOS 5 is one that you will see immediately when you upgrade or purchase a new iPhone 4, 4S or iPad 2 with iOS 5 installed: The new setup process
One of the biggest complaints about previous versions of iOS was that you had to have a PC with iTunes installed in order to even use your iPhone before walking out of your local Apple, AT&T or Verizon store. Now that is no longer the case. In just a few screens you can set up your iPhone immediately and without having to connect to a PC. Not only is it a time saver but it goes along with Apples current push of this being the Post-PC era.
When you first turn on your iPhone with iOS 5 you will be greeted with a grey linen screen with a slider at the bottom displaying “Setup” in a variety of languages. To start setting up the device, just slide the slider to the right.
The first thing you are prompted for is if you want to enable Location Services. Location Services allows applications such as Maps, Twitter and others to know your location. The truth is that iOS has always had the ability to turn off or on Location Services although it was a bit buried in the Settings in the past. Now you know immediately if you turned it on or left it turned off (default setting is off). Frankly I think this was in response to a degree to “locator-gate” and it seems to make sense to me that Apple would want to get this up front with its users.
Next you are prompted to set up a wireless network connection with your device. You do not necessarily have to setup a wireless network at this point but if you want to restore your device from iCloud (which I will cover in more detail later), you would need to have a network connection established to do so. Setting up a wireless network also prevents you from having to connect your device to your PC via iTunes to get the setup completed. To setup a wireless network, tap the network you want to join and enter the password if applicable.
Next you will be prompted on how you want to set up your new iPhone: As a new device, to restore it from iCloud or restore it from iTunes by connecting it to your PC. Depending on what you tap will determine what you see next. So if you tap Restore from iCloud and tap Next, you will be prompted to enter your iCloud User ID and Password.
If you chose to Restore from iTunes Backup, you will see the familiar Connect to iTunes screen.
If you decide to restore from either iCloud or iTunes, your iPhone or iPad will be setup exactly like it was prior to the upgrade. This includes application data, something that was not restored in previous versions. Now things like your Evernote credentials and your Game Center stats are restored in addition to applications, photos and music. It is a great step forward!
For the sake of this review I’ve selected Setup as a New iPhone so I can walk you through each of the screens associated with that process. After tapping Next you are prompted to enter your Apple ID. Now this is where things do get a bit tricky and an area that Apple is rumored to be working. Most of us have had iTunes accounts long before we had MobileMe accounts or now iCloud accounts. That means that our movie, TV and music purchases are on that account. The problem first came to light with MobileMe in that there is no way you can have your iTunes ID and MobileMe ID be the same. There is no way to merge them. So what then should you enter here? If you are a non MobileMe user then you should just enter your iTunes ID which will then create an iCloud account for you under that ID. If you are a MobileMe user, then you should enter your MobileMe ID so you can move your account over to iCloud. If you enter the wrong one, don’t worry as you can go back into the iCloud settings in Settings to change it.
Once you agree to the Terms and Conditions of using iOS 5, your iPhone or iPad is setup and ready to go. At this point however you will be prompted to setup iCloud. If you don’t want to set this up now, just tap the “Don’t Use iCloud” button and you will be taking to your iPhone’s home screen (you can set it up later in Settings>iCloud). More on iCloud later in the review.
If you chose to setup iCloud you will be walked through a few other steps including setting up Find My iPhone and if you want to transmit diagnostic information to Apple. Once you have completed these steps, you will see a Start Using Your iPhone screen. Your iPhone (or iPad) with iOS 5 is ready to go!
Without a question the new setup process in iOS 5 is far more friendly and easy to use than in previous versions of iOS. The simple fact that you don’t necessarily have to connect your iPhone or iPad to your PC to get it up and going is a huge benefit but going step-by-step through this new process, you can easily set up a new device or restore one via iCloud without ever touching a computer.
When iOS 5 was announced in July, so to was the new cloud-based service from Apple named iCloud. In many ways, iCloud is designed to replace MobileMe, the previous online service from Apple that was not well received nor stellar in performance. iCloud brings some of the best features of MobileMe, loses some of the lesser used features, and brings outstanding stability and performance. The best part about this new service however is that it, like Apple has promoted, just works. Once iCloud is setup on your iOS devices and on your Mac running Lion or Windows PC, a bevy of information is automatically synchronized to iCloud and thus across all of your devices.
If you were a MobileMe user then some of the features of iCloud will be familiar to you. You have the ability to synchronize Calendars and Contacts as you were able to do with MobileMe and Find My iPhone has now moved to iCloud as well. MobileMe mail has now moved to iCloud as well and instead of going to the me.com site, you will now go to iCloud.com. If you are a MobileMe user you will need to move your account over to iCloud. This is done on your Mac via the wizard that is found in the MobileMe section of Settings. In my case it only took a few minutes to move it over but depending on how much mail you are moving, it could take you a little bit of time.
There are two new features in iCloud that truly make this a cloud service. First is Photo Stream. Photo Stream can be enabled on your iPhone or iPad running iOS 5 and through the new iPhoto app for Mac. Once it is enabled, when you snap a photo with your iPhone, it is automatically uploaded to Photo Stream when you are connected to WiFi (or the next time you are connected to WiFi). Instantly the photo you took appears on all of your devices. It is, quite literally, as simple as that. There is no configuration. For example, here is my Photo Stream on my iPad which now has the photos I took of my iPhone for this review. I did not have to do anything to get these to my iPad. It all synchronized over my home WiFi network.
Note at the top of the screenshot above there is now an album Photo Stream. This will be automatically created on your iPhone and iPad when you enable this feature. Photo Steam will also be available on Apple TV so you can instantly stream photos to it as well.
The other new feature is Document Sharing. Document Sharing works across your iPhone and iPad as well as your Mac when you are running the now updated versions of Keynote, Pages and Numbers. Updates to these apps were released today both in the App Store and the Mac App Store. When you enable Document Sharing, any file you create in one of the iWorks apps on any device is uploaded to iCloud and shared amongst the other devices. That means I can start working on a Pages document on my Mac at my office then work on it on my iPad while at my local coffee shop later in the day. Any changes I make anywhere are uploaded to iCloud and available to me on the other devices. Think of it as Photo Streaming for documents.
The key with Document Sharing is that it only works with iWorks apps right now. That means that any Keynotes, Pages or Numbers document will be uploaded to iCloud but if you are a Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac user, you are out of luck. At least right now. The API to upload documents to iCloud is open to developers and Microsoft for one has committed to making Office 2011 for Mac compatible with it at a later date.
The question that many have asked: Is iCloud better than MobileMe? My answer is an unequivocal yes.
MobileMe never really worked on that great in my opinion. It would sometimes not sync, sometimes double-sync and generally felt clunky. Add to that a high price ($99/year for 20GB of storage) and MobileMe can easily be chalked up as not the best Apple has ever produced. iCloud seems to address these issues and during the beta process I found it to work well. Time will tell if Apple has a hit with iCloud but given how much easier it is to use than MobileMe, I can’t help but think it will be more successful.
Speaking of MobileMe, there are two features that were not moved over with iCloud. iDisk, the 20GB of storage that came with MobileMe, is gone as is iWeb, the web site creation and hosting service. Photo Gallery is gone as well but this was somewhat replaced by Photo Stream. Apple has indicated that both iDisk and iWeb will be available to MobileMe users until June 30, 2012. At that point these services will shut down completely.
The pricing model for iCloud has also significantly changed over that of MobileMe. To start, you get a 5GB account for free which is quite a lot considering that Photo Stream, Books and iTunes content do not count against that 5GB allotment. If you need more, you can simply upgrade directly from your iPhone or iPad.
5GB – Free
10GB – $20/Year (total of 15GB of Storage)
20GB – $40/Year (total of 25GB of Storage)
50GB – $100/Year (total of 55GB of Storage)
Apple has made upgrading and downgrading easy with iCloud so my recommendation is that you start small and go from there. In my case for example, I have my iCloud mail, I am backing up two iPhones and an iPad to iCloud and doing some document sharing and I’ve only used 2GB of storage (most of which is mail). See how far you can go with the free 5GB account.
There are a lot of things to like about iOS 5 and I’ve only hit on two of them in this review. It is a worthwhile upgrade and with the new setup process and the power of iCloud, it will take your iPhone and iPad to a whole new level of usability.