iOS 6 Features Overview

Summary: Along with the iPhone 5, Apple has confirmed the release date for iOS 6. We take a look at the features and what you need to know.

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Along with the hype and hyperbole of the iPhone 5 launch comes the final release date for the newest Apple operating system iOS 6, and the official word on what's being offered.

Apple has announced the new software will come with more than 200 new features and enhancements, although not all of these will be available on all devices and in all countries. The main changes include a new Maps application to replace Google Maps, enhanced and smarter Siri voice recognition, better Facebook integration and the introduction of Passbook.

iOS 6 will be available as a free upgrade to iPhones from the 3GS onwards, the iPad 2 and 3rd generation ‘new’ iPad, and 4th and 5th generation iPod touch models from September 19th, and will ship out with iPhone 5 from September 21st.

Maps

In a not-too-subtle challenge to Google, Apple has launched its own in-house mapping program for iOS 6. Although previous operating systems had used Google Maps, many of the features of the application were kept exclusive to Android devices. The Apple mapping app features Siri Voice navigation and real-time traffic data and updates on traffic conditions, which it uses to offer drivers an ETA, and to source alternative routes in the event of accidents, traffic jams or roadwork. Unfortunately the features that sounded especially exciting, such as turn-by-turn navigation, 3D flyover of an area, and Yelp! integration for business reviews and information, won’t be available to Australian users yet.

Incoming Calls

iOS 6 gives users more options regarding how and when they get back to people - there’s a Decline Incoming Call feature which can instantly set a call back reminder for a certain time, or send the person a text. Users will also be able to activate Call When You Leave, which uses location services to detect when you are leaving a building (or when you arrive home) and reminds you to make a call . You will be able to set Do Not Disturb options to prevent text messages or push notifications from disturbing you at night or certain times, and it also enables you to silence calls from certain contacts while allowing others through.

Facebook

iOS 6 will provide Apple users with a much higher level of integration between Facebook and other applications, meaning more ways to dominate the news feed and annoy your friends. You’ll be able to log in Facebook once and then post from a variety of apps – users can share photos from within their Camera or Photos apps, post their location straight from Maps, share links directly from Safari and post scores from the Games Centre. Facebook will also be integrated with both the App Store and iTunes, so users can ‘like’ specific apps, songs or films directly. You’ll also be able to update your status hands-free by dictating to Siri, and your Facebook friends’ profiles will be integrated into Contacts so any changes to their details made through the site will automatically update on your phone. Your Facebook calendar will also integrate with your iPhone calendar, meaning that events and birthdays will appear on your phone as they are created or added on Facebook.

Passbook

This is one of the most hyped enhancements, giving users a place to store all their tickets, gift cards, coupons, boarding passes and more. Passbook uses scannable barcodes to permit you to swipe your iPhone or iPod touch across a reader to redeem cards, or check in for flights and events. Conveniently, the app is time and location enabled, so by using your device’s GPS it brings up the appropriate ticket or card automatically, even when the device is locked. In the case of boarding passes, Passbook will alert flyers to any gate or flight changes or delays. It will also show users details such as when coupons and cards expire and remaining balances, or where their seats at an event are located.

As the iPhone 5 doesn’t feature a NFC chip, it’s not yet possible to use Passbook as a digital wallet to make payments, but this will be a likely enhancement in the future. Another challenge is whether this feature will be of real use to non-US users yet, and if retailers worldwide outside of airlines or Starbucks will be quick to jump on board. Assuming Australian outlets make their cards and tickets compatible, it looks to be one of the highlights of iOS6 and a rival to the similar Google Wallet. Like Google Wallet, Passbook will no doubt raise issues of security and privacy among critics, and there are already questions as to how long this kind of technology will stay fee-free for users.

Siri

The updated Siri will reportedly be better at fielding questions, and will be available in a large number of other languages and locations. As already mentioned, it will integrate with Facebook and will also feature enhancements to provide you with up-to-date sports scores and statistics (although it’s not clear yet whether this will apply to sports outside of the major American leagues). Siri can assist users with restaurant and movie information through Yelp! reviews and Rotten Tomatoes, but many of the much-touted improvements will only be available to North American and UK users, such as making reservations through OpenTable and providing movie showtimes upon request. You can also use Siri to open your apps for you tap-free, and interestingly Apple is working with car manufacturers to implement an ‘eyes free’ mode in which users can activate Siri by pressing a voice control button on the steering wheel. 'Eyes free' is expected to allow users to make phone calls and compose/read text messages, uses Maps and get directions, select and play music, etc. while keeping their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

Mail

Apple has announced that its Mail application will be more streamlined and include a better organised interface, which will make it easier for users to add photos and video to email. There’s also the option of setting up a ‘VIP list’ of contacts so you won’t miss important emails; they'll go to a separate inbox, and you can be sent notifications when new messages are received.

Safari

New enhancements to Safari will please Apple users with multiple devices. iCloud tabs will keep track of which pages users have open on each of their devices and their combined browsing history, allowing them to browse on one device and pick up where they left off on another. Safari will also allow users to take photos or videos to post online, or select photos from their Camera Roll, without leaving their web browser, which is handy for sites such as eBay or Craigslist. The iOS 6 version also allows web pages to be displayed full-screen in landscape, and can save web pages to a user’s Reading List to be viewed even without an internet connection.

Photo Stream

This new feature allows users to share photos with selected friends using iCloud. The feature works through the Photos app; users can tap photos, select 'Share', and choose the recipients. Friends using iCloud on an iOS 6 device or Mountain Lion on a Mac will receive photos immediately to their Photos or iPhoto apps, and you can view your shared Photo Streams through Apple TV. Photos can also be viewed on the Web, to share with contacts who don't have an Apple device. This seems to be one of the less impressive features; even though people who can see your photos are able to ‘like’ them and add comments, this isn’t particularly innovative in a world where Facebook and Instagram provide the same thing for users across all operating systems.

Other improvements:

  • Camera – Panorama will be available for the 4S and 5, and iPod touch 5th generation, and will allow users to shoot up to 240 degrees horizontally or vertically. The camera will also include improved HDR.
  • Find My iPhone/ Lost Mode – In the event their phone goes missing, users can remotely lock their phone with their 4 digit passcode and send it a message displaying a contact number, which finders can call to locate the owner without being able to access the phone’s information. The device can also use location services to track its own location history, and report back to its owner through the Find My iPhone app.
  • Find My Friends – Using GPS, the locations of consenting friends and family will appear on a map, so users can keep track of contacts. You can also receive location-based alerts such as when people arrive or leave a location, which could either be seen as convenient or slightly stalky.
  • iTunes, iBookstore and the App Store will be remodelled for easier use, and users can also purchase content from within other applications. You’ll also be able to install free applications without your Apple ID and password.
  • Accessibility - iOS 6 will include Guided Access to restrict touch access to a single app, or allow users to disable certain controls within applications. Voice Over will be integrated with Maps, Assistive Touch and Zoom, and Apple also announced it is working to introduce made-for-iPhone hearing aids.
  • FaceTime will now work over cellular networks as well as WiFi for iPhone 4S and above, and the 3rd generation iPad.

Conclusions

Overall, iOS 6 doesn't offer any major surprises. The Siri enhancements are welcome, but considering that much of the voice recognition upgrade won't be available locally it's slightly disappointing. Passbook has the potential to significantly increase the prominence of digital marketing and, when Apple introduce a NFC chip, eventually edge out traditional payments and cash money. For now, it will be interesting to see just how much this app gets used outside of the States, and at what rate retailers sign up to be involved. The changes to how users can accept or decline incoming calls will be handy, as will the updated interface for Mail. A big let-down so far is that the Maps turn-by-turn Siri navigation feature won't be supported in Australia, along with the very cool-sounding Flyover - although it appears traffic reports, updates and alernate route suggestions will be included. Social media lovers will appreciate the further integration of Facebook into virtually everything, although some may find it a little invasive. What remains to be seen is if the added screen size of the iPhone 5 and extra row of apps will have any effect on iOS 6 upgrades for earlier iPhone models - so far, Apple haven't suggested it will be an issue.

Regardless, a combination of the iOS 6 features and new hardware will see the iPhone 5 cause the usual frenzy of consumerism that accompanies a new Apple product release. For owners of older iPhone models, it's an improved upgrade if you're not ready to buy into the iPhone 5 hype just yet.

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