iOS 5 was a significant upgrade to Apple’s mobile operating system that added numerous long sought-after features such as computer-free setup, wireless syncing, and a fresh take on notifications. iOS 5.1 includes close to a dozen listed improvements and features, but as the “.1″ designation indicates, the software update is more incremental than revolutionary, with biggest addition being Japanese Siri support. Still, the tweaks and behind the scenes bug fixes makes it an update worth checking out. Note: iOS 5.1 is only compatible with the iPhone 3GS , iPhone 4 , iPod touch 3rd Generation , iPod touch 4th gen , iPad , iPad 2 , and “new iPad” (aka iPad 3).
Mac and PC-Free SetupWhen the iPad debuted in 2010, critics knocked it for not being a true standalone device—a valid criticism. Users had to tether their tablets to a Mac or PC in order to activate the slate—not anymore. iOS 5 transforms the iPad and iPad 2 into true pick-up-and-play devices, as you can now set it up from anywhere you can snag a Web connection.
You have three options for setting up the iPad: “Set up as New iPad,” “Restore from iCloud Backup,” and “Restore from iTunes Backup.” I selected “Set up as New iPad,” entered my Apple ID credentials (there’s also the option to create a new Apple ID on the spot), and arrived on the home screen approximately 30 seconds later after declining the option to activate location-based services, iCloud, and iCloud-related services (I’ll dig more into that later). The computer-free setup is an incredible leap forward; those who’ve pondered using an iPad as a true Mac or PC replacement will certainly appreciate this addition. you can also update the operating system over the air, which is what I did to receive iOS 5.1 for this review.
That’s not the only wireless freedom. The iTunes Wi-Fi Sync (introduced in iOS 5) syncs apps, music, photos, and other files between an iPad and iTunes if they’re connected to the same wireless signal. In fact, the sync happens automatically when you connect the iPad’s plug to a socket, which is perfect for keeping files each night before bed (you can also sync manually without a plug by pressing Sync Now in Settings > General > iTune Wi-Fi Sync). The process went off without a hitch—I synced nearly 15GB of data in just shy of 20 minutes. The only downside is that you must first set up wireless syncing in iTunes—after you connect your iPad to a Mac or PC via USB. Thankfully, that’s just a one-time connection; you can go completely wireless afterward.
Home Screen AppsThe home screen has a few subtle changes that may not be instantly recognizable. a sharp eye will notice three icons that were packed into iOS 5: Messages, Reminders, and Newsstand. Tapping “Messages” (located in the icon grid’s upper-left corner) launches Message, an app that lets you send unlimited texts—as well as photos, videos, location information, and contacts information—from one central location, much like BBM. Before you begin using the app, you have to set it up in Settings, which takes only a few seconds. In my tests, Message allowed me to chat with friend simply by entering his e-mail address into the “To” field (or selecting it from your Contacts), crafting a message, and hitting send. you aren’t limited to sending data to just one person—Message supports group messaging.
Reminders is a to-do app. It’s what you’d expect from a to-do program—it lets you create lists and alerts—but what makes it special is that combine due dates and location information. this is how it works: Say, you want to pick up batteries from the convenience store. as you approach the store, you’ll receive an alert to jog your memory based on the time that you’ve set or your location. I wouldn’t recommend keeping Reminders’ location-based features constantly running, as it has the potential to be a battery drain.
Elle, Popular Photography, San Francisco Chronicle, and other magazines and newspapers come to your iDevice in one central location courtesy of Newsstand, which lets you purchase individual issues and subscription. New purchases go directly to your Newsstand folder, a folder that organizes your magazine and newspaper purchases in an iBooks-like app that features a shelf with the latest issues and editions. Then, as new issues become available, Newsstand automatically updates them in the background with the latest covers—a very cool feature for periodical readers.
The one downside to the new set of apps is that Siri (Apple’s new voice control software that lets you send messages, place phone calls, and schedule appointments), is only available on iPhone 4S. Siri currently recognizes four languages: English (American, Australian, British), French, German, and the newly-added Japanese (in our tests, the Japanese Siri was available but wasn’t ready for use—it returned error messages). Apple states that Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish are slated for a 2012 release.
iOS 5.1 also brings non-Siri voice dictation to apps—even third-party apps—to new the iPad with English (Australian, U.K., U.S.), French, German, and Japanese language support. We’ll update this review with our impressions of the new languages, when we get our hands on the new iPad.