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iOS 5 Features Overview: New but not groundbreaking

The WWDC 2011 is over and done with, and while we are hoping that Steve Jobs’ “one more thing” would be a new iPhone — which didn’t happen — his keynote revealed some pretty interesting stuff coming from Apple.

The iOS has been generally unchanged since it was first launched and at the same time Android has been evolving in such a short time span with both smart phone and tablet specific versions. So what’s new with iOS 5? If they are not releasing a brand new iPhone, there better be new features to make their devices appealing for today’s users. The Android platform has been moving in a rapid pace thanks to new hardware as well as custom software innovations by respective manufacturers. Read on as we run through the new key features.

Notifications Centre

New to iOS 5 is the Notifications Centre which houses all your alerts and notifications in one place. Previously most alerts especially push messages are popped out while you’re in a middle of doing something which is often annoying. With this, the notifications will appear briefly at the top and once you’re available, you can slide down from the top to view all the alerts which requires your attention. If this looks familiar to you, its no surprise that this was inspired by Android’s notification bar. There’s also additional info such as weather and stocks which should be customisable according to your preference.

Lock Screen with notifications

The notifications are also shown on your lock screen and can be accessed immediately by swiping on the item directly. This is a handy feature which lets you do things faster than before. However we wonder if the notification details can be turned off especially the contents of messages. Who wants strangers to peek into your private stuff from the lock screen.

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Twitter – Social Integration

Social Networking dominates the usage of smart phone these days and Apple brings this closer to the iOS devices with its Twitter integration. With its single sign on, you can now share and tweet photos and various sharable contents. If you’re a Facebook person, unfortunately you still need to do it the old fashion way via the App. Although this is a welcome feature, we would have expected more like Android where you can seamlessly share almost about everything to any social networking tool installed on your device.

Enhanced Safari Browser

For those that surf multiple pages simultaneously, the Safari Browser now supports tabs. This makes switching between pages easier with a single touch. In the demo video, this is shown only on the iPad and we wonder if it will make an appearance on its smaller iOS screen devices as well.

Camera

Camera has been enhanced too. Without a dedicated shutter button, it normally takes longer time to capture that important shot. Now they have added the camera button on the lock screen itself, which makes accessing quicker. Speaking about shutter button, you can now press volume up key to shoot which feels more natural than tapping on the screen.

Split keyboard

Typing on an iPad in landscape mode can be a daunting task especially when you’re holding it with both hands. Now they offer split keyboard which makes the keys reachable by both thumbs on either hands which can be enabled with a split gesture on the screen.

iOS devices – No PC required

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The iPad has always been taunted as the post-pc device but that is often thwarted by its need to sync to an iTunes on a PC/Mac before using it for the first time. Now iOS 5 has made the devices PC Free. The newer batches of these devices after iOS 5 official release should allow you to get going without needing to hook up a cable to a computer for activation. To make updates easier, future updates are pushed Over the Air which is something most Android devices have been doing for a long time already. While previous iOS updates are often bulky and long to download, Apples promises lighter updates which means you’ll download only what is necessary to bring your device up to the latest version.

iMessage

Another new feature to iOS is iMessage which is a new messaging service that runs online with push capabilities on both 3G and WiFi. In a world where we have WhatsApp and Ping Chat which allow cross platform communication, Apple’s iMessage is restricted only to iOS devices. Think of it as Apple’s answer to BBM. Is there a future in this? BBM is said to be considering to extend its messaging service to non-BlackBerry platforms and it is interesting to see if Apple’s iMessage will take off as it works only for its own.

Other features
For those that subscribe magazines and newspapers, there’s a new Newsstand which centralises all your subscription in one place. Another feature we liked is the revamped reminder/task which is revamped with geo-location triggers. This means you can now add reminders which alerts you when you reach a certain location or when you’re leaving a place. There’s also the iCloud which lets you store music and your crucial content in the cloud. This lets you seamlessly share and sync content across your own collection of iOS devices that you own.

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iOS 5 will be available for iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad, iPad 2 and 3rd/4th generation iPod Touches. Availability is slated for this coming fall which is sometime in September. We’re wondering if the iPhone 3GS will get all the new features of the iOS 5 or will certain features be omitted from the old iPhone — almost two years since launch now.

Conclusion
All these features isn’t ground breaking and this is Apple’s attempt of closing the gap with its other smart phone/tablet OS platforms. Don’t get us wrong, the new features are all welcomed but there’s no real innovation from Apple. For those who have used both Android and iOS would notice that several of the new features are merely playing catching up as they have always been a standard in Android. The notification centre, a useful lock screen and even the split keyboard isn’t really new to Android platform.

If anything, iOS 5 exposes how lacking of features the old iOS is. As they say, it’s better late than never.

You can check out the full features and demo video over at Apple’s iOS 5 page.