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Lion, iOS 5 and iCloud some months on.

There was no way I was skipping the update to iOS 5 on my iPhone but I really wasn’t sure if I should bother with updgrading to Mac OS X 10.7 on my now aged (3 year old!) MacBook as there didn’t look to be much in it for me – nothing new that i absolutely had to have – but in the end i decided to go ahead, as i figured it might be last system update my machine can take (or, at least, run with any grace). Plus, I was interested in making the most of the contact/calendar/whatever syncing with my iPhone offered by iCloud. Here’s a look at how things are working out for me several months after upgrading my computer and phone to Apple’s latest offerings.

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion

Installing Lion This first OS upgrade made via the Mac App Store was a largely painless experience. I say largely because the 3.7GB download failing with some incomprehensible error message as it approached 100% completion was more than a little frustrating but it worked the second time around (after another 1.5 hours downloading). After that, Lion installed in about 50 minutes.

Lion Performance Keeping up with tradition, here are a few terribly unscientific, real-world measures of performance…

Boot time (to login screen): 10.6.8 – 44.2 sec / 10.7.1 – 51.5 sec

Shutdown time: 3.3 sec / 4.3 sec

Time to launch iTunes: 9.2 sec / 3.6 sec

Time to launch iPhoto: 11.1 sec / 6.8 sec

As you see, Lion is a little slower to start up and to shutdown but applications load faster. Applications certainly feel snappier and i’d say a slower boot time is a fair, though admittedly disappointing, price to pay for it.

Lion’s New Features Of the ten “new features”that Apple highlighted in their marketing, which do i actually use?

  1. Multi-Touch Gestures – I like gestures but I accidentally continue to use the ones from Snow Leopard, with mixed results. For instance, the Lion gesture for showing the desktop (a 3 fingers and thumb ‘spread’) is apparently a lot harder for me to perform than the 4 finger swipe it replaced.

  2. Fullscreen Apps – I use apps in fullscreen mode a lot more than i expected i would. Having apps in fullscreen and simply swiping between them is really, really good. It feels right. Though it isn’t perfect. Here are a couple of examples of fullscreen mode’s failings: In Mail, if you compose a message when in fullscreen mode you can’t go and look at anything else in Mail (eg. new messages). Not without closing fullscreen mode at least. And in iPhoto, if you’re in fullscreen mode you don’t see attached devices. So if you want to get photos off your camera, you need to drop out of fullscreen first. Mildly inconvenient but very frustrating at times.

  3. Mission Control – I switch between apps using the swipe gestures and very rarely use Mission Control. It has its occasional uses though.

  4. Mac App Store – Yep, it’s the Mac App Store. Just like the one you had in Snow Leopard. Fine. Although i will say that it is, on occasion, rather clunky. I find it can take a while to render pages fully.

  5. Launchpad – I may be wrong, but i don’t think i’ve used it once in anger.

  6. Resume – There’s both good and bad here. That the computer returns to the state i shutdown in when it restarts is good. And in many apps, having what you were last working on re-appear is exactly what you want. But in other apps it isn’t. An example for me would be Preview. I tend to hit cmd-Q when i’m done inspecting the PDF or image that i just downloaded from the web. Then when Preview opens next time there’s some seemingly random image or document staring at me and it takes me a second to realise what it is and why it’s there. A little annoying.

  7. Autosave – I don’t think i regularly use any apps that make use of this feature.

  8. Versions – See Autosave.

  9. Airdrop – I’ve had no opportunity or call to try it out yet.

  10. Mail – I can’t say much about the revision has wowed me. Nor has anything really annoyed me (except the aforementioned fullscreen feature/bug).

Likes and Dislikes Some of my favourite bits of Lion are those not well touted. There’ve been some minor changes that make a big difference to me. Auto-correction of typos (a la iOS) is bloody marvellous, as is being able hold down keys to get to accented letters (also, a la iOS). One very quiet update is that OS X now features the Oxford English Dictionary. Fantastic! No more silly American dictionary for me. And the dictionary look-up with a 3 finger double-tap is a very, very handy addition. Furthermore, there’s now Quick Look in Spotlight search results and the overhaul of “About This Mac” window are great. It’s more friendly, giving a clear and simple run down of the basics of your computer (amount of RAM, amount of storage and what types of things are using it up, etc.) but there’s still access to System Profiler-level information for the more technically minded.

And dislikes? Well, I do not care for iCal’s new “leather” look. Address Book does similar but that doesn’t seem to bother me as much – it isn’t too offensive. iCal’s theme is horrible. Just horrible. HORRIBLE HORRIBLE HORRIBLE. Or that was my immediate reaction to it. Actually now i don’t really notice it. I have either grown to accept it or to ignore it. Probably ignore. Sort of like i do the ads in Google’s search results. The only other real problem i have with Lion is that touching or clicking my MacBook’s trackpad sometimes doesn’t clear the screensaver – you have to press a key. Most peculiar.

iOS 5

Installing iOS 5 I read many horror stories on the web, and heard a few first-hand, about the iOS 5 update going awry. Tales of apps (and their data), music, contacts and calendars being deleted or corrupted. And, worse still, people being unable to restore from the pre-installation backup. Fortunately mine went without hiccup: 20 mins to download the 770MB update and 50 mins for it to install. Done.

iOS 5 Performance No faster than iOS 4. And no slower.

iOS 5’s New features So, of the ten major changes to iOS highlighted by Apple, which do i actually make regular use of?

  1. Notifications – that you can set most notifications to appear as inobtrusive banners is a god-send. Hard to believe that we lived with pesky alerts for so long. Notifications on the lockscreen are very handy too but i regularly forget that the Notification Centre is just a down-swipe away from anywhere else. I was excited about the Notification Center and want to love it but it’s difficult because I have to actively remember to use it – it’s just not instinctive for me.

  2. Newsstand – I put this on the furthest-away of my homescreens and have never touched it.

  3. Twitter – I use twitter daily but, for me, it’s not the real world. It’s a collection of strangers – strangers that i like and, in some cases, get on with like friends but i don’t want to mix it with real life. So I’ve uninstalled the official twitter app and thus disabled all system-level twitter functions in iOS 5. To “do” twitter, i have to open up TweetBot. And that’s how i like it.

  4. Safari – I’m not sure i’ve made any real use of the Reader or Reading List features in Mobile Safari. I’ve tried to but always forget about them.

  5. Reminders – A fantastic app. Basically what i had been using an ineffectual mixture of Calendar and Notes to do before iOS 5. I make a lot of use of Reminders. Though the remind by location system is, unsurprisingly, far from perfect.

  6. Camera / Photos – The camera app opens slightly quicker than in iOS 4. And access to it from lockscreen is good. But i always forget that the photo editing options exist. So, welcome changes overall but 3rd party apps (such as Camera+) that i owned before iOS 5 came along still get more of my time.

  7. Mail – Meh.

  8. PC Free – Once the update to iOS 5 was complete i setup my iCloud account and chose to have my phone backup to iCloud rather than iTunes on my Mac, since that’d result in a automatic daily backup as opposed to a maybe-once-a-week backup. What i hadn’t counted on was how big that phone backup file might be – more on this later when i discuss iCloud. For now, let’s just say i’m making good use of iOS being “PC Free”.

  9. Game Center – I don’t think i’ve opened Game Center in iOS 5 yet.

  10. iMessage – I text a fair amount. And a good number of the people that i text have iPhones. Thus, i use iMessage quite a lot. There are many positives to its use. Being able to see if the recipient of your message is typing something back is great. Bypassing SMS and MMS fees (if you’re charged for them) is obviously very welcome. Being able to message people when you have flakey phone reception (but a lovely strong wifi connection) is fantastic. iMessage is great… when it works. I have found it to be very hit and miss, probably reverting to using SMS messaging about a third of the time. This isn’t an issue in itself (my phone contract includes “unlimited” texts) but what is annoying is that iMessage takes 3-4 minutes deciding it can’t route the message before switching to SMS. And that sort of ruins the immediacy of texting.

Likes and Dislikes I don’t really have much to add here to what i’ve already discussed above. I really like the improvements to notifications, I find the new Reminders app very useful and the Camera improvements, minimal as they may be, are welcome all the same. iMessage is great (when it works) and I am particularly pleased that i’m now able to push the onscreen keyboard out of way when trying to read messages. The one new feature I haven’t mentioned already (in this iOS section) that does see quite a lot of use on my phone is the dictionary lookup. Select a word and tap the arrow at the end of the cut/copy/paste pop-up and you’ll scroll over to a “Define” option. Tap this and a dictionary page slides into view. It’s very well done. I like it a lot.

As for negative comments… well, the Camera is still not as quick to open as i’d like and using the HDR option does add further delay to proceedings. My biggest hang-up though is simply iMessage’s temperamentality.


I should begin by stating that i never subscribed to MobileMe and so have no experience with Apple’s previous offerings in this arena. I saw MobileMe complained about a lot on twitter (etc) and iCloud too (though to a slightly lesser extent) but i have to say my experience of the service has been almost flawless thus far. After i’d initially setup my iCloud account i did end up with a full duplicate set of contacts and calendar entries on my laptop and phone but it wasn’t very difficult to rectify that situation and since then all has been well. I update my calendar on the phone, next time i turn on my Mac that change is in place. I update a contact in my Mac’s Address Book and pickup my phone to see the detail has quietly altered too. It does what i want and as i’d expect. So, syncing-wise i’m happy.

I’m also happy with how iCloud appears1 to backup my phone’s contents. As i mentioned above, once i’d set my phone to backup to iCloud rather than locally on my Mac it has seemed to work a charm. When i plug-in my phone at night to charge, it quietly makes use of this time to send the day’s file changes to the cloud. Like Time Machine for iOS (and using a faraway server instead of a local disk drive). My only disappointment – though i’m not sure that’s the correct word – is the size of the backup file. I’m currently using 1.5GB of my free 5GB iCloud storage just on the phone backup. That’s a big file to download2 should i ever need to restore from it. It’s the price to pay for having an automatic daily backup, i suppose. The alternative would be to backup to my laptop – meaning a quicker restore should it ever be necessary, but a recovery of data that is much more likely to be a week or more out-of-date. Swings and roundabouts, dear reader. Swings and roundabouts.

The final feature of iCloud that i’m interested in is Photo Stream. But i don’t use it yet. I’m fed up of having to connect a USB cable to take photos off the phone and itching to turn on this wireless syncing of photographs… but i refuse to until you can mark photos as not to be synced or delete photos from the stream. My phone’s Camera Roll contains lots and lots of rubbish (photos of things just a temporary aide-mémoire, screenshots of glitches in apps, etc) that i have absolutely no desire to keep a copy of on my Mac, yet with Photo Stream as it exists at present, these files would be uploaded and downloaded along with the rest. A waste of bandwidth, data allowances (potentially twice over – up to iCloud and back down again) and my time in deleting crap from iPhoto. I remain hopeful that this issue will be resolved in (not too distant) updates to iOS and Lion.

  1. I say “appears” because i’ve not yet needed to restore from a backup. I am operating on blind faith that the backup file stored in the iCloud is intact and usable should it ever be required. 

  2. And, perhaps more importantly, it’s also a big file to upload. My phone took nearly a week to upload the initial backup file to iCloud. See, my home broadband may download at over 6mbps but the upload rate is something pathetic like 0.35mbps. So if you do choose to backup to iCloud you’d better hope you don’t need to perform a restore in the first week or so of ownership. It’s also worth noting that if you do have a feeble uplink like mine, your internet connection will be next-to useless while the upload is underway. I never noticed with my phone (what-with only charging it while i’m asleep) but it took me several minutes of puzzling to realise that our broadband connection had gone to shit one evening because my wife had her iPhone quietly charging in the corner. I wonder how many households have spent a few days getting pissy with their ISP over a poor connection when it was actually their iPod/iPhone/iPad hogging the connection to send a backup file to the mothership?