Friday, October 21, 2011

My first impressions of iOS 5

I switched from Blackberry to iPhone about 6 months ago for 2 main reasons.

1) Etisalat (my phone service provider in the UAE) was threatening to stop supporting corporate Blackberry servers not located in the UAE, and

2) I had a growing reliance on my iPad and it's apps, and I was starting to feel lost not having these with me when I didn't have my iPad.

So I migrated and was berated by those I had previously preached to about the weaknesses in iPhones (which I maintain were correct). These included ...

1) I still prefer the feel and accuracy of a "real" keyboard.

2) The email functionality on iPhone has been poor (just barely usable) especially because mails cannot be deleted or filed when you are offline!

3) Updates need to be done via a computer.

4) Not necessarily an iPhone weakness, but definitely THE Blackberry strength, was no BBM!

There are a few other pet peeves I have, but then to be fair, I had some of those on Blackberry and Android, so let's stay focused on these "big" points.

I was eagerly looking forward to the launch of iOS5 last week, hoping it will answer most of my issues. I did the upgrade yesterday and here is what I have found so far.

1) It appears as though the mail problem has been fixed. Finally I can work offline. The amount of time I spend on planes and use that time for clearing my inbox, this is the "killer update" for me.

2) A "tasks" program has been added that syncs with Outlook. Till now I have been using "Zero", a 3rd party app that is simple and works really well. On the new iPhone task program, you can't "hide" completed tasks, so it has synced my tasks (live and completed) for the past several YEARS ... I don't really need those!

3) The very mediocre calendar was supposed to have a couple of improvements which I haven't yet spotted. One of these was meant to be a week view!

4) I only upgraded yesterday (a week after iOS 5 was released) because I was in Asia last week and updates, till now, could not be managed without being plugged into the main partner computer.
I have not fully tested this yet, but according to my iPhone settings screen, it appears that you still need to be partnered with a particular computer to get everything syncing, but it will manage the syncing over wifi instead of with a cable. That's a huge improvement, but why need a specific host computer at all?

5) The notification center is hugely improved (well... there wasn't really one at all before). It is now similar to what you get on Android. Swipe one finger down from the top of the screen and you can see your "live" calendar appointments and todos and a variety of other pieces of information you might choose to put there.

6) Fast and direct access to the camera is now available with a shortcut (a double tap on the "home" button), so when you need to snap something fast, this is a great improvement to what we had before ... Turn on the phone, unlock the password, find the camera app and launch it.
Additionally, I like the fact there is a hardware button to press for pictures instead of the previous on screen soft button.

7) iMessage ... The jury is still out as I can't find people to test this with! This is integrated into the SMS/message program (not something separate like BBM), and the iPhone is supposed to recognize if your contact has iMessage and it will then use that platform to send the message instead of network SMS. Perhaps an interesting idea, but I think a clear separate program would have been better, or perhaps an integration with FaceTime. For now, I'm sticking to "What's App".

8) Newsstand is an interesting addition. A good idea for an app to hold all newspapers and magazines (and a fresh revenue source for Apple), but I'm not able to move that app into a folder!

9) The upgrade process itself took about 7 hours! I have been reading that Apple servers were overwhelmed by the demand for the upgrade, but it's been a week now and they really should be able to cope after that length of time... so I'm not sure if my long download experience was due to server overload (still) or if that's genuinely how long the upgrade should take (in which case they should warn you in advance to do this only when you can be without your phone for half a day), or I may have had too many torrents downloading simultaneously when also running the upgrade :)

Overall, some useful stuff, but there's a lot more to do. I remain hooked because of the apps I have across my iOS universe now, and the email improvement has dealt with my number one issue on the platform.

Some articles I have read this week talked about battery issues with iOS 5, and although it's been a short time for me, I was on my phone more than normal yesterday (experimenting) and didn't notice anything significant in this field.

So it seems a worthwhile upgrade, but I look forward to 5.1 to smooth out the wrinkles.

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