Two weeks with iOS 5 - About Wi-Fi sync, missing notifications and the joy of UI inconsistencies

Every iOS major release so far has been like the most amazing present for iPhone and iPad owners. Unlike other mobile makers running third party operating systems, Apple ensures everyone can enjoy the new features regardless of the device used. Over the years we have benefited from things like the App Store, copy and paste, multitasking or Spotlight searches, which help somehow to extend the lifespan of our beloved gadgets. In most cases these updates are free too. 

Just like any other appfreak, I didn't couldn't wait to download the final golden master version and rushed to install iOS 5 on my iPhone 3GS and iPad. Please take my comments with sarcasm - I like the update, but some part could have been improved. These are my thoughts so far.

The birth of the PC free device

One of the things I was more excited about is the promise of an easy over the air sync. I bought the idea of getting the scissors and cutting all the USB cables I own. The promise of an easy synchronisation across devices is really exciting and even if we don't realise now, we might look back to this day when smartphones became independent machines and consider us lucky to have witnessed such a thing.

In real life though, the upgrade to this new era of cloud computing is more like a very difficult cesarean. Not only backing up devices on your PC before the upgrade is annoying, but it also took a long time. It's funny to see that to allow your device to live a post-PC life, it needs to be plugged for hours for a complex surgical operation.

Once everything is copied back and forward, you eventually get to the welcome screen that new device owners will see right after unpacking. That's more pleasant indeed. But the ease of use can get confusing as in the past two weeks I've seen apps appearing and disappearing and I simply don't know what's going on. I start to fear that the sync symbol on the tool bar will become iOS’s very own marble of doom: I like the fact that I can use my phone while it syncs, but at what cost? Everything seems to get sluggish and unresponsive until I realise that my phone is talking with the iCloud, not really listening to what I'm saying.

The settings options iTunes Wi-Fi sync doesn't help much either. My two devices should be recognised by my laptop’s iTunes as long as they are plugged in to power and share the same Wi-Fi. Strangely, my iPhone never appears, but what is more shocking, the iPad is always recognised even if it's not plugged. To make things more interesting, the iPhone gets all the new apps automatically but the iPad is certainly more lazy. I told you: these post-PC devices have their own personality.

A bunch of things I might never use again

It's early to talk about Siri because my current carrier insists in stocking three units a week for the whole London. In other words, it's impossible to get hold of a new iPhone 4S two weeks after its launch. 

Since I can't try this “killer feature” I have been playing around with the other enhancements included in the new release. Against all odds (see my iOS 5 predictions), the new notifications might be actually useful. I cannot say they're revolutionary since other mobile operating systems have addressed the issue long time ago, but it’s certainly a much needed addition that will keep iOS a the level of others - looking back, iPhones have always missed very basic features such as MMS and copy and paste anyway. 

Notification Center is useful and can be customized easily. It's a great way to check the weather instead of hunting for an app on the springboard. My only problem with it is that many apps I love and use constantly are not taking advantage of it. At least Boxcar appears, which solves the integration with third party Twitter clients like Twittelator, Osfoora or Tweetbot.

Those with a delicate eye might be horrified by the inconsistent use of black and dark blue notifications that we were used to. I don't see what happened there or who was hangover to approve these changes at Apple. A micro-small snooze red button with your alarms? It's like waking up to a world of horrible UI inconsistencies. 

I have also noticed some graphic tweaks on the re-branded iMessage, just some fancy eye-candy details that have grown on me. As the service goes, the iMessage on the iPad remains a virgin. On the phone I couldn't care less, but I see how this could be Apple acknowledging the popularity of apps like Whatsapp and Viber in iOS and not so much an evil plan to compete with RIM’s texting service. I like the fact that this is a single app and not two, but I still find it confusing to see who’s on iMessage. I have been asked that question and it sounded lame and a bit snob. I'd rather pay for my SMS to avoid these type of conversations in the future. Surprisingly, commenting about Whatsapp or Viber didn't sound as cheapskate, but I wonder how this services will evolve.

The first step to reinvent newspapers and magazines can't be an annoying app

Having a dedicated app for your newspaper and magazines is great way to keep your stuff organised in one place and might even help to reconvert the industry for the digital era. I'm also happy that papers and mags won’t be mixed anymore with apps and games on the App Store. Oh well, they do. In fact, they are inundating the free charts. What a nice way to gain exposure I guess, but they don't belong there. I don't mind having very interactive multimedia apps or very visual children’s books; the rest should go to Newsstand. In fact, that iBooks store animation was pretty cool - paper readers would like that more than seeing The Guardian around smurfberries and freemium zombie hordes.

In a ridiculous attempt to push the novelty, Apple has given the Newsstand app the personality of a newspaper boy - a very annoying one. This app will remain on its own no matter what. You can trick it to go to a folder but then it will punish you with a springboard reboot. If you are clever enough to place it in a folder with Stocks, Compass, Contacts and other standard junk apps,  it will escape after a wireless sync! I can almost hear the “Extra! extra! Newsstand app is back to the home screen against your will!”

As far as the other apps and features included, it's too early to say. Reminders could be helpful although it's terribly simple compared with the most simple to-do apps on the App Store. I also value that the designers working on it haven't gone overboard with it, like in Find my Friends or other recent skeuomorphic - should I say quasi-moronic - creations with little purpose behind them.

I'm waiting to try this release on a newer device, so I'll probably update the post with more information specific to the iPhone 4S in the future - then I'll cover everything else. These are my early impressions, what about you? Is there anything annoying you in particular or that has changed for good?