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iOS 5.0 Review

As you may have heard, Apple recently release its newest version of the iPhone (the 4S) along with the latest version of their mobile OS. My hardware review will be later (after AT&T finally gets it to me). Now, I will concentrate on the OS upgrade that most iPhone owners can all enjoy.

If you’re reading this at, there is a chance that you’ve already been reading about the new enhancements, perhaps you even watched the keynote from a few months ago. Here’s a brief rundown of:

Notifications

Notification screen accessible by swiping downward

No longer does each Facebook update, text message, calendar event, or any other notification pop up in the middle of the screen and halting your concentration while trying to get that third star in Angry Birds. Instead, the top of the screen flips around like a billboard behind home plate at a baseball stadium to show you briefly what important has just been pushed to you. You can always see all your notifications by swiping from the top of your screen downward (in either orientation). Sure, Apple probably stole this idea from the Android platform or the Cydia store (for jailbroken phones), but hey the Romans “borrowed” and perfected many of the Greeks ideas. Can’t hate Apple for that. If fact, I love them for it. Personally, this is my favorite enhancement of iOS 5. Oh, almost forgot, these notifications show up on your lock screen too! HUGE DEAL! Slide any notification icon and you will brought right to that app. Hooray for convenience!

Reminders

You can set a location based reminder!

So Apple took ridiculously long to get this feature out. I don’t know why it wasn’t a part of the original software, but at least it’s finally here. Again, Apple steps up the game with their incarnation. Sure, you can make to-do lists and setup reminders with alerts to go off at certain times, but now you can also create location-based reminders. So you can remind yourself to call into that conference call when you arrive at your job or call your momma when you leave the doctor’s office. Great feature. My complaint about it though is that the address you want to use must be in your contacts somewhere. So if I want my reminders to go off when I get to the store, I must have the store’s address in my contacts list. What would be better is if I could enter any address manually. Better than that, let me have a map or some kind of search feature built into the app to let me choose a place. How hard could this be to implement? Come on, Apple. Update please.

iMessage

You can see where regular texts became iMessages. Pretty blue!

Apple’s answer to BBM is a cute addition. I like it because it allows me to “text” my wife from my iPad when I’m on the couch. This is a welcome experience as I too often have found myself just out of reach of my phone, but needing to text her. Sure I could get up, but luckily I don’t have to anymore. More benefits of iMessage is the ability to see if the message was delivered, see if the other person is currently texting you back, and avoid using your more of your cell carrier’s text allowance (as it counts as data traffic, not a text). As I mentioned before, I can text from my iPad now, and with iMessage I won’t lose my conversation thread. If I start texting on my iPad, I can continue on my iPhone without skipping a beat. Everything looks the same. Of course, there is a catch. You can only iMessage other iOS users. You can use a phone number or email address to identify the other person. I have never owned a Blackberry, nor do I care to, but I disclose this so you know I have no idea what the draw of BBM has been. I will stop there as to not turn this into my editorial on RIM devices.

Camera

That camera button will take you directly to the camera app!

There are a few nice little camera enhancements. Best one first: camera app is directly accessible from the lock screen with a double-click of the home button! Immensely helpful when you need to grab that quick shot of your amazingly cute daughter smiling at her daddy, or whatever you feel is important. Don’t worry, you can access the camera without entering your unlock code. For security, you won’t be able to access the pictures you have on your camera roll unless you unlock the phone… good job thinking ahead, Apple. Other enhancements include photo editing, pinch to zoom (stills only), and the use of grid lines. The editing is very basic. You can auto enhance images; reduce red-eye; or crop, rotate, or constrain them (using a given aspect ration). Welcome additions, but not mind-blowing. Oh yeah, Apple finally allows you to use the volume + button to take a picture, just in case you prefer tactile buttons. (Yeah, they rejected an app for doing that last year.)

iCloud

iCloud

Image by BasBoerman via Flickr

This may be the biggest leap forward for iCloud. Though it’s technically separate from the operating system, it is only enabled in 5.0 so it’s worth talking about. It’s great. I love it. It keeps all the important things synced up: calendars, contacts, reminders, and notes. No longer do I have a syncing session to get my iPad, iPhone, and Outlook on the same page. It all happens seamlessly behind the scenes… really well, by the way! I can also have all my backups stored on iCloud, so if I get a new phone it all gets pushed to me without plugging in a cable. Excellent. I will be using this soon when my iPhone 4S comes in. Everyone is eligible for a free account with 5 GB of data to use, but know that iTunes music, movies, calendars, and contacts don’t count against the quota! Apps and their data will though, so that often takes a big bite out of your allotment. If you were a Mobile Me user, you have 25 GB to use for now. Pretty sweet. May just entice me to give apple $20 a year to keep that space available to me (I’m already using 17 GB for my iPhone and iPad). Another aspect is Photo Stream. Pictures I take on my iPhone go right to my iPad and PC automatically and vice versa, yes even from PC to iPhone and iPad. Again, this just helps alleviate the problem of my devices having different pictures available on them. Small caveat, if you want to sync your notes, you have to create a free .me account and use that as your iCloud account. This means you’ll have two accounts: your iTunes account name and your iCloud name. Kind of a pain, but at least you get another email address for free (username@me.com).

There are over 200 new features of iOS 5, but they’re not really for us; they’re for the developers. Hopefully we’ll be seeing them pushing the envelope with new ideas for apps. Those apps really are what sets iOS apart from everything else. Sure there’s crap out there, but there are also some of the most innovative app ideas that you can see on a mobile device. At the very least, they are the most polished looking. iOS 5 is a great upgrade. I would have to say it’s the most exciting since 3.0 and the implementation of Cut, Copy, Paste! Not even kidding! Some major enhancements, mixed with some minor ones, and the brand new iCloud service really makes the geek in me swoon. Ok, that’s a bit much, but almost! At the time of this writing, Apple’s servers were making up grading a long chore. Enjoy the upgrade, if you can get it!

Update: I forgot about the iPad’s best update… Split keyboard! Now you can easily thumb type in landscape mode! Awesome. Oh, and those multitouch gestures I wrote about a few months back in my iPad 2 review are included for everyone now!

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iPad 2 Review (Add another one to the WWW)

IPad in Case
As mentioned in my post about iPad 2 Multi-touch Gestures, I mentioned that my full review of the iPad 2 would follow soon.  Well, soon is relative of course.  Just shy of having the new iPad for a full month, I have finally found some time to get my feelings down.  I’m sure if you’re at all interested in the iPad 2, you have already read one of the seemingly billion reviews online or maybe you went to the Apple store to try it out.  So why should you care what I have to say?  Simply put, you don’t have to care.  But I’m going to tell you anyway and I’ll be completely honest about it.  Why shouldn’t I be?  It’s not like I’m getting paid for this… but I digress.

The Awful

I’d like to start with the really bad aspects of the iPad 2.  The first of which is the quality of the two built-in cameras.  These things are terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad cameras.  My first LG flipping camera phone from 2004 had the equivalent megapixel count as the front facing camera does.  That’s bad, no really its one of these things where its so bad that all you can say is that it’s bad.  Ever so slightly better is the back side camera; it shoots video in high definition 720P.  Honestly, I feel like the HD video shot on my iPhone 4 looks better than the video that I shot with the iPad 2, but there are many factors that go into that (ie. lighting, movement, etc.).  Truthfully, I have no qualms about the video capturing.  It’s the stills that are horrible.  For me, this is only magnified when trying to view these pictures on the beautiful iPad screen.  I don’t know if there was a space limitation considering how thing the iPad is, but I think Apple should have used the iPhone 4’s camera sensor if not a better one all together.  Why you ask?  Well it’s not really a matter of function but for mental satisfaction.  I don’t know if I, or 99% of the iPad population for that matter, will ever really use the camera to capture memories, but for a minimum of $500 I would like to have the option to do so.  The bottom line truth is, the super-awful camera quality is not that big of a deal.  Don’t let this be the deal breaker for you.  I will elaborate on this in a little bit.

The Bad

While I never owned the original iPad at any point in time, it is clear that the new iPad is not a giant leap forward.  Apart from the camera quality, this may be the only gripe about this device.  As a never-before-iPad-owner, I am not even going to complain.  I like the boost in both the raw processing power as well as the graphics processing, but I would definitely have waited on upgrading if I was an original owner.  I would imagine being a little disappointed if I shelled out money for what is essentially the same product, just a little sleeker and a bit faster.

The only other gripe to add to this section is not even known by most people.  For whatever reason, Apple decided to not give everyone the option to enable multi-touch gestures!  Why?  There was one day (the first day) where I did not have these features enabled and I would never have thought to complain about the experience.  Since day two, I have had the gestures enabled (via a developer option) and my iPad enjoyment increased ten fold.  The gestures really add to the experience.  You can swipe from app to app without that using the multitasking bar, you can bring up the multitasking bar without touching the home button, or you can do a four-finger pinch to the home screen!  This rocks!  Why do only developers have access to this!  Be proud, Apple!  Show your stuff.

Oh, one more thing… still no Flash support.  Sure it’s bad, but not awful.  A few months it will be “less bad” and perhaps in year it may not even matter, with regards to flash video.  If you’re a Facebook game lover, yeah it matters.  To that I say, expand your horizons.  Facebook games suck, and, moreover, there is probably and app for it anyway.  If you’re preferred website still hasn’t jumped over to the HTML 5 format, try iSwifter or SkyFire apps for iPad.  They are able to turn flash into a format that is viewable on the iPad.

The Good

Here come those cameras again.  The fact that this iPad has them is a very nice, though not necessary, feature.  One of the top uses for me is Skype.  I’m able to sit in a chair with my daughter and have my parents “visit” whenever they want.  Previously, I used my iPhone with its tiny screen or my desktop computer where I was confined to one particular, and uncomfortable spot.  Now, my comfy couch or recliner is the only place I need to be.  Again, not a necessity, but very nice.

The Great

Everything else.  Seriously.  The overall design is beautiful.  The aluminum body is thin and sleek.  The screen is bright and crisp.  True, there is no retina display, but the picture is still beautiful.  Be thankful there is no retina display as this may have made the price of this device skyrocket.  When you look at it through a geek/gadgeteer’s eyes, you will not be able to hold back proverbial drool. Yeah, it really is this good looking.  Not to mention the interface is still the most crisp, fluid experience you will see on a touch screen device.  Even the best android tablet, the Xoom, has a small delay, be it ever-so slight.  Give Apple credit for the experience.

App selection really sets this device apart.  The apps that are optimized for the iPad are beautiful.  Some apps are preferable to even their desktop counterpart.  For example, the free official Twitter app on the iPad is better than even the desktop experience far and away.  I love the different news apps too.  I’m constantly on the CNN and Associated Press apps.  The games experience is also very pleasing.  I will say, I’m still a fan of PC and console games more, but for the niche that is phone/tablet gaming the iPad 2 shines.  For the record, I highly recommend Tower Madness; a super addictive tower-defense game where you’re trying to keep your sheep safe from aliens.  Quickly, I’d like to mention that iMovie and Garageband for iPad are both awesome.  I am by no means an expert in them, nor am I an expert in video nor audio editing on a traditional computer.  What I can say though is that the experience is just downright fun and easy.  Those apps are pretty cheap considering the power behind them.  I recommend them as well.

Conclusion

I have not had this much fun with a device since I first got the iPhone 3G.  I cannot stop singing its (the iPad 2’s) praises, even with some admitted faults.   To be fair, I had a particular need that I wanted filled.  I wanted to be able to surf the web, play some games, watch some video, and Skype with my family all from the comfort of my couch with the additional characteristic of being able to take said device with me when I’m on the go.  The iPad 2 fits the bill perfectly.  So much in fact that my wife has said multiple times that we don’t watch as much television anymore because I’m always reading articles or playing a game.  This can be taken as good or bad, though I believe she may be a little on the annoyed side because we watch the same shows and she waits for me to watch them with her.  Maybe I’ll just have to get her and iPad of her own.

*Review is of Wifi only iPad 2 with 16 GB of storage

iPad 2 Multitouch Gestures

I just finished using this guide by Engadget to enable multitasking gestures in iOS 4.3 on iPad. In short, it rules. I don’t ever have to hit the home button again (except to wake it up). Best part is this was beyond easy. You do need a Mac as well as the Xcode app, which I luckily had installed for iPhone app development. By the way, the app is simple to get but it is BIG! If you have a new iPad or the original running iOS 4.3 I highly recommend doing this. It’s worth it. Full review of iPad 2 to follow soon.

Engadget article: http://www.engadget.com/2011/03/14/how-to-enable-multitasking-gestures-in-ios-4-3/