Apple's iOS 6: What's New and What's Missing

iOS 6: Big Changes and Additions

As was the case with every iOS release before it, Apple is promising some fairly major enhancements and new features with iOS 6. iOS 5 was a major release in its own right, bringing Siri -- a voice-controlled assistant -- to the mix and yet again raising the bar in mobile operating systems. It also introduced a drop-down Notification shade, similar to that which was already a part of Android. But a year has come and gone, and at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco this past week, the veil was removed from iOS 6. The beta version actually became available for devs to download a few days ago, getting the new code into the hands of those that produce the apps in the jam-packed App Store.

Apple apparently has a thing for offering "200 new features" in their operating systems; iOS 6 seems to be following Mountain Lion in that regard. 200 tweaks may sound like a lot (and it is), but there are a few key additions, updates and changes with iOS 6 that deserve a closer look. Let's dive into the biggest upcoming changes that could have even Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone loyalists thinking twice about Apple's iPhone.

Apple's Maps -

It goes without saying that this is a dagger in the heart of Google. Apple and Google have been friction-filled partners for years, with Google's map data populating iOS throughout. But all of that changes with iOS 6. A Googlefied version of its mapping system will surely still be available in the App Store, but the default option will be one cooked up by Apple. Here's what you need to know:
  • iOS 6 Maps uses TomTom mapping and traffic data
  • Siri will hook into these maps, and turn-by-turn vehicle navigation is included for free
  • Crowd-sourced information will enable traffic alerts to be near-real time
  • No mass transit or walking options were listed in the beta
  • No offline mode was talked about, though Google's Maps for iOS will include offline mapping in the coming weeks
  • 3D "Flyover" maps will add a new dimension, but will only work on the iPhone 4S, iPad 2 and the new iPad; older models won't support the advanced graphics
  • Maps will work even in the lock screen; perfect for use in car mounts

A More Mature Siri -
Siri is growing up in iOS 6, bringing a number of major improvements. Here's what you need to know:
  • Siri is finally coming to the new iPad (but not older ones) in iOS 6
  • Siri now understands questions about sports and movies, bringing up nearby listings and enabling Fandango ticket purchases
  • Siri understands more languages and works in more countries
  • Siri can find the best restaurants in town and make reservations
  • Siri can now launch apps by just saying their name(s)
  • You can use Siri to post Facebook updates and tweet for you
  • Nine automakers have promised to eventually integrate Siri into their cars; just hit the Voice button in your car, and it'll activate Siri if your iPhone is paired to the infotainment system

Facebook Integration -

Just as Twitter became integrated into the fabric of iOS 5, Apple is doing likewise with Facebook in iOS 6. Everything you can do now with Twitter, you'll be able to do with Facebook as well in iOS 6. Sign-ins will be more seamless, Siri can handle status updates, and you'll be able to share a photo to Facebook right from the Camera or Photos apps. Who got spurned? Google, because there's no Google+ integration. Then again, there's no Google+ integration in Android either so there's not reason to expect Apple to blaze that trail, especially since Apple is pulling other Google services out of iOS in favor of their solutions.

Passbook -
You've already got a lot of options to keep your loyalty cards together in one place, but Passbook offers something slightly different. It's a single app, but it collects and intelligently displays boarding passes, movie tickets, retail coupons, and loyalty cards. Best of all, any changes (gate changes, amount differences, etc.) are displayed in Passbook as they happen so long as you have a data connection. One major issue though, is that this is a partnership deal; so far, only United has signed up in terms of airlines. There are a ton of missing carriers at this point.

Enhanced FaceTime -

FaceTime will finally support video chatting over cellular networks with iOS 6. But be warned: these chats run through around 3MB per minute, which will murder your LTE data plan in short order. Just because it's possible doesn't mean it's advisable.

New Phone Dialer Features -
Yes, the dialer. Some people still use iPhones to call people -- crazy, right? Apple is adding some much needed calling features here -- stuff that has been on other platforms already. Now, when you decline an incoming call, you can reply with a text message or set a callback reminder. There's also a Do Not Disturb setting that'll bypass calls, except for those from callers you put on a VIP list.

Mail -
Speaking of VIPs, your new inbox will have a VIP label that'll make sifting through messages easier. Of course, if you use Sparrow or Gmail, this is useless.

Safari -

Talk about a good way to get people to actually use the Safari browser on the desktop. iCloud Tabs keeps track of which pages you have open on your devices, so you can start browsing on one device and pick up right where you left off on whatever device is handy. Safari now saves web pages — not just links — in your Reading List, so you can catch up on your reading even when you can’t connect to the Internet.

Guided Access -

Apple really doesn't get enough credit for this, but the company is working hard to bring iOS to those with disabilities. Guided Access helps students with disabilities 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, as well as restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen. VoiceOver, a screen reader technology for blind and low-vision users, is now integrated with Maps, AssistiveTouch, and Zoom.

Not bad, right? Certainly not for free, if you're an iPhone 4S user. And these updates will definitely have people considering the switch to the iPhone 5 once both (presumably) hit in the fall. But, it's not a done deal for Apple. iOS 6 still has a lot of holes, which we'll discuss on the next page...

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