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.