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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The first look at Apple iOS 6

As expected, Apple used the keynote of its annual WWDC event in San Francisco to announce the latest version of their iOS mobile platform. The sixth major build of the OS aims to bring the user experience to the next level with no less than 200 new features, services and UI tweaks.

The number is certainly huge, but then again so were the expectations of the millions of Apple fans around the globe. The fact that iOS 6 will only go official in three months' time heaps even more pressure on the latest release of the platform. By that point Android will probably have Jelly Bean to chew on, while Windows Phone will have released the multi-core friendly Apollo.

The iOS 6 key features include a Siri upgrade, system-wide Facebook integration and brand new Maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation. There're plenty of lesser new goodies such as achievements in the Game Center, new App store UI and the Music app, improved Safari with full-screen mode, better Mail, etc.

The complete changelog is coming up, but first we'll get the issue of compatibility out of the way. iOS 6 is compatible with the three latest iPhone generations (3GS, 4 and 4S), iPad 2 and 3 and the fourth-gen iPod Touch. The first iPad is not on the list, so if you are still holding on to the original Apple slate, you might finally want to consider an upgrade.

A few other restrictions apply, too: the iPhone 4S has finally lost its Siri exclusivity, but it's only going to share it with the iPad 3. The turn-by-turn navigation and the Flyover mode in Maps can be used only on dual-core iDevices - iPhone 4S, iPad 2 and iPad 3.

Now let's not waste any more time and get down to testing. We installed the beta release on an iPhone 4S, so all impressions of the OS are based on its performance. If you have an older-gen Apple smartphone your mileage may vary.

What's new in iOS 6?

As we already mentioned, Apple claims there are more than 200 new features in the iOS 6. We are sure the number is right, but not all of the changes are actually visible or even worth mentioning.

Here is what we believe to be a detailed list of all noteworthy updates brought by iOS 6:

  • Siri available on iPad 3
  • Siri now speaks Canadian English, Spanish (Spain/Mexico), Italian, Italian (Switzerland), Korean, Mandarin (Chinese/Taiwan), Cantonese (Hong Kong)
  • Siri can now provide sports scores, movie and restaurants reviews. It can launch apps and do status updates
  • Apple promises Siri integration with car handsfree systems
  • System-wide Facebook integration: Facebook contacts and events appear in the phonebook and calendar
  • Notification center gets quick Facebook/Twitter update keys
  • New Maps app with TomTom data, turn-by-turn voice navigation and 3D/Flyover view mode
  • Better Safari browser with iCloud tabs, full-screen mode, offline reading and faster performance
  • Passbook e-ticket app handles loyalty coupons, boarding passes, tickets
  • The Photo app can share photos with other iOS users. Likes and comments are supported
  • Updated Mail with VIP and Flagged mailboxes
  • Unified FaceTime/iMessages ID. FaceTime works over the cellular network
  • New UI for the App Store, iTunes Store, iBooks Store, Music, Weather apps
  • You can set songs from your music library as alarm tones
  • Better privacy settings
  • New accessibility options and guided access (single-app mode for kids)
  • Re-organized settings, various new icons
  • Improved HDR camera function
  • Game Center now supports challenges (achievements)
  • Reject call with SMS
  • Do Not Disturb mode
  • Lost mode
  • Improved keyboards and auto-correction
  • Three new wallpapers
  • Various improvements under the hood
  • Display brightness settings menu has been changed

A long list it certainly is, but Apple got where they are with quality, not quantity. The iOS 6 may not exactly be 200 steps in the right direction but all those novelties promise to make a difference.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The three new wallpapers

And of course, there are plenty of features we would have liked to see on the list. It's just not in Apple's nature to respond to wishes and requests. What the company prefers to do instead is take the user experience along new paths - even ones you have never thought of.

Multilingual Siri knows more

The first and most important news about Siri is iPad 3 support. So, it's no longer exclusive to iPhone 4S but this is not quite what iPhone 4 owners wanted to hear.

Siri speaks new languages too: Canadian English and French, Spanish, Italian, the varieties of German, Italian and French spoken in Switzerland, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese. These are also supported in the satnav app.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The new languages for Siri

Support for POI search is supposed to get wider. Assistance with restaurant booking is part of Siri's new set of skills. It will find you exactly the restaurant you are looking for and filter the results based on user reviews. You can run impressively detailed searches based on food type, location, outdoor, pool, price range, ratings, etc. This feature is not available in every country, though.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
Siri knows about restaurants

One of the much-touted features is Siri's new-found flair for sports. It can answer lots of questions and isn't limited to game scores. History, stats, player bios, player comparison, teams, records, etc. Siri should be able to return most of the info right onto its own screen, without switching over to the browser.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
Asking Siri about sports

The same applies to movies. You will get all of your movie-related answers right inside the Siri window - anything about actors, directors, awards, movie stats, premieres and tickets, reviews, trailers, etc.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
Siri knows movies too

The other new thing Siri can do is launch apps. Yes, it does look like one of those features that should have been there from the beginning, but better late than never, right? You can also have Siri update your Facebook and Twitter.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
Siri can launch apps, update Facebook and Twitter

Apple announced they're working with various car manufacturers - BMW, GM, Mercedes, Land Rover, Jaguar, Audi, Toyota, Chrysler, Honda and others - to integrate Siri tightly with the car's audio systems.

The Facebook integration comes a year too late

When the iOS 5 was about to launch many people were hoping for Facebook integration. Instead Apple gave us Twitter.

A year later, Facebook is tightly integrated with the iOS. It even goes deeper than Twitter did in iOS 5.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
Configuring the Facebook integration

We already pointed out that Siri can do your status updates for you. There are dedicated shortcuts for Facebook and Twitter updates in the Notification center as well.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
You can update your social statuses from the Notification Center

This is just the beginning though. Just like in Android you can sync your Facebook contacts with the phonebook. If you do, the system will search email and phone numbers, so it can link your contacts with their Facebook profiles.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
A linked iPhone and Facebook contact

Upon a successful Facebook link, the contact's picture, addresses, important dates, emails, phone numbers and websites will be updated. You will also get a new Facebook field with a shortcut to the contact's Facebook profile. It will load in the Safari browser, not the dedicated Facebook app.

Unfortunately, the Facebook albums and feeds do not appear in the phonebook. All Facebook events will appear in the Calendar though.

You can share photos on Facebook right inside the Photo app. Addresses can be shared as well upon a drop of a pin in Maps.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
Sharing a photo from Photo app • Sharing an address within Maps

Facebook integration extends to the App Store and the iTunes Store. Whenever you tap on an app, song, movie, TV show, etc. you'll get into the new store UI where there are three tabs - info, reviews and related. In review you can Like the app/song/…/movie on Facebook and write or read Facebook reviews.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 

Facebook reviews in the App and iTunes Store

 

New Maps - TomTom takes over from Google

Apple has finally done it. TomTom replaces Google as their supplier of maps and the entire Maps app has been redesigned.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The new Maps

An assortment of sat-nav apps has long been available in the app store (for a fee), with no other than TomTom having a prominent place on the list. They now supply the maps for Apple's own service, which comes with turn-by-turn voice guidance, real-time traffic updates, local search, Yelp reviews and the impressive Flyover 3D views.

The navigation will work even on the lockscreen or behind another app. Real-time traffic reports are available and Apple is also sourcing the live traffic info anonymously from iOS users on the road.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The navigation in action

The 3D Flyover mode is a great bonus for your viewing pleasure. When you enable the 3D view (outside navigation) you will be able to explore cityscapes from birds-eye view. The currently available selection is extremely limited, but hopefully more areas will be added later on. You can zoom, tilt and rotate using two-finger gestures to explore 3D landmarks rendered in real time.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The 3D and Flyover views

PassBook

The PassBook is a new e-ticket app that handles all kinds of electronic tickets (including boarding passes), loyalty cards, coupons, etc.

Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The PassBook

The location-aware app makes the right coupon available in the right place and at the right time. The PassBook will report the balance on coupons and cards, let you check your ticket seats and can even show you relevant notifications (e.g. gate or terminal change for a flight).

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The PassBook app

Updated Safari browser

Apple has done some work on the Safari browser too. It is now faster than it was on the iOS 5

A cool new feature is the full-screen view - it has a dedicated button on the taskbar and works only in landscape mode.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The landscape full screen view

iCloud tab syncing is enabled, along with offline reading. Finally, the new Safari allows access to your multimedia content without exiting the browser.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The new Safari

Shared Photo Streams

Apple is creating a sub-social network for pictures right inside the Photo app. You will be able to choose what pictures to share and which people to share with. Your buddies on the receiving end will be able to like them and post comments.

 
The official Shared Photo Streams picture

The Shared Photo Stream is obviously not enabled yet, as we couldn't get it to work on our iPhone 4S.

VIP contacts and Flagged emails

The Mail app got a few new tricks as well. You can set a VIP list, and emails from people on the list will be delivered to a dedicated VIP mailbox and will appear highlighted in the regular inbox. You can also set a different notification regime for VIP emails - so they appear on the lockscreen, for example.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The new Mail box with VIP contacts and Flagged section • A VIP email notification • Emails

You can also flag important emails. After you flag your first message, a new Flagged mailbox will appear gathering all of your flagged emails.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
Flagging an email

If you use multiple email accounts, with the iOS 6 you can have different mail signatures for each of them.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
Assigning different signatures

The update button is now gone and there's pull to refresh instead. Also a new features is you can insert pictures or videos while composing an email - just tap and hold on an empty space and use the popup menu.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
Refreshing the mail • Uploading multimedia is now easier

The iPhone Phone app gets better

The Phone app has had a few tweaks and touches too. The dialpad itself looks different, though it brings nothing new.

Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The new dial pad

A new (tell that to any Nokia from 2005 or thereabout) feature is Reject call with SMS. Alternatively, you can set a reminder to call back. Better late than never, we guess.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The reject with SMS feature

The new Do Not Disturb mode will silence all incoming texts and calls. When activated, a small crescent moon icon will appear on the status bar next to the clock.

Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview Apple iOS 6 Preview

You can configure the DND mode from the Notifications screen in Settings. It can be scheduled (i.e. between 10PM - 7AM) or activated manually. The DND will silence every call except from callers you've specifically excluded from the list.

Another neat option of the DND mode is Repeated calls. When turned on, a second call from the same contact made within less than three minutes from the first one will not be silenced, as it may be an emergency .

FaceTime now works over 3G

The iOS 6 finally allows the FaceTime to work over cellular networks, not just Wi-Fi. About time!

Apple iOS 6 Preview 
The FaceTime settings

 

The unified FaceTime/iMessages ID lets you receive calls on an iPad using your phone number.

 

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