By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Apple’s iOS 6 mobile operating system is the lifeblood of its ecosystem. It is the glue that holds together the popular iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads to thousands of applications that expand functionality and ease of use.
iOS 6 is the newest version of the oldest modern mobile operating system. iOS was a year ahead of the earliest dessert-themed mobile OS from Google and three years ahead of the tile happy Windows Phone.
Each year, Apple plans a major iOS update to correspond with a new iPhone launch and 2012 is no different. The iPhone 5 will be hitting Apple Retail Stores tomorrow but owners of older iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and various iPod Touches and recent iPad 2’s and iPad Retinas can already sip some of that sweet iOS 6 nectar.
iOS 6 is an over the air update that can be downloaded through the Software Update setting. TechCrunch has posted a comprehensive diagram of which iOS devices are getting which features.
User Centric at the Core
I have had some time to play with iOS 6 on the iPhone 5, the iPhone 4S and the iPad with Retina Display. It is very clear that while Apple is touting 200+ new features, the most important ones are really focused on the user.
iOS 6 is the most user-centric update to iOS I have ever used. It just feels like Apple’s engineers thought about how to make devices better by giving users features that they want and would use the most.
Take for example the deep integration that Facebook and Twitter now enjoy at the root level of the OS. As an avid Twitter user, it is so convenient to swipe down the notification center window blind on the home screen and have the option to “Tap to Tweet,” at will.
Facebook is even more integrated, as Apple explains it:
“Now it’s easier than ever to interact with the world’s largest social network. And there’s no need to leave your app to do it. Share a photo to Facebook right from Camera or Photos. Post your location right from Maps. Brag about a high score right from Game Center. If you have your hands full, just ask Siri to post for you.”
Sharing from most apps with the option will bring up a number of services like mail, Twitter, Facebook, Message, Photo Stream, Assign to Contact, Print, Copy and Use as WallPaper.
Better Calling Features
In the hectic race in smartphone supremacy, a lot of companies focus on the sexy specs like speed and number of processor cores, speed, screen size, storage space and camera capabilities.
While these are all important specs and key differentiators, we’re hearing less and less about upgrades to actual phone functions for when we have to make or take voice calls. iOS 6 has a few simple but useful innovations in this space.
If users don’t want to answer an incoming phone call, they are now given a number of options such as sending the caller to voicemail, reply with a quick text message, or set a callback reminder.
There are even canned text messages that you can use or compose beforehand to use at a moment’s notice.
The Do Not Disturb feature silences incoming calls and notifications (except for pre-assigned contacts). You can also set Do Not Disturb "quiet hours", a feature I loved on my BlackBerry years ago, which lets your iPhone tune out and be available at times of your choosing.
NFC (Near Field Communication) is nowhere near critical mass, it is one of those technologies that sounds cool and revolutionary but requires a huge investment to actually take off.
I can count in one hand the number of devices I have tested and reviewed that had NFC and even among the ones I personally own, I’ve only used the feature once or twice as it was rather, janky, in my experience.
iOS 6 bring a new feature called Passbook which serves as a mobile wallet and organizer for coupons, tickets, discount cards, IDs, passes and various other loyalty cards and passes.
Generating attractive virtual cards that can be read by bar code readers and scanners, Passbook solves the intermediate problem of mobile/touchless transactions, which is not all devices have NFC built-in.
But all iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads have screens which is the main component used to interact with kiosks and cashiers.
Again, this shows convenience for the user. Open the app, find the ticket you need and let the bar code read it. Two, three seconds max, and the transaction is done.
There are a limited number of businesses running on Passbook right now, and none of them are Canadian but I hope interest in this solution picks up because it is so simple yet so potentially game changing.
If financial institutions can figure out a way to interface with Passbook for mobile payments, Apple will have a big win on its hands and its customers will be able to enjoy this added convenience.
FaceTime was the big video chat feature in iOS two years ago and I think it is still one of iOS’s strongest features which no competitor has managed to match even two years later.
With FaceTime, users on iOS devices or recent Macs can use their WiFi connection to video chat. This is free all over the world. It has kept my family in touch across three continents and made it possible to share various moments, both big and small, as if you were together.
FaceTime on the iPhone or data-capable iPads can now work over 3G data which means you don’t need to be within range of WiFi. If your mobile carrier permits the feature, you should be able to FaceTime from just about anywhere (provided you are willing to pay for the bandwidth)
Siri was last year’s killer feature for iOS and was the toast of the tech world for a while.
The voice assistant was celebrated in various TV spots and even had a stand up routine in this year’s WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference).
Well, Siri gets a lot smarter and more local in iOS 6.
Canadians will be pleased to know that Siri can now find nearby restaurants complete with ratings, directions and contact information.
Siri can even make reservations in establishments that support OpenTable, which is amazing.
Siri has also become something of a sports geek and can spit out scores, stats and various bits of trivia and information.
Siri is also handier and can be asked to post Tweets or text messages on your behalf which is great when your hands are full. Siri, just like iOS 6, is evolving to better serve users, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg with this technology and Apple certainly has a head start.
Some iPhone models get the new Panorama feature which works extremely well on the iPhone 4S. All you have to do is press the shutter button and slowly pan along the desired area. Panaorama is pretty smart since even when there is movement, like people walking, the software can stitch it to minimize the effect of that movement. It is a nice perk for sure. You can also do more with the photos and share in various ways with only a few taps on the screen.
iOS is increasingly becoming better at accessibility. iOS 6 comes with even more features to make it easier for people with vision, hearing, learning, and mobility disabilities to get the most from their iOS devices.
Guided Access helps students with disabilities such as autism remain on task and focused on content. It allows a parent, teacher, or administrator to limit an iOS device to one app by disabling the Home button and can restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen.
The VoiceOver feature, is an innovative screen reader for blind and low-vision users, and it is now integrated with Maps, AssistiveTouch, and Zoom.
And Apple is working with top manufacturers to introduce Made for iPhone hearing aids that will deliver a power-efficient, high-quality digital audio experience going forward.
Apple no longer includes YouTube or Google Maps in iOS 6.
YouTube was outdated and limited in what it could watch and Google has made a modern version available for download.
Google Maps got jettisoned because of expired licensing and because Apple now has its own solution.
Mapping and navigation are two areas where Apple is actually playing catch up with the likes of Google and Nokia, who have more developed products.
But the Maps app in iOS is a multifaceted solution that, while still in its infancy, has unlimited potential in a number of areas.
Aside from basic mapping features, Maps has a stunning Flyover feature that gives users a 3D birds-eye-view of popular cities.
One can easily pinch, zoom and scroll to navigate highly details 3D maps which is helpful even if it isn’t as polished or as down-to-the-ground as Google’s Street View.
Maps also features turn-by-turn directions which are totally helpful for users who don’t have a dedicated GPS and need to go somewhere new. Live traffic information also has a lot of promise and is a feature some GPS companies charge a premium for.
Yelp is now integrated into Maps so when you're searching for a burger joint, you will get Yelp info, contact info, ratings and even store hours which is immensely helpful when you are on the road.
Voiced by Siri, the navigation aspect of iOS is impressive for such a new feature. The thing about any mapping and navigation application is that it is in constant flux and one as early as the one in iOS 6 will certainly require a lot of tuning going forward, but it is a great start and a feature that users will be happy to have at their disposal.
There is much more to iOS 6 and I will continue to make notes as I use it in the wild on a day to day basis. The improvements aren’t monumental but they are significant and the look and feel of various apps (like the iTunes Store), the iPod App have been given a nice makeover.
There are some improvements I would have wanted to see in this update like a universal solution to printing from iOS devices on non-AirPrint printers or a way to create ad-hoc or peer-to-peer networks between iOS devices within a certain proximity would have been cool. Similar to the way webOS allowed Pre smartphones to share webpages and documents wirelessly with TouchPad tablets.
iOS 6 is about refining the user experience and making the devices more connected and intuitive as well as more user friendly. It may have 200 new features but what stands out the most about iOS 6 are the countless little conveniences that make using the devices much more enjoyable.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5