Like some sort of technology powered magic roundabout, it’s that time of year again: time for an update to Apple’s iPhone operating system and now that the iPhone 5 has arrived we’ve got more details on iOS 6 than ever before.
iOS 6 has lots to talk about. So much in fact that we figured a nice little wrap up of all its new features was in order. Sit back, relax and prep your iPhone for a brand new set of features … it’s update time.
Siri gets Sirious
With the launch of the iPhone 4S Apple announced Siri. First time around it wasn’t as compelling an experience as Apple would have hoped. The ability to ask your handset the odd question was cool and telling it to send a text a neat feature, but ultimately it just wasn’t as complete an experience as you would expect from Apple.
Siri has now been given a features boost. For one thing, it now has sports sussed – well, American sports, as far as we know. It can list game times and scores plus player standings. More exciting are things such as the integrated Yelp reviews for restaurants with ratings and average prices. You can even use Yelp to make reservations.
Siri now has movie knowledge as well, giving you movie listings, trailers and details on different actors. Think voice-controlled IMDb-style functions. Apps can also be launched by Siri, so no listing, just straight into the action. Hands-free tech and car partnerships with the likes of BMW mean you don’t even need to touch your iPhone to activate Siri – just do it from your steering wheel.
Siri has also finally arrived on the new iPad. That’s important, because at launch it only had voice dictation but just as potent a chipset as the iPhone 4S. We’re yet to see if there are regional restrictions on any of these new Siri features, so hold on to your excitement until we’ve dived a little deeper.
The real talking point of iOS 5 was the way it started to integrate social networks. Many wondered why there were no Facebook-friendly functions. Now with iOS 6 there are – and lots of them.
Sign in via settings and you are good to go. Just as with Twitter, you can do things such as post straight to Facebook from within Safari and post direct from the notification centre too making replies much more straight forward. Maps also integrates directly with Facebook, letting you send your location to the social network, although we aren’t sure yet if that includes Check In.
Another important change is that Facebook is now integrated with the App Store. This means you can take a look at what sort of applications your friends are downloading and grab them yourself. We imagine this is going to lead to all sort of viral app downloads very quickly. Facebook now also syncs with your contacts, meaning no more need to download dodgy FB sync apps.
The Phone app
As unexciting as it is, Apple has also re-designed the phone app with iOS 6. One of the longest-running functions in iOS, it was getting fairly tired compared to much of the competition. Now incoming calls can be dodged with an auto reply message via one swipe, an there’s a swipe up to get a reminder about it later.
Smart reminders do things like tell you to carry out a phone-related action when leaving a location. Say you miss someone’s call, you can tell your handset to tell you to ring them when you leave home.
Think of it like Chrome on mobile and desktop. Look at somehting in Safari on a computer and then transfer it to your mobile via iCloud. See it first as a tab, then woosh it over where you need it. So, much the way Chrome to phone works for Android, Apple now has iCloud Tab.
Do Not Disturb
A OS X Mountain Lion style “do not disturb” button will stop things like notifications lighting up the screen or making noises in the middle of the night. It is also possible to screen calls so people can be avoided. If someone keeps on calling however, you can tell the phone app to notify you.
FaceTime has also finally been enabled over 3G as well as, of course, 4G, liberating it from the clutches of Wi-Fi and making it a genuinely useful feature on both iPad and iPhone.
Safari is the beginning of applications playing nicely with Mountain Lion. The long-rumoured cloud tab syncing with OS X is coming, so you can browse on your computer and then move to your iPhone where the same website will be open.
The offline reading list is a feature which lets you download and store articles from the web to read later. Particularly useful in areas without any data reception.
You’ll also now be able to upload photos easily, although it is not as yet clear how this will work, and whether it will be restricted to certain photo sharing apps. In the WWDC demo Apple referenced Shutterfly.
Shared Photo Stream
A big selling point of iCloud is the ability to send pics straight from your computer to the cloud, then share them across any iCloud-compatible device. Called Photo Stream, it is Apple’s cloud-based image service. With iOS 6 Apple has added the ability to collaborate and share pictures with friends.
Shared streams let you invite friends to look at your snaps in the cloud. They also sync with things such as Aperture and iPhoto on the Mac. Those you invite to look at them will be notified via a push notification.
Smart App Banners
Developers will be able to suggest an app when you visit their website, with a new feature called Smart App Banners.
What if you already have the application downloaded? Then it is possible to make a website automatically transfer you into the application. Details of any web search or what you might have been filling in on a page will also be transferred straight to the app also.
Mail and VIPs
A brand new feature for iOS 6 is VIPs. Essentially it is the same as the option in Mountain Lion and will let you highlight certain people within your contacts book so you can quickly find emails from them. Think family and friends or your team at work.
These people will then appear either with their own unique notification, a starred message in the Mail app and a dedicated mailbox for them, a little like Android favourites.
Other features added to Mail will be the ability to have multiple signatures for different accounts – work and personal – and to add pictures and video easily after you’ve created an email.
For those used to the “pull to refresh” feature in Twitter apps, you’ll now be able to do that with your Mail too.
A new app in iOS 6, Passbook is basically a mobile equivalent to OS X’s keychain, except with many more useful functions. Think of it like the British Airways check in app – a means to store all your tickets and QR codes in one place.
It is notification based, so if you go near to something such as a Starbucks, you will get a swipeable notification with details on what you have stored on your phone relating to the shop. We don’t have a complete list of who is involved yet but we imagine there’s plenty to play with. Seems Passbook is iWallet in its final form perhaps.
Again, we suspect there will be some regional support issues here.
Apple has added new functions for those with disabilities which let you to control certain aspects of iOS -such as being able to lock parts of the screen so that users with impaired sight don’t accidentally exit an app.
There are also things like a single app mode, which will stop you from exiting an application. Useful for schools and museums where people may want to try to use iOS for other purposes.
It also means parents can load up your kids’ favourite app and then lock down the device so you know exactly what they are playing with, rather than jumping online or playing that adult game you are trying to complete.
This is quite easily the most significant change added with iOS 6. Apple has totally redesigned the Maps app from the ground up, making it far more competitive with what Android has to offer in Google Maps.
The first big talking point is something called Flyover. This is basically photo realistic 3D views for the maps application, making for the most detailed possible street view style mapping experience. It all uses vector graphics, so looks lovely and smooth. Take two fingers, pivot and change the angle; much the same as with Google Maps.
On top of this there is now proper turn-by-turn navigation direction. Maps is a lot more detailed, with information cards listed on local businesses. Apple has also put together a traffic service, which we imagine has the likes of TomTom fairly worried. At the moment it’s fairly bare bones with red bars showing areas of congestion, but still integrated traffic info can’t be bad.
Siri now plays nice with Maps as well, so you can ask for directions or even ask for nearby POIs, like petrol stations.
A rather substantial leak of the iOS 6 beta from the likes of Macworld and the Verge has opened up the doors to some of the other treats in store. The first big change is the way things are shared in iOS 6. There is a redesigned sharing screen which lists things like Twitter or Facebook as well as the option to do things like turn a web page into wallpaper or assign it to a contact.
The screens is all icon based and not dissimilar to the iPhone’s own home screen. Whether or not you will be able to edit the options it shows remains to be seen.
Siri and Twitter
iOS 6 will let you send Tweets directly via Siri. Also if you attach someones Twitter tag to a contact, you can just say that contacts name and Siri will immediately attach their tag into a message. Siri is now also going to work with things like weather and stocks on the iPad.
The reminders app has got an update in iOS 6, adding the ability to set location based reminders which will chime in when you either leave or arrive at a certain address.
On top of this Apple has also released the reminder API onto the world, this means other applications should be able to sync up with the reminders app.
When is it coming?
Apple has announced that iOS 6 will be made available on 19 September 2012. You can get it as an update for the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, new iPad, iPad 2 and iPod touch, as well as the iPhone 5.