Over at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, Apple has been showing off the abilities of the next major revision to its mobile operating system, iOS 5. Available for all generations of iPhone from 3GS onwards and both iPads so far, iOS 5 will be available for download sometime in the Autumn.
There’s nothing spectacularly new in the update, but it is a more comprehensive makeover than Google’s recent Android 3.1 release, even if it does ape many of Android’s best features.
So what’s new?
No more iTunes
The most important feature for us is that iOS devices are now independent. There’s no need to sync them with iTunes to get them working or download updates. That’s long overdue – not only is iTunes on the PC a terrible, terrible piece of software, it should help to head off some of the ‘walled garden’ criticism that has been pushing potential Apple buyers towards Android. Software updates will be beamed magically over the air. Lovely.
This also extends to syncing an iTunes library via WiFi, and ‘AirPlay’, which pushes whatever is playing on your iPad – music, video or otherwise – direct to a TV screen without wires.
Obviously the screenshot we saw earlier was a fake, but a new Android-like notification system than involves pulling a list down from the top of the screen (on a phone) has been included. Incoming messages will pop up over things like running games, tapping them moves you straight into the conversation. Apparently push notifications as well as SMS texts and iChats will be able to use this notification feature, and there’s an SDK available for developers today to learn how to use it.
New iOS messaging system
The bad news is that much like FaceTime, Apple is introducing a new messaging service which syncs up with all your contacts and works really well, but can only be used to chat to other iOS users. Because yes, the internet needs another proprietary IM service as much as it needed another proprietary video conferencing one. The ability to start a conversation on an iPhone and carry it on on your iPad isn’t that big a deal either – Skype and Google Chat have been doing that for ages.
Downloading magazines onto the iPad has long been touted as the saviour of ‘print’ journalism. Now there’s an app, Newstand, for it. It’s like Zinio or Mylibrary for Android, except that latest issues of your favourite mags will now download in the background so they’re ready and waiting next time you want to browse. Rumours are that Newstand hasn’t been been doing too well, but whether this is the kick it needs to convince people magazines and not websites are what you want on your iPad remains to be seen.
Camera gets a lot of loving
The headline here is that the iPhone 4 is the most popular camera on Flickr by number of users – although interestingly it’s a long way behind the leaders by number of shots uploaded, which says a lot about the way it’s used. There’s a lot of work gone into improving the camera, like using the volume key as a shutter button and being able to access it without unlocking the device. All looks good, but for the tablet the important thing is going to be new photo editing tools and better integration of the email app and the gallery for sending pictures to friends.
This one’s looking promising. Right now, the common reaction to Apple’s GameCentre is ‘what’s that for?’, since it seems to duplicate the App Store in a slightly worse way. iOS 5 adds in some interesting multiplayer and social features which mean you can compare scores with friends and play turn based strategies via the messaging system.
Better Safari & system wide typing
We’ve saved a good one to finish on, so you don’t feel too overwhelmed. Safari gets a couple of nice new features, such as the ability to Tweet content from within a webpage, proper tabbed browsing and a ‘read later’ feature for saving stories for offline perusal. There’s also a system wide dictionary to help out with those obfuscatory bon mots that writers recurrently recourse to, and a split screen keyboard for tapping away with your thumbs while browsing in portrait mode.
It’s all welcome changes (apart from the messaging system) although nothing we think that deserved a major new version. EAT assumes that the reason this will be iOS 5 is that there’s something else with that number appearing come September too.