iOS 5 has copied the Android-style notifications-tray capability in what it calls Notification Center, but Apple’s version is better. In iOS 5, you pull down from the top of the screen to get a pane of notifications, and tap any to open it within its app.
You can also delete groups of notifications — such as for mail messages — by tapping the X icon to the right of the group’s name. I like iOS 5’s notifications better than Android’s because iOS’s notifications are much easier to read and Notification Center shows individual messages and tweets, whereas in some cases Android shows only a group alert, such as “5 new mentions,” rather than list them. (iOS lets you specify a max number of notifications per type to display, by the way.)
iOS 5 can also display notifications on the lock screen, and by sliding a specific notifications icon, you can open the app and the relevant notification item, such as an email. Plus, unlike Android, iOS 5 lets you decide which apps may present notifications on the lock screen and elsewhere — you’re not restricted to a predetermined set. Not only does iOS 5 let you turn notification on or off on a per-app basis, but you can specify whether the notification sounds a tone, whether it appears in the lock screen, whether its badge updates with the number of relevant notifications, and how the notification appears onscreen (as an overlay in the middle of your screen or just in the Notification Center pull-down pane). You get to choose when and how you are interrupted.
iOS 5 adds a new storage management API that eases file handling when you want to free up space. The Settings app’s Usage pane now shows how much storage each app consumes. If you tap a compatible app in that list, you get a sublist of all its document files, which you can delete individually as needed. Incompatible apps show only their total data usage; you’ll need to manage their documents within the apps themselves or via the iTunes file management facility.
iOS supports GPS location and can triangulate location based on Wi-Fi signals. The bundled Google Maps app can find your current destination, provide directions, and otherwise help you navigate. But it’s no substitute for a navigation app such as the $45 Navigon MobileNavigator (on an Android device, you could stick with the free bundled Navigation app).
iOS 5 lets you control access to location services per application, so you can control at any time which apps can monitor your location. iOS 5 also has location-permission controls for system-level services, including iAds, time zone, compass calibration, traffic services, cell network search, and diagnostics. Plus, it can show you those apps currently tracking your location as well as those that have done so in the last 24 hours.
Apple is a strong force behind HTML5 and other modern browser technologies, so it’s no surprise that it offers a capable Web browser. Based on the HTML5 Test site’s scores, Safari in iOS 5 has taken a major leap forward in HTML5 compatibility compared to its previous version, scoring 296 (out of 450) versus iOS 4.3’s score of 217. By contrast, Android 4, BlackBerry OS 7, and Windows Phone 7.5 lag significantly, scoring 230, 260, and 141, respectively.
I experienced the iPhone’s HTML5 advantage firsthand in iOS 5 Safari’s newfound support for the
contenteditable attribute in HTML5, and thus its ability to work many of the capabilities in WYSIWYG AJAX Web-editing tools such as TinyMCE, used by Drupal and countless other sites. Hallelujah! Item dragging doesn’t work, perhaps because iOS’s drag gesture starts with a tap, which opens the drag handle’s internal URLs, thus blocking any drag action. I now can do most of my work on InfoWorld content directly in our content management system from my iPad. It’s not 100 percent — text selection in AJAX floating dialog boxes often grabs the content underneath, for example — but it’s at least possible.
From an operational perspective, Safari has persistent buttons or fields for Back, Forward, Bookmarks, Refresh, and navigating browser windows. On an iPad, iOS 5 now shows a row of tabs at the top for each open browser window, as does Android “Honeycomb.” iOS 5 also adds two features that debuted on Mac OS X’s version of Safari: Lion’s Reading List and Snow Leopard’s Reader. Reading List is a separate bookmarking utility meant for content pages you want to read later and then remove from the list, whereas Reader strips out most of the Web page so that you can concentrate on its contents.
iOS 5 lets you share Web pages via email and Twitter, as well as print the page to an AirPrint-compatible printer. iOS has separate Search and URL boxes, which are less convenient than Android’s unified URL and Search box — you have to be sure to tap the right box on iOS. You can also search the current page in a separate field that displays. You can select text and graphics on Web pages, as well as copy text and save images to the Photos app.