What’s new in iOS 5?

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Now that iOS 5 is out and hopefully installed on iPads everywhere, it’s time to take a closer look at all the new features that the update brings. Some are pretty obvious, others not quite so obvious.

Computer independence

iOS 5 marks the beginning of a new era of the iPad, in which it is not longer dependent on a computer. If you do want to sync with a computer, that can now be done via WiFi. If you’d rather not, all aspects of iOS are now available directly on the iPad. That starts when you first turn on a iOS 5 iPad, as it brings you through a setup process instead of telling you to connect to iTunes. It will ask you if you want to start from scratch or restore from an online (iCloud) backup or a computer backup, and if you choose the latter, it will do sort of like a passive restore where it will let you zoom around the iPad’s menus while it’s putting everything back – contrary to what it used to be like with locking you out of the iPad while it did its secret stuff.

Backing up the iPad now happens either via computer as usual or iCloud. iCloud is Apple’s new online service which is essentially iTunes (the program, not the store) in the cloud. You get 5GB for free with more data packages available, but keep in mind that apps, music etc doesn’t count towards this – only application data. If you choose not to back up apps that have huge files (like third party video players), 5GB will last longer than you think. Backups to iCloud can be done manually or when in range of a WiFi network. There’s also a data push feature in place meant for smaller file syncs, and that feature can be set to work on cellular as well if you have a 3G iPad or iPhone. Photos also have their own system where the last 1000 photos taken or photos from the last 30 days will be kept and synced across your devices.


Notifications have now gotten their own place to sit and not bug you in form of a pull-down menu that works throughout the OS. Very Android, really, and certainly better than those popups that we’ve lived with for the last few years.

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Newsstand is essentially a cross between iBooks and the App Store, but for magazines. You download magazines as if they were apps, but instead of installing as apps, they install as part of Newsstand. In newsstand, you click on the cover of a magazine and is taken to the magazine’s custom app-like interface where you can buy issues, subscribe etc. The whole idea is to create a common interface for all the magazine apps out there, allow easier delivery etc. Many magazines I subscribe to on Zinio are missing though, probably because Apple wants a cut. Just to be clear to any potential magazine publishers out there, I personally do not intend to resubscribe to anything through Zinionow that this exists, so choose between losing 30% of your revenue or 100% when it comes to me as a customer.

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I hate social sites like Twitter, I really do. I use them, but hate them, because they go on doing whatever the frack they want with absolutely no worry about what customers want. Twitter isn’t as bad as Facebook luckily, which is likely why Twitter was included as a OS-feature in iOS 5 while Facebook wasn’t. Being able to tweet directly from all over the place is sure to have value to some, but personally I couldn’t care less.


Safari has gotten some upgrades, including visible tabs and a reading list that allows you to keep track of things you want to read later. Nice features for sure, but between all the 100 times more advanced web browsers out there, it still doesn’t seem like much. Most people use only Safari though, so it will certainly be an upgrade for many.


You can now activate the camera with one of the volume buttons, pinch to use a digital zoom and activate a grid for composing images better. There’s also an “edit” button in the photo album that lets you rotate, crop, “enhance” and fix red eyes. It saves me from using third party photo editors for minor things like rotating an image, so I’m happy – but the iPad 2 camera naturally suck just as much as it did in iOS 4.

Split keyboard

If you grab the keyboard with two thumbs and pull it apart, it splits into a thumb friendly keyboard that lets you type more easily while holding the iPad with both hands. Works in both landscape and portrait mode, and you can also move the keyboard up and down along the edges to fit your hand position. A nice addition, but still far away from being able to install your own keyboards like you can on other OSes.

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Highlighting a word as you would to cut or copy it now brings up another option: define. This looks up the word in a dictionary and shows you the definition as a small pop up. Really handy!


This is a new app that goes alongside Calendar and gives you reminders. You can set them using tradition parameters or using geolocation. I don’t see why this has to be a dedicated app, but it’s nice to have it either way.


On the iPhone, iMessage seamlessly integrates with SMS messages and simply checks if the receivers has an iOS device before sending the message, in which case it will send it through Apple for free instead of through your cell phone carrier. On the iPad which has no SMS, you simply get iMessage in its pure form. I frankly see this as being a lot more useful on the iPhone since the SMS switching will make it so the message is received no matter what, whereas something like Skype is probably just as easy if you’re on a device without SMS. Then again, this works out of the box, meaning that people will use it as if it’s revolutionary.

AirPlay mirroring

This only works on the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S, and is essentially wireless HDMI. When implemented by developers, it will give you the same capability as the VGA and HDMI adapters do, just wirelessly to an AirPlay receiver (normally the Apple TV).

Multitouch gestures

These gestures have been available to activate through some minor “hacking” for ages now, but will be news to most users. When activated, you will have three new 4-5 finger multitouch gestures available: pinching brings you to the home screen, swiping left and right switches between apps, and swiping up brings up the multitasking bar. It will however mess up any apps that use wrist detection for handwriting, so be aware.

First impressions

I’ve had a couple of hours to play with iOS 5 now and it’s nice, but nothing that will suddenly make people who don’t have an iPad go buy one – maybe with the exception of the computer independence part. Chances are you’ll go right back to using your iPad as you’ve always done in terms of apps, but all the while smiling whenever you “accidentally” use one of the new features and realize that something has changed. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary, and frankly I’m glad that tech has gotten to that point. It’s worth updating any device you use a lot, which in my case does not include the iPhone, which is more or less a clock at this point.


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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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