IOS 5 Upgrades Apple’s iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch

Apple’s latest update to its iOS software for iphones, iPads and other handheld devices is more evolutionary than revolutionary, particularly if you’re not getting it on the new iPhone 4S, which will be released Friday.

IOS 5, which Apple made available on Wednesday, has a lot of neat new features. But the most exciting one — the Siri voice command system — is available only on the new iPhone. Others, such as weather and stock widgets, aren’t available on the iPad.

Many of the other features, meanwhile, don’t break new ground; instead, they represent an effort by Apple to catch up with the competition. Still, the additions in iOS 5 are welcome and the update is well worth the time needed to download and install it. One of the big themes of iOS 5 is to cut the cord that has long connected Apple handheld devices to Apple’s iTunes software running on users’ personal computers.

With the new software, users can pretty much get by without ever plugging their iPad or iPhone into their PCs. After installing iOS 5, users no longer have to connect them to a computer to get new operating system updates. They can just download them directly to their device.

As part of this effort, Apple has added a number of services that link iOS 5 devices to its data servers on the Internet. IPads and iPods can save their backups to Apple’s servers, rather than to a PC. Using a service called Photo Stream, Apple allows users to instantly and wirelessly transfer pictures they’ve taken on an iOS device to other such devices, their computers and to the Apple TV set-top box via its cloud service.

Music that users purchase on an iOS device — or on their computer — is similarly synced automatically across devices through the conduit of Apple’s data servers.

One of the things I was most anticipating about iOS 5 was its revamped notification feature. Notifications, which alert you to such things as new text messages, requests to play multiplayer games and a low battery, have long been among of the worst parts of the iOS software. In the past, users were alerted to new events with either a sound, a numerical badge attached to an application’s icon or a pop-up message.