Luckily iOS (and Mac OS) developers can get beta copies of the new operating systems early so we've upgraded an iPhone 4 and iPad (1) to iOS5 to take a look at the new features (and to check that our "Where It's At" app works on the new release too) and this is what we've found in the first 24 hours, in no particular order.
Apologies for the lack of pictures, technically use of iOS5 is under an Apple NDA and I'm not sure I am allowed to post images.
Twitter seem to be Apple's new best friend in this release (as Google was back in the days of early iPhone OS releases) and the service has been integrated into several parts of the OS, namely Safari, Photos and Maps where whatever you happen to be doing with them (looking at a web page, photo or map location) can be tweeted directly with no need for any third party apps. Your Twitter user name and password are configured in the Settings app (multiple accounts can be setup) and you're then good to go. There are a couple of peculiar things though; firstly there seems to be no direct way to send a simple text-only tweet. I would have though adding 'Twitter' or 'Tweet' to Messages would have been a good location for this but I can't seem to find any way of doing this. Secondly you rather strangely have the option to directly install the official Twitter app from the Settings App. Presumably this is to cover all the other stuff that Twitter does (and one imagines also the way that simple text-based tweets are sent) but it does seem a bit peculiar.
Notifications / Lock screen
Borrowed directly from Android the new 'swipe down' notifications area is much better than the, now rather crude looking, alert based system in iOS4. Upon a down swipe recent 'events' such as missed calls, new emails, text messages and calendar events are displayed along with the local weather (all in a pretty small font!) in a well laid out view. Individual items can be removed, and the whole thing is highly configurable. A similar looking display is used on the Lock Screen and presents a very handy summary of stuff you've missed since the device was locked. Individual items can be swiped left-to-right to go directly to them as opposed to having to find them later. This is really nice and for my money actually better implemented than Android. Apple may not always be first to do something but they're often (although not always) best. I hope Google don't have a patent on "user swiping down to display a list of notifications"!
One final thing, a welcome addition to the Lock Screen is the ability to go straight to the Camera app. Press the Home button twice (as per showing the iPod controls) and a small Camera icon appears and takes you directly to it. The Volume Up button even works as the shutter to make it feel more like a 'proper' camera!
This is a new 'built in' App that aims to expand upon Notes (which is still there and appears largely unchanged) and integrate with Calendars in order to provide a more useful 'todo' list. It definitely has the impression of 'Version 1' software but has a nice touch in that reminders can be based on a location. Apple's example is that you can set up a reminder to get milk when you're near the store. This is pretty much how it works as you setup a reminder based on an address in your Contacts list and stipulate wether or not its when you arrive or leave the location. It seems to work pretty well but you obviously need the address of the location in question. Going back to Apple's example, who has the address of their local Tesco's in their phone? This leads me to the two deficiencies in the current product as I see it. Firstly you should be able to set the location for the reminder based on an arbitrary location (i.e a dropped pin on a map) or a manually entered postal code to make this really useful. Secondly it seems like iOS considers you to 'be there' when you're within about 500 yds of the location (although this is based on an un-scientific test of walking to my kids school and back!). For some situations this is fine, but for others it'd be good to tighten this up a bit. For example if I want to set a reminder to 'Lock the door' when I leave my home address I'd rather it did it sooner than later!
This much-talked about new service aimed at replacing MobileMe and adding a whole load of new stuff besides certainly looks promising. Personally I never had that much of a problem with MobileMe. It did what I wanted it to, namely syncing Contacts, Bookmarks and Calendars (although iDisk was slooooow) so I'm a little surprised it's being so dramatically culled. Anyway, it's not all in Beta yet so I'm a little unsure as to what is supposed to be working and what isn't however I couldn't get App syncing to work (where you buy an App on one device and it magically appears on another that you own) nor could I get Pages and Numbers to store documents in it which I thought Steve Jobs said was ready now. Anyway.... that can wait, the real kicker for me is that all this goodness is tied in to your Apple ID, so when you use the same ID across devices (Macs, PCs, iPhones, iPads etc) then they all stay in sync with what you've purchased, be that music, apps or books, along with any documents you're working on also. However I can't believe I'm the only person that has multiple Apple IDs; I use one for work which has a work credit card attached for business-related purchases, and a personal account that I use for music and games etc. In addition to this I have my MobileMe account which I use for sync services (as above) and personal email. This all works fine at the moment and causes no problems whatsoever, however when I switch to iOS5 I'm a little concerned about what is going to happen. In particular the Store setting which allows you to change your Apple ID warns you that you can only change it once every 90 days is not a good sign. Given that there is no way to merge Apple IDs this could be a problem.
One more thing (well, two)....
A small thing, but the Weather app now has hour-by-hour as part of the next 24 hours which is a nice touch, simply swipe down or tap the 'Hourly' text.
And finally the whole concept of PC-less setup is going to be well received I'm sure, if it's not a year or two late! Particularly for the iPad which really can be a device in it's own right it makes no sense to require a PC or Mac just to get it working.
All in all the upgrade looks like a good one and the iPhone has certainly got a new lease of life and seems very stable even though the software is still in Beta. The iPad has crashed a few times however.