Apple held its 23rd annual World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWC) the other day and in it was shown off a bunch of new Apple products and services, amongst which was iOS6; the next iteration of Apple’s popular mobile operating system (OS). Each year Apple releases a new major update for its mobile platform and pushes it out to its iPhone, iPad and iPod touch lines. So what will iOS6 be bringing to the table and what do these changes implicate?
Updates to Siri
Siri has seen a few updates ranging from esoteric to generally useful. However, as with much of the original Siri functionality, many of these updates sound as if they will be specific to users within the US, and only see limited support globally.
The most notable of the Siri updates are:
- Restaurants. Siri now has a restaurant focus that includes reviews, photos, menus and easy access to over-the-web table bookings. During the demonstration Siri was instructed to “find a great place for dinner” and a list of local restaurants ordered by star-rating was provided. Ratings and reviews are drawn from Yelp, with the option to jump straight to the Yelp app’s section for each specific restaurant available within the list of Siri’s suggestions.
- Sports. Siri now has a detailed and live-updated sports information feature that draws data from multiple sources. Users can ask questions about game results, player statistics, player bios and more. The only sports that were demonstrated were American sports; baseball, basketball and NFL. Mention of the English Premier League (football/soccer) was also made, however support for other global sports was left out. Sports fans outside of the US should be aware that this is a feature that could be limited for global users.
- Movie Timetables. Movie timetables have been provided. Once again this sounds like the kind of feature that may only see US functionality, or at least be limited outside of the US. However, it’s more than possible that global adoption could happen, as major movie cinemas shouldn’t have trouble realising the marketing potential of Siri support.
- Other Movie Support. Siri now has added support for questions regarding specific movies, actors or directors. The movie review service Rotten Tomatoes has also seen integration, allowing users to easily check up on movie review scores and opinions.
- Eyes-Free. Already hands-free, Siri is now seeing some impressive ‘eyes-free’ updates. This feature is designed for in-car use and allows the user to communicate with Siri without the screen lighting up. This feature will also see integration with Apple’s new Maps suite, which we’ll discuss a little later on. Through maps Siri users will be able to ask questions about convenient places to fill up on petrol along their current route, be given alternate routes if traffic is too slow and be warned about upcoming traffic incidents. This can all be done without activating the screen.
- New language and regionally-specific language support.
- Local Search will see increased global support.
Facebook is going to see some deeper integration within iOS. Official apps, such as Game Center, will have Like and Share options within the app itself without the user being required to leave the screen that they’re currently on. The Apple App Store will also see these features. Basically it sounds like a new way to easily post generally unimportant things to your Facebook timeline. But that probably appeals to a lot of folks out there.
Firstly, we’d just like to say that it’s kind of hilarious that Apple has started referring to the phone part of the iPhone as an ‘app’. Secondly, Apple has actually added some nifty sounding functionality to its phone app.
The update comes in the form of a slide-up bar that can be accessed while a call is incoming. Instead of only answering or hanging up, users can access the new tray and set a reminder to call the person back, or immediately reply to the person via SMS.
Selecting the reminder brings up a list of options, most of which are location-specific. After “In one hour” the default options of “When I leave”, “When I get home” and “When I get to work” are available. “When I leave” is particularly impressive, as it constructs a ‘geo-fence’ around your current location that activates the reminder when you pass through it. The SMS option also has some preset messages that you can send without actually having to type anything. Alternatively you can hit the “Custom” option to write your own.
Apple has completely done away with Google Maps and created its own fully-featured map system ‘from the ground up’. Read: Apple bought a map development company and tweaked everything to run smoothly over Apple devices. That being said, Apple Maps sounds fantastic.
Not only does the new Maps feature appear to rival Google Maps in its comprehensiveness and size, it also sports great iOS integration.
Already over 100 million local businesses have been added to this new service, with more and more available every day. We picked 4 major points to highlight about Apple’s new Maps feature.
- Siri integration: The new Maps service will feature Siri integration at a much deeper level, going beyond merely asking for directions from one place to another. This ties in especially well with the next point of interest.
- Turn-by-turn. Apple Maps will feature a completely free turn-by-turn navigator. This is not a separate app, but is part of the overall maps experience. That means that users can easily zoom out and check the surrounding area while receiving turn-by-turn directions before returning to the default view at the tap of a button. This feature will also see heavy Siri integration and live-updated traffic conditions. Routes can be adjusted by talking to Siri and things like convenient petrol stations can be found without diverting from your current route. If traffic is detected as being too thick a new route will be calculated and automatically suggested to the driver, at which point the new route can be accepted or declined. Overall this sounds like a well-rounded, intuitive and easy to use service that will be hard for the competition to beat.
- 3D view. Using turn-by-turn or just browsing maps a 3D view of more populated areas will be available. This view is very basic in its skin, meaning that it can render quickly. However, despite this basic colour scheme the building shapes are impressively detailed and accurate.
- Fly Over: Fly Over is Apple’s answer to what Google recently showed off with its new 3D functionality. Fly Over is a much more detailed 3D view of an area, complete with photo-accurate images of buildings and landmarks. This view presents a fully rendered 3D environment that can be pivoted, angle-adjusted and zoomed in and out of. It’s an impressive feature and a great way to get your bearings, or simply explore an area that you’ve never been to.
Apple’s new maps service actually looks like it can compete convincingly with the long-time title holder: Google Maps. Not only that, but tight integration with iOS means that Apple can make a lot of iPhone and iPad-specific tweaks that should help smooth out the Maps experience for users with multiple Apple devices.
Pass Book is a new app aimed at simplifying the increasing use of on-phone e-tickets, passes and store cards. Instead of having to find a ticket, pass or card within its specific app, Pass Book unifies all of those tickets in to a single area with an easy-to-navigate interface.
Not only that, but these tickets can be GPS activated. For instance, the purchase of a movie ticket online can lead to that ticket being available right from the lock screen one you reach the cinema for which it was purchased. Similarly, a Starbucks customer card will appear when you are in Starbucks. Simply slide the lock screen option to unlock and go straight to the ticket or card in question.
Updates to these passes, such as a change of arrival gate for a plane ticket, will also send notifications that will allow users to jump straight to the ticket and view the changes themselves.
This is the kind of thing that we can see becoming exceptionally handy over the next few years as e-commerce increases in daily life.
Do Not Disturb
This new setting has a lot of people talking about it, but we’re not sure how often it will be used in the long run. Do Not Disturb mode can be activated through the settings menu. Basically it’s kind of a way of turning your phone off without turning it off. All notifications are disabled and as a result the screen does not light up, no sounds are made and vibration is cut off. The best thing about this setting is that you can set DND mode to still allow notifications from specific people or sources, or between certain hours. It’s a useful-sounding function, but like we said we’re not sure how many people will continue using it after the initial new-toy period wears off simply because it’s activated in the Settings menu; somewhere that users tend to not go too often.
FaceTime will not be available over mobile networks and not restricted to WiFi. This is probably not something that most users will benefit from, as it would require a pretty strong 3G connection to work effectively. It’s most likely an indicator that the next iPhone will finally come sporting 4G LTE connectivity.
Safari has seen some nice updates that help to meld the iOS and Mac OSX experiences more seamlessly. The most notable of which is that your Apple account’s recent browsing history can now be accessed from any of your iOS devices at the click of a button. This is a pretty handy feature that we can see users with multiple Apple products picking up quickly.
VIPs have been added to mail. These are people that you manually select to be a VIP. Emails from VIPs have the same notification system as an SMS, ensuring that you get them as soon as possible. There has also been a VIP mail box added to the inbox.
All in All
That’s about it for the big changes. We think that iOS6 sounds like a pretty positive step in the right direction for Apple. Apple Maps in particular has us intrigued, not only because it sounds like it could compete with Google Maps but also because it represents the death of the last major bit of functionality for which Apple was reliant on Google. Android seems to have been slowing down slightly of late, almost as if it has reached a point where its open-source nature is beginning to become burdensome. Apple, on the other hand, is finally reaching a point where it has enough resources to simply provide its own solid services at every layer of iOS functionality. iOS6 may not seem like a big update at first, but we think it might be tough for Android and Windows Phone to compete with iOS6 and whatever the next iPhone will be called.