Monthly Archives: November 2011

iOS 5: What’s Great, What’s Not and What’s Missing

I recently wrote some thoughts about my new iPhone 4S. As I said, other than Siri though, the main aspects of my new phone are all available to iPhone4 owners through iOS 5 .

How do you get iOS 5 on your phone?  Just connect your iPhone/device to your computer and it will prompt you to download and install the new operating system.  It will remind you to do a back-up first which is a good idea.

Ok, so here are my thoughts re: iOS 5, including some hidden features.

What’s Great:

1. iMessage

Blackberry converts who have been missing BBM will be happy with iMessage. Integrated into the regular text messaging (SMS) app, iMessage lets you message other iPhone owners for free (no SMS fees).  It also shows you when these messages are delivered and when someone is typing a reply.  The messages also work over wifi.  This means you can use iMessage with an iPad or an iPod touch also.  This is a better messaging experience and it’s free, as it should be.  Many folks will now be able to downgrade their messaging plans and save some monthly fees.

Another minor thing that is cool is that you can now hide the keyboard in the messaging app by “pulling” it down and out of the way.

2. Notifications

Apple completely overhauled the way notifications work in iOS 5.  The biggest difference is that there is now a “curtain” of notifications that you can pull down to see all your recent notifications segmented by application.  You can customize notification types in settings.  This new system makes notifications a lot more useful, like a more instant type of alert e-mails for your phone.

3. Camera/photos

Quicker access to the camera- Many folks have started to use their phone’s camera as a primary photo-taking device.  But opening the camera app took too long. Apple now lets you access the camera even when your phone is locked. Simply double click the home button. On the bottom right of the screen, you’ll now see a camera icon. Click it and the camera app opens right up.

Additionally, you can now take a photo by pressing either of the volume buttons. This makes it a lot less awkward to take a photo.

The photo app now also lets you edit photos on your phone and sort photos into separate albums, helpful to make sense of the hundreds of photos you have unsorted on your phone.

4. Reader

I think this is very cool.  When you load any website in the Safari browser, you’ll see a “reader” button appear in the website address bar after the site is done loading. If you click that button, the article/text on the page will be reformatted to a very clean and readable format. It’s very much like the web tool Readability for those of you that know it.

There’s a related feature called Reading list that lets you save articles/items to read later. I already use an awesome service/app to do this called Instapaper and don’t plan to switch. I predict that Instapaper will continue to out-innovate on a focused product like this.

5. iCloud (in theory)

The concept of iCloud is fantastic, keeping things in sync across devices and backing up your data in the process.  So far though, I’ve found it complicated to understand/use and challenging in that certain devices don’t work with iCloud, specifically Macs not running Lion.

Additionally, iCloud “replaced” MobileMe which is fine but two services that were not replaced are MobileMe’s photo gallery and  web hosting. Strange/frustrating that Apple didn’t offer a migration path for these, particuarly photos which was the best option out there IMHO.

6. Keyboard “shortcuts”

This is a minor feature, but very compelling for some, e.g. my friend David. Some ex-Blackberry users will remember this feature, sometimes called text expansion. Basically you can create short abbreviations that will expand into full phrases. This is good for long phrases that you constantly find yourself retyping. See here for instructions on how to create these and some suggested ones to start with. Examples from Lifehacker include:

  • EML ->, so you never need to type your email when sending a message to yourself or sharing it with someone else.
  • PHN -> your phone number, so you can easily share your phone number without the need to type it or even remember it.
  • FMIN -> I’ll be there in five minutes, for when you want to text someone that you’re five minutes away but only have a few moments to type it.

Note, David can tell you that you must be careful to make the shortcuts something you wouldn’t otherwise type like these abbreviations vs. actual words which can create confusing texts/emails.

7. Calendar landscape view

The calendar on iPhone and iPad are improved.  On the iPhone, try turning the screen to lanscape and you’ll see a week view. The iPad now includes a Year view.

8. Alternate routes in Maps

The map app now shows you alternate routes when showing directions. This will be welcome to those who frequently use it for navigation in traffic-prone cities.

9. Custom vibrations & ringtones

You can now create custom vibrations for specific contacts.  Those who keep their phone on vibrate most of the time will appreciate that. You can know who called or texted before taking the phone out of your pocket.  You can now more easily create custom ringtones and assign them to SMS or app alerts in addition to just phone calls. See these links for more/how-to:

Custom vibrations

Custom ringtones


1. Browser tabs

The iPad’s Safari browser now has  real tabs, more like the browser you likely use on your computer vs. separate “tabs”.  Try it out to see what I mean.

2. Separation of keyboard

This is quite cool, I think.  A problem with the iPad keyboard has been that it’s hard to type with 2 hands and hold the iPad at the same time. Now, using a keyboard gesture, you can pinch the keyboard apart in the middle. The smaller halves are then closer to each hand that is holding the device, so you can thumb out a message. It works in portrait or landscape.

3. Gestures  for iPad2

If you have an iPad2, you can use new 4 and 5 fingered gestures.  See here for more.

What’s Not Great:

1. Wireless Sync

This is a nice concept, but its execution leaves me underwhelmed.  You can now synch your iPhone to your computer wirelessly.  In order to do that though, you need to have your computer on (on the same wifi network), iTunes open and your phone plugged into a power outlet. This is only a minor improvement over having it directly connected. Sure, you can synch from another room, but having to have it plugged in is a  bummer. And iTunes is not an app I like to keep running.  Lastly, it seems to me that iCloud should take care of all of this, making this extra synching confusing.

2. Reminders

This is a new default to-do/reminders app from Apple. Maybe it’s great, but it seems that being so late to the game is kind of silly. There are hundreds, if not thousands of these apps in the store. Why would Apple suddenly release a native one?

3. More things to accidentally select

As Apple adds cool features like the camera selection from the lock screen and Siri, there are less places to put them and less key shortcuts to access them.  I’ve found myself constantly invoking Siri by accident, just trying to hit the home key.  And on the keyboard, the Siri dictation button shrinks the rest of the keyboard and makes me much more likely to hit it by mistake.

What’s Missing:

1. Better Maps App

There was a minor improvement to Apple’s maps app (powered by Google) as mentioned above regarding alternate routes. However, it seems clear to me that the bad blood between Apple and Google has hindered updates to this app. The Google Maps app for Android has far surpassed Apple’s app. Turn-by-turn directions would be a major improvement as well as speedier performance and an option to download offline maps for particular cities (great for no/slow network access and international travel without roaming).

2. Swype

Others have mentioned this, but the Swype keyboard is one of the most loved available features/apps on Android.  See more here, but basically Swype is a quicker way to type on a touchscreen keyboard. Apple should either license or buy this technology.

3. Better e-mail search

GMAIL has recently launched their own native iPhone app, although it was recently pulled from the store to address bugs. Perhaps this will motivate Apple to improve its mail app.  Searching mail “on the server” has never really worked. This is a key and necessary function for any e-mail service IMHO.

You can read more about all the new iOS features at Apple’s site here.

What do you think? Did I get it right? Miss any? Stay tuned for my next post on my recommended iPhone/iPad apps.


The S in iPhone 4S stands for…

These are my impressions so far of the iPhone 4S . I’ll be writing a separate post about my impressions of iOS5.

Brand-new iPhone 4S

Image by Yoshikazu Takada via Flickr

Back to the title. So what does the S in iPhone 4S stand for?

S is for Speed – Well, there’s a faster processor and the camera is faster to take photos but it doesn’t feel blazingly faster than the iPhone 4. Those upgrading from older devices will definitely notice a difference though. Also, if you get a 4S on At&t (see more below), you’ll see faster data speeds, but not on any other carrier.

S is for Sucky Battery Life – for some minority of users (myself unfortunately included), it seems that there’s some software bug causing sub-optimal battery life. Apple has announced that they’ll be putting out a new release in a few weeks to fix these bugs. It seems to be specifically due to something that happens when restoring from an older back-up. I am hopeful that a software fix/patch will fix this in the next few weeks. In the meantime I’ve changed a lot of settings to manage for now.  This doesn’t seem to be affecting most people.

S is for Siri (not for Speech)- Aside from the aforementioned relatively minor performance gains, the main difference the iPhone 4S brings is Siri.  Siri is a personal assistant that was developed by a company of the same name acquired by Apple.  Conjecture is that Siri requires a lot of processor power and hence only (for now) works on the iPhone 4S.  Contrary to popular understanding, what makes Siri remarkable is not speech recognition.  Siri uses the same state-of-the-art speech recognition (from Nuance) that most companies use these days. What makes Siri unique is its artificial intelligence. Siri understands natural language commands and questions.  This is what’s remarkable, you can speak to it like you would a real person and it understands what you mean an astounding percentage of the time. To clarify what I mean, speech recognition simply translates what you say to text.  Natural Language Processing actually interprets that text to try to figure out what you mean based on context, idioms and more.

Siri’s utility is limited to a few specific apps for now (mail, weather , stocks, SMS, Yelp, Wolfram Alpha, send a search to Safari) but I’m sure it will get opened up to other apps soon.  It’s quite an amazing demonstration of technology but I’m not sure it will become part of my daily or weekly use of the phone just yet.  I’m still not used to using voice to interact with my devices.  The transcription is pretty great though for writing quick text messages or emails, particularly for the car.

S is for Service – this is really what it means just for me, as this is why I bought the phone.  I switched from At&t to Verizon and the difference in service is nothing short of astounding.  I can make calls anywhere and they don’t get dropped. I get data access in parts of NYC where I never would have tried with the iPhone4.  Unfortunately Verizon has their own issues, namely poor customer service, high prices and like all carriers, hidden fees and complex plans. The availability of the 4S on Sprint gives another option for those eager for a working device in NY or SF. On that note, for those folks, S is for Sprint.

S is for Steve Jobs – A lot of folks made this connection.  The unfortunate timing of the device’s launch before Steve’s passing will connect it for many people to Steve (even if it’s not the quintessential representation of the stuff he built or even a device he personally worked on very much).  I am late to the game to write about Steve so I will just reiterate that he was a truly rare individual that disrupted so many different industries: technology, computing, telephony, music, film and retail.  We need heroes in our cynical era and Steve was a hero, despite many flaws.

What do you think it stands for? Do you have one, like it?