So it's a little over 24 hours since the iOS 5 release as I write (and approaching 48 hours by the time this post goes live). It's not been the smoothest of launches, though most people who had problems found that they were resolved given a little time for the server load to ease up. I had no real issues beyond a somewhat slow download. I was really interested in three key features, and rather than posting a review (there are more than enough) I just want to go over how those three features have been in use (albeit only a days use).
Possibly the real headline feature of iOS 5, it combines aspects of instant messenger clients with standard texting and MMS features. This works seamlessly (before sending the app checks whether the number or e-mail address is iMessage registered. If the number isn't registered a text is sent, if it's a registered number or e-mail then an iMessage is dispatched. Simple.
This does mean that getting the most out of iMessage means habitually using e-mail addresses and not phone numbers wherever possible. If you are messaging an iPhone owner with a second iOS device then using their registered e-mail allows the message to be received on all that person's devices. Using their phone number will send the iMessage only to the iPhone. It's a flaw in the implementation (all registered numbers on the account could broadcast to all devices linked to that account) and it's a flaw shared with FaceTime - though you can now also FaceTime an iPhone by e-mail.
Anyway, it works great and has a minimal impact on your data allowance with the benefit of having no additional charges for messaging international friends than browsing an extra-nationally hosted website.
It's an awesome feature, and will see heavy use by most iOS device owners I expect. It's not revolutionary. BlackBerry have done this since forever ago and Facebook and Google+ both offer this kind of messaging through their apps. Having it integrated so effortlessly is the real advantage here.
This had become my most anticipated feature. iOS' modal popups were the most disruptive aspect of the UX, they got in the way and demanded immediate attention. Now they're discreet, customisable and stored in a way that prevents one notification from obscuring older ones. While there's less to say about this feature, it is the most significant change to the basic operation of an iOS device since the very first iteration. It's also impeccably animated.
This is the feature you'll be most glad of, and while Android has always had this kind of implementation for it's notifications, the exceptional design and configuration options are second to none. Aesthetically it has a few great touches, like the left justification of text, which seems minor but looks far more professional.
This is a relatively minor feature that adds a lot of convenience to using the device. You can now sync your iPhone when you slot it in the dock at the side of your bed, or have the iPad sync overnight while docked on the coffee table. No more laborious syncing. I suspect this will keep a lot of people's devices much more regularly up-to-date and feels like the way this should have been working in the first place. In short, why did we have to wait for version 5?
I suspect the answer is in part to do with the way that data, in particular media which is now fully manageable on the device has probably undergone some serious file handling renovations. Throw in the ability to push delta updates to the OS and a lot has likely changed under the hood in order to make these things work and as such no coincidence that these things came together.
It's a great update, it adds a lot of refinement and value rather than spectacular new features. It certainly feels a lot more mature thanks primarily to the notification redesign. There's a lot more linen texture, which I really like but I know tends to divide opinion. It's certainly the most significant update so far and while not flawless, really does earn the "it just works' tagline if you managed to get through the initial installation troubles.