iOS 5 Beta Hands On

For the last week I’ve had a chance to play with the beta of iOS 5 that Apple released to developers at WWDC. The only official way to currently get your hands on it is through a registered developer with access to the iOS SDK. For everyone else there are also unofficial methods which aren’t too hard to find online but probably involve more risk.

Performance & Stability

They do call it a beta for a reason and the overall stability is noticeably inferior to iOS 4.3, which I was previously running. Apps do crash fairly frequently, which is something I’m not really used to on iOS. However I’m loath to criticise this as as to be fair it isn’t final software or even publically available. But at the same time having tried it out I wouldn’t recommend installing it on your primary device which you rely on daily.

The general performance was fairly snappy however with apps loading quickly and feeling as responsive as ever. The only apps I experienced problems with were Infinity Blade and Cut the Rope which refused to play nice with the update and barely got past the splash screens.

Lock Screen

Slide to unlock notifications

The new lock screen is a definite hit. Being able to glance at your device, without having to unlock it, and see all your notifications is extremely useful. I particularly liked the detail that the notifications provide, we’re not just talking basic icons with a number next to them.

However the implementation isn’t quite perfect. For example sliding a notification for a new Facebook mesage will unlock the device and open the Facebook app but it won’t take you directly to the actual message, which then requires a few extra taps. Similary, my Words with Friends notifications took me to the game select screen but not into the actual games. This may be nitpicking but it’s a detail that I expected Apple to have nailed down.

The notifications also don’t appear to be persistent: every time the device is unlocked they disappear from the lock screen. They can still be accessed from the notification centre but it was a little annoying given that the notifications hadn’t actually been dealt with.

Notification Centre

Just like Android, but better

Yes it’s a total rip off from Android but as ever Apple have taken the idea and added their usual polish and attention to detail. It might be a matter of preference but I prefer Apple’s implementation.

All the notifications are grouped by App but are broken down into individual items. So wheras Android will tell you that you have 2 new emails iOS will list the emails separately and allow you to directly access each one rather than take you to your inbox. You can also dismiss notifications on a per app basis rather than just having a clear all option. You can’t however clear individual notifications.

Notifications are centrally managed from the settings app

Apple have also made it easy to customise the notifications through a central settings screen. I found this to be far more helpful than Android’s method of having notification settings in each individual app. You can choose which apps appear in Notification Centre and on the lock screen and how many items you’d like displayed. You can even choose to have the old alerts in place of the new banner notifications although I can’t understand why you’d want to!

You can remove the stocks and weather widgets from the notification centre but the one feature it’s crying out for is a power control widget! I can only imagine Apple left this out in order to save features for iOS 6. In the meantime turning on WiFi is still as big a pain as ever.

iOS 5 Beta Hands On


Instant messaging apps are ten a penny but iMessage does the job nicely and is integrated well with the OS. There’s no worrying about IDs or handles, you just select a contact and start messaging. To use a common Apple cliche: it just works. Although in my case it only worked when messaging my cousin as no one else I know currently has iOS 5!

On the iPhone the app automatically sends the message via either IM or SMS without the user having to worry but on the iPod Touch (and iPad) it obviously only works with the former. Still, like FaceTime it’s a great feature to have on a device that isn’t actually a phone as it allows functionality you otherwise wouldn’t have.

I’m still put off by the fact that it’s limited to iOS though. Even if you exclusively live in an Apple world it’s more than likely that most of your friends don’t and this just seems to limit the usefulness of iMessage.


Direct Twitter posting from the camera roll

A feature that’s been long overdue but is definitely much appreciated. I’ve gone on about Android’s extensive share functionality in previous posts and iOS has finally taken some baby steps towards catching up here.

The problem with iOS up till now has been that all tweeting had to take place from the Twitter app. So if you took a photo you couldn’t directly tweet it. You’d have to open the Twitter app and attach the pic. If you were in Safari you couldn’t tweet a link, you’d have to copy it and paste it into your Twitter app for posting.

The new Twitter integrations works as expected and has been implemented in a typically attractive Apple way. It’s still not as extensive as Android though and isn’t available from all apps. The single sign in feature also didn’t seem to work as advertised. After entering my details in the settings screen I still had to manually log in to the official Twitter for iOS app.

This is still an area in which iOS has a long way, with Android and WP7 leading the way in terms of integrating services. Fingers crosed for Facebook getting the same treatment in iOS 6.

More sharing options still wouldn't go amiss


The iCloud settings screen

There isn’t too much to say about iCloud at this time. I did managed to sign up for an iCloud account and can send and receive mail to my address. I’ve also turned on all the iCloud syncing but without any other devices as far as I can tell the sync functionality is useless to me.

Having searched on Google there doesn’t appear to be any sort of web access component. So while you can backup to the cloud and sync across your iDevices there’ no actual online portal from where you can check your mail/calendar/contacts/photos.

Now I’m not sure if this is definitely correct but having had a hunt around I can’t find any evidence to the contrary. At the same time I just can’t believe that Apple would omit such an obvious feature from iCloud. Having lived in Google’s cloud for so long with Gmail, Gcal and Picasa I can’t imagine not being able to access my data from any web browser. Isn’t that the whole point of using the cloud?

Maybe the features just aren’t ready yet. Any other explanation would be hard to believe.


iOS 5 is shaping up to be a very promising udpate. It add some big new (for iOS) features which bring it back level with rivals and even pushes it slightly ahead in some areas. I can’t wait for the final release but for now I think those eager to upgrade are better off sticking with their current setup.

While it’s always fun having the latest and greatest the stability and performance aren’t quite there and you’ll also lose all your data in the process. I’m going to be spending tonight trying to downgrade back to 4.3 and then wait for the official release. Fingers crossed that all my high scores and game unlocks haven’t been lost forever in my haste to upgrade.