Sun, Oct 23, 2011 - Page 14 News List

Technology reviews: iOS5 for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

By David Chen  /  Staff Reporter

Photo Courtesy of Apple

“It feels like I have a new phone,” my brother texted me after upgrading the operating system on his iPhone 4 to iOS 5.

That might be exaggerating the improvement Apple’s software update brings to its family of mobile devices, which also includes the iPod touch and iPad. Still, iOS 5, which was released several weeks ago, offers plenty of features to be excited about.

There’s free text messaging, for one. My brother sent that message to me in Taipei from his home in New York City, and neither of us paid a cent to our phone carriers thanks to iMessage, a new feature built into iPhone’s Message app.

Basically, you get away with not paying SMS fees because iMessage sends your messages over the Internet, either via a Wi-Fi or 3G signal. (It only works if both parties have an Apple iOS 5 device, though.)

Another thing that got my brother excited about was iOS 5’s new notifications page, which adds a slick new visual element. Swipe down from the top of your iPhone’s screen, and you get a windowshade-like page that displays the current weather, a stock ticker and a list of your missed calls, unread messages and incoming e-mails.

Taiwanese users will have to wait for Siri, Apple’s voice recognition program that has been touted for its ability to handle commands given in natural speech. The feature is available only on Apple’s new iPhone 4S, which has yet to be released in Taiwan.

I’ve spent the past week testing iOS 5 on the iPhone 4 and a first generation iPad. Speed-wise, the iPhone 4 remains pretty snappy, but the iPad occasionally lags. Overall, though, I found the new software to be a worthy upgrade on both devices.

Here’s a closer look at just a few of iOS 5’s long list of new features.

iMessage

Who can complain about free text messages? iMessage is a clever move on Apple’s part, as it lets people with an iPhone, iPod or iPad send each other text messages using the Internet (via Wi-Fi or 3G) rather than their phone carrier service, thus avoiding SMS fees.

iMessage is a feature built into the iPhone’s regular Messages app (which also comes with iPad), and here’s how it works: Type in your contact’s name in the “to” box, and Messages automatically figures out whether the contact has an iOS 5 device. If so, that person’s name shows up in blue, and you know your messages will be passed back and forth for free.

It’s easy to tell the difference between SMS and iMessages: Conversations on the former are written in green bubbles, the latter in blue. I like how you can send photos without worrying about the high MMS fees, and it’s a few steps quicker than sending a snapshot via e-mail.

iMessage is hardly groundbreaking — there are already plenty of free texting apps available like Kik and What’s App — but Apple got it right by integrating the feature seamlessly with the Messages app. And it’s hard not to appreciate how your iPhone tries to spare you phone charges by using iMessage as the default.

Notifications

iOS 5 comes with an improved notifications system, a feature that was badly needed. In previous versions of the software, things like calendar reminders or incoming text messages would pop up in annoying bubbles that interrupted whatever you were doing and then disappear, never to be seen again. I found that I’d often miss important reminders or forget to read an incoming text message because I’d tapped the bubble just to make it disappear.

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