Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hands on with iOS5

Now that Apple has released the Gold Master of its new mobile operating system, it is a bit easy to evaluate the user experience. But a couple of the most interesting features are still not possible to test until the OS goes live for consumers next week.
The Gold Master, for those without a developer license, is the final version of the operating system before it is released to the public. It is generally the version of the OS that gets installed on new devices until there are additional updates. On the Apple developer site, you can download different versions of the OS depending on your device. My iPhone 4 serves as my app development device.

The first thing one notices upon installing iOS 5 is that the OS loads up two new Apple apps onto your device: Reminders and Newsstand. Reminders is sort of like Calendar alerts but they are location-aware. As an example you can set a reminder to do something once you have reached the office and Reminders will alert you once you have reached your destination.

Newsstand is the app that will manage newspaper and magazine subscriptions. For many people, Newsstand will simply serve as a folder where they will be able to access their periodicals. For publishers, though, it is important to remember that the only way to get your magazine into the Newsstand would be to sell subscriptions through the App Store. Both free media apps, and those that serve simply as reader apps would not qualify. Further, readers can not drag magazine or newspaper apps into the Newsstand themselves in order to better organize their publications.

For most consumers, one of the best additions to iOS5 is the new camera access. When the phone is asleep the user can double tap the home button to pull up iPod controls (now simply called Music, no more iPod app!) and a camera button. Pressing the camera button gives you instant access to the camera, plus now the volume up button will work as a shutter release. It isn't revolutionary as other phones have been using this solution, but it will be a noticeable improvement, nonetheless.

Some other features are not yet live, and others are sort of live. For instance, you can test out iTunes Match in beta by subscribing – it costs $24.99 for a year. The service matches your music library in iCloud and allows you to listen to your music on any iOS device. I have not tried out the service simply because I'm not sure I have the need. Apple has trouble with these kinds of projects in the past, its Ping social media effort for music has not exactly been a big hit, so it will be interesting to see if they can make this work.

The whole iCloud feature is a bit scary for MobileMe users who initially had trouble with MobileMe when it first launched, but for the past few years have enjoyed good service. Now it is going away, which will save users money, but they must transition to iCloud, something I will work on later.

Other features missing are display mirroring, available only on the iPad 2 and the new iPhone 4S. Also, the Siri personal assistant software won't be available for a while, and again that will only work on the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, as well.