iOS 5: The Hidden Features

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you’ll know that Apple released the fifth version of their iOS operating system for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad this week. This latest version is, arguably, their biggest update since version two which introduced native apps. So what does this mean for iPad users? Read on to find out the big new features along with five of my top tips for getting the most out of your iPad with iOS 5…

Headline Features

In their iOS 5 keynote at their Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this year, Apple introduced some of the headline features of the new OS. The standout ones include Notification Centre, a new way to manage your push notifications from the dozens of apps you no doubt have installed, iMessages, Apple’s version of Blackberry Messenger, Newsstand, to have all of your magazine and newspaper subscriptions automatically downloaded when a new edition is available, system-wide Twitter integration, the promise of being PC-free thanks to untethered backups to iCloud, and wireless syncing to iTunes.

More Subtle Changes

You can read all about the new headline features over at Apple’s website, and even watch a demo video of some of the biggest changes. What I want to share with you, though, are some of the less subtle changes that you might not otherwise discover. I’ve been lucky enough to be using iOS 5 for the last few months as a registered developer.

Multitasking Gestures

This is probably my favourite of the ‘small changes’ Apple introduced with iOS 5. I like and use them so much that I hardly ever press the home button any more, and they are so popular amongst the Apple Developer community that many people have speculated that the next iPad might even ship without a home button, however I don’t see that happening myself.

Under iOS 5, there’s a new setting under ‘General’ in your settings app called ‘Multitasking Gestures’. Turn this on and you’ll be able to use three new four and five-fingered gestures:

  • Pinch to return to the Home screen.
  • Swipe up to reveal the multitasking bar.
  • Swipe left or right to change between apps.

This might not sound like much, but it’s such a natural way to use multitasking that double clicking the Home button on my iPhone now seems clumsy.

The multitasking gesture controls in iOS 5.

Split Keyboard

One of the complaints I had about the original iPad when I first got one was that it was difficult to type with your thumbs while holding it. When I type on my iPhone, I am able to type fairly quickly using my two thumbs, however due to the size of the screen on the iPad, this isn’t possible. iOS 5 aims to fix this by introducing the split keyboard. The feature works well in portrait mode, giving you iPhone-sized keys, but in landscape mode it’s even better.

It looks like it would be really difficult to adjust to typing like this, however if you force yourself to concentrate on the cursor and touch type with your two thumbs, the improved autocorrect in iOS 5 normally sorts the rest out for you. That said, with Siri’s awesome dictation feature on the iPhone 4S, I’m not sure I want to go back to typing!

iPad's split keyboard is available in both portrait and landscape orientations. The extra row of keys at the top is unique to Writer.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts allow you to autocorrect abbreviations to full words and phrases.

Related to improving your productivity when typing, iOS 5 now introduces keyboard shortcuts. Not in the traditional sense, perhaps, but anyone who is familiar with TextExpander will feel right at home. In Settings.app under General > Keyboard you can preset a list of common abbreviations that you’d like expanded when you type them. The included example is ‘omw’ which, once typed, will be autocorrected to ‘on my way’ when you press space. The advantage of this over a third-party app like TextExpander is that because this is integrated into the OS, it will work anywhere you can type text.

Shortcuts are a great way to save time while typing.

Private Browsing

Anyone who shares an iPad with family is bound to love this option to keep their browsing sessions private, great if you are shopping for birthday or Christmas presents or if you don’t want to be kept logged into web apps like Facebook or GMail.

Private browsing works exactly the same way as on the desktop: turn it on and Safari won’t store any history, searches, cookies, or login information. All cookies will be cleared when you close the tab.

Private browsing control in iOS5.

Location Services Control

The last feature I want to share with you is the improved control Apple has given you over which apps can use the iOS location services (i.e. work out where you are based on your Wi-Fi network, 3G coverage, or GPS). Some apps have been known to use this data to show you relevant adverts and, to address privacy concerns, you are now able to prevent these apps from using your location. In Settings.app, there’s a new option called Location Services. Here you can toggle individual apps on or off as you decide.

Control app access to iPad's location services.

You can also choose to have a location icon shown in the status bar whenever an app or a system service is using your location or has used it in the last 24 hours. This makes it much easier to see which apps are tracking you.

The same goes for System Services which use your location, for example setting your time zone automatically, serving location-based iAds and calibrating the compass. Each of these services can now be toggled on or off as well.

Overall, iOS 5 is a huge improvement over previous versions and brings some highly useful new features to your iPad. Since the update is free, I can’t do anything but recommend you download it straight away. The initial rush has now passed (iOS 5 was released on 12 October) so Apple’s servers shouldn’t be as overwhelmed as they were on launch day. As ever, just make sure you have a full backup before attempting to update, just in case!

What are your favourite iOS5 features on the iPad? Share them in the comments below.


  • wvit

    For me, the split keyboard seem to be a great feature. However, after trying it, I think the old keyboard is better. Why? The reason is when the keyboard is split in 2 halves, your eyes have to move back and forth when you type. If it’s a physical keyboard this is not a problem because you know the key that your finger is on.

    The one features that I like most and use extremely often is Multitouch gesture. I rarely use the home button now. I use it only when I want to come back from a delete app mode. Is there a way to exit delete mode without using home button?

    • cjred

      Me too. Multi-touch gestures is my favorite. It feels so natural than pressing the homebutton.

    • http://twitter.com/jon_adair Jon

      When I started using the split keyboard, I felt like I was watching a tennis match while I was typing! But after a few hours, I forced myself to concentrate on the cursor, rather than the keyboard and just type. The improved autocorrect sorted out 95% of my typing errors.

      As for exiting ‘wiggle mode’ on the home screen, I believe the only way to do that is via the home button…

    • mcb

      Settings > Accessibility > Assistive Touch > ON
      Which will give your a small rectangular box to completely replace home button and do more things than you can imagine. Hope this help.

  • JR

    Multi touch seems to be an iPad 2 feature only. Dammit Apple.

    • http://twitter.com/jon_adair Jon

      Interestingly, iOS 5.0.1 which has just been released as an over the air update adds multitasking gestures to the original iPad…

    • Nicholas the computer genius

      Jr look down there to my reply

  • Dave C.

    Gestures are very useful. It was a game between my friends and I for a few days; “oh! You hit the home button again!”

    One of the things that I like that isn’t getting much fan-fare is the dictionary. It’s in everything. My GF isn’t a native English speaker and having to jump out of the browser to look up a word took time.

    • Dave C.

      Apparently, I have to set up some of those shortcuts. Just typed my email wrong in the above comment. Sorry.

    • http://soundcloud.com/butyourecooltoo Tom Howe

      YES woops I said that too before reading all the comments. it’s the greatest!

  • Adam

    Why don’t I see muli-touch gestures? Is it an iPad 2 only feature?

    • http://twitter.com/jon_adair Jon

      Yes, it does appear that multi-touch gestures are an iPad 2 only feature in iOS 5. Not sure what the logic behind that decision is, since developers were able to use them under iOS 4 on the original iPad.

      • http://twitter.com/jon_adair Jon

        iOS 5.0.1 which was just released adds support for multitasking gestures on iPad 1…

    • Nicholas the computer genius

      Jr and Adam it is but u can update it at home for free just transfer your purchases back up your device then update it to a 5.1.1 so u will have the software of a 5.1.1 just not the hardware but and therefore u can do multitouch

  • http://cameraguyzack.blogspot.com Zack Jones

    @Adam – multi-touch is iPad 2 feature.

    Anyone know if keyboard shortcuts get saved to icloud? It would be great to be able to share them between my iPhone and iPad without having to enter them on both devices.

    • http://twitter.com/jon_adair Jon

      Doesn’t seem like it, although that would be a great use for iCloud…

  • Diego Z

    For me a HUGE improvement in OS5 (specially on the iPhone but also on the iPad) is that we are FINALLY able to sort by “Album Artist” (it only took 4 years to implement a feature that has been in iTunes since more or less forever…) :)

  • Joduquem

    i found a way for “exiting ‘wiggle’ mode” on the homescreen, an thet is to swipe the notification center down, and now i only use the home button to acces to the music from the lock screen
    :)

  • http://philippegaboury.ca Philippe Gaboury

    Am I the only one who thinks the iPad’s music player has been totally broken in iOS5. That’s one very bad hidden secret…

    • http://soundcloud.com/butyourecooltoo Tom Howe

      nope, it’s true… I’m not sure its totally broken, but it’s different, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t better…

      • Quan

        Yeah, not totally broken because it still can play songs … However not to mention the inconveniences, there are some unforgivable errors, such as in landscape mode the GUI is messed up completely, when typing in the Search field, the keyboard slides up and covers it totally.

  • http://soundcloud.com/butyourecooltoo Tom Howe

    I absolutely love the global dictionary feature! that was something my mom loved on her kindle, offline dictionary anywhere in the device, and now it’s on my favorite little thing too.

  • http://soundcloud.com/butyourecooltoo Tom Howe

    The problem with the split keyboard is that it needs the pop up letters like the iphone keyboard has. The buttons are small enough now that you can’t see them under your thumbs.

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  • http://blai.se joel harrison

    this is not an IOS5 article, but rather an iPad article.

    • http://twitter.com/jon_adair Jon

      I agree that the tips are fairly iPad-centric, but this is iPad.AppStorm after all!

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