Today, Apple officially released iOS 6, the latest update to the mobile OS that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Unveiled in June at the annual World Wide Developer's Conference, iOS 6 promised to deliver a variety of needed enhancements. It does just that, delivering a stable and responsive OS that all recent iDevice users should download and install.
The ability to share links, images and other data gets a boost with redesigned Share Sheets in iOS 6.
So, what's new? This year's upgrade offers more than 200 new features according to Apple, which apparently counts numerous minor tweaks as notable changes.
Some of the more noteworthy additions in iOS 6 include: shared Photo Streams, redesigned Share Sheets with Facebook integration, Siri enhancements, iCloud tabs for viewing on one device the same sites you were reading on another device, and -- finally -- voice directions for navigation. You can also now update apps without having to enter your password.
Minor changes include a new theme for the music player on iPhone, design enhancements to Apple's digital stores, a dynamic menu bar that shifts color depending on the background, and FaceTime over cellular networks.
(See a slideshow detailing even more tweaks and updates in iOS 6.)
iOS 6 is, of course, compatible with the iPhone 5, which goes on sale Friday; it can be also installed on last year's iPhone 4S, 2010's iPhone 4 and even the iPhone 3GS, now three years old. Also supported: the fourth and fifth generation iPod Touch, the iPad 2 and the Retina display iPad released in March. Not all models support all features, however. For instance, the iPhone 3GS may be able to run apps written for iOS 6, but it won't suddenly get access to Siri, which the Retina display iPad does. Outside the U.S., not all features are supported; Apple has information here about each feature by region.
Installing iOS 6
I tested and installed iOS 6 using an iPhone 4S, an iPad 2 and a Retina display iPad, and focused on features available in the U.S. market.
Before you head to Settings> General> Software Update to download iOS 6, it's a good move to first back up your iPhone to iCloud. Doing so will make it much, much easier to recover from any problems, if any crop up during the install. Performing an iCloud backup saves all of the data on your device, including details like app placement and settings, to Apple's online servers. (You can also plug your device into a computer and back up using iTunes. Be sure to download iTunes 10.7 first.) Backing up is not a step I would skip.
Once that's done, you can begin the update. If the battery is at less than 50% capacity, you will have to plug your device in or the install won't begin.
You can also upgrade from a computer running iTunes, and here there are two options: Upgrade (which leaves existing data in place) or Restore (which erases content and brings the device back to default settings).
After iOS 6 is installed and the device has restarted, you'll see a welcome screen and "Welcome" cycling through different languages in the slide-to-unlock area. Once you unlock, you go to a Setup Assistant similar to that used in OS X. After choosing your language and country/region, connecting to a Wi-Fi or cellular network and activating the phone, you're asked to decide whether you want Location Services on or off and sign into iCloud.
If you chose to restore the iPhone and start from scratch, this is where you'll be thankful for the aforementioned backup: Just sign in and choose Restore from iCloud or iTunes.That brings back all of your data and settings as if nothing happened, right down to app placement. By the way, if you're restoring from an iCloud backup, you can initiate one over cellular data, such as LTE, but I highly recommend Wi-Fi; otherwise, you may use up your monthly data allowance in one shot.
As apps begin to download, if you need to use a specific app immediately, tap its icon to bring that app to the front of the download queue and it'll begin transferring in moments.
I should note a minor glitch I came across, in case you encounter it: At one point, I was given a warning that the Restore was incomplete, and that I should plug the phone back to iTunes to finish. After tapping OK, the iPhone continued to restore itself from my iCloud backup. I didn't have to connect to iTunes to install any apps.
If Wi-Fi syncing with iTunes is something you still want to do, you're going to have to plug in your iPhone/iPad at some point and enable Wi-Fi syncing under the summary tab. Once you've done that, your device's avatar will still show in the iTunes sidebar, even after you unplug it. Click on the avatar and use the different tabs to select which apps, movies, TV shows, songs, books and podcasts to copy. After making your changes, click Apply and Sync in the lower right-hand corner of the iTunes window. When you plug your iPhone in at night, it will automatically connect with the iTunes computer -- as long as both are on the same Wi-Fi network -- and sync up any changes. (This usually happens after the iCloud backup is complete.)
A better way to decline calls
Although the updated Phone app looks the same, save for the new Keypad, which gets a lighter color scheme, there are welcome changes. The biggest involves how you decline a phone call. In iOS 5, a swipe across the iPhone's lock screen answered a call, and a button located at the top of the screen dismissed it. For many, myself included, hitting that button made it easy to forgot a call ever took place.
In iOS 6, there's a new option to slide the on-screen phone icon vertically, revealing two actions: Remind Me Later and Reply With Message. Selecting either gives you even more options, such as location- and time-based reminders under the Remind Me Later button and a couple of quick responses available under Reply With Messages. You can edit the quick response messages under Settings> Phone> Reply with Message, or you can manually type a response.
It's amazing how much impact this simple change can make, allowing me to be much more diligent in returning phone calls.
There may be times when you don't want to answer your phone at all and Apple has you covered there, too. iOS 6 features a new system-wide Do No Disturb feature that can be manually turned on or set to activate during customizable hours.
The new Do No Disturb option blocks all calls and notifications, stopping your iPhone from lighting up in the middle of the night with alerts and unwanted calls.
Do No Disturb does just that: blocks all calls and notifications, which effectively puts an end to your phone lighting up in the middle of the night for alerts and unwanted calls. You can also create a custom group of people whose calls are allowed to go through no matter what, even if Do Not Disturb is on. There's even a setting that allows a call to get through if the same phone number calls more than once within a three-minute time span. That's designed to help a caller connect in case of an emergency. Do Not Disturb can be activated through a toggle in the Settings app; specific preferences can be modified in Settings>Notifications>Do Not Disturb.
Siri enhanced, but it's still in beta
Last year, despite its beta status, Siri was the star of the show; this year, while the technology is still official in beta, she's up to new tricks.
To begin with, Siri is available on more devices. With iOS 6, it's available on the iPhone 4s and iPhone 5 (of course) as well as this year's Retina display iPad and fifth-generation iPod touch.
Siri can give you quick access to restaurant information.
Like before, Siri still requires an active Internet connection, but it now has access to more databases. As a result, Siri can now handle new topics. allowing the iPhone to answer your questions regarding movie times at local theaters; questions about actors, directors, movies and ratings; and questions about sports scores, standings, team schedules and player stats. Siri can also help you find and reserve seating at local restaurants. (To actually book seating, Siri launches the OpenBook app.)
Want more? You can use Siri to get spoken directions to any destination. Tell Siri to "Plot a course to the closest highest-rated Italian restaurant" and she'll navigate the best route and narrate directions in real-time using the new Maps app (see below). She'll even answer questions like, "Are we there yet?"
Not enough? Siri can now launch apps by voice command, which is really useful, and can post status updates to FaceBook and Twitter. If you're looking to explore Siri more, here's a look at all the commands you can use.
Apple, in an attempt to expand Siri's reach, has also made deals with automakers to integrate a Siri button in their cars. "Eyes Free," as it's called, should be featured by most car manufacturers in some model cars beginning in 2013.
How does the Siri feature work in real life? Not as well as when it was first announced. Far too often, it takes two attempts to get a proper answer, because the first time, the question is inexplicably translated into gibberish. For instance, "Siri, call my Dad" once gave me this reply: "Sorry, Mike, I do not understand, 'Give me a spoon for salad.'" Asking the question again resulted in the proper translation and result, but mistranslations, mid-sentence cut-offs and incidents like this are an un-Apple-like experience that will dissuade people from using this service. Things need to improve further, if this technology is to be considered more than a novelty, and I say that as someone who uses Siri at least a dozen times a day.
Maps was one of the major features announced at WWDC and it's a big one: Since the arrival of the iPhone five years ago, Apple has relied on Google for the back-end data that powered the Maps app. But legal and political strife between the two companies created a rift. The result? As of iOS 6, Google has been dropped as the data provider for Maps; Apple instead now uses resources acquired in its deal with Open Street and from alliances with other companies like Yelp and OpenTable.
How well does it work? For starters, Maps is vector-based, so area graphics and text stay sharp, focused and clean, especially in the default Standard mode. Using the Hybrid or Satellite mode -- either can be toggled on by tapping the page curl on the lower right -- takes a little longer to load, but text remains crisp. Unlike earlier iterations of Maps, the new version supports more than just zooming in/out and panning; now you can zoom with a pinch, and twisting your fingers rotates the map. If you take two fingers and push up/slide down, the displayed map shifts perspective.
Maps is vector-based, so area graphics and text stay sharp, focused and clean, especially in the default Standard mode.
The overall interface has been cleaned up a little: on the iPad, the top menu contains Directions, Bookmarks and a Search area with a pop-up list of recent locations; on the iPhone, the order is Directions, Search and Bookmarks, and the menu loses the redundant Search button toggle. Instead, Search is activated simply by tapping the oval text input area. The Locate Me arrow has been relocated to the bottom left corner and now resides next to a 3D icon. As before, tapping the Locate arrow once displays your location on a map and twice actives Compass mode, which is handy for figuring out direction of travel.
Zooming into Maps brings up local details, such as restaurant locations and other points of interest. Tapping any of those displays a pop-up with the name, a Yelp rating and review count, and a button for automatic directions and routing. Tapping the Info button displays even more information, including type of restaurant, its phone/website/street address, plus reviews and photos. And if you want to investigate further, tapping any of the reviews or photos launches the Yelp app. If Yelp is not installed, you'll be brought to the App Store where you can download it. The downside? The listings in Maps are nowhere near as comprehensive as in Google's Maps. Fortunately, Google Earth is still available as a separate download, so you can have the best of both worlds.
Here's a look at an area just outside San Francisco as shown in Flyover, which gives you a 3D view of several large cities.
Maps also displays traffic, and information about any delays that can be accessed via icons near traffic red zones. That can help you plan whether you should wait a traffic jam out or find another route. And if you use Siri to guide you along a route, it will suggest an alternate route when one is available. Nice.
Tapping the Directions button allows you to plot a start and end location, and choose Driving, Walking or Mass Transit directions. The last feature launches a third-party app of your choosing, or, if you don't have any on the phone, takes you to the App Store. This is a slight step back from the earlier versions, which relied on Google's data for everything, obviating the need for third-party apps. (I'm fairly certain the developers of those apps aren't complaining.) In the end, leaving Apple's new Maps app may be a tad inconvenient, but if the results are useful -- and they are -- few will complain.