Today, iOS 6 releases into the public filled with over 200 new features and functions to make this newest incarnation of iOS one of the most interesting yet.
Apple’s iOS 6 is the sixth iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system. Taking over from the fairly stable and robust iOS 5, iOS 6 comes packed with a huge list of new features, and a few noticeable omissions.
Likely the biggest change from previous iOS versions is the new Maps app. Thanks to an end to the previous licensing agreement, Apple has left the Google Map space and moved forward in implementing their vector based version of Maps. After their acquisitions of C3 Technologies and Placebase, enthusiasts have been waiting with baited breath on the imminent release of a completely in-house solution. iOS6 Maps is the culmination of these acquisitions, and it is pretty amazing.
As stated, Apple Maps is now vector based. Gone are the bandwidth cap hogging visual tiles of the Google Maps system. In it’s place is a clean, fast, and styling vector generated system. The app itself merely calls out for small bits of graphing data to draw out the unseen portions of the map. Since it no longer downloads map tiles, the app easily zooms and pans with smooth and fluid motions, rebuilding itself on the fly as needed. As an added bonus, rotating the map also automatically reorients text and elements on the screen for easier reading and switching over to the 3D angled mode is just as fast as the 2D version.
Another great long awaited feature is the addition of turn by turn navigation. Previously, the Google Maps app did provide route information that you could manually advance though, but with the new Maps app in iOS6, Apple has built in a voice prompting turn by turn system that integrates perfectly with the operating system. While there are plenty of turn by turn navigations apps such as TomTom and Waze, Apple’s version feels very in place and part of the core operating experience itself.
Integrating with Siri, you can easily start and stop navigation by simply saying “Show me directions to my office,” and Siri will start the navigation process. The navigation prompts are clear, but perhaps a bit too frequent for my tastes. There is no way to reduce the frequency of the prompts, just the volume at which Siri states them.
The navigation system also takes into account traffic information courtesy of TomTom and “others.” I’m not quite sure what “others” means just yet, but I would hope to assume that it is crowd sourced information from other iOS6 devices similar to how Waze provides accurate travel information. At the time of writing though, there are almost no iOS6 devices floating about, so I have to rely purely on the TomTom data.
The final new feature is the 3D flyover system. From your device, you can get a low flying bird’s eye view of a location, complete with accurate building texture renders. Though as expected, building renders are currently limited to the center of major cities. Currently Bing maps and Google Earth both have fairly extensive 3D renders of many cities so hopefully Apple will fill this feature out more as time goes on.
Moving on to Siri, Apple has slightly updated their voice activated personal assistant. Siri now supports even more commands and boasts a better recognition rate. While I never had a huge problem with Siri, I also admit I didn’t use it very often.
Siri supports asking sports questions, such as “What was the score of last week’s Cowboys game?” and “What movies are playing right now?” I would be remiss not to note that queries such as these are likely of limited use, but it’s the natural language querying that interests me the most.
Thanks to a partnership with OpenTable, you can ask Siri to “Find me reservations nearby” and it will hook into OpenTable, find a list of available reservations, and allow you to book it all without having to open a single app. Soon you might be able to do things such as “Siri play the latest episode of ‘Better Off Ted’ on Netflix.” If queries like that becomes integrated with devices such as AppleTV, the possibilities could be endless.
Finally, Siri also makes its appearance on the iPad, providing all the same features as the iPhone 4S counterpart. All you have to do is hold down the home button to activate. Instead of going full screen, a small card appears with Siri’s responses.
Last year, Apple showed you an iOS with integrated Twitter functionality. You could post images and videos and tweet directly from the phone itself without having to open up the Twitter app. This year, Apple extends this functionality by adding native Facebook integration.
You can now post photos, links, and videos from anywhere inside the operating system. Simply press the share button, and a new sharing pane pops up with many options, including Twitter and Facebook. Assuming the app used the standard sharing APIs, just about any media can be shared onto your wall.
Furthermore, you can now either tweet or post a status update via dedicated buttons on your notification drop down. The act of sharing itself is simple like the Twitter version. It includes options for adding your location (based on Facebook’s Places, but not general location), and defining privacy based on your friend lists.
The new Facebook integration also provides links between your Facebook friends and your phone’s contact book, syncing and adding contacts if you would like. Unfortunately, it is an all or nothing situation, possibly filling up your phone with tons of useless (and duplicated if names don’t match exactly) contact cards. To be honest, it’s not that much different from Facebook’s version built into their app, but it works much faster and can easily be undone via deselecting the Facebook group in your contacts.
Finally, you can also now directly like songs and apps from the iTunes store, allowing your whole friend list to know you like that latest Beiber hit you bought on iTunes.
Shared Photo Streams
Last year, Apple brought you iCloud and Photo Streams. When you took photos with your iOS device, it would automatically upload them. It was a great way to keep your photos semi protected and synced between devices. Having them appear on your Apple TV automatically is a fun feature for parties, and having them automatically load into iPhoto on your desktop is a great time saver.
This year, Apple expands Photo Stream to a whole new level with Shared Photo Streams. With this new feature, you can take a selection of photos and create a shared stream that other iOS users can subscribe to. When you add photos to this stream, they will also get these photos (along with a notification of new media). You can even create a public website of this stream for anyone to view. (such as this one)
Inside this system, subscribers can like and comment photos in a similar fashion to Facebook. This brings up a point of confusion and missed opportunity though. These likes and comments are specific to Apple themselves, and do not translate to anything on Facebook, or any other media platform. Also, as far as I can tell, there is no way to like, comment, or share on photos via the web album, severely limiting the usability of iCloud as a media sharing platform.
Apple also gave Safari a bit of a facelift as well with the addition of new iCloud tab syncing and new viewing modes. iCloud Tab syncing is a seamless and automatic link between all your iOS devices and your Mountain Lion Safari instances. You can open a bunch of tabs on your iPhone, move over to your iPad to open those same tabs, and then move to your computer’s Safari and open those same tabs again. On the desktop and on the iPad, the sync button is dominant on the window bar itself, whereas on the iPhone it is hidden in the bookmarks menu. It all works fairly immediately and in the background. It’s similar to Google’s version via Chrome, but it honestly works far better and more reliably.
Safari for the iPhone also provides a space saving full screen landscape mode, removing the UI elements for just that much more viewing space. Furthermore, Apple has greatly improved the synergy between Mountain Lion Safari and iOS Safari, providing the aforementioned iCloud tabs in addition to faster Offline Reading and Read Later support.
Apple also added a few new features to their basic phone system (for those who might actually use it as a phone). Taking a page out of the Android system, Apple now allows you to quickly respond with auto-generated text messages to a call you cannot answer right away. Simply pull up on the inbound call page and select the desired text message. You can also setup an immediate reminder to call the person back after a period of time or when you leave a location a la the geofencing features of the Reminders App.
Additionally, a new Do Not Disturb feature will silence your phone from calls and texts on defined time periods, only allowing contacts in your favorites list to reach you during the middle of the night. Do note that if an unapproved contact dials your phone twice in succession, it will ring on the second time just in case it was some type of emergency.
One of the biggest features of iOS6 is the new Passbook App. Passbook allows you to collect your coupons, tickets, and frequent member cards all into one virtual system for easy access. It’s similar to the combination of OneCard and Groupon. Passbook itself is also geo-aware, provided the passes added have geo-coding embedded. This way, say when you reach the airport, Passbook will automatically show you your plane ticket on your lock screen for easy access. When you get to a store with a coupon in your Passbook, it will show up in your notifications for quick redemption.
Passbook is still in its infancy, but all the major airlines as well as many ticketing agencies have pledged support.
In addition to the above, iOS6 has many more tweaks to talk about. Mail has a new VIP inbox system, allowing you to define a separate list where inbound messages are isolated for easy viewing and FaceTime now works over cellular networks (carrier restrictions apply).
The camera app has a new built in Panorama mode, which is fairly decent. By using a sweeping motion, the camera app will stitch together a panorama image, automatically cleaning up imperfections (such as moving objects). I found it was decent, but arguably not as good as some of the third party apps such as Photosynth. It requires more testing, but the ease of use is unquestioned.
In a boon to kiosk developers and other special needs users, iOS6 boasts improved accessibilty modes including a “Guided Access” mode which prevents the user from exiting an app.
One of the most exciting features to me though is the addition of a Clock to the iPad. It’s a simple but a sorely missed omission for the last three years.
Apple’s iOS6 has even more features to talk about which would make this already lengthy article that much longer. Needless to say, this is a large update and an exciting one at that.
Apple’s iOS6 is available on the iPhone 3GS and newer, the iPod Touch 4th gen and newer, and the iPad 2 and newer.