10 Best Things About Apple’s iOS 5 [Updated]

[Originally Published on July 10; Updated on October 3].  In honor of Apple’s big iPhone announcement tomorrow, I thought it was worth republishing this list of the best things about Apple’s iOS 5.  It will be awesome.  Most of the focus will be on the new hardware, but the fact is that it is really the software that will make a bigger difference to most people.  There is something for everyone to look forward to amongst the 200+ new features headed our way.  Here’s the list of the top 10 things I am most psyched about:

  1. Notification Center – having one central place for all notifications will be great for two reasons: (1) because it won’t lock up your phone like the current notification system, which is a huge pain when you are trying to hang up a call or do anything at all other than dismissing a useless notification from the NYTimes about some stupid horse winning a race; (2) because it will provide a place where you can go back and review a message you deleted to hastily in a frustrating attempt to ransom control of your phone back from the NYTimes and its horse-racing bulletins.
  2. Geo-Fenced Reminders – I have searched in vain for a task management system that is good enough to be worth conforming my life to its quirks – they all require something from you.  Apple’s geo-aware Reminders feature may be just compelling enough to get me over the hump.  How cool will it be to get your reminder to pick up caulk and WD-40 when you pass near the Home Depot, your dry-cleaning when you pass by the dry cleaner, and detergent when you pass near the grocery store?  For the scatter-brained like me, this will be a godsend.
  3. LED Flash As Indicator – one of the things I missed when I left the Blackberry in 2008 for the iPhone (besides the chicklet keys) was the blinking LED light on top which could be set to alert you to urgent messages.  I only used it for SMS and IMs, since the constant flow of email would keep it on non-stop, but it was really handy.  iOS 5 brings this back by giving you the ability to cycle the camera flash to alert you to certain kinds of messages.  Overdue, but cool nevertheless.  In the same vein, Custom Vibration settings will be really handy as well for deciding when to fish out the phone and when to ignore it.
  4. Camera Improvements – More speed is promised, which will relieve a major headache with the otherwise excellent camera, but the auto-exposure type lock being introduced as an auto-focus lock will be awesome – if you are an even remotely competent photographer, there are times when you don’t actually want the focused plane on an object or person at the center of the frame.  But perhaps more important, is speedy access directly from the lock screen and a hardware shutter release button (the volume + button).  All too often I miss a moment because it takes too long to access and boot up the current camera app.  This will be an awesome set of improvements.
  5. Basic Photo Editing – Speaking of the camera, one of the best things about having a really good camera on your phone is the ease and immediacy of sharing photos and videos on the spot, right from the beach.  But let’s face it, not every shot is perfect in its raw form.  Sometimes you need to tweak a bit before your shot is ready for primetime.  Of course there are probably 1000 photo apps in the iTunes App store, but having really good basic editing (multi-touch, rotation, cropping, red-eye removal, enhancement, etc.) right there in the photo app itself will be much faster and easier than having to go launch and import into a separate app.  Having PhotoStream automatically back the photos up to the cloud won’t suck either – finding a portable interim back-up solution for photos while traveling is a pain which will be gracefully eliminated by this feature.
  6. Wi-Fi Syncing – I don’t know about you, but I don’t back-up and sync my iPhone/Pad as often as I should, and this is partly because the oft-deferred back-ups take so long.  Knowing that the devices will sync and back themselves up via Wi-Fi whenever they are plugged into a charger at home will be a huge bonus.  Likewise, Over-The-Air Software Updates and Delta Updates which only sync what has changed will be excellent too – fewer trips back to the mother ship to manually do maintenance chores the device is perfectly capable of doing automatically and wirelessly all by itself.
  7. Mail Improvements – Lots and lots of new features here, but the only one I really care about is full-text searching within the body of emails – this is long overdue – it is currently just too hard to find that email with the address from the person you are supposed to be meeting.
  8. Improved Facetime – video quality improvements are promised, but what I really care about is Facetime over cellular connections.  I continue to think that video calling has some really compelling use cases, and the many barriers to instant transparent connectivity are still really annoying.  Now when my daughter wants to Facetime, she can get me even if I am away from Wi-Fi, and if I am traveling but want to catch my son at bedtime, I can do it from a taxi.  That rocks.
  9. Safari Improvements – Safari is already an amazing mobile browser (I still cannot believe how much the world now takes it for granted that you can have a full nearly desktop-equivalent browser on a mobile device – this was a revolutionary concept not so long ago).  But improvements are pending.  Among those I am looking forward to are tabbed browsing as a better way to manage the various pages you have open (the current tile view is really slow and clumsy).  And I am very much looking forward to the Reader mode since every pixel counts when you are trying to read on a small screen device.
  10. Typing Improvements – Two biggies here: (1) customized word substitutions will allow you to specify abbreviations which will automatically expand into the long phrase of your choice (similar to the excellent desktop application TextExpander which is not much more than a partially-realized hack on iOS); and (2) a split keyboard for the iPad allowing you to easily type with two thumbs.  Two thumb typing isn’t optimal (I greatly prefer to touch type in landscape mode, which I find to be really fast even if you do have to look at the flat as glass keys), but when you are on a crowded train it is sometimes the only option.  Split keys and auto-expansion will make the world an easier and more productive place.

So that’s my list.  If you think I’ve missed anything great, let me know!

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