June 06, 2011, 8:35 PM — When it's released this fall, iOS 5 will be a major update to Apple's mobile operating system. But it won't be very revolutionary. Rather than introduce innovations, Apple will mostly fill in iOS's holes by borrowing features already found on other mobile operating systems, or correcting longtime annoyances.
Are Apple's updates enough to maintain the company's competitiveness against Google's Android, on phone and on tablet? Yes, but just barely.
A fall iOS 5 release syncs with the expectation that Apple will announce iPhone 5 in the fall (that's somewhat late; typically, Apple unveils a new iPhone at WWDC). This fall will also be one year after Apple released a major OS update for the iPad.
iOS 5: The Big Changes
The one seismic change to the new version of iOS announced at today's keynote: Finally, your iPhone or iPad won't have to be connected to a computer in order to get started, or get OS updates. Currently, to activate an iOS device, the first thing you need to do is hook it up via a cable to a PC. Apple was ridiculed for that fact after the introduction of the iPad 2 because Steve Jobs had emphasized that the iPad was designed for a post-PC world. Now, with iOS 5, you'll get a simple Welcome screen when you start up; and you can sync your data-including contacts, calendar, apps, and music-directly from iCloud, the Web-based data syncing service Apple also announced Monday.
Apple will deliver OS updates over the air. Does that sound like it'll take forever? Apple will only send the parts of the OS that have changed, instead of reinstalling the full OS. You'll also be able to originate some actions directly from an iOS device; for example, you'll be able to create or delete calendars.
Over-the-air updates is a huge change, but it wasn't first in Apple senior vice president Scott Forstall's presentation. First up was a change Forstall said was heavily requested: Updating notifications. Indeed, the inefficient and disruptive notifications system has been a long-standing sore spot with many iOS users.
Apple noted that iOS has sent out some 100 billion notifications. The catch is, whenever you see notifications on the lock screen, they disappear as soon as you unlock your phone. If you're already logged into your phone, the notification pops up on your screen, interrupting whatever you were doing at the time.