First Look: iOS 5 Beta 1

At the beginning of WWDC 2011 yesterday, Apple announced iOS 5 and iCloud, along with Mac OS X 10.7 Lion (again).

Apple claims iOS 5 includes over 200 new features, previewing ten of them yesterday.

Let’s look at a few of these features, as well as a few of the bugs that I hope will be fixed by the next beta release.

Warning: iOS 5 betas supposedly cannot be downgraded to iOS 4.x, particularly on devices that have a baseband (iPhone, and iPad 3G). While I have not tested this, and I have written an article about how to downgrade betas in the past, there is no guarantee that my method will work this time. Download and run the iOS 5 beta at your own risk.

With that in mind, I’ve only upgraded my iPad 2 to the iOS 5 beta. My iPhone remains on iOS 4.3, and as such, this post will only cover iOS 5 as seen on the iPad.

The iOS 5 home screen, as seen on my iPad 2

There are a few things to notice here. First, a new app called Reminders (no, it’s not an App Store app, it’s built-in; I have no need for a to-do list app and would never install one =/). There is also a new app/folder called Newsstand. I’m not entirely sure which one it is, as it appears in the multitasking tray (probably a bug), but it opens like a folder.

My Social folder, containing the new Messages app

In iOS 5, Apple is introducing the new iMessage service. Apple is also adding the Messages app to the iPad and iPod touch in order to allow usage of this service (however, iPads and iPod touches still cannot send regular SMS messages). iMessage is an instant messaging service provided exclusively to users of iOS devices, that gives SMS-like messaging, with the ability to send media, receive read receipts, and see notifications that indicate when the other user is typing. It feels a lot like the old iOS Messages app, while adding a lot of features similar to those found in Windows Live Messenger.

Game Center in iOS 5

In iOS 5, Apple has enhanced Game Center, adding the ability to have an avatar for your profile. Furthermore, they are also adding official support for turn-based games, which will probably bring many promising offerings once iOS 5 is released this fall. Until then, games that leverage this functionality most likely will not appear in the App Store, as Apple does not accept apps written using a beta version of the iOS SDK (much like how Game Center was utterly useless in the iOS 4 betas since no games supported it).

Newsstand

Much like the new functionality in Game Center, there isn’t much to see here either. No apps support the functionality offered by Newsstand yet, and the Store button is disabled. Newsstand is supposed to be a collection of newspaper/magazine apps. It is also supposed to be capable of pushing updated content to these apps. Most likely, there won’t be much to do with this until after the official release either.

A couple of screenshots of the Reminders app

In what I consider to be a questionably stupid move on Apple’s part, iOS 5 now includes a built-in to-do list app called Reminders. Considering something of the sort could exist perfectly fine on the App Store (and, in fact, many things of this sort already do), I’m really wondering why Apple bothered with this one. Nonetheless, you can see a couple of screenshots of it in action above. You set up tasks that the app can remind you about either by time, or, in what may be the one interesting thing about this app, by place. Supposedly, when you’re at a certain location, it can deliver a reminder. Anyway, the first screenshot above shows my list of reminders, and the second shows those tasks which I have completed (even though I just threw that up on the spot, it’s pretty accurate about what I do and don’t get done).

The emoji keyboard on iPad… finally!

As seen above, Apple has finally enabled the emoji keyboard for iPad (well, they’ve enabled the ability for you to enable it). Just go into your keyboard settings, and add the Emoji keyboard like any other. Then annoy your fellow iOS users to death with emoticons. 

The split keyboard

While on the topic of the keyboard, Apple has added the ability to split the keyboard in iOS 5. Hold the keyboard dismiss button to access the option to do so. Some people I’ve spoken to love this feature. I, however, find it dismally annoying. It makes me really prone to typos, by both making the buttons smaller, and by putting them in unusual locations. I hate it, and will still be using the regular keyboard, but your mileage may vary. Also of note, you can undock the keyboard to move it up or down the screen as you wish, while keeping both halves attached and the buttons their usual size. This feature may be useful for some, but I will be leaving the keyboard in the tried and true location of the bottom of my screen.

The About menu in General Settings

Okay, there’s a few important things to notice here. First off, the build number of this beta is 9A5220p. Second of all, there’s an option to change the device name… on the device itself. In addition, there is a Diagnostics and Usage menu, which gives you the ability to turn the option to send such data to Apple on or off (something normally done in iTunes).

These next two observations are quite significant. Why would Apple give you the option to do these things on the device itself?

Apple has finally dropped the requirement of having a PC or iTunes. iOS devices are now completely independent. When you open the box of an iOS 5 device, it will no longer greet you with the familiar “Connect to iTunes” screen. It will instead prompt you to set up the device… on the device itself. As pointed out in the keynote, this is the logical conclusion to their theory that we are living in a “post-PC era.” To enhance the independence of the device from iTunes, you may also delete music directly from the device in the Music app. There is also a Usage menu in General Settings that provides an overview of the amount of storage used by a given app, along with the ability to delete a given app outright, or to dump its data (I greatly appreciate this feature; I commonly download videos using Terra Web Browser then have it open them in VLC. VLC can play the videos just fine, but it gives no way of deleting the copy of the video that Terra dumped in its documents folder. And considering some giant douche forced Apple to pull the VLC app, that’ll never be fixed either).

Over-the-air updates

As seen above, Apple has also introduced over-the-air updates in iOS 5. Supposedly it will also be more efficient than the previous update mechanism, as it will only download that which has changed, as opposed to an entire firmware image. It does, however, seem to be somewhat buggy at this point. While I don’t know if it’s even really enabled in this beta, or if it’ll allow you to update between betas, it claims I’m not connected to Wi-fi, even though I am.

As a side note, as much effort as Apple has put into removing the dependency on iTunes, I wonder why they’ve also added Wi-fi syncing with iTunes now.

While I think it’s broken in this build as well (either that or the iTunes 10.5 beta is broken), there is an iTunes Sync option in General Settings that allows you to sync over Wi-fi, although it claims that iTunes is never available to sync to.

 

iCloud

Furthering the theory that we are living in a “post-PC world,” Apple has introduced iCloud, their cloud storage service. As seen in the Mail option above, Apple is now giving away @me.com e-mail addresses for free. It also includes the former MobileMe service of Find My iPad. It also introduces the ability to sync your bookmarks, notes,contacts, calendars, and reminders, as well as Photo Stream, a way to store your photos in the cloud (why it gives Photo  Stream a separate menu, I don’t know; the only option that menu gives is yet another on/off slider). By the way, did anyone notice that Apple changed the slider images? Personally, I liked the old ones better. As seen immediately above the big red Delete Account button, you can also back up your devices straight to iCloud. However, this disables automatic backup with iTunes, so I left it disabled.

Twitter integration in iOS 5

iOS 5 now features direct integration with Twitter, allowing single sign-on for all Twitter apps, a most welcome addition after Twitter’s basically made developers of Twitter clients bend over and take their crappy web-based authentication. Apparently iOS will be spared the awful experience, as you can add accounts directly in the Settings app.

Posting to Twitter from Safari

You can also post to Twitter directly from certain apps, including Safari (pictured above) and Photos. However, photos tweeted from Photos seem to be in highly reduced quality.

While I find this functionality both well-implemented and convenient, I’m slightly worried about the precedent that it’s setting. If Apple is this accepting of third-party software out-of-box, this may eventually introduce Facebook support in iOS. Considering I do not use Facebook, I would find this to be unnecessary bloat. And for those that do, if I really need to scare you with what may happen, this could lead to crapware in Macs down the line. What I’ve always enjoyed about Mac OS X is that Apple makes both the hardware and the software, therefore wants to make both work well together, not loading a ton of crapware onto Macs out of box. While this is somewhat different, it is setting a precedent that I’m concerned may lead to such things.

A notification in iOS 5

As was probably the most (over-?)hyped feature of iOS 5, Apple has included a revamped notifications system. While I’ve never used MobileNotifier, I’ve seen screenshots/videos, and the fact that Apple has hired its developer, Peter Hajas, is apparent (while talking about Apple hiring a jailbreak developer, let me add a bit to my rant on Sony by saying Apple is setting an excellent example of how Sony should’ve handled their argument with Geohot).

Notification Center

Apple has also provided Notification Center, a summary of recent notifications. It allows you to open the app that created them, or to clear the notifications created by a given app.

Lock screen notifications

Notifications on the lock screen have also been improved. You can swipe across one to go to the app that created it, and it now handles multiple notifications better.

Notification options

Notifications in iOS 5 are also incredibly customizable. You may select whether they appear in Notification Center, whether they appear on the lock screen, and even how many messages appear in Notification Center. Furthermore, it is also of note that Apple has not completely removed the old notification system. You can configure an application to use the old notification style by setting it to use “Alerts” instead of “Banners.”

Thank you for reading my review of some of the many changes in iOS 5. While not pictured, a couple of other things are of note, such as the music app having been split into two on all devices. The music app on iPad has also been redesigned. The one thing that really, really peeves me about iOS 5 thus far, and I really hope is a bug that Apple plans to address, is the “lock out of device upon X incorrect passcode attempts” functionality. For one thing, syncing with iTunes no longer resets this lockout. Furthermore, even if it did, if Apple really plans to cut the cord and sell to users who don’t own a PC or a Mac, they’ve gotta at least make that functionality an option. My password would take millions of years to bruteforce, and I’d rather some stupid kid playing with my devices not prevent the person intended to access the device (me) take millions of years to get into the device owned by the person who actually knows the password. I don’t need a software-enforced lockout to keep my stuff safe. Besides this (hopefully once again a bug that will soon be addressed), my only real disappointment with iOS 5 is that it hasn’t provided a unified way to access files across apps (as opposed to the Open in… functionality that gives me a mild measure of trouble in VLC). Storage space is finite, and having to make a copy of a large movie just to watch it, as opposed to being able to just watch the copy that I downloaded from its present location, is quite annoying.

In summary, while iOS 5 has a couple of critical bugs, and lacks one feature I really wanted to see, it’s certainly moving even further in the right direction. The best mobile OS on the market today, and most likely for the entire foreseeable future, has gotten better with messaging across devices, sexy new unobtrusive notifications, finally gaining complete independence from the PC, and built-in free cloud backup and syncing.

6 Responses to “First Look: iOS 5 Beta 1”

  1. Gian

    I stumbled upon this, and it’s really well done!
    I have a question, in your opinion, why am I not seeing notifications on lock screen and am not able to se gestures?

  2. Frank

    Great article! Good to know that I’m not the only one concerned about the third party apps spoiling the “immaculate” iOS and OS X software. This is a step going against not only the very core of what apple stands for but also Steve Jobs’ own words from a previous keynote. As for the iTunes Sync feature: oddly enough I notice the same thing until I went back to check it one morning only to find that it apparently synced an hour earlier. However, I have yet to replicate it since then.

  3. Richard

    I am also not seeing any notifications on the lock screen at all – neither with the iphone 4 nor the ipad 2 (freshly updated to ios 5, not jailbroken, all notifications enabled, exchange account set to auto push every 15 minutes, wifi enabled and online etc)

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