Apple (s aapl) previewed iOS 5 in July, so it isn’t exactly a surprise announcement at today’s event. But we did nail down a firm release date for Apple’s next major mobile operating system update, and got a better look at how some of its features will work when it arrives Wednesday, Oct. 12 as a free update.
As previewed, Apple’s new notification system resides in its own screen, accessible by pulling down the status bar portion of your iPhone’s screen. You can either reorder how notifications will appear in the overall list, or set them to be ordered automatically according to time received. You can also manually choose which apps appear in the notification center (including Apple’s built-in Weather and Stock widgets) and which don’t.
Apple now boasts a BBM-style (s rimm) group messaging client that allows you to send pictures, video, text, audio and contact information for free over Wi-Fi and cellular networks to other iOS 5 users. The service checks to see if recipients are iMessage compatible, and automatically sends content using your network’s standard texting plan instead if they aren’t. You can also set up email addresses to receive iMessages, which is especially useful for iPads and iPod touches. Delivered and optional read receipts for messages are also part of the bargain.
This is where Apple will be centralizing all digital subscriptions, including magazines like Popular Science and newspapers like the New York Times. (s nyt) Having your magazines and newspapers all in one place should keep your app screens more free of clutter, and also help you see what’s new at a glance — covers update to reflect the most current issue available to download. Plus, a Store link directs you to a special section of the App Store dedicated to subscription-based publications.
Location-based reminders should help you remember to pick up milk on your way home. Apple may thin out the ranks of the to-do apps from third-party developers with this one, since it’s about as deep as the average user needs, syncs automatically for free using iCloud, and is preinstalled on iOS 5 devices.
What’s the secret ingredient for iOS 5? Twitter, backed right in. You can now sign in to your Twitter account in the Settings app, which opens system-wide sharing options. Settings also provides a direct link for installing the free, official Twitter app. One more strike against third-party clients.
Camera and Photos
Hardware shutter and lock-screen camera access: two things which will make it way easier to take a picture with your iPhone in iOS 5. The hardware button is actually the volume-up button, but I don’t think people will have too much of problem keeping that straight. Other new camera features include pinch-to-zoom, single-tap focus, exposure locks and grid overlay. In the Photos app, you can perform edits like cropping, auto-enhance or red-eye removal, and create your own albums.
New to Safari are actual tabs on the iPad, which make browsing much easier, and Reading List/Reader view, which let you save articles to check out later and strip away everything but the content for easier perusal. Plus, much-improved Safari performance all around.
PC Free and Wi-Fi Sync
You can now setup and manage your device completely from the device itself under iOS 5. No need to connect to iTunes, and with Wi-Fi Sync and iTunes Match, you won’t even have to make a hardware connection to transfer your iTunes music from your computer to your device. This may be the biggest step iOS 5 takes in terms of cutting ties with computing’s past.
Mail and Calendar
HTML-formatted composition makes its way to Mail in iOS 5, as does message flagging and mailbox folder management. Search body text of emails for keywords, too. These are more contributions to the Post-PC nature of iOS devices. Calendar also boasts new adding, renaming and deleting features for PC-free management.
Multitasking gestures for iPad
Switching between apps has never been easier on the iPad than in iOS 5, since you can use four- or five-finger swipes to rotate between open apps, and pinch zoom to close them. Swiping up also reveals the multitasking bar.
New Game Center additions in iOS 5 include achievement points, photo sharing, friend recommendations and more, making it feel much more like Xbox Live, (s msft) the gold standard in online gaming. Apple says 67 million users currently are active on Game Center.
This is iPad 2 and iPhone 4S-specific, but it’s almost worth the upgrade. It lets you broadcast the entire contents of your iPad, including home screens and all apps, live to your TV via a connected Apple TV. The potential applications for watching video, doing presentations and gaming are endless.
A huge part of iOS 5 is iCloud, which replaces MobileMe and provides free syncing of email, contacts, calendars and more for all iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion users. Later, iCloud will also provide the ground work for iTunes Match, Apple’s cloud music service.
Apple’s new iPhone may have stolen the show today, but iOS 5 is great even for Apple device owners who aren’t planning a hardware upgrade anytime soon.