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What you need to know about iOS 6
What you need to know about iOS 6

Apple today released iOS 6 through an over-the-air update and Australian users everywhere are getting ready to upgrade their devices. Apple has updated iOS like clockwork each year, adding marquee new features like iCloud and multitasking. This year, iOS 6 is a relatively modest update. Apple has instead focused on refining the experience, there are a multitude of nips and tucks and the operating system feels faster than ever.

However there are still some key new features, and interestingly a few big ones that have been removed from prior versions. iOS 6 adds Facebook integration, smarter Siri commands and Passbook, a digital wallet to store your tickets and coupons. Apple has removed Google Maps from the operating system and replaced it with their own Apple-built maps application. They’ve also left out the previously built-in Youtube app. Let’s take a closer look at how the new features stack up.

Goodbye Google, hello Apple maps.

The most visible change in iOS 6 is unquestionably the banishing of Google maps to make way for Apple’s own revamped mapping service. Apple has now taken control of the location and map experience on their devices, removing their biggest competitor from the platform. But what does that mean for users?

The new maps application adds some great features that were previously missing, the biggest being turn-by-turn navigation coming in an October update for Australian users. It works very similarly to devices from TomTom and Garmin, enter your destination and the app will present different routes for both driving and walking. Navigation mode displays in a rich 3D view giving a bird’s eye perspective of the road you’re driving on, in typical Apple style the experience is smooth. You can even enter destinations through Siri, try it by telling Siri “take me home”.

‘Flyover’ is another key feature of the new maps application. As the name suggests, it literally allows you to fly over cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. It’s an astonishing presentation of satellite imagery, a 3D view of the city allowing you to pan in and around the skyline. It’s currently limited to bigger Australian cities and other cities around the world, expect Apple to keep adding and enhancing this with more satellite data over time.

It’s not all good news for maps, however. Public transport information is one of the casualties, as Apple hasn’t added this data to their application. Instead you’ll need to download third party apps to get this functionality, at least until Apple is ready with their own transit data. Google’s extensive business listings and points-of-interest are also missing, and while Apple has used Yelp and Yellow Pages to add some of this data it’s not as comprehensive as it was in the prior maps application.

Passbook

Apple has added a new built-in app to digitally store all those tickets, coupons and gift cards you have in your wallet or purse. Instead of fumbling in your email trying to find that movie ticket or digging through app folders to find a coupon code, Passbook aims to simplify the process by storing all these items in one location.

It also utilises the device’s GPS abilities in a convenient way. If you have a coffee card stored in Passbook, when you walk into the associated coffee shop it will send a push notification and pull up the card right on your phone. It’s a futuristic feature however at launch it seems anemic, with few supporting services. Virgin Australia and Event Cinemas have stated they will be supporting it, but we’ll have to patiently wait for more businesses to offer Passbook integration to make it useful.

Siri knows more

Apple hailed Siri as the stand-out feature in the iPhone 4S, today Siri has been added to the iPad and has also received some major improvements. The virtual assistant with attitude can now look up sports scores, local business listings, give directions, post to social networks and open apps. Australia hasn’t received all of Siri’s new features though, missing is the ability to book restaurant reservations and pull up movie listings.

Still, it’s a solid update and the inclusion of the once missing business and location listings in Australia is a welcome improvement. It’s not quite the virtual assistant as demonstrated in Apple’s ads, but it’s slowly getting there with each iteration. Apple still lists Siri as being in beta, in an apparent attempt to lower expectations.

I ‘like’ this

Facebook is now baked-in like Twitter was in iOS 5. This means you can sign in to Facebook directly through the settings app, giving users the ability to share photos and other items directly from the device without using another application. They have also added a convenient Facebook post button directly in the notification panel, allowing to you post and also tweet from any screen.

Apple has added the ability to ‘like’ apps directly in the App Store. When you like an app, it will be shared with your friends and you can also see when your friends have liked an app right in the store.

Other new features

There are numerous other features and enhancements that make using iOS 6 an improved experience. ‘Do Not Disturb’ is one such feature, it’s essentially a switch that allows you to stop all incoming notifications such as messages, phone calls or alerts. This is really useful before bed or in a cinema. You can even set exemptions, so if you still want all calls from your partner or boss to come through you can set that in the settings.

‘Photo streams’ are now shareable, so you can take a few photos and directly share with them a friend or group of friends. This will be useful at parties or for times you don’t necessarily want every photo up on Facebook. Apple have also added the ability to comment and like photos, a surprising move adding more social networking style features to the Photos app.

Bottom Line

Overall it’s a solid update to an already strong mobile operating system. Apple have decided to take a more cautious approach with this release, looking to add refinements and improve the overall experience without rocking the boat too much. It’s significant that Apple have removed key Google features like maps and Youtube, which is a signal that Apple doesn’t want to rely on competitors to provide core features for their platform. It will be a challenge for Apple to provide a comprehensive mapping service like Google does.

If you already enjoy the iOS experience, then updating to iOS 6 is a no-brainer. If you prefer Android or Windows Phone, this update will not do much to change your view. As a whole, it’s an update that doesn’t rely on one big feature to sell it like in past updates, but iOS 6 still provides an overall more pleasant and useful experience.

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