Hands on: iOS 5 delivers 'a wealth of changes'

New notifications, over-the-air updates, iCloud and scores of tweaks highlight what's new

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I've noticed that sometimes delivery of an iMessage is delayed, especially on the iPad. (If the iPad is asleep, it won't wake up to receive the message like the iPhone does, but it will receive the message if it's awake.) If an iMessage can't be sent, it will come in as a regular SMS/MMS message -- this behavior can be toggled on and off under Settings>Messages. However, if your family uses iPhones, this will be a money-saver. Keep track of your messages pre- and post-iOS 5 update to see if you can cut back on what you pay for texting.

iMessage
The new iMessage app allows you to send SMS and MMS messages to other iOS device users without relying on cellular carriers. (A message that's blue is an iMessage.)

Safari tweaks

Safari gets several updates, including improvements to its rendering engine (it feels a tad faster to me) and the addition of two new features: Reading List and Reader.

If you come across an article online and want to save it for later, Reading List allows you to do just that. Tap the Share icon in Safari -- it's between the forward arrow and Bookmarks icon on the iPhone, and it's the icon immediately to the left of the address bar on the iPad -- and tap Add to Reading List. This saves a bookmark to the article for later and syncs the bookmark across iCloud to other supported devices: Macs, PCs, iPads and iPod Touches.

The other Safari feature, Reader, offers the same function as its desktop Safari cousin. Tapping on the Reader text to the right of the address bar brings up a new interface that formats the Web content for minimal distraction by ignoring ads and joining articles spread across multiple pages.

On the iPad, users get tabbed browsing, similar to that already offered on desktop browsers. To add a tab, press the plus button; to remove, tap the x located in the tab.

Mail

Mail gets some refinements, too. You can change quote levels in an email, and add basic customization to font styles (bold, italics or underline) by tapping BIU on a highlighted word. The iPad email client can bring up the Mail sidebar, which stores individual mailboxes such as In and Sent, with a swipe from the side of the screen; you can drag names in the address fields, and you can create mailbox folders on the fly. Email search results now include text from the body of messages. And message flagging is now supported.

The improvements to Mail, like those in Safari, are more or less subtle; there's no breakout change, but you can see where Apple has sanded away rough edges compared to previous releases.

Newsstand, Twitter, the Camera app

If you subscribe to magazines or newspapers, iOS 5 keeps them organized in a folder on the Home Screen, aptly called Newsstand. If you've downloaded the app and bought a content package, all of your previous dead-tree subscriptions are now stored here, updated automatically when new issues are released. Those issues are downloaded in the background, a number badge shows up in the Newsstand icon, and the magazine icon changes to reflect the latest cover.

Twitter integration
Twitter has been integrated into iOS 5, allowing you to tweet photos, video links and URLs directly from other apps.

About the only problem I have with Newsstand is that it is, by itself, a folder, and that limits how it can be arranged on the Home Screen. Since you can't place a folder in another folder, I wasn't able to put Newsstand into my Reading folder, where similar apps are kept. Otherwise, Newsstand is a nice little addition.

Another smart move by Apple is the inclusion of Twitter in various parts of the operating system. In the Twitter Settings, you can install the standard Twitter app (I prefer TweetBot) and set up your Twitter account. You can even press a button to update Twitter information for all of the contacts in your Contacts app, including profile pics.

Twitter has also been integrated in the built-in apps: From Safari, you can share URLs; from Photos and Camera Roll, you can tweet your photos; with YouTube you can tweet links to videos. (You share to Twitter by tapping on the respective Share buttons within each app.)

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