The 5 best features in Apple's iOS 5

From Notifications to wireless OS updates to iCloud integration, good things are coming

Earlier this week at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple finally offered up a look at iOS 5, the planned update to the company's mobile OS. Although it won't be out until this fall -- Apple isn't yet saying exactly when -- iOS 5 promises to deliver much-needed changes to the OS, which is used on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Apple told WWDC attendees that the new OS will have some 200 new features, though only 10 of them were showcased during Monday's two-hour keynote, which also focused on iCloud and OS X 10.7 "Lion."

Here are the five iOS 5-based changes I'm looking forward to most.

New notifications

Let's start with the crowd-pleaser: Apple has finally revamped the way iOS handles message notifications. This was long overdue.

Currently, whenever a notification arrives, it pops up on the screen, forcing you to either view the message or close the notification window. The new method doesn't force you to stop whatever you're doing; the notification literally rotates into view in the form of an unobtrusive banner beneath the menu bar. Within seconds, the banner -- it displays the appropriate app icon and the message -- gently flips back out of view. If the notification requires immediate attention, tapping it automatically switches you to the app so you can respond.

Don't worry if you like the current style of modal notifications. They haven't been cut completely. In iOS 5, they'll still be an option when you configure your apps under Settings-->Notifications. And they're still useful in certain situations. After all, not all notifications should be ignored -- like a reminder to take medicine. But I suspect most users will opt for the less intrusive banner, which is selected by default.

If you want to retrieve any notifications you've ignored, you use Apple's new Notification Center, a completely original idea that no one has ever thought of. (That sound, by the way, was hundreds of Android fans' heads bursting.)

I kid, of course; the notification screen isn't particularly original or new to anyone except iOS users who haven't modified their system software, but that doesn't make its inclusion any less welcome. Swiping your finger down from the top of the iPhone screen slides open the Notification Center, where all of your alerts are organized by app. (Apple also added in Stocks and Weather widgets.) You remove older notifications by hitting an X and then confirming that you want to make the app entries go away by tapping Clear.

Making the new system more useful, customizations are available on a per-app basis in the Notification Settings area. You can sort notifications manually or by time, and you can edit the display order of the apps. One thing to keep in mind if you can't pull yourself away from certain apps: You can set the apps to display banner notifications and on the Lock Screen. That'll be handy, since you won't have to spend time unlocking the phone just to check notifications.

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