Apple, sliced up: iOS 5 irregularities in iPad and iPhone

Now you see them, now you don't. InfoWorld's guide tells you which iOS 5 features work where

A friend told me about the iOS 5 Reminders app's ability to set alerts based on your location, such as reminding you to pick up the kid when you leave the office, and I was puzzled. I hadn't seen that on my iPad, but sure enough it's mentioned on Apple's website. Not so clearly mentioned is that this feature runs only on the iPhone, even though both the iPhone and 3G-enabled iPad have location detection. This is not the only example of iOS capabilities that you get on some devices, but not all. A few make sense, but most of these limited-availability functions don't need to be so restricted.

If you use multiple iOS devices, here are the capabilities that work differently across your devices. Don't worry -- it's not your mind playing tricks when that feature you thought you saw doesn't appear on the device you currently have in hand.

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Location-based alerts in Reminders. This feature works on the iPhone but not the iPod Touch or iPad. That's annoying on two fronts. The iPad supports location detection, especially the 3G model. So why can't its task alerts be location-savvy as well? Then there's the issue of syncing: One of the advantages of iOS is that settings, apps, and more sync across all the ones you own via iCloud.

It makes perfect sense to want to set a location-aware reminder on an iPad or iPod Touch, as you know it'll get to your iPhone in due course and function there. But Apple lets you set location alerts only from the iPhone. Plus, you can't view or modify a location alert set on your iPhone on your iPad or iPod Touch -- the synced copy doesn't contain that information.

Image editing in Photos. This feature works only on the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPad 2. With it, you can crop, straighten, remove red eye, and apply image enhancement to photos and images stored in the Photos app. It doesn't work on the original iPad or iPod Touch, presumably because these devices don't have cameras. But with the ease of syncing via iTunes or iCloud, these devices could easily have photos on them that you'd want to retouch. The original iPad and 2010- and 2011-era iPod Touches have as much processing ability as the iPhone 4, so they could in fact apply these effects.

UPDATED 10/10/11: Multitasking gestures. iOS 5 introduced four-finger app-switching gestures to make it easier to navigate what's running on your device, a feature also available in Mac OS X Lion via a recent MacBook's touchpad or through the wireless Magic Trackpad for pretty much any Mac. But you can't get these gestures on an original iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. I can see the argument that the small screen of an iPhone or iPod Touch would be a poor fit for four-finger gestures. But why not on the original iPad? In fact, the beta version of iOS 5 provided this capability to that device. And, thankfully, the iOS 5.01 update brings these gestures to the original iPad.

Custom vibrations. The custom vibrations capability, available for iPhones only in the Accessibility settings of the Settings app's General pane, is a nifty innovation that lets you create your own vibration patterns -- you tap them out on the screen, then save them -- that you can then associate to specific people in the Contacts app. Based on the vibration in your pocket, you'll know who's calling, but you can't create, edit, or assign these custom vibrations on other iOS devices.

I get why you can't use them -- they don't vibrate -- but because these settings are attached to your contacts, which are synced across your devices, you'd think that the ability to set and assign custom vibrations would also be universal, akin to assigning text tones. I also wish I could assign ringtones to my synced contacts on the iPod Touch for the same reason, but iOS doesn't let me because the iPod Touch isn't a technically phone. Never mind it can run Skype and other such apps.

Downloading podcasts from the Music app. This difference among devices makes no sense. On the iPhone and iPod Touch, you can tap the Get More Episodes action when viewing your podcast library to download additional episodes -- very handy when you haven't synced to iTunes for a while and want to get the latest episodes. But you can't do this on the iPad. Instead, in its spare new Music app, you can only listen to the podcasts you already have. You have to go to the iTunes Store and search for the podcasts you want, then download them -- a multistep process that shouldn't be needed.

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