Apple iOS 6 review
Following the announcement in June at this year's WWDC, Apple's latest software update for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch is out. But should you be rushing to press the download button, or can you live without the new features? We've been using the new OS on the iPhone 5 and the new iPad to find out.
Free iOS 6 for everyone
That's right, the new update is free. When the software is available (some time on 19 September) you'll be asked to download the latest update, and after you've updated your phone the shiny new features will appear.
Apple's iOS 6 is compatible with iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, fourth-generation iPod touch, iPad 2, and the new iPad. If you've got any other Apple devices aside from those listed above, you won't be getting it. By all means read on, but you might be left wanting, and that will only lead you to go and update your phone, your iPod or your iPad. Sorry.
The concept of Siri hasn't changed since it was launched on the iPhone 4S last year, however the capabilities have. In the US there's a stack of new tricks, such as support for baseball, hockey, American football, and soccer. However here in the UK we now get UK business support as well as the ability to ask your phone what the football scores were at the weekend.
But it's not just about finding out how your favourite team has done. Siri now supports Movie times and restaurants in the UK and US too. Elsewhere you can now bark orders at your phone to launch apps, and if you've played with the service before you'll know that it works.
Siri is available on iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad (3rd generation), and iPod touch (5th generation) and requires Internet access.
Deciding that it can do better, Apple has ditched Google Maps and replaced it with Apple Maps. Now when you go to use the mapping app it will look different. The interface is a lot cleaner, some would say more sparse, and Apple has introduced a new 3D mapping Flyover feature that makes everything look like it's from the SimCity games.
There are some really nice tricks too. You can now change the 3D viewpoint simply by moving your finger up and down the screen, and for those who like the map to point the way they are looking you can rotate it around your axis without moving the phone - cleverly the place names rotate so you can still read them.
The app gives you direction support for walking, transport, and cars, with the later actually getting turn-by-turn directions to guide you to your destination.
The turn-by-turn directions are clean and easy to use, there is a 3D mode as you get with more traditional satnavs (no 3D buildings in the UK though), but no downloadable maps - so be careful of those data rates.
Like Google Maps you can overlay traffic data, and Apple has turned to a number of providers to help build, manage, and create the new maps so they should stay up to date.
There are holes though. Shifting from Google means you'll lose access to Google's POI database, as well as StreetView, and we've found that when you get out of metropolitan areas the satellite imagery isn't as detailed as Google's offering. Ascot, for example, isn't great.
It's also worth nothing that the Flyover and turn-by-turn navigation are available only on iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 2 or later, and iPod touch (5th generation). iPhone 4 owners you miss out.
With no NFC on any Apple device, the company has turned to Passbook to help you manage tickets, store cards, and vouchers in one handy place.
No app in the UK currently supports the feature so we've been unable to test it effectively other than to see fake "demo" passes in place.
The idea of Passbook is to allow developers to create vouchers or loyalty cards that you can store in one place, even if you don't have the company's dedicated app on your phone. Geo-targeted as well, the system could ping you when you're near a certain shop telling you there is a deal or offer to be had if you've signed up to be alerted to such things.
Another example is that when you get to the airport your boarding pass is there waiting for you without your having to log into the app and pull it up manually. If you use those kinds of apps a lot this will be helpful. If you don't the icon will be dumped in a folder alongside Stocks, and other Apple apps you aren't fussed with.
Last year we saw Twitter being added at a system-wide level and this year Facebook gets its turn to embed itself in your phone.
If you think that means a far greater experience than the app then you would be wrong. Like Twitter, it amounts to a share button wherever possible to share your photos, web pages, and what you're thinking, the ability to "Facebook" whenever you fancy via the Notification panel, and linked contacts.
It doesn't mean the ability to see what your friends are saying or pictures they are posting without opening the app, so in some ways, it isn't as dynamic or integrated as social networks on other platforms.
Mail, Apple's email app, gets a few tweaks here and there as it tries to keep up with the constant barrage of emails you get. Introduced from Mountain Lion is VIPs. These are basically the important people in your life and the ones from whom you don't want to miss an email.
Select who you want to be a VIP and they get their own Mailbox, and VIP alerts can be set up specifically for them. That's really handy if you don't want to miss an email from the boss. Although this feature is similar to the one on OS X, it doesn't seem possible to sync the two so your VIPs are consistent. A missed opportunity, we feel.
Mail also now gets the ability to quickly drag down to refresh, the ability to set flags on emails, and finally to have a different signature for different accounts if you've got more than one email system set up on the phone.
We especially love the fact that Apple has ditched all those stupid warning messages about how your email account can't connect to the server when you are underground on the Tube.
Safari: iCloud tabs, Offline Reading Lists, and full page browsing
If you use Mountain Lion on your Mac computer then iCloud tab support now automatically syncs your browser tabs across all your iDevices, allowing you to grab any webpage you viewed in the last session. Handy if you've been surfing for something on your iPad or Safari on your desktop and want to carry on doing so on the go, or vice versa.
This concept of catching up on stuff you perhaps were reading or should have read elsewhere also plays into the offline reading mode as seen on the desktop version of Safari. Now saving a webpage to your Offline Reading List means you can read it when you don't have a connection, like on the train or a plane. Offline Reading List is available on iPhone 4 or later and iPad 2 or later.
Also new is browsing full screen in landscape mode allowing remove the lower and top tool bars to maximise the full size of your screen on your iPhone or iPod touch and if you like landscape browsing, it certainly makes a difference.
Finally the other big change is that if the website has enabled it, going to a website that has an app will highlight the fact in a special notification bar at the top of the website. Yes you can click to hide it.
Do Not Disturb
You're a busy person - thanks for taking the time out to read this - and Apple knows that too. As work continues to eat into your personal life and the lines gets blurred even more, Do Not Disturb might just help. It's a system that allows you to silence calls and alerts either completely, or between a set time you've scheduled say from 10pm to 7am (great if you are travelling).
Realising that you might want to take an important call in that time, you can create exceptions to the rule including allowing calls from favourites, and repeated calls from the same person within three minutes.
Doing so creates a small moon icon at the top of the phone so you know it's on and you won't be bothered again.
The App Store interface has been overhauled this time round with each app now getting "detail cards" that you can scroll through rather than a long list to scroll down. While the detail cards are better in getting you all the relevant details, we've found the app cards slow to navigate.
The system isn't as quick as before in glancing at the apps available. You could argue that you probably don't want to scroll through dozens of apps anyway, but developers are likely to get even more lost amongst the 900,000 apps available. We never got past the fifth app in the list for example.
Amazingly Apple hasn't until now offered an in-built panorama mode, instead letting developers create apps to fill the iPhone's shortcomings. That's now been rectified and you get panorama mode in iOS 6 that will let you snap panoramas up to 240 degrees.
The feature works in a similar way to Sony's Sweep Panorama and lets you sweep the iPhone across the vista in front of you capturing it as you move the camera. It's clever stuff and really easy to use with the ability to quickly change the direction you are going, left to right, or right to left. Shooting with the feature on an iPhone 5, the only problem we've found is that with such a wide panorama you can find yourself going beyond the scene you are trying to capture. Thankfully, you can stop the capture at any point. Panorama mode isn't available on the iPad but is available on the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, and iPod touch (5th generation).
Shared photo streams
Once you've snapped all these glorious pictures you can then share them with other iPhone, iPad, iPod, Apple TV, or iPhoto users direct from the Photo Stream feature in the Photo gallery on your device. If the people you're sharing with aren’t using an Apple device, they can view your photos on the web.
It's really clever and if you've got Grannies constantly badgering you for photos of the kids, as long as you remember not to put any of you fooling around on a Saturday night, this is going to be the best thing ever.
Your Shared Photo Streams don’t count against your iCloud storage, and they work over Wi-Fi and mobile networks.
Like Facebook, you can leave comments too, which gives a nice real-time feedback aspect to the service.
Clock on iPad
If you like telling the time, the new Clock app on the iPad apes the clock app on the iPhone. However, using the larger interface to its advantage, the experience shows a map of the world and key timezones with the relevant time.
It's all very 1950s and very international. The world map even shows the weather at the time zone you've added too.
Text to reject
You're in a meeting your phone rings. It's your mate wanting to know where you are for beers. Text to reject allows you to instantly reject the call with a text message to said mobile phone number and you can pre-load messages with boiler plate phrases to speed up replying even more.
Yes smartphone users on other platforms have had this feature since forever, but now you can say you've got it too. If you can't reply then and there you can instantly set a callback reminder to remind you, either based on a given time or when you leave your current location, arrive at home, or get to work.
With more and more apps vying for your data, whether it is your contacts, calendar, or location, giving out all that precious data willy nilly probably isn't the smartest move. Apple have tightened up control of which app sees what details and added a new privacy section within iOS 6 to tell you tell apps to politely "bugger off" if you aren't too keen on sharing certain things with them.
It's all broken down into easy to see categories such as which apps want details on your photos, or your calendars, or your location, and managing it is very easy.
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. That's great, but it will soon rack up unless you've got a data plan to cope.
In the UK Vodafone has said that existing pay monthly iPhone 4 and 4S customers on price plans of more than £40 a month already have VoIP included and anyone can move to Vodafone Red plans without extending their commitment provided they pay the same or more each month. However those paying less than £40 will have to buy additional data (£10 per month for 2GB) to access Voice over IP. Other operators are likely to follow suit.
Apps, and other bits and bobs
As we've already said there are more than 200 changes in iOS 6, and most are under the hood. One we have noticed that will help find those new apps you've downloaded is a banner that goes over new apps to say they are new. It's a nice touch.
Reminders has also been updated, while users of the new iPhone 5 will notice changes to certain apps too. The weather app for example now gives you the forecast for the next couple of hours in addition to the next couple of days. Likewise there are tweaks to the the audio and video apps.
Of course the biggest change will be how your favourite app develops to embrace the new features that it can, and we look forward to seeing how things change over the coming months.
There are lots of new features in iOS 6. Some will massively improve the way you use the phone, others won't make a blind bit of difference. With more than 200 new elements and features that's always going to be the case.
While iOS goes from strength to strength there is nothing here that really breaks the mould. Apple is playing it safe, perhaps overly so, and while you'll find that the software works and works well, if there were elements of iOS 5 you didn't like, the chances are that you won't like them here either.
iOS 6 is a very in and out experience. That works to a point, but when you start to look at the OS compared to features being shown on Windows Phone, and some of the elements being touted for BlackBerry BB10, you wonder how long Apple can keep at what is, in reality, the same experience as the last 6 years.
For many that's not a problem. The OS is very easy to use - children can master it - but we really were hoping for a more "connected experience" where apps talk to each other, contacts are more interwined with the interface and notifications are more than just a number count on a square grid of icons.
All that said, the update is free, there will be some treats in there that you'll enjoy, and in reality the bits you don't like are easy enough to ignore.