Apple announced iOS 5 today with 200 new features for your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Grab a coffee and settle into your favorite reading chair as we're going to take a closer look at some of these changes.
Honestly, the notifications in iOS 4 and earlier were barely adequate. They were nothing more than a big box that flashed on your screen and interrupted whatever you were doing. And the badges, well, they told you the numbers of items you missed, but nothing else.
The new notification system in iOS 5 is a major improvement. The best thing Apple did was create a centralized notification center within the Settings. This one section lets you customize the notifications for each app. You can toggle notifications on and off, select how many alert messages you want to display and even choose to have the notifications appear on your lock screen so you don't miss a beat.
There are also several notification styles that can be set on an app-by-app basis. These include badges, the standard box alerts and banners which is the new option. Banners appear at the top of your screen and can show up to 15 recent items. They give you a quick look at what the alert is about and let you decide if it's worth your time to respond. Unfortunately, you have to be quick as the banner only appears for 20-30 seconds. If you miss it, you have to rely on the good ol' badges to see what you missed.
As an alternative to badges, Apple also included a new pull-down window shade which covers your homescreen and shows all your active alerts. You can select this collapsible tray from any application which is a nice touch. The tray will be very familiar to Android users as their notification system works in a similar way.
All the tray alerts can be organized by app or by time. You can tap an alert and it will open the email, redial the missed number and so on. An "X" button will let you clear the alerts for each application. When you combine the collapsible tray with the banner and the lock screen notification, you have the foundation for a decent notification system.
Another popular feature added into iOS 5 is Twitter. You can add your Twitter credentials into the Settings and tweet directly from Apple's native applications like Safari or photos. The tweet option is found under the sharing panel that you use to send an item via email or messaging. Once you select "Tweet", a text box appears with a room to compose your short message and a preview of the item that you are tweeting. You can easily add your location by clicking on the navigation icon. Once you fill in your 140 characters, you can hit send and broadcast your message to all your followers.
The Camera app received a lot of love from Apple in iOS 5. The app included a grid to help you line up your shot and pinch-to-zoom so you can focus on an area very easily. One huge improvement is the use of the volume up button to take a picture. It's so natural to hold you phone sideways and snap away using the volume up instead of the on-screen camera button. You can also lock the focus and the exposure by tapping and holding on the camera's display before you snap your shot. If you need to take a quick shot and you phone is locked, you can call up a camera shortcut by double-tapping on the home button. Very cool.
Once you are done snapping your prize-winning photos, you can hop over to the Photos app and begin to edit away. You select a photo from your camera roll and there is an edit button right at the top right. It's not Photoshop that's for sure but you can crop, auto-enhance, rotate and remove red-eye from a photo. In the beta version of iOS 5, you need to close out of the Camera app and open Photos to do any editing. It would be a lot easier if you could edit directly from the camera app. This annoyance may be glitch that Apple fixes in the final release version.
Reminders is one of the new iOS apps that steps on the toes of iOS developers. There are a lot of reminder-type apps in the App Store that are now obsolete because Apple decided to offer this feature natively in iOS 5. The Reminders app does exactly what it says - it lets you add reminders for important tasks or events. You can add a reminder by tapping the + button and filling in the title, due date and priority. You can also choose to have the app alert you using time and/or location. This location tracking is an excellent idea. You can drive by the Post Office and the app will remind you to pick up your mail.
You can organize reminders by assigning them to lists that you create. You can have a reminder list for work, home and kids. You can display the reminders by list or by due date. The app even keeps track of completed reminders so you can look back at your accomplishments. Similar to the other iOS applications, alerts appear in the banner and the drop-down tray.
Safari Mobile was updated to include full tabbed browsing, a feature that makes reading on the iPad so much easier. Just like the desktop version of Safari, the iPad version displays all your open pages in tabs. Say good-bye to clicking the page icon and selecting from an ugly grid of open web pages. You can move easily from tab to tab and even drag the tabs around to rearrange them. The number that you can display at one time is limited to nine which is ample for a tablet-based browser.
Apple also added a new Instapaper-like feature that gives you a pristine preview of an article. The browser will detect when you are browsing an article and strip out all the distracting ads and side bars. The pop-up window will display a clean copy that is very easy to read.
These remaining features are not fully fleshed out in this beta release of iOS 5. The Newsstand app sits on the homescreen, can't be put in a folder and launches to an empty bookshelf with a note reminding you to add a magazine subscription. That's great but the link to the Store to get a subscription is grayed out. The wireless sync was also not working as of the writing of this post.