June 8, 2011 at 9:04 PM ET
When Apple presented iOS 5 — the latest version of its mobile operating system — we couldn't help but point out how many features and elements it seemed to borrow from other platforms and apps. But as we started examining the software we realized something: The combination of those features with Apple's special touch should have Android — the biggest competitor to iOS — shaking in fear.
Yes, we realize that when it comes to a lot of features — notifications, in particular — it seemed like Apple was playing catch up with Google's baby. But with iOS 5 Apple isn't just catching up — it's leapfrogging Android.
Of course, not everything we're about to list will make everyone's jaw drop as the earth shakes, but, along with the nearly 200 other new features found in iOS 5? They form the most compelling mobile operating system available today.
So let's just look at some of these highlights, so you can see for yourself.
The notification system in iOS 5 is one of the bigger features to be added since iOS 4. It's a well-designed and perfectly integrated scheme of notifications, alerts and popups which revolve around one central drop-down pane — which Apple has dubbed the Notification Center.
New emails, text messages, multimedia messages, reminders, Game Center notifications, mail alerts, Twitter notifications and any other sort of items which could normally trigger a push notification can find their way into the Notification Center. They'll be called to your attention on your iOS lock screen, via a regular pop up alert, or with a small non-intrusive banner which briefly flashes across the top of your screen.
So far this sounds a lot like what you get out of Android, right? But hang on ... there's a reason it's better: Control.
Built straight into iOS is a set of controls which will allow you to arrange the notification system of your dreams. Do you want emails to trigger a banner but not appear on the lock screen? Do you want Twitter alerts to make a sound but not appear anywhere? Should voicemail alerts show up in the Notification Center and on the lock screen and as a banner? No problem!
You can customize the notification system however you want — right down to custom sounds for voicemail alerts, text messages and so on. (Yes, you can finally set custom sounds for those types of alerts.)
Another one of the great little details about iOS 5 is that it has full Twitter integration. You can tweet straight from the Photo app, Safari or just about any other apps. All you need to do is log in with your regular Twitter credentials once, and let iOS prompt you to download the official Twitter app. It'll take care of the rest and present you with new buttons in the appropriate places.
Smile! The Camera and Photo apps have received a tune-up in iOS 5. There's a lock screen shortcut to the camera app — which unfortunately does not appear to work in the first beta version of the operating system — and a pinch-to-zoom feature that you can use while taking a picture. If that's not enough, you can use a volume button as a shutter button and keep your greasy fingers off the screen.
As far as the Photo app goes, there are now some basic image editing features built right in. You can enhance, remove red-eye or crop images right on the spot — without having to open up a third-party app. (Sorry, third-party apps!)
It wouldn't surprise us if many iOS users considered the Mail app one of the most important items on their devices, so we're definitely happy to see that it too has gotten a little bit of an upgrade as well. It now offers rich text formatting, address dragging, indentation control, message flagging, full message searches and S/MIME support on top of the usual assortment of features.
Now Android's not the only one who's got something to fear when it comes to the new iMessage system — Research In Motion should be dreading that BlackBerry Messenger users finally have a solid alternative, provided all their friends jump to iOS too.
iMessage is basically an iOS-only messaging client which allows you to send text, photos, videos, contacts and group broadcasts to iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users. It basically is a lot like BlackBerry Messenger, and will show delivery receipts, read receipts, even IM-style typing indicators.
But as a bonus, messages will be pushed to all your devices over Wi-Fi or 3G — and will be encrypted. And you can start a conversation on your iPhone and switch over to your iPad to continue things there without missing a word.
Little ol' Safari has grown up quite a bit with iOS 5. The mobile browser now features an Instapaper-style Reading List feature which allows you to mark and sync articles for later reading, something called Reader which'll format articles to be easier on the eyes, and private browsing for — ahem — the things that you don't want to be saved to your browser history.
There are several other little features in iOS 5 which you might not notice right away, but will quickly learn to love and appreciate.
There's a text expansion tool called Shortcut. It basically allows you to create keywords which will trigger a custom replacement text. Just imagine how much time that can save you when it comes to commonly used phrases such as "Oh, hey! Do you think you can grab some ice cream on the way home?"
And if you don't have a shortcut that applies to a situation, then perhaps a global dictionary will help you make sure that you sound as coherent as possible most of the time.
There's also Photostream, which will sync your photos to the iCloud and download them across all your iOS devices. Pretty handy if you want to edit photos on your iPad, but don't want to fuss around with cables or manually upload images.
Speaking of the iCloud, that's another feature that'll make your life a great deal simpler. You can sync all the important things to it and always have easily accessible copies of your images and documents.
And if that's not wireless enough for you, then take a gander at iTunes Sync. It's just what it sounds like: A way to sync your devices to iTunes over Wi-Fi. Oh, and your iOS device will back itself up — wirelessly — before it syncs, so you'll have daily backups. Believe us, those are more valuable than you might realize.
Of course you'll be able to do more than just back up your device over the air — you'll finally get to update your device over the air as well and you can go entirely PC-free as no connections to iTunes are necessary to activate an iOS device now.
Once you're up and running with iOS 5 in the fall, you'll be able to enjoy all these features along with new default apps such as Reminders and Newsstand which will basically be your one-stop shops for to-do lists and digital magazine consumption respectively.
Sound good? Or are you still rolling your eyes and muttering that that most of these features are available on Android already? If you are, then allow me to remind you about what I said at the beginning of our little exploration of iOS 5: It's a threat to Android not just because of the individual features, but because of the punch they pack when wrapped in a rather gorgeous user interface.
We know where Apple stands for the next year or so. It's your move, Google.
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