Originally unveiled at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in June, Apple today released iOS 6, the sixth major release of its mobile operating system for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
Although the release of iOS 6 brings a couple of major new features such as Apple’s completely redesigned Maps application and Passbook for storing tickets, gift cards and coupons digitally, many of the new features are largely iterative, expanding upon features introduced in iOS 5. Siri has become deeper and expanded to additional devices, and iCloud-related features have been improved. Small but important conveniences, such as Facebook sharing integration, are also in the new version.
Downloading and Installing
The update to iOS 6 can be downloaded and installed using iTunes in the same way as all previous major iOS updates; iOS 5 should also be able take advantage of the over-the-air (OTA) update option first introduced last year.
iOS 6 is a free update for all supported iOS device models—the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, fourth-generation iPod touch, iPad 2, and third-generation iPad. It’s also the default version of iOS for the new iPhone 5 and fifth-generation iPod touch.
iOS 6 will also require iTunes 10.7, released last week shortly following Apple’s iPhone event. While a major new release of iTunes is expected in October, iTunes 10.7 has been provided as a minor interim update to insure compatibility with iOS 6 and the new iPhone, iPod touch and iPod nano models.
To download and install iOS 6, users can use the “Check for Updates” option found on the Device Summary page in iTunes 10.7 which should locate, download and install the update automatically. In some cases, iTunes may have already discovered the update by itself, in which case you will simply see an “Update” button instead of a “Check for Updates” button. For an over-the-air (OTA) update, an iOS 5.x user can go into the device’s Settings app and choose General, Software Update to check for and download the update. Note that you may need to be on Wi-Fi to receive the OTA update, and your device should be connected to power or have at least 50% battery life remaining in order for the update to install.
The usual caveats and warnings apply here as with any iOS update: the installation may or may not preserve all of your existing data. It may result in the wiping of your device’s data under certain conditions, and it is therefore a good idea to make a full backup of your device before beginning. Be sure that all of your media content and apps are in your iTunes library, as these do not form part of the backups made by iTunes, as Apple reasonably expects that you should be able to re-sync this information from your iTunes library following a full restore. You can check the status of your backup before beginning by visiting the “Devices” section in your iTunes Preferences.
As with prior major iOS updates, Apple has chosen to completely drop support for certain older devices in iOS 6—basically all devices that weren’t still being sold after March 2011. The oldest device that supports iOS 6 is the iPhone 3GS, presumably as it remained on sale as the low-end iPhone until this month. For the iPad and iPod touch, however, only the two most recent models of each—including the newly-released fifth-generation iPod touch—will support iOS 6.
Also not surprisingly, there are some considerable differences in features between specific device models as well, with only the very newest devices—iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, third-generation iPad and fifth-generation iPod touch—supporting all of the new features found in iOS 6. We note these limitations as we discuss each of the new features.
Much like Siri on the iPhone 4S and iOS 5 last year, many of the major new features in iOS 6 are not available worldwide. This time around Apple has actually provided a web page listing the countries where features such as Maps, Siri and the iTunes Store are available.
iOS 6 introduces a completely new Maps application that leverages Apple’s new in-house Maps service, replacing the Google Maps data that had previously been used since the original iPhone debuted in 2007. With the new Maps application, Apple introduces additional features such as turn-by-turn navigation, traffic and a 3D flyover view, although the elimination of Google Maps means users will be giving up Google-specific features such as Street View and integrated public transit directions.
Turn-by-turn Navigation (iPhone 4S, iPad 2, third-generation iPad, fifth-generation iPod touch)
The new Maps app in iOS 6 now includes built-in turn-by-turn GPS navigation on newer devices, all but eliminating the need for third-party GPS navigation apps for the majority of users. Siri integration allows users to request directions by voice, or simply open the Maps app and search for a destination in the traditional manner. Once a route is plotted, both visual and voice guided directions are provided along the route.
Users can also search for points of interest along their route, either manually or via Siri and update their route accordingly. In addition, the turn-by-turn navigation view is also displayed on the Lock screen and voice-guided instructions will continue to be provided even when using another application, or when the screen is off.
Turn-by-turn navigation is already available in 56 countries, with nine more coming in October.
Users with older iOS devices or in countries where turn-by-turn navigation isn’t supported can still get directions and will see a similar step-by-step street-sign navigation view, but will need to advance through the directions manually, much as in the previous Maps app.
The new Maps app also provides indicators for significant road conditions such as accidents and construction. This information is also used when plotting routes for turn-by-turn navigation to attempt to determine the best route to a destination as well as offering faster routes to bypass traffic during navigation. Tapping on a traffic icon will provide a descriptive pop-up and users can tap the blue arrow to see additional information about the particular alert.
Traffic information is currently available in 49 countries.
Flyover (iPhone 4S, iPad 2, third-generation iPad)
Maps provides the ability to get a 3-D perspective in any map view simply by swiping upward with two fingers or tapping the “3D” button in the bottom left corner. Certain major metropolitan areas however also include full three-dimensional building views; users can pan, tilt and rotate the view effectively “flying over” their favorite cities and zooming in to view detailed buildings and landmarks. While the renderings look good at a distance, zooming in can lead to some very unusual distortion, occasionally making buildings and roads look melted or post-apocalyptic.
Note that the “3D” button changes to a building icon when viewing an area where a Flyover view is available.
iOS 6 Maps now integrates its own local business search results, providing reviews and photos from Yelp for many venus in addition to standard contact information. Location cards are presented in a more attractive view with a Ken Burns style photo header and quick information summary at the top and a tabbed view for switching between info, reviews and additional photos.
It’s worth noting that Apple’s points-of-interest database has already been coming under fire from users of the pre-release iOS 6 software, for inaccuracies and search issues that were not present in the Google-assisted version of Maps. While the results look nicer than before, you may want to check to be sure that the addresses are accurate before starting a trip.
A new Maps section in the Settings app provides options for configuring navigation voice volume, units for distance measurement, and map label language and size.
The label size option turns out to be an important factor in rendering Apple’s new maps usable on different devices, thanks to a new font that’s a little challenging to read at smaller sizes.
Siri (iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, third-generation iPad, fifth-generation iPod touch)
Originally introduced with the iPhone 4S last year, Siri has now been added to the third-generation iPad, and will also be available on the new fifth-generation iPod touch, as well as the iPhone 5. The service has also been expanded to provide support for looking up additional types of information, posting Twitter and Facebook updates, and a number of additional countries and languages.
Siri on the third-generation iPad works in much the same way as for the iPhone 4S, however the Siri prompts are displayed in a pop-over adjacent to the Home button, rather than taking up the full screen. iPhone 4S features such as Raise to Speak are not included for obvious reasons.
In iOS 6, users can now query sports information for their favorite teams, including past games, schedules, team rosters and player stats. Baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer are all included.
Siri has also added support for movie information, providing showtimes, reviews and movie facts.
Users can search for local showtimes, find movies by actor, and even view trailers, all simply by asking Siri.
Siri can also now be used to not only search for local restaurants, but also to search for tables and make reservations through OpenTable.
Post Twitter and Facebook Updates
Users can now post Twitter and Facebook status updates by voice.
Apps can now be launched directly from Siri, although this seems to be the extent of Siri’s third-party app integration for the time being.
Expanded International Support
Most significantly, Siri has been expanded dramatically beyond the few countries it was originally launched in. Siri is now available in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, the U.K. and the U.S., although specific features such as sports, movies, and restaurant information still vary by country.
Detailed lists of Siri features supported in each country can be found at Apple’s iOS 6 Feature Availability page.
Passbook (iPhone, iPod touch)
A major new addition in iOS 6 is Passbook, an app for storing and accessing digital items such as passes, coupons, gift cards and tickets. The Passbook app by itself does little more than display a brief welcome screen and a link to the App Store—it is essentially a framework for businesses to provide the digital passes either via an app or a web-based service.
Passes can be both time- and location-based and, once installed, can be updated dynamically over-the-air by the provider. This means that airplane boarding passes can be updated for gate changes with automatic notification to the user when this occurs, and Starbucks cards can be presented on the lock screen whenever the user is near any of his or her favorite locations. The Lock screen notification allows the user to quickly bring up the pass with a simple swipe on the notification, useful for electronic scanning of a barcode for payment or admission purposes.
Passbook is available on both the iPhone and iPod touch but absent from the iPad, presumably due to its focus on providing a “wallet-like” experience. Passbook passes will synchronize via iCloud and can also be added from Safari or Mail in Mac OS X 10.8.2. Synchronization and updating of passes requires a data connection, so iPod touch users may find themselves more limited in their use of the Passbook app, particularly where more critical updates such as airline gate changes are concerned.
iOS 6 expands on the Twitter integration introduced last year in iOS 5 by adding Facebook to the mix. Users now post status updates from Notification Center, share Photos from the Photos apps and links from Safari and other apps in much the same way as Twitter. iOS 6 also provides the ability to include Facebook Contacts directly in the iOS Contacts app, plus Facebook Events and Birthdays directly in the iOS Calendar.
Users can also now Like and share App Store and iTunes Store content directly to Facebook within the respective apps, as well as posting high scores from Game Center and locations from Maps. Third-party apps can also take advantage of the native iOS 6 Facebook integration for posting and sharing information rather than having to build their own Facebook integration.
Facebook support is configured within the Facebook section in the iOS Settings app. Contacts and Calendars can be enabled or disabled from here, as well as determining which other apps are allowed to access Facebook. Additional settings allow users to control chat and message alerts and decide whether to record in HD when creating videos for Facebook.
iOS 6 eliminates the built-in YouTube app that has been included since the original iPhone was released in 2007. Links to YouTube videos will now play in the Safari browser by default, though iOS 6 still includes the ability to upload videos to YouTube from the Photos app, as before.
The omission of the built-in YouTube app is a relatively small loss, as it received only very minor updates over the years. Google has already released a native YouTube app on the App Store that not only fills in this gap but provides a generally better user experience than the built-in version did, at least for iPhone and iPod touch users. An update to add proper iPad support is forthcoming. YouTube links will open in Google’s YouTube app rather than Safari after it’s installed.
While the Messages app remains essentially unchanged in iOS 6, one significant addition is the ability to now add your iPhone’s phone number to your iPod touch or iPad, allowing iMessages sent to that phone number to be received on all of your iOS devices. The Messages settings have now been updated to display all phone numbers and e-mail addresses registered to the current Apple ID, allowing users to choose which ones should be used on the current device rather than having to enter them manually.
Note that this feature only allows the user’s iPhone phone number to be added to other iOS devices, and does not allow the user to simply punch in an arbitrary number. Once iMessage has been activated on the iPhone, that phone number will be uploaded to the user’s iMessage account as long as they’ve signed into iMessage with an Apple ID. It will then become available on any other iOS device using the same Apple ID.
As an additional security measure, a pop-up notification now appears on the original device whenever any iMessage address—phone number or e-mail address—is added to another iOS device.
Apple’s video calling app FaceTime gains the same ability to use a phone number on iPad and iPod touch devices as Messages. This is configured separately in the FaceTime settings, but is otherwise handled in the exact same manner as above.
FaceTime over Cellular (iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, third-generation iPad)
In addition, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and third-generation iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular users can now take advantage of FaceTime calls over cellular connections, provided their carrier supports the feature on their current plan. This option can be switched on or off in either the FaceTime or Cellular sections in the iOS Settings app.
To help users better understand FaceTime data usage, the Recent Calls section in the Phone or FaceTime apps now displays the amount of data used for each FaceTime call beside the duration in the details view.
The Phone app has undergone a major cosmetic refresh in the actual numeric keypad, replacing the former mostly black keypad with a new white UI.
Reply and Remind
Users can now easily respond to incoming calls with a text message reply or set a reminder to return a call at a future time or location. A small phone icon now appears on the incoming call screen next to the Answer/Decline buttons; swiping up reveals options to “Reply with Message” or “Remind Me Later.”
When replying with a message, you can choose one of three pre-written messages that can be customized in the Phone section of the Settings app, or choose “Custom” to be taken to the Messages app to write your own response.
The Reminder option allows you to be alerted to return the call in an hour or based on location—when you leave your current location or arrive at home or work.
Notifications and Do Not Disturb
Notification settings have been refined in iOS 6, moving most external notification options for features such as Messages and Phone calls into their specific categories under the Notification section in the Settings app, and adding a new “Do Not Disturb” feature that allows users to silence all notifications either on-demand—or impressively during a specific time each day. A “Do Not Disturb” switch toggle appears on the main Settings screen, and users can also configure a schedule with additional Do Not Disturb options under the Notifications section.
When “Do Not Disturb” is enabled, a small crescent moon icon is shown in the status bar beside the clock, and when the device’s screen is off, it will not sound an alert, vibrate, or light up the screen when any notifications come in. Note that even with “Do Not Disturb” enabled, notifications are still received normally whenever the screen is on, presumably as the user is already using the device and therefore doesn’t mind being disturbed.
The Do Not Disturb setting also allows users to make exceptions for receiving phone calls from specific numbers based on a contact group, or to let through any repeated call that comes from the same number within a three-minute interval.
Camera & Photos
The Camera app has received a small facelift as well, now sporting a darker, black toolbar with higher-contrast buttons. The Photos app has also been reorganized with a new, separate “Photo Stream” tab in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen.
Panorama (iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, fifth-generation iPod touch)
iOS 6 introduces a Panorama mode for the iPhone 4S and the new iPhone and iPod touch models. The feature is accessed from the “Options” button at the top of the camera screen, and once enabled provides a guide for moving the iPhone from left to right to capture a panoramic photo, using the device’s accelerometer and gyroscope to track movement, while displaying a guideline to help keep the device level and notify the user if he or she is moving too fast or erratically.
Panorama is only supported in portrait orientation and photos must always be taken from left to right. The Panorama mode works best with more distant shots than it does with close-ups and while it can help to remove or adjust for some moving objects from the Panorama, it works best with relatively static scenes.
Shared Photo Streams
With iOS 6, Apple expands on the iCloud Photo Stream concept introduced last fall with a new Shared Photo Streams feature, allowing users to create albums that can be shared as web pages, or with other iOS 6 and iCloud users.
Despite the similar name, Shared Photo Streams do not have to include photos already in your main Photo Stream and are not subject to the Wi-Fi-only or 30-day, 1000-photo limitation of the standard Photo Stream. They also do not appear to count against your iCloud storage allocation. Creating a Shared Photo Stream is simply a matter of selecting the photos you would like included in the Shared Photo Stream and then choosing “Photo Stream” from the standard sharing options in the Photos app. You will be prompted to name the Photo Stream and then optionally invite other users to participate and/or share the photo stream on the web.
Users added to your Shared Photo Stream will receive an invitation notification on their iOS 6 device. Once they accept the invite, the Shared Photo Stream will be added to the “Photo Stream” section in their Photos app, and they can not only view but also like and comment on photos in the stream, effectively creating a small ad-hoc social network between iOS users.
Shared Photo Streams are read-only for all but the originator—other users can view or share photos from the stream but cannot delete or add new content, apart from commenting. Further, like the main Photo Stream, all Shared Photo Streams will automatically appear on all devices that share the same iCloud account.
The Safari browser in iOS has undergone only modest changes in terms of the browser itself, with the major addition being support for a greater number of tabs on the iPad. When more tabs are open than can fit on the screen at once, a double-arrow appears on the right-most tab providing a drop-down list of additional tabs, similar to Safari on OS X.
iOS 6 also offers two additional new features in the form of iCloud Tabs and offline support for the Reading List feature.
In iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion, open Safari tabs are now automatically synced to the user’s iCloud account, and can be accessed from Safari on any of these devices. On the iPad, an iCloud icon appears in the top toolbar to present a pop-over listing the open tabs on other devices; on the iPhone and iPod touch, this list is accessed from the iCloud Tabs section at the top level of the Bookmarks listing.
Offline Reading List (iPhone 4/4S/5, iPad 2, third-generation iPad)
Safari in iOS 6 also expands on the Reading List feature introduced last year, adding support for caching items for viewing when offline. This offline caching is performed automatically in the background whenever content is added to the Reading List from any device that shares the same iCloud account, although users concerned about conserving data can choose to disable the Offline Reading List over a cellular connection, limiting it to Wi-Fi use only. This option can be found in either the Safari or Cellular sections in the iOS Settings app.
The Offline Reading List feature basically works in the background with no additional settings. It is worth noting, however, that the offline version is only used when no data connection is available—Safari will still go out to the Internet and fetch the original page whenever the user has a Wi-Fi or 3G connection, regardless of whether an offline copy has been cached or not.
Full-screen Landscape View (iPhone, iPod touch)
Safari on the iPhone and iPod touch now provides a full-screen view option in landscape orientation, allowing the user to hide the menu bar and top-of-screen device status bar by tapping on an icon in the bottom-right corner. Translucent icons let you go back a page or restore the bars.
The Mail app in iOS 6 has also received a few useful enhancements, notably a new VIP list feature, improved notifications and signatures, and support for adding photos and videos while composing messages.
VIP List, Flagged & Junk
You can now create a list of your high-priority “VIP” contacts in Mountain Lion or iOS 6 which is synced to all devices via your iCloud Contacts. A “VIP” section appears in the Mail app below the Inbox to gather all of the messages from your important senders in a single list. VIP contacts are also indicated by a star beside each message, in place of the blue dot for unread messages, or as a hollowed-out star for read items.
iOS 6 also adds a pre-defined “Flagged” Smart Mailbox below the VIP inbox to help users quickly access flagged messages. A Junk mail folder is also now identified by a unique icon.
Tapping on the blue arrow allows users to edit the VIP list directly or individual senders can be added/removed from the VIP list by tapping on the From address in an e-mail message and selecting the VIP button at the bottom of the contact card.
Archiving and Deleting Messages
iCloud and Gmail accounts can be set to Archive Messages, as before. A tap-and-hold on the Archive button will now provide a choice of deleting or archiving the selected message. Unfortunately, unlike the OS X Mail app, this option is not available for other types of accounts, even if an Archive folder is present in the account.
Quick Access to Drafts
Tapping and holding the Compose button also now brings up a quick list of any available drafts in the user’s mailbox.
Transition to iCloud.com
With the release of iOS 6, Apple has also begun transitioning e-mail accounts to using @icloud.com in place of the older @me.com domain name. Much like the original .Mac to MobileMe transition a few years ago, existing iCloud e-mail users will automatically receive an @icloud.com alias for their existing @me.com account, however new users will presumably be set up with @icloud.com as the only domain name.
iOS 6 allows users to choose which e-mail addresses they prefer to use for their iCloud e-mail account by going into their iCloud account settings. Both the primary e-mail address and any iCloud aliases are shown here.
Photo and Video Attachments
The iOS 6 Mail app now allows users to insert photos and videos from the iOS Photo library while composing an e-mail message. Simply tap and hold your finger on any empty space in a message, like initiating a Cut/Copy/Paste, then use the arrows to bring up the new “Insert Photo or Video” button from the pop-up menu.
iOS 6 now provides more flexibility in configuring notifications for incoming e-mail messages, with the ability to configure notifications on a per-account basis along with a separate group of notification settings for messages from VIP senders. These can be configured in the Notifications section of the Settings app or by tapping on “VIP Alerts” at the bottom of the VIP List.
Users can now specify individual signatures for each of their e-mail accounts individually from the Signature option under the Mail, Contacts, Calendars section in the Settings app.
iOS 6 replaces the previous text-based sharing menus in apps such as Photos and Safari with a more graphical, icon based interface. A similar layout is presented in the menus for opening files in third-party applications, displaying icons for the actual applications rather than merely a text list of app names.
The Music app on the iPhone and iPod touch has received a UI refresh, replacing the previous black theme with a new, all-white design throughout with the exception of the “Now Playing” screen which retains a black theme with a modest redesign. This appears to be an effort to unify the look of Music across devices, and with the upcoming version of iTunes.
Most of the functionality in the Music app otherwise remains unchanged, although iTunes Match users will notice that the iCloud icons previously shown beside all tracks have now disappeared in an attempt to make the cloud-based music library more transparent. Download All buttons remain at the bottom of playlists and albums, and download status indicators are shown when content is actually being specifically downloaded. iTunes Match and cloud-based music otherwise works as it did before, with tracks that are not stored on the device being streamed and cached locally for future replays. The lack of visual downloading indicators for tracks played on-demand provides a more seamless streaming-style user experience, however.
Now that Apple is offering standalone Podcasts and iTunes U apps, the corresponding Podcasts and iTunes U sections of the Music app are now only displayed if the separate apps are not installed on the device.
The Clock app on the iPhone and iPod touch remains largely unchanged, although the ability to use a song from the music library as an alarm has finally been added.
More significantly, the Clock app has now found its way onto the iPad in iOS 6, providing the same basic functionality from the iPhone version with an iPad-optimized interface. The World Clock now includes a world map showing all of the selected cities along with basic weather information.