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Tuesday, October 11, 2011, 11:27 pm PT (02:27 am ET)

In-depth Review: Apple's iOS 5 mobile operating system


iCloud & Cut the cord

Perhaps the biggest new feature of iOS 5 is iCloud, a service that Apple talks about as a separate entity, because it is. iCloud also serves Mac OS X Lion clients and ties into iTunes, serving as a brand name the enshrouds a variety of Apple's network services.

iCloud cover the existing functionality of MobileMe in the areas of Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Notes and the aforementioned Reminders, as well as Find My iPhone, a feature that has now expanded to also find your Mac and "Find My Friends," thanks to new opt-in location tracking services that let you monitor where your kids are at or rendezvous with friends at an event after establishing a temporary tracking relationship with them.

In addition to push messaging and location updates, iCloud now extends the always-updated functionality of your IMAP mailbox to your Music, TV episodes, Apps, Books, Photos and Documents. The first four are handled by iTunes, making it easy to download content you've purchased elsewhere or repopulate a new iOS device.

AirPort Utility


Photo Stream is a new iCloud feature of iOS 5 and iPhoto that delivers photos you take on one device to your others. Documents & Data does something similar for apps that work with files, keeping documents and the edits you make to them coordinated across your devices.

Backup & Cut the cord

A final feature of iCloud, Backup, ties into iOS 5 by allowing mobile users to archive the state of their device with the cloud, rather than only backing up to a single computer running iTunes. Local backups via USB are still available, but iCloud Backup promises to store your mobile device's settings, all app data, your Home screen & app organization, your photos and videos, any ringtones, all iTunes purchases, and any Messages (including iMessage, SMS, and MMS) on Apple's servers, facilitating rapid recovery in the event you lose your phone and have to replace it.

Cloud backup has been done before, ranging from Android to Palm to Microsoft's Danger. In fact, its long been the only way to save anything on non-Apple smartphones, as no other phone maker has worked to duplicate the "digital hub" strategy of Apple's iTunes. With iOS 5, users get a choice of which way they'd like to back up their content: relying upon Apple's iCloud or directly to their iTunes PC.

First look: iOS 5


First look: iOS 5


First look: iOS 5


But Apple has also taken the matter a big step further, cutting the umbilical cord between iOS devices and iTunes entirely. With iOS 5, users won't need to initially set up their devices via a connection to iTunes. Instead, the system enables users to set up a new device or restore from an existing iCloud or iTunes backup.

During initial setup, users configure basic settings and connect to iCloud, and after they're set up, iOS 5 devices can continue to work without ever tethering to iTunes, obtaining software updates over the air while buying content and apps from iTunes directly. It also supports WiFi sync with iTunes to link up with the content you have on your computer. However, because WiFi sync requires a power connection anyway, you might prefer to continue plugging into USB and sync and charge at the same time.

A variety of tasks that once had to be synced over from the desktop, including the creation of photo albums or mailbox folders, can now be done right on the device. Photos in iOS 5 now allows you to crop, correct and fix red-eye problems right on the device. One nice aspect of these editing features is that they don't destroy the original; if you crop a photo and save it, you can go back to it and re-crop it later to recover the portions you initially threw out.

On page 4 of 4: Camera, Airplay, Safari & Siri, Room for growth