iOS 5 for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch complete guide

iOS 5 is the latest update for iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads. It's coming this autumn, but you can already read about its key features in our complete guide.

Flora Graham
5 min read

iOS is the software that's on the 200 million iPhones, iPod touches and iPads currently rocking the people's pockets. The update to iOS 5 loads up the wonderbarrow with brand-new features, and we'll be rolling through them all.

But don't start holding your breath quite yet -- iOS 5 won't be arriving until the autumn, at the same time as we expect the iPhone 5. It will be free for the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad, iPad 2 and the third and fourth-generation iPod touch.

Wireless updates, back-ups and syncing

iOS 5 finally cuts the iPhone and iPad's apron strings by letting you use it right out of the box, without connecting it with a USB cable to a PC first. That's a relief, since it frees you from the beast that is iTunes.

Apple has ticked off all the reasons why you need your USB cable -- apart from charging -- and replaced them with unwired options.

Software updates (after the one that will bring you iOS 5) will arrive over the air as automatic downloads. Previously, you had to connect up and download the whole OS file -- now it just installs the bits that are new.

To sync your photos and music, iOS 5 adds wireless syncing. When your iGadget is plugged in and charging, it can automatically sync to your computer that's on the same Wi-Fi network. This is a fantastic feature, especially for the iPad 2, which doesn't charge when it's plugged into many computers over USB.

But with iCloud, Apple's new online storage system, you may never have to sync to your computer at all. With it, up to 10 devices can share mail, contacts, calendars, photos, apps, books, music and more online. Changes are automatically synced over the cloud, without having to connect the devices together on the same Wi-Fi network, or over USB.

You can read all about iCloud in our complete guide. We'll all get wireless syncing, but we're still waiting for news from Apple to confirm if and when iCloud is coming to the UK.


In iOS 4 and before, notifications interrupted you by popping up a window on the screen, like a text message.

In the new version of iOS, there's a notification window that slides down from the top of the screen with a swipe of your finger. Sound familiar, Android users? Yep, it's the same solution that Google came up with for its software.

You can clear the notifications one by one by tapping the delete button next to it. We're sorry to see Apple didn't do an homage to webOS's swipe-to-bin gesture. We haven't yet tested the feature, but it doesn't look as though there's an easy way to clear them all at once.

Your notifications also show up on the lock screen. Swiping a notification on the lock screen fires you directly into the relevant app.  

Snappy snaps

The lock screen will also be graced with a shortcut to the iPhone or iPad's camera, which instantly loads up, even skipping your lock code, if you have one. Apple also promises that the camera will load faster, which is good news since the last iOS update brought our iPhone's camera to a crawl.

iOS 5 adds the ability to pinch to zoom while taking a photo. You can even use the volume up button as a shutter button, if you don't like tapping the screen to take a shot.

The photo gallery gets a few additions too, like the ability to fix red-eye, and crop and rotate photos. You'll also be able to sort your pics into albums.

Web browsing and Tweeting

The Safari browser gets some tweaks, too. If you're getting stuck into a long article, the Reader feature strips out ads, images and fancy formatting to make the page easier to read, just like the awsome Readability plug-in does on your desktop computer. It will also pull in all the text from a story that's spread over multiple Web pages.

The Reading List feature saves pages you want to read later. It's like bookmarking, and syncs across your various iOS gadgets and the Safari browser on the desktop. We're not sure yet if it actually saves your pages offline so you can read them anywhere, like Instapaper, so we'll get back to you on that.

Safari is also adding tabbed browsing so you can swap between open sites more quickly, and we look forward to trying it out on the iPad. The iPhone and iPod touch don't have the feature, since their screens are too tiny to pack all our Web pages into tabs. 

iOS hasn't had much tweetification built in before this version. But now you can tweet your business to the world directly from the Web browser, photo gallery and Maps apps.

Instant messaging

iMessage looks like an Apple version of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), one of BlackBerry's most popular features. It's instant messaging between iOS 5 devices, and if it works like BBM, it should be free. It also works over 3G or Wi-Fi.

You'll be able to use iMessage to send text messages, photos, videos and contacts, as well as have group chats. iMessage has a groovy threaded speed-bubble appearance that looks just like text messages on the iPhone. It also shows when your correspondent is typing, like in desktop IM clients.

IM requires speedy typing. To speed up your tapping on the iPad, iOS adds a split keyboard option, which pushes the keys to the sides of the screen so that you can reach them with your thumbs.

Another treat for typists in iOS 5 is a dictionary. Highlight any word and hold down your finger on it to look it up. 


If you love iBooks, but fancy something a little more ephemeral, Apple has whipped up an app for magazines and newspapers, called News Stand. Like iBooks, it looks like a wooden bookshelf loaded with colourful thumbnails of your content.

Apple also added an aisle in the App Store to snag all of the magazine subscriptions that are available. If you buy a subscription to a magazine, News Stand automatically downloads the latest issue, in the background. The cover art even gets updated in the app, so you're always browsing the latest issue. 

Game Center

Game Center's take on game communities hasn't made much of an impact so far, but it gets a refresh too. Apple hopes that the addition of avatars and the ability to buy games within the Game Center app will tempt more of us to use it.

To-do list

iOS 5 could wipe out popular apps such as Remember the Milk with an integrated to-do list. Called Reminders, the new feature offers a tick-boxed list of tasks. 

You can set time or location-based reminder alerts, priorities and due dates, so you can be reminded of a task as its deadline nears, or when you arrive or depart a given place.