Turn the iPhone 5 on and… well it all looks pretty familiar. If you’ve used an iPhone before you’ll be right at home here, particularly if you’ve already upgraded your old iPhone to iOS 6 or iOS 6.1. We won’t cover every one of the 200 new features of the new operating system here as we’ve already gone through most of them in our iOS6 review, but we’ll go through the basics.
The overall layout is the same as it has been for a long time. Grids of apps fill as many pages as needed, with each new page stacking to the right of the home one. Swipe left and you’ve got the quick search facility for looking up apps, contacts, emails and much more besides.
Tap the home button and it’ll close the app you’re in and take you back to the homescreen. Double tap and you can see all the apps you’ve got running, hold it down and Siri will be activated allowing you to speak your request to the phone, asking for directions, a good place to eat or to dictate a message.
Swipe down from the top edge of the screen and you’ve got a notifications tray that shows the weather at the top (tap to see more detail), stocks at the bottom, and all the various notifications about new emails, messages on Twitter or upcoming appointments in between.
From the lock screen you can jump straight to the camera or a double tap will bring up the media controls.
We told you it was all very familiar.
On the one hand this is all very reassuring as it’s easy to get to grips with and simple to use day to day but equally it means Apple hasn’t addressed a host of classic bugbears. For instance the list of running apps doesn’t show thumbnails of what the app is doing, nor can you add widgets to the homescreens or handle notifications individually.
Compared to the customisation offered by Android, the social and cross-app integration by Windows Phone or the multi-tasking and messaging centric feel of BlackBerry 10, it still feels a bit behind the times.
So what has changed? We hear you cry. Well, one of the key tweaks is the addition of Facebook integration to accompany the existing Twitter support. You can now upload photos, web links and such like directly from the core apps. In fact sharing in general is easier with more options available on more apps. That said, it’s still not a patch on Windows Phone, Android or BlackBerry 10 on this front, with far less intertwining of different services.
Siri has also had an upgrade, with it now able to look up businesses here in the UK as well as football scores, making it far more useful for us brits.
Of course the big change catching all the headlines at the moment is Maps. Apple and Google have broken off their partnership that has existed for all previous iPhones so you no longer get GoogleMaps powered Maps, and the YouTube app has disappeared too. Instead Apple has created its own mapping solution in partnertship with TomTom amongst others.
It offers three key viewing modes, just like the maps app of old. So there’s a simple vector based sat-nav style version, a satellite image version and even a 3D view that looks like you’re in a computer game. The vector based maps are incredibly easy to use with super fast rendering and download times, while the satellite view is much like the Google version, if a little slower. Meanwhile the 3D view is quite brilliant, offering surprisingly realistic models of large chunks of major cities. You can spin the maps round with ease and being able to see the skyline makes it much easier to get your bearing.
Direction support is available for walking, transport and car travel, with turn-by-turn navigation on hand for the latter. These directions are pretty good, particularly with the 3D view in use, though there are no 3D buildings for the UK in this mode yet.
Also, it’s worth noting that like GoogleMaps, all the new maps services use maps that are downloaded on the fly so they constantly use up data and drain your battery.
However, while the maps have their plus points, they are seriously flawed. Landmarks are mislabelled, with the location either shown incorrectly or with old information used (long since defunct Woolworths and Our Price stores are still shown), large sections of maps have poor quality satellite imagery (the whole of Coventry is greyscale once you zoom in a bit) and some towns seem to be almost completely ignored in some views (Stratford and Warwick don’t seem to exist until you zoom right in). The service was really bad for this when it launched and though things have improved it's still way off the quality of GoogleMaps or Bing Maps on Windows Phone.
All that and you also miss out on Street View.
Thankfully Google has come out with a GoogleMaps app for iOS and not only is it better than Apple Maps but it's a big improvement over the previous Google-powered Maps app on iPhone. Not only does it have excellent satelite and map views but you also get street view, google earth and great directions. Also, there is improved usability thanks to a new easy zoom feature that saves you having to 'pinch to zoom'; instead double tap with one finger and swipe up and down to zoom in and out.
Another new feature is PassBook. This is a virtual way to store and manage tickets, boarding cards and coupons. You’ll be able to quickly and easily open up a virtual ticket ready for scanning or reading by the bloke on the door, saving you having to fumble through printouts or check through emails. It’s a nice enough idea, assuming companies start supporting it but currently the only supported service here in the UK is Lufthansa airlines.