I’ve been an unofficial beta tester of iOS 5 for about two weeks now. There are a lot of interesting features that I think have the capability to make my life easier. First and foremost is the revamped notification system. Not being pulled out of my current thoughts by a modal dialog box is a great thing. Being able to deal with alerts on my schedule is very liberating. Also of great import to me is the integration with Twitter.
Allowing me to tag contacts with Twitter handles helps me keep my nerd friends straight, and the ability to snap pictures and upload them directly to Twitter is very helpful for those that takes tons of snapshots, like Stephen Foskett. There are even more features that have promise, like iMessage.
So why, on the eve of my trip to Cisco Live 2011, did I put my phone into DFU mode and go back to 4.3.3? Well, for all the greatness that I found in the beta, there were a couple of things that gave me pause. Enough pause that when I knew I was going to be at a conference where I would be relying heavily on my phone to be my lifeline to the rest of the world for a week, I had to go back to something a little more polished. My biggest complaint about the beta release of iOS 5 was the abysmal battery life. I wasn’t on beta release 1, which by all accounts had a battery life best measured in minutes. I jumped in during beta 2, where things were much improved, or so the story went. However, I found my battery life to be noticeably worse. I hesitated to use my phone to check my email or Twitter feed for fear it wouldn’t last through the day. If I actually made a call on it, I had to recharge it on the way home from work to be sure it would hold out. My trip to the OSDE tweetup was marred by less than 10% battery power, which made status updates unrealistically optimistic. I know that battery life is always a fine balance to maintain. New features require even more power, and the antiquated battery in my 3GS is quickly approaching the end of its useful life. However, if the next beta doesn’t address the battery life issue with a little more tweaking, it will be a hard choice to make.
Another irritation was the overall lagginess of my phone. Apps would take an extra second or two to launch than normal. Pulling up information inside Facebook or Safari seemed to freeze every time. My new fancy camera app crashed so much it was unusable. The phone just seemed to stall, like a computer with an old, slow processor or inadequate amount of RAM. Again, I know that most of this is due to the code train not being
optimized yet for release and the apps not being optimized for iOS 5. Usually, these are the last things to get fixed before release, so I’m optimistic that things will clear up. However, these are the same complaints that iPhone 3G users had about iOS 4 when it was released. It seems that maybe Apple’s support of 2-year old hardware is spotty in some cases.
Beta testing is always a crapshoot. You are agreeing to test something that may not be ready for prime time. I’ve been beta testing things since I got into computers and networking, so I’m never shocked by what I get into. However, in recent years, companies have been using the beta tag a lot differently. They either keep something that’s ready for release in beta forever, like GMail, or they push unfinished code out the door and make
their customers unwilling beta testers, which can best be summed up by the old maxim, “Don’t install a new version of Windows until the first service pack is released.” While I like many of the new features of iOS 5, the lack of polish in the battery life and lag departments were enough to make me reconsider my decision this time. I especially find that part funny, since I’ve never been so attached to a device to care about what revision
of code is running on it. I might give beta 3 a shot (if there is one), but for now I’m going back to something that isn’t going to make me tote around a 500-foot extension cord and curse my phone twice as much as I do already.