How to get many of Apple’s “new” iOS 5 features right now

June 8th, 2011 | by Raymond Lau

At its annual Worldwide Developers Conference this week, Apple unveiled iOS 5, the latest update to their mobile operating system. The update brings some interesting and long-awaited features to the iPhone and iPad. Strangely enough, although many of these features are blatant copies of existing functionality on other platforms, almost the entire blogosphere is falling over in praise for iOS 5.

I understand that the nature of the tech industry means building on one another’s work to bring the best feature set to consumers. Indeed, Apple has proven itself capable of refining existing technologies and paradigms and on occasion bringing additional functionality.

But this really is the first time I looked on an Apple presentation in disbelief: everything is so obviously culled from some other mobile OS or mobile app. Don’t believe me?

If you are hanging out with an iPhone and are eagerly waiting for iOS 5, which won’t land until this autumn, here are some of the most touted iOS 5 features you can get right now.

Notification Center

What’s coming: Finally. The iPhone’s current notification system, an intrusive pop-up window which interrupts whatever you’re doing, hasn’t changed much since the very first iPhone. With iOS 5, notifications present themselves as small, non-intrusive pop-ups that appear at the top of your screen for a short while, and poof, they vanish. A downward swipe from the top of the screen brings down a full menu of previously ignored notifications, which you can then dismiss at will.

Get it now! The new notification banner on the top of the screen is completely identical to Windows Phone 7’s style, save for some design differences. As for the pull-down notification menu, that’s Android’s idea through-and-through, and OEM enhancements have made Android’s implementation even more functional.

iMessage

What’s coming: A native instant messaging app that you can use to contact your other friends using iOS and iOS only. Group messaging, send pictures, contacts, etc., the works. Best of all, everything integrates into one thread for your reading convenience.

Get it now! Ever heard of the BlackBerry? Yeah, one of that age-old device’s key selling points is the BlackBerry Messenger. Or you could download various free texting apps like Kik Messenger, and Beluga, not to mention the venerable WhatsApp, which has been around for ages, and chat with your friends on Android and, soon, Windows Phone 7 (Mango) too. One of Mango’s most touted features is also integration of IM chats into your SMS stream!

Native Twitter integration

What’s coming: For some reason, Apple has chosen to integrate Twitter heavily into iOS, even though more people use Facebook. In Apple’s words: “Sign in once in Settings, and suddenly you can tweet directly from Safari, Photos, Camera, YouTube, or Maps.” We hope that suddenness won’t give anyone heart attacks!

Get it now! In Android, you can integrate almost anything you wish to integrate, including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Picasa, Google profiles, and more! Some additional contact and sharing integration for Twitter and LinkedIn has also been already announced for WP7 Mango.

Camera

What’s coming: In iOS 5, you’ll be able to access the camera app right from the lock screen. Plus, you’ll be able to use the volume-up button to snap pictures, making those self-snap moments infinitely easier. An app called Camera+ tried to implement this feature into their app in the past, but was blocked by Apple. I guess now we know why. Also, double tapping the home button when the screen is sleeping launches the camera immediately.

Get it now! Physical camera buttons have been a staple on feature phones since Nokia 7650, and it’s also an OEM requirement on Windows Phone 7. You can also launch the camera when a WP7 phone is sleeping and snap pictures without unlocking the phone.

WiFi sync

What’s coming: Tangle of white iPhone cables got you down? iOS 5 comes with Wi-Fi sync, which lets you transfer content from your computer to your iDevice without physically connecting them. Even better, Apple has removed the requirement that you connect every new iOS device to a computer to activate it!

Get it now! Android and Windows Phone 7 can sync wirelessly out of the box, and I never saw the need to connect my previous Android device to my laptop at all.

Multitasking gestures for iPad

What’s coming: Am I the only one who thinks the multitasking gestures for the iPad looks eerily like what Microsoft showed off for Windows 8 just last week?

Get it now! OK now I’m just cheating, sorry. Windows 8 is projected to be released in 2012, sorry, folks!

So there you go, several high profile iOS 5 features already in existence, as long as you can bear to break out of Apple’s ecosystem. I’m also pretty sure I missed out some other “copycat features”, so share your comparisons in the comments!

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