Apple iOS 5 Works On Old iPhones, iPads: Review

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Cloud features and application enhancements don’t cripple older devices, but the install time is epic

The latest major revision of Apple’s mobile operating system proves that the company is capable of learning from its mistakes, while moving the bar for rivals such as Google’s Android. Although on the surface it appears to be an improved iOS 4, the addition of cloud-centric networking and sharing features makes iOS 5 a true milestone for the platform.

Changing the game with iCloud

The new version of iOS adds a number of capabilities in the areas of personal information management and media sharing, but the introduction of iCloud as a keystone of iOS 5 is certainly a game-changing move by Apple.

In providing users a mobile-focused, simple-to-use repository for application data and media, albeit one that’s limited in scope, Apple is having another go at the cloud. This time, despite initial teething pains reported elsewhere, the recipe works.

Devices sold before the release of iOS 5 can be upgraded in a matter of hours, at the risk of being realistic about what’s involved. The kicker seems to be the amount of media you insist on having onboard the device when it’s being upgraded.

Obviously, if one’s device is already backed up and the software downloaded, the actual loading of the software and restoration of data are the only remaining time-consuming tasks. However, I found that the process of upgrading an iPad, an iPhone 3GS and an iPhone 4, from backing up the device, through the OS image download, restoring applications and data, and then setting up new features such as iCloud, was a four-hour commitment.

Still, I’m impressed with the results, especially with the way a two-year old iPhone 3GS behaves after the update. Before, I was more than a little curious about how well iOS 5 would run on what is now low-end gear. Apple’s track record on this front took a beating last year, when users who upgraded their iPhone 3G devices to iOS 4 consistently experienced poor performance, including sluggish behaviour and crashes. Ultimately, Apple ended iOS development for the iPhone 3G after the November 2010 release of iOS 4.2.1. Following a few days of using a 3GS for about a week as everything but a phone, I don’t believe that history is going to repeat itself.

On first use, a newly upgraded device presents the user with a chance to implement some basic settings for iCloud. These include the Photo Stream image-sharing service and device backup to iCloud.

After iCloud, I’ve found the most useful feature of the new OS to be Reminders, which breathes new life into the familiar to-do list. It uses iCloud to synchronise task lists across iOS and OS X Lion devices, and if you’re using the ActiveSync feature of Microsoft Exchange, with both Mac and Windows versions of Outlook. It offers location-aware organisation of tasks, which could keep me from wandering into ahardware store and instantly forgetting why I walked in there in the first place.

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