iOS 5 New Features

As a member of the iOS developer program, I have had early access to iOS 5 beta for some time now. I first installed it with Beta 3 in mid-july on my personal iPhone. ¬†Being that I am a part-time developer and don’t have thousands of dollars to buy multiple iPod touches, iPads and iPhones to keep various iOS versions on as Apple recommends (bull-*cough*-crap), I only have my iPhone to use. This means I live on the edge a bit and have to deal with glitches in the system, but it also means I learn very quickly what new features are available, since I am using it all day long.

Most of the information I am presenting here I am writing while still in the Beta stage, so some things may have changed since I wrote them. But being a good, honest Apple Developer Program member (okay, mostly honest), I didn’t want to post this until iOS 5 was officially out. This is also not a comprehensive list. I am only including things that I think people will be interested to know about and may not initially realize.

Background Syncing

The first feature I noticed right off the bat is that iOS 5 performs background syncing with iTunes. Remember all those times you’ve started a long sync process on your device and then wanted to look something up on it real quick (maybe a text message, or address book entry, whatever) and couldn’t because of that stupid “Slide to cancel” message while it was syncing? No more! You now get the normal “Slide to unlock” message and can use your device while iTunes is still syncing. For example, I can browse the web while iTunes is syncing to my phone. I can send text messages, play a game, etc.

There are some things that don’t work so well. For example, currently iTunes is syncing my entire music library because it was a full device restore (3,420 songs takes awhile to sync). Trying to run the Music application while iTunes is syncing my music library causes it to hang and I have to “force quit” it. All in all, though, I like the new feature. I don’t often use my phone while it is syncing, but I have more than once had to cancel a sync so I could get to some bit of information and then resume the sync.

By the way, there is now a small spinning sync icon in the status bar on the iOS device telling you that it is actively syncing. I personally haven’t tried pulling the sync cable while it is syncing, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it on purpose.

WiFi Syncing

WiFi syncing is not news to most people since it has been talked about and shows up right in the iTunes window as an option. It does, however, have some cool features and there are some things to know about it before you decide to just turn it on and forget about it.

First off, WiFi syncing is slower than USB. To be honest, I expected WiFi to be faster. Yes I know, USB 2.0 is 480Mbps and WiFi is only 150Mbps. But watching my phone sync via USB and the speed it takes to sync movies, for example, makes it feel like it isn’t even close to the full speed of USB 2.0. And since the USB sync always felt so slow I figured a good 802.11n network connection should be able to do better. No, it can’t. WiFi is noticeably slower than USB.

The ability to have my phone sync to my computer while still in my pocket, however, is very cool. And the ability to have it sync automatically overnight is even more cool. For me, though, I sync my phone to my desktop computer at work. My only other option is my laptop which I don’t leave open and running overnight anyway. So the automatic nightly sync does me no good. Also, leaving the WiFi syncing enabled seems to keep my phone connected to WiFi even when locked (which it didn’t before) which seems to put a noticeable drain on my battery. Usually by the end of the day my phone is only down to around 80% battery. The 3 days I had WiFi syncing enabled, by 5pm when I left work my battery was down closer to 40%. This may be because it detects my desktop (which it is “paired” to) on the network and therefore keeps the WiFi active so that I can do a WiFi sync (which can be initiated from iTunes or the iPhone). So if you sync to your home computer you may not have the same problem of having your phone connected to your work’s WiFi for 8 hours.

One bit of good news on the WiFi sync is the ability to seamlessly switch from WiFi sync to USB sync. If I start a WiFi sync session on my phone and then plug it into my computer mid-sync it almost instantly switches over to USB and the speed improves dramatically. So if you start a sync on WiFi and then realize it has a lot of data to transfer, just plug it in via USB and let it keep going.

Hourly Weather

Maybe other people already knew about this, but I found it by accident. The supplied Weather app now has hourly weather forecasts. When looking at the weather screen simply tap on the screen and it will show you the hourly information which you can then scroll through.

As I said, I found it by accident so you may not know it is there. I can’t say I would use it a lot, but if I was planning a day at the beach or a picnic or something else it would be nice to get to this more detailed weather report. You can also, by the way, sync the little spinning sync icon in the top-left next to the WiFi icon. I took this screenshot while my phone was syncing to iTunes.

Notification Center

Yes, another item you already know about. But I just wanted to give you a quick bit of information on it that again you may not ever know about unless you happened to accidentally trigger it or specifically wanted to know if it worked and tried it (like I did). The notification center can be pulled down to sliding your finger down from the status bar right? Well it also works with full-screen apps. ¬†How often have you wanted to check on the time on your phone while playing a full-screen game but didn’t want to exit out of the game to do so?

Well now you can, and very easily. Simply perform the slide-down gesture you normally would and you will see a little gray handle appear in the top-center of the screen. Perform your slide-down gesture again and the notification center will appear, along with your standard status bar. Simply slide the notification screen back up and you can resume your game. The reason for this double-swipe gesture is obvious as soon as you play a game that requires a lot of swiping, such as Harbor 3D (great game by the way). This game requires you to draw a path for the ship to follow in order to enter the harbor safely. Well sometimes when I get to a boat too quickly and it is near the top-edge of the screen the “little gray handle” will appear. My original gesture is passed on to the game as well so that does not cause any problems. But this way I do not accidentally trigger the notification center since I then have to grab on the handle itself to fully bring it in.

You will also find under the System Preferences on your device that you can set the notification behavior on a per-app basis. For example, by default text message are I believe now banners in the notification center (they appear briefly and then go away until you pull down the notification center window). Calendar alerts are the same old “in the way” alerts they have always been which require you to dismiss them before continuing on. This granularity allows you to configure your notifications in a way that suits you and works the way you want to work.

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