iOS 5: The Basics

Everything you need to know about iOS 5

An iphone running iOS5

 Francis Dean/Getty Images

Major new versions of the iOS operating system are exciting. After all, they deliver tons of new features, fix nasty bugs, and generally improve the way the devices they run on work. That's certainly true of iOS 5.

But a new version of the iOS isn't entirely positive for everyone. Every time Apple releases a major new iOS version, owners of older models of the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad hold their breath as they wait to find out if their device is compatible with the new OS.

Sometimes the news is good: their device is compatible. Sometimes it's mixed: their device can run the new OS, but can't use all of its features. And, inevitably, some models won't work with the new iOS, forcing their owners to decide if they want to upgrade their devices to newer models that support the new OS (find out if you're eligible for an upgrade).

For owners of iOS devices, those questions arose in spring 2011 when Apple first demonstrated iOS 5 to the public. To find out if your device is compatible with iOS 5, and to get the most important details about iOS 5, read on.

iOS 5 Compatible Apple Devices

iPhone iPad iPod touch

iPhone 4S

3rd Generation

4th generation
iPod touch


iPhone 4


iPad 2


3rd generation
iPod touch


iPhone 3GS




Implications for Older iPhone and iPod touch Models

Older models of the iPhone and iPod touch not in the chart above are not compatible with iOS 5. Owners of the iPhone 3G and 2nd generation iPod touch could use every version of the iOS up to iOS 4, but not iOS 5. Owners of the original iPhone and iPod touch could not upgrade beyond iOS 3.

iOS 5 Features

With iOS 5, Apple introduced a number of key features to the iPhone and iPod touch. These are features that later users take for granted, but they were breakthrough, welcome additions at the time. Some of the key new features introduced in iOS 5 include:

  • Notification Center and support for push notifications
  • iCloud
  • PC-free activation: prior to iOS 5, you had to connect your iPhone to a computer in order to set it up. With this, you could unbox an iPhone and it up on its own, right away
  • Syncing over Wi-Fi. Prior to this, physically connecting to a computer had been required in order to move content back and forth
  • Over-the-air software updates. This is another task that used to require a connection to a computer. In keeping with PC-free activation, OS updates were now PC-free, too
  • iMessage for text messaging
  • Access to Camera app from the lock screen
  • Pressing volume up button takes a picture in the Camera app
  • Reminders app
  • Newsstand 
  • iPod app split into separate Music and Videos apps
  • Multitasking gestures on the iPad 2 and up.

Later iOS 5 Releases

Apple released three updates to iOS 5 that fixed bugs and added new features. All three of these updates — iOS 5.01, 5.1, and 5.1.1 — are compatible with all of the devices listed above.

To learn more about what each version of iOS 5 included, check out our history of iOS versions.

iOS 5 Release History

  • iOS 5.1.1 release: May 7, 2012
  • iOS 5.1 release: March 8, 2012
  • iOS 5.0.1 release: Nov. 10, 2011
  • iOS 5 release: Oct. 12, 2011

iOS 6 was released on September 19, 2012 and replaced iOS 5 at that time.