iOS 5 cuts the cord and gets social with iMessage and Twitter

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Apple unveiled the long-anticipated iOS 5 during the WWDC keynote Monday. It brings over 20 new features for users, and 1500 new APIs for developers. But iOS users will have to continue to wait for the update, which arrives this fall for the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad and iPad 2, and 3rd and 4th gen iPod touch.

Notifications

In iOS 5, all notifications — from every installed app — are centrally stored in a Notification Center, which can be swiped down from the top of your home screen. The Notification Center also includes live updating information from the weather and stocks app. You can swipe to clear all notifications, and if your phone is locked, you can swipe to go from the notification straight to the app that sent it.

Newsstand

In-app subscriptions, which were recently introduced to iOS, are getting their own central management location. The Newsstand will reside in the app store and can download subscriptions in the background. Lots of major partners are already on board, including Condé Nast. Newspapers will download even when the app isn’t open, so your newest issue will always be available.

Twitter

Single sign-on for Twitter is baked into iOS 5. Enter your credentials in the settings app of your iPhone or iPad, and you’re ready to go with Twitter authorization system-wide. Twitter is also integrated into many apps, like Camera and Photos. You can now tweet photos directly from your library, and add a text tweet and even your location.

Twitter is also now integrated into YouTube (tweet videos), Maps (tweet business locations) and Contacts (syncing your contact Photos with their twitter profile pics). You can also tweet directly from within Safari, complete with @mention autocompletion.

Safari

Safari’s Reader mode, from the desktop app, is now built into the iPhone and iPad versions, which means you can concentrate on just the text for online articles. You can also save the article to read later using the Instapaper-like Reading List, which makes it available on all your iOS devices and Safari installs on your Mac or Windows computers.

Mobile Safari now has tabbed browsing, too.

Reminders

The new Reminders app provides you with a place to store your to-do lists, complete with geolocal and time-based triggers to remind you when and where to do them. Reminders will sync with iCal, and with calDAV-enabled calendar programs.

Camera

The iPhone’s camera is now accessible via a lock-screen shortcut for quick and easy photo shoots. Just tap the shortcut and it takes you right into the camera app, primed and ready to take a photo. You can also now use the hardware volume up button on the side of your device to take a photo. That’s a big step for Apple to take, considering it once banned an app for offering the same functionality.

With iOS 5, users can turn on grid lines to help them compose photos. Other new and improved photo-taking features include auto-focus and auto-exposure lock, and the ability to do enhancements like redeye reduction, crop and rotation on-device.

Mail

Mail gets rich text formatting in iOS 5 (bold, italics, underline), draggable addresses between email fields (BCC, CC, To for example), support for flagging messages and the ability to search entire emails. iPad Mail also gets a swipe to inbox feature that makes it easier to use in portrait mode, bringing up your entire inbox in a column on the left. Enterprise customers will be pleased to see Mail get S/MIME support for increased security.

There’s now a system-wide dictionary built-in to iOS that works for every app. Tap a word then tap “Define” to find out the definition. Plus, a new keyboard for the iPad allows you to split the keyboard to either side of the screen for easier thumb typing. That’s also persistent across apps.

PC Free

Apple made good on its talk about a post-PC world by making their iOS devices independent of home computers. Many customers want their iPad or iPhones to be their only computing devices, so Apple is obliging. Software updates are now over-the-air, at a time of the user’s choosing, and you can set up and activate your device from the device itself. The updates are now incremental, so they’re much smaller and only download what’s changed since the last one, instead of the whole OS over again.

Apple went through every app and changed features that required a computer to work well. You can create calendars, edit photos, create mailboxes, etc. — all from your iPhone or iPad.

Game Center

iOS is the most popular gaming platform in the world. Game Center garnered 50 million users in just 9 months, compared to 30 million users over 8 years for Xbox Live. With iOS 5, Apple is introducing photo sharing to Game Center, as well as Achievement points and recommendations for friends, and the ability to see friends of friends, so it’s expanding social networking. It should help with game discovery by providing more automatically generated suggestions, and you can buy those games direct from Game Center. Support for turn-based games is also supported out of the box, whereas before developers had to painstakingly add it themselves.

iMessage

This may be the biggest announcement regarding iOS today. It’s a new messaging service that automatically connects all iOS 5 users. It supports iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, and it does text, video, photo, contact and group messaging. iMessage also boasts delivery receipts and optional read receipts, so you know exactly when a message has been received, and when it’s been read, if that’s enabled. There’s also secure encryption, and it gets pushed out to all your devices. Messages arrive via the new messaging system at the top of the screen, and you can see when someone you’re having a conversation with is actively responding.

This is a BBM-killer, and should effectively eliminate one of the few remaining strengths Apple’s smartphone competitor RIM has to offer. It works over Wi-Fi and 3G, too, so there’s no limitations to its use.

Those are just the 10 features highlighted by Apple at the Keynote, but they are good ones. Others not discussed in detail include AirPlay Mirroring, Wi-Fi sync, hourly weather forecasts, and custom vibration patterns. iMessage is the biggest play here in terms of mobile, but the fact that syncing can now be done wirelessly, and that iOS apps can operate PC-free are the biggest stories in terms of the future of computing in general.

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