updated 02:30 pm EDT, Mon June 6, 2011
Developer SDK seed out now, final in fall
Apple today previewed iOS 5, the next version of its firmware for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. The firmware represents a major overhaul, for instance completely changing the notification system to more closely resemble a mix of Android and webOS. Notifications are no longer temporary, but viewable in a Notification Center by swiping down from the top of the screen. The notifications themselves are no longer pop-up bubbles, but text that briefly swivels down while users are busy in another app.
Shortcuts on the lock screen let users swipe to jump straight from a notification to the appropriate app.
The firmware also incorporates the Newsstand, a one-stop location for buying, downloading and reading magazines and newspapers. Issues are downloaded automatically in the background, and later available for offline reading.
Twitter support is now integrated throughout the OS, with a single sign-on that can be shared with any app that requests it. Twitter functions are present throughout default apps like Camera, Photos, Safari and Maps, allowing people to post media, web links and map locations. Safari has received several important enhancements, including tabs, a streamlined Reader view, and a Reading List for viewing pages later. The Reading List is synced across multiple devices.
Supplanting a number of to-do apps will be Reminders. The feature stores lists of tasks, and assigns alerts to dates and/or locations. An important concept is that of the "geofence," which can trigger a reminder on entering or leaving a place.
The Camera app has been upgraded with a shortcut button in the lock screen, which even allows taking photos without entering a passcode, although existing photos are protected. The physical Volume Up button on a device can be used as a camera shutter, and pinch-to-zoom is being enabled in-app. Tapping and holding on a portion of an image will optimize exposure. After the fact the new app allows some limited editing, including cropping, rotation, red-eye reduction and a one-tap automatic correction.
The Mail app has been upgraded with flagging, rich-text formatting, indentation control, draggable addresses and the ability to search for keywords in an entire message. S/MIME support has been implemented for better security, and the app takes advantage of a new OS-wide dictionary, which lets users tap "Define" in a pop-up menu. To make handheld typing easier, iPad owners are getting access to a split keyboard.
A potentially massive change in iOS 5 is Apple's "PC Free" concept. On taking a device out of a box people will be able to setup and activate it without syncing with iTunes, although syncing can now be done over Wi-Fi as well as via USB. Future firmware updates will be available over-the-air, and as deltas rather than complete packages, making each download considerably smaller. To go with this Apple is adding to the ability to create and delete calendars and mailboxes via iOS.
A new iMessage service will should let all iOS devices have access to the SMS/MMS-style messaging on the iPhone. This includes sending photos, videos and contacts, and participating in group chats. As conversations progress, real-time typing notifications are presented, and delivery/reading receipts sent if a person is not immediately available. Conversations started on one iOS device are carried over to another.
Game Center is being made more practical in the form of showing friend and game recommendations, and offering the option of buying games without having to jump to the App Store. Turn-based games can be played within the OS. Some other planned features of iOS 5 include the public availability of multitasking gestures, and AirPlay mirroring, which will let people duplicate an iPad's onscreen visuals on an Apple TV.
Compatible hardware should include every device that supports iOS 4.3.x. A developer seed of the iOS 5 SDK is out now, and the final firmware will be ready in the fall.