Miscellaneous Ramblings

Upgrade to IOS 5 Neither Smooth nor Elegant

Charles Moore - 2011.10.17 - Tip Jar

Well, after becoming aware of the new gesture controls for switching between applications in iOS 5 (see this week's Low End Mac Round Table), my interest was piqued substantially.

One of my main beefs with iOS is the lack of multitasking, and being able to switch between applications more quickly is emphatically not multitasking in any substantive sense of the word, although I suppose it's better than nothing.

Anyway, having to double pump the Home button to toggle the ersatz "multitasking" feature has seemed to me glaringly inelegant solution on what is otherwise an elegant machine, and an electromechanical analogue switch seems egregiously inconsistent, as well as the inevitable mechanical wear and tear on moving parts. Completely solid-state gesture-based application switching is much more consistent and desirable on a device like the iPad or other iOS gadgets - even though in general I'm not a fan of gesture - based computer input.

Another exception is that doing an operating system upgrade this quickly after the software is first released seems imprudently hasty to my way of thinking, but I reasoned that unlike my Mac, my iPad 2 is not a mission-critical tool, so if something went wrong, I wouldn't be inconvenienced production capacity wise.

On Saturday I resolved to give it a go.

First, however, I had to get my MacBook in shape. Nominally, I needed iTunes 10.5, which I hadn't yet bothered downloading, but when I fired up Software Update, it turned out that there were quite a few other updates I'd been procrastinating about, including a Snow Leopard security update, an EFI firmware update, a Bluetooth update, and a gaggle of application updates. I chose nine from the list that I thought were most important and unleashed Software Update to download 132 MB of compressed software update installers and bring things more up to date while I was at it. That ate up over an hour for the download, installation, and a couple of reboots.

The progress bar initially estimated about 50 minutes for the upgrade, but it soon became apparent that this was highly optimistic. The first iOS 5 download attempt failed about an hour into the process, with a dialog appearing informing me that the server had timed out. Thanks a lot. At least I didn't get the dreaded Error 3200.

A second attempt met with greater success, and the download completed, but it was evident that the iPad 2 wasn't cooperating, and a number of dialogs appeared, the ultimate upshot being that I would be obliged do a Restore run. That was apparently executed successfully, until I discovered that either the iOS upgrade or the software restore process had resulted in my entire collection of third-party apps, downloaded over the past 3 months or so, had disappeared without a trace. Not cool.

At least the iPod seems to be running iOS 5 smoothly, albeit without much of a tangible speed increase that some reviewers had reported, but it was past 3 a.m. when I finally called a halt to re-downloading and installing, plus in some instances reconfiguring the settings of, the apps I lost. Definitely not a positive first impression.

Of course I was still eager to try out the application switching (I refuse to dignify it with the term "multitasking") function using the new gestures. Happily they work as well as I had hoped, which does add a greater degree of refinement to the iOS experience.

That said, I'm constrained to acknowledge that with iOS 5 text selection and editing, cutting, and pasting are still just as lame as in iOS 4.3, email is still horrible - albeit with a few new features in Mail app that some folks will appreciate but are pretty irrelevant to the way I use email on the iPad, which is to say as little as possible. iOS Mail is a dismal alternative to Eudora OSE or Thunderbird on my Mac (I don't like the Mac OS X version of Apple's Mail either), and webmail can be pretty pathetic in iOS as well - I've never attempted any printing from the iPad, since I don't have a Bluetooth printer, but what I'm hearing in reviews is that iOS printing is still awful.

On the other hand, I do really like what they've done with mobile Safari in this version, adding real page tabs and the Reader distraction-clearing function from the desktop edition. I'm generally fairly indifferent about the desktop version of Safari and rarely use it, but I would have already rated mobile Safari as the class of the field in iOS browsers, and with this upgrade its opened up an even wider lead over its competitors.

My general summary observation is that iOS is a worthwhile upgrade and does offer improve performance, once you get past the challenge of getting it downloaded and installed. But it's still no efficiency production tool by a long shot. I still can't reconcile being without real multitasking, a directory, and a desktop for serious computing.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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