Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 5.0
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iOS 5 introduces a new integrated messaging system designed to replace the use of costly SMS/MMS messages with a private messaging framework provided by Apple’s servers. On the iPhone the existing Messages app has been expanded to add iMessage support, while the iPad and iPod touch gain a new “Messages” app specifically for iMessage.
iMessage works transparently for iPhone users in a way similar to FaceTime—the iPhone’s cellular phone number is automatically registered with the iMessage servers, and once this has been done, any messages sent between two iMessage-registered devices are automatically sent via the iMessage network instead of SMS. This happens without any specific interaction on the part of the user; when sending a new message iOS automatically checks with the iMessage servers to see if the destination phone number has been registered for iMessage. You can tell whether a message is going to be sent via SMS/MMS or iMessage by looking at the color of the conversation balloons and send button—green for SMS/MMS or blue for iMessage. The text box for composing messages will also indicate which service is being used.
iMessage can be enabled, disabled or further configured under the “Messages” section in the Settings app. iPad and iPod touch users will need to visit these settings to configure iMessage with an Apple ID and e-mail address in much the same way as FaceTime was configured in prior versions of iOS.
iPhone users can also configure an Apple ID and e-mail address for iMessage to be used in addition to their cellular phone number, and choose to use their phone number or e-mail address as the from address (“Caller ID”) for sending out iMessages to other devices.
The iMessage service has several advantages over traditional SMS/MMS messaging. In addition to providing iPod touch and iPad support, iMessages do not incur any additional charges from the cellular carriers beyond the relatively minimal data required to send them. The iMessage system also provides delivery confirmation when a message arrives at the destination device and can also support read receipts, although the receiving user can choose to disable these under the Messages settings. Further, iMessage can be used to send full-resolution photos and videos, unlike MMS where both are limited to extremely low resolutions.
When using an Apple ID and e-mail address with iMessage, conversations are also synchronized across multiple devices, allowing you to start a conversation on your iPhone and then pick it up on your iPad. For this to work with an iPhone, however, you must ensure that you are using an Apple ID and have configured your e-mail address as your primary address rather than your phone number. There is currently no way to configure a phone number for iMessage on an iPod touch or iPad.
It is also important to keep in mind that Apple does not operate any kind of SMS/MMS gateway on its servers. SMS/MMS messages sent from an iPhone are transmitted directly over the cellular network in the same way as they have always been, and you cannot send SMS/MMS messages from the iPad and iPod touch (although you can send to a phone number that is registered for iMessage).
The Messages app has one additional hidden trick in addition to iMessage support: when viewing a conversation you can now swipe down from the message area to hide the iOS keyboard and view more of the conversation.
One other point worth mentioning: As discussed in the Notification Center section above, the Messages notification settings have been moved from the “Messages” section in the Settings app to the Notification Center settings. This may lead some users to believe that these options have been removed, but they are in fact still present; they’ve simply been moved elsewhere.
FaceTime has undergone few changes in iOS 5—the rumors of 3G support never materialized, and the service continues to be limited to use over Wi-Fi connections. However, one important change worth noting is that iPhone users can now configure an Apple ID and e-mail address to use for FaceTime, in addition to their device’s cellular phone number. The ability to use an Apple ID was first introduced in FaceTime for the fourth-generation iPod touch in iOS 4.1 and later came to the iPad 2 as well, though it remained conspicuously absent from the iPhone. This meant that users with both an iPhone and iPod touch or iPad ended up needing to use a separate FaceTime address for their different devices.
With iOS 5, you can now add an Apple ID to FaceTime under the new “FaceTime” section in the Settings app. This works in much the same way as it does for the iPod touch and iPad. You can receive FaceTime calls at both your phone number and any associated Apple ID e-mail addresses you’ve configured, and you can choose which one to use as the Caller ID when initiating calls. This will allow users with multiple FaceTime capable devices to use a single address to receive FaceTime calls on any device.
iOS 5 brings several new features to the Camera application, including auto-exposure and auto-focus lock, plus the ability to access the camera from the Lock Screen. Adjusting auto-focus and auto-exposure works in much the same way as it did in iOS 4; users can simply tap on a spot in the camera app to adjust focus and exposure for that spot. This feature has been extended in iOS 5 to allow users to tap and hold on a spot to lock auto-focus and auto-exposure, which will at that point remain set on that spot until the user taps on the screen again to adjust focus and exposure on a new spot. AE/AF lock is confirmed by a flashing reticle and a status message at the bottom of the camera display.
iOS 5 also changes the user interface for the camera’s digital zoom feature, allowing users to now use a standard and much more intuitive pinch-to-zoom gesture, rather than tapping and manipulating an on-screen slider. The slider will still appear when initiating a zoom for users who prefer this approach, but the more ubiquitous pinch-to-zoom gesture support should make the process more accessible. We found it to be a little tricky in early testing.
Grid lines can now optionally be displayed to help with picture alignment; this addition results in the “HDR” button that was previously found at the top of the iPhone 4 screen being renamed “Options”—tapping this button now presents an overlay with toggle sliders for Grid and HDR on the iPhone 4/4S. Devices without HDR support still display an Options button for consistency, however only the Grid option appears in this case.
Users can also now take pictures using the Volume Up button on the side of the device as a hardware shutter control. This works not only on the iPhone and iPod touch but on the iPad 2 as well. No settings are provided to enable or disable this feature—it simply replaces the normal volume up function whenever the camera app is open. To avoid confusion, the Volume Down button is non-functional when the Camera app is active.
Swiping to the right from the camera view can also now be used as a shortcut to view the camera roll, starting with the most recent photos and continuing to swipe right to browse prior photos; users can return to the camera view by swiping to the left from the most recent photo. This is functionally the same as tapping the photo thumbnail button in the bottom left corner.
On the iPhone and iPod touch, the Camera app can also now be opened directly from the Lock Screen for quick access. Double-tapping the Home button on the Lock Screen will display a camera button to the right of the unlock slider—tapping on this button opens the camera app, ready to take a photo. Passcode lock settings are enforced with this feature, limiting access to only the camera app and viewing photos taken in the current session within the camera roll.
The Photos app adds three significant new features: iCloud Photo Stream support, the ability to perform basic editing on photos, and support for managing photo albums on the device.
Photo Stream support is an iCloud feature that automatically synchronizes any photos in the camera roll to iCloud and other iOS devices and computers configured with the same iCloud account. The option can be enabled either in the iCloud section or Photos section in the Settings app, and once turned on every photo saved to the camera roll is also automatically added to the Photo Stream section and uploaded to iCloud whenever a Wi-Fi connection is available.
The Photo Stream will contain the 1,000 most recent photos taken on all devices sharing the same iCloud account in the past 30 days. Photos older than 30 days or above the 1,000 photo limit are automatically removed. Mac OS X users can take advantage of Photo Stream using the latest version of iPhoto ‘11, and Windows users can use the iCloud control panel to automatically download Photo Stream pictures to a local folder. A new Apple TV update will also add support for the Photo Stream feature, allowing a user to browse his Photo Stream or use it as a screen saver.
While the Photo Stream is great for automatically having all of your recent photos across all of your devices, there are some important limitations to be aware of. Firstly, Photo Stream only works over Wi-Fi. When taking or saving photos on a 3G connection, they are queued up to be uploaded to Photo Stream, and uploading will not occur until connection to a Wi-Fi access point.
Photos also cannot be deleted individually from Photo Stream. Once uploaded, the photos are transmitted to all devices that share the same iCloud account and cannot be individually removed. The only way to remove a photo from the Photo Stream is to either wait for 30 days or until 1000 more photos have been accumulated or reset and erase the entire Photo Stream. The Photo Stream can be erased and reset by signing into iCloud.com through a web browser and selecting the appropriate action under the Advanced account settings. Note that erasing the Photo Stream does not remove its content from iOS devices configured for that iCloud accounts; this must still be done manually by disabling and re-enabling Photo Stream.
Only photos taken while Photo Stream is enabled will be uploaded to Photo Stream, however, so you can temporarily toggle off Photo Stream in the event that you are taking photos you do not wish to have uploaded. Photos can also be deleted from the camera roll before they can be uploaded to Photo Stream—while you are outside of Wi-Fi coverage for instance—which can be useful for preventing dud shots from appearing in your Photo Stream.
It is also important to keep in mind that Photo Stream only supports photos. Videos taken with the device’s camera or saved to the camera roll from other sources are completely ignored by the Photo Stream feature and must still be transferred off the device manually.
iOS 5 adds several basic photo editing features to the Photos app, including the ability to crop, rotate, remove red-eye and automatically enhance photos. Photo editing features are accessed by selecting the photo and tapping the “Edit” button which appears in the top-right corner. This displays an editing toolbar with buttons for rotate, auto-enhance, remove red-eye and crop.
The first three buttons are relatively straightforward: The rotate button simply rotates the photo counter-clockwise with each tap, while the auto-enhance button toggles enhancement on or off. Tapping the red-eye removal button will prompt you to select the region with red-eye to be corrected.
The crop button provides an on-screen cropping mask that can be adjusted manually or preset to one of several common aspect ratios using the “Constrain” button at the bottom of the screen. Once the appropriate crop is outlined, the “Done” button in the top-right corner completes the operation, existing crop mode and returning to the main editing view.
From the main editing view, Cancel and Save buttons appear in the top left and right corners, allowing you to either save your edits or return to the photo view without saving any changes. When working with photos in the Camera Roll, the “Save” button does not provide an option for copying the edits to a new photo, effectively applying the changes over the existing photo. However it should be noted that the photo editing feature in iOS 5 is non-destructive—you can open the photo in edit view again and make changes based on the original photo, even including changing the cropping mask to include portions that were previously cropped out. Editing and saving photos in the Photo Stream or in albums synced from iTunes will save the edited version to the camera roll, however.
Photo Album Management
As part of the “PC Free” features in iOS 5, the Photos app also now provides basic support for creating and managing photo albums directly on the device. An “Edit” button now appears in the top-right corner of the Album listing providing access to add new albums or reorder and delete existing albums. Note that only albums created on the device can be removed from here, although albums synced from iTunes can be reordered.
Photos can be added to albums by selecting them in the thumbnail view and choosing the “Add To” option from the buttons at the bottom of the screen. This will provide the option to add photos to an existing album or create a new one on the fly. Photos can be added to a custom album from any other album on the device, including the Photo Stream and albums from iTunes.
To remove photos from an album, you can simply navigate into the album and either select the photos from the thumbnail view and tap “Remove,” or use the “Delete” button while viewing individual photos. A confirmation message is provided in either case, asking you whether you want to remove the photos from the album, but noting that they will not in fact be deleted from the device.
The implementation of albums in iOS 5 is a bit odd in that it doesn’t work the way many users would expect; in fact albums work more like “tags” than traditional photo albums. When adding a photo to an album, not only is that photo not removed from its current location (e.g. the camera roll), but it is in fact referenced from that location. This means that while you can organize your photos into albums on your device, don’t expect this feature to allow you to clean up your camera roll—removing a photo from the camera roll also removes it from any albums that you have added it to. You will receive a notification to this effect when attempting to remove a photo from the camera roll that is listed in one or more albums.
This can also be even more potentially confusing when adding photos to albums from the Photo Stream or iTunes synced photo albums. If the original photos are removed from the device, either by expiring from Photo Stream or being removed via iTunes sync, they will also disappear from any albums to which they have been assigned. To preserve Photo Stream photos beyond the 30-day/1000-photo limits, a copy must be saved to the Camera Roll.
Appearing as a new special Home Screen folder on iOS 5 devices, Newsstand is designed to allow magazine and newspaper subscription applications to be organized into a more appropriate location and display dynamically updated cover pages for each new issue that appears.
The Newsstand feature in iOS 5, however, goes beyond merely a folder for subscription apps and actually provides a framework for these apps to dynamically push content updates such as new subscription “issues” to the iOS device in the background, even when the app isn’t running.
Applications will need to be updated to specifically take advantage of the features in Newsstand. We’ll have more to say about this feature once more Newsstand apps begin to appear on the App Store.
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