First look at Apple’s new iOS 6 operating system for iPhone and iPad

20 Sep 20121 Share

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Like most people eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new iOS 6 operating system, I forlornly kept checking the Software Update settings on my iPhone almost every five minutes yesterday. As I put down my book and switched off the lights, one more check revealed the arrival of iOS 6 in all its glory.

I let it download overnight and awoke to apparently 200 new features. When I got to work I updated the iOS 6 software on my iPad, too.

Now before I am accused of leading anyone down the garden path, I haven’t managed to check out each and every one of these 200 new features, just the ones that matter most to me.

These are namely Maps, Siri, calling features, Camera, Mail and Safari, and I wanted to get a handle on the new Passbook service for gathering digital tickets and coupons in one place.

I first tried out the new iOS 6 OS on my iPhone and the first thing I did was activate Siri, Apple’s voice technology. Within seconds, I had dictated and posted a tweet on Twitter using only my voice and repeated the same feat with a status update on Facebook.

So far, so good.

Maps on iOS 6

At first glance nothing really had changed in the appearance of  my iPhone’s home screen before I realised YouTube was missing and Google Maps was replaced by simply Maps.

Upon activating Maps I was pleasantly surprised at how clean the new Map app looks. What you are looking at first is a map with the option to pinpoint your exact location accompanied by a 3D button. On the bottom right corner of the screen is a little page leaf tab that allows you to flick upwards for more options – to drop a pin on your location, print, or show traffic, as well as viewing the map in standard, hybrid or satellite views.

Another cool feature is Flyover, which allows you to create 3D views of areas you are looking at on a map; hover over London, New York or Dublin and you get really amazing three-dimensional views of buildings, rivers and streets.

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If I were to sum up the new Maps app in a nutshell, it is Apple’s own take on Google Maps and Google Earth (yes, you can even zoom out to outer space) but with some exciting bells and whistles added in.

The Maps app also comes with turn-by-turn navigation. I wasn’t really sure how Apple would manage this one but I was again delighted with a really clean interface and graphics, along with voice instructions to get me there. A massive improvement.

The mapping app also comes with real-time traffic updates. Each journey begins with a clear range of route options.

Siri on iOS 6

But where this truly gets exciting is Siri integration. I just talked into my iPhone 4S, “get me directions to Dublin airport”, and instantly Siri responds with directions and turn-by-turn instructions! Aside from the voice capability, the navigation instructions are nicely designed and instructions loom large on the screen ahead of the next junction.

Siri has also improved in terms of responding to requests like finding nearby restaurants. However, trying to arrange a table at these restaurants is beyond Siri’s capabilities right now in Ireland.

As seen when the iPhone 4S debuted last year, Siri allows you to do lots of things, like send emails, update calendars, and do searches, but now you can do things like open apps, such as Camera, and dictate and send tweets.

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Calling features on iOS 6

Let’s not forget that the iPhone is still a phone and this is where there are other really cool surprises. If I receive a call, for example, I’m given an option of answering or hanging up as usual but via a new sliding tab. But in addition to this, by sliding the screen upwards I can instantly send a message to the caller by text: “Can’t talk right now…I’ll call you later.” And if I don’t want to send such a message but intend to call the person back I can set a reminder in Tasks to call that person once the phone detects I’ve left the meeting I’m in or to remind me in one hour. Impressive.

Indeed the iPhone application has been spruced up with a newer and cleaner grey interface.

Camera on iOS 6

The next big wow factor in the new iOS 6 operating system is the Panorama function inside the Camera app.

When you are about to take a picture look for ‘Options’ and inside you’ll be given the opportunity to take a 240-degree panoramic photo in high definition. When you select this you hold your iPhone upright and move the device from the left to the right of the image you are chasing using a helpful arrow that appears on the screen.

Once you’ve done this your set of images are stitched together and appears to use some kind of image stabilisation technology to keep everything organised.

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Passbook on iOS 6

My next foray on the iOS 6 platform was Passbook. In my opinion, this marks the start of Apple’s eventual journey into NFC (which won’t be on the new iPhone 5) and other m-commerce applications. If you think about it, Apple is already the doyen of m-commerce in terms of the ability to buy apps and other digital content on the go and you have to wonder if iTunes is already the world’s biggest credit card number repository.

But when it comes down to the day-to-day world – buying airline tickets, getting discounts in shops – the m-commerce revolution is only really at the starting blocks. Clicking on Passbook presents you with a place to store boarding passes, tickets, store cards and coupons. These buttons right now are pretty static except for an App Store button on the bottom.

Now, while in the US an array of apps specially created for Passbook exist, including Delta, American Airlines and Starbucks, the only app I could detect that was available to me right now was Lufthansa’s clever app that allows users to book and change flights from the comfort of their smartphones. This is really only the beginning of a new movement in electronic commerce and rather than diss Apple for its Passbook being incomplete, I sense it is really a marker in the sand and the starting point for a new generation of apps and services.

passbook

Mail and Safari on iOS 6

On the surface, Mail hasn’t changed a lot except people you correspond with a lot can have their own folder within the iPhone and iPad app. Another neat feature is the ability to now insert a photo or video into an email you are writing by simply pressing on the screen. Alongside the ‘Select’, ‘Select All’ and ‘Paste’ options is an arrow which you press and that takes you to the option of ‘Insert Photo or Video’.

Finally, Safari has been given some new features, my favourite being the ability to expand web pages fully across the screen.

Readers will be surprised to learn that the iPad hasn’t been gifted with some of the features resplendent in the iPhone through iOS 6. For example, you can’t take panoramic shots on the iPad and Passbook hasn’t made its way there, either. We’ll probably have to wait until future OS updates that may see Siri eventually arrive on the iPad.

However, I’m happy to report that a Clock app has been added to the iPad’s home screen. Upon opening it you are given a glorious world clock and useful capabilities like an alarm, a timer and a stopwatch. This is a long-overdue addition to the iPad and for those of us who like to cook alongside our iPads in the kitchen and make use of timers, this a godsend.

iOS 6 certainly adds new firepower to iPhone and iPad devices and I think, contrary to many, the new Maps application is a technological triumph for Apple. Added together, capabilities like Siri, navigation, Passbook and no doubt the important database work that likes ahead for Apple in terms of adding businesses to its new Maps app, iOS 6 is a very clear signpost to the future.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com