New phone, New OS – first impressions

With less than 24 hours of iPhone 4S action under my belt, a few initial thoughts on the phone (and iOS5).

The short version: kick ass.

The slightly longer version… iOS5 is great in many, many respects. For me, it’s the various small improvements that make it worthwhile. For instance, you can now change the colour of calendars in iCal on your device. Why is this even worthy of a mention? Up till now, you had to cycle through a preset range of colours, deleting your calendar and re-adding it, just so it would match the colour on your main computer’s version of iCal. Nuts.

But why do calendar colours even matter?

I (and I know I’m not alone) maintain multiple calendars concurrently, splitting my life into a work calendar (from an exchange server), a personal calendar, birthdays, training schedules and doctorate deadlines (via iCloud) to name but a few. I also subscribe to a host of external calendars (podcast schedules, sports calendars). So having the same colour-coding convention across all my iDevices avoids confusion and allows me to spot potential scheduling snafus.

A small improvement, with a big impact.

What else?

The camera app is definitely snappier (did you see what I did there?) responding so much faster. Being able to take photos direct from the unlock screen is a big time-saver. The new notifications are fabulous. What with my multiple calendars (and reminders) and extensive use of OmniFocus for GTD, I frequently found myself swiping through far too many “helpful” messages on the iPhone screen. Now they’re all neatly tucked away and don’t intrude on what you’re actually trying to do. A small change, a massively helpful improvement.

To be honest, I’m not all that bothered about Twitter integration or reminders – I have other apps for that. The location based reminder functionality looks great, but I understand this is coming to OmniFocus in any event – so soon, I’ll get reminders automatically, depending on where I am at any point. This is real Star Trek stuff.

My iPad 2 (which also got the free iOS5 upgrade) benefits from all of the above plus the very useful Newsstand app. This collects newspaper and magazine subscriptions into a single place and updates them automatically for you. At the moment, I’m trialling the Guardian newspaper app – and even after couple of days it looks like a keeper.

It means I have a new newspaper to read each morning when I wake up. Yes, I previously subscribed to the Guardian via my Kindle. Guess what – I missed the pictures! The app doesn’t simply take the online version and stick in a PDF – it’s a completely different and intuitive experience. And it all works offline, so you can read it no matter where you are.

(The potential downside to Newsstand is that I may end up subscribing to new magazines…)

Now onto the iPhone 4S…

After some initial pessimism on my part – due to news reports of iPhone 4S non-delivery – I actually did receive my iPhone yesterday. I’ve only had a few hours to play around with it review its functionality, but so far, so very good. It looks almost identical to the previous model. I went for the 64Gb model, to cope with my stupidly-large list of playlists and podcasts.

So far, I can say it’s lighting fast, the camera is amazing and its integration with iCloud is perfect. I won’t be taking a digital camera with me anywhere any time soon. At 8 mega-pixels, the iPhone 4S camera removes the need for a separate point and shoot.

I’ve also spent some time getting used to the new voice control functionality – cutely called Siri. After the initial disappointment of finding out that UK iPhones have a male as opposed to female voice (I’m not sure what that is – or why I was disappointed), I’ve enjoyed getting Siri to respond to my voice and carry out simple actions.

It’s spookily accurate.

I’ve taught it to recognise the names of my family, so I can now say “Call Dad” and it will. It can also do web searches, write text messages and emails and control many of the other built-in apps. I do wonder if I’ll be comfortable speaking into it in public… but with the plethora of bluetooth earpiece-wearing drones walking the streets of London, I don’t think I’ll look too strange.

Ideally, I’d like it to be able to respond to my voice when it’s sitting on my desk. As it is, you need to either hold it up to your ear and speak into it, or press the home key and then speak at the prompt. To take it to true Star Trek nerdgasm levels, it would need to be able to answer me when I say “Computer, do I have any voicemails?” without me even touching it. I’m sure it’s coming. Siri is, after all, in beta.

So yes. I like the new phone, but more than that, I love the new OS. Apple has made some great improvements. Some were admittedly way overdue (calendar colours), a bit like when they introduced cut’n’paste (to applause?!). Others are innovative and helpful. I used my old iPhone 4 with iOS5 for about a day and can honestly say it turned it into a new phone for me. The best part? The upgrade was completely free.

More observations, excited pointing and general iPhone love as and when I have time.

My advice: upgrade your idevices as soon as you can. It’ll be worth it!

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