Anticipation is building as Apple is expected to announce its iPhone 5 on Oct. 4.

But while Apple is not letting any secrets out, one only has to look as far as its software -- iOS5 -- to understand how it will function.

The iOS -- the operating system that powers the iPhone -- is the conductor atop the symphony of hardware that Apple will roll out in the new device. No matter what that hardware is, the OS turns what would simply be a pile of silicon into a rich user experience.

What it includes is no secret.

Apple gave the world a glimpse of what to expect at its Worldwide Developer Conference this summer, boasting the new package will come with over 200 improvements.

There are several innovations, but some of the most important improvements may be familiar to people who have used other platforms.


Perhaps the most important and most requested feature will be the overhauled notification system.

The way Apple notifies users now is a throw-back to its first iPhone in 2007. Pop-ups appear above running applications, forcing users to respond before they disappear, running the risk of interruption and annoyance.

But in iOS 5, Apple has taken a page from rival Google's Android operating system. Incoming notifications now give a subtle indication across the top of the screen. The notifications are now aggregated and accessable by sliding your finger across the top.

After checking, instead of disappearing completely, notifications are now archived: iOS 5 also introduces something Apple calls Notification Center, a single place that combines all of your notifications

When users visit the notification center, they can also see updates on weather and stocks.

Within Notification Center, you can tap a notification to switch directly to the app that sent that notification, or you can easily delete notifications you no longer need. Dismiss Notification Center and you get right back to your app.

Wireless Sync

Apple is catching up to rivals by cutting the dependency on computers and allowing iOS devices to function fully independently.

New iPhones will lose the traditional Connect to iTunes screen upon first startup and instead display a Welcome screen; a quick swipe and you can activate your device on the device itself.

New software can be downloaded over the air, bringing the iPhone in line with rivals like Research In Motion's BlackBerry. Android devices have also enjoyed this capability.

Other tasks that typically depended on a computer are also being consolidated to the device itself. Various tasks like adding and deleting calendars and mailboxes, and even basic photo editing will be possible right on the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch in the iOS 5, with no computer.


iMessage is one feature that users will love but wireless carriers may disparage.

The new messaging feature lets users skirt wireless messaging fees to send texts, photos and videos to other contacts using iOS through the data feed for free.

Different from traditional text messaging, iMessage messages can be sent only between iOS devices, but adds features like group-chat and delivery receipts, read receipts and iChat-like indications of when your contacts are typing back.

The new tool is similar to BlackBerry Messenger on RIM devices. Android devices have something similar called G-Talk. It's not 100 percent analogous as it can be used on computers and other devices as well, but like iMessage, it will be pre-installed and facilitate non-SMS chat between Android users.

Better Mail

Mail is one of the most-used apps across iOS devices, Apple says.

But Apple's own mail client has been sorely lacking, behind almost all competitors in its current form.

In iOS 5, Mail finally gets rich text formatting (think bold, italics, underline); indentation options and support for prioritization, things many business users have come to expect from a smartphone.

Full-message searching will now come to iPhone and iPod Touch users, which Apple says will include messages not downloaded onto the device but present on the server. And on the iPad, you can now swipe to bring up the inbox when in portrait mode.

These features turn the iOS mail app more into a fully fledged mail client that will be able to handle a lot more real work, letting Apple catch up to BlackBerry and Android.

The BlackBerry client has been the industry standard for quite sometime, allowing mobile users to mimic essentially desktop behavior on the go. Android's client works similar to Gmail. Both integrate with the device, allowing custom notifications and the like.


One function that Apple highlighted in the WWDC presentation is the new integration of Twitter throughout the device.

New in iOS 5 is single sign-on support for Twitter -- once you configure your login credentials in the Settings app, third-party Twitter clients will be able to access your login details without requiring a separate sign-in within each app.

This is a good addition for people who tweet, but it highlights some of the deficiencies in Apple's closed system.

On Blackberry, for instance, users can get this functionality by simply downloading the app itself, since RIM allows the app to make changes to native menus with your permission.

If you want to send a photo to Facebook, however, you would be out of luck.


Apple is bringing something it calls the Newsstand to the iOS platform, which is an app that organizes newspaper and magazine subscriptions into one place for quick and easy access.

The iTunes store will also include a new place where users can subscribe to new titles as well, with purchases going directly to the Newsstand app, instead of littering the desktop with more icons.

The application serves as a direct channel to the publisher as well. If a new issue of a newspaper comes out while you're sleeping, that new issue is already there for you to read when you wake up. You can even read it offline.

Most of the major publishers of magazines and many newspapers have signed up for App Store subscriptions already, Apple says.


Reminders is a to-do list for the iPhone and iPad that allows users to make a check-list of items, which the app ties into contacts and locations.

Say you need to remember to pick up milk during your next grocery trip. Since Reminders can be location based, you'll get an alert as soon as you pull into the supermarket parking lot, Apple says.

The app itself is quite simple, but its portability makes it solid.

Perhaps the most useful function is that reminders also works with iCal, Outlook, and iCloud, so changes you make update automatically on all your devices and calendars.

Photo App

The Photo App gets an upgrade in the new OS.

It carries with it more in-app editing functions and quicker functionality.

You can open the Camera app right from the Lock screen. Use grid lines, pinch-to-zoom gestures, and single-tap focus and exposure locks to compose a picture on the fly. Then press the volume-up button to snap the photo as well.

Again, the app syncs with iCloud so photos taken on your iPhone, for instance, can be viewed on the iPad or other iCloud enabled device.

Better Browser

Apple's Safari is among the best mobile browsers already, and new improvements will make it hard to beat.

Among Safari's new features in iOS 5 is a feature called Reader. Like the similar functionality in the desktop version of Safari, Reader cuts out the navigation, ads, and other items surrounding the content, leaving just the relevant text and photos.

Apple is also including a feature called Reading List, allowing users to store pages for future reading. These items are synced over the cloud as well, so readers can find them on their computers and other devices.

Tabbed browsing makes its first appearance in Safari in iOS 5, too -- for iPad users at least. They function the same way they do on desktops, making switching between pages faster than the iOS 4 implementation of Pages.