On June 11, 2012, Apple officially announced iOS 6, the latest version of the mobile operating system it originally debuted in 2007. As with previous releases of iOS (and its previous name, iPhone OS), iOS 6 is an iterative update to its immediate predecessor, though loaded with new features for both users and developers to explore. Initially, iOS 6 is being distributed as an unfinished “beta” release to iOS developers, with plans to make it widely available to users in “Fall,” presumably alongside the next-generation iPhone and iPod touch.
Though future models will include iOS 6 support as well, the latest release currently works only on iOS devices in Apple’s present lineup: the second- and third-generation iPads, the iPhone 3GS/4/4S, and the fourth-generation iPod touch. Support for the first-generation iPad and third-generation iPod touch are being dropped for the first time, and some of the features—such as Siri and part of Maps—are exclusive to specific iOS devices.
Completely redesigned from the Google-dependent Maps application that launched with the original iPhone and saw relatively small tweaks annually thereafter, the iOS 6 version of Maps includes the following new features:
Apple-designed cartography and new 3-D map views. Maps defaults to a 2-D presentation of map imagery with new, clean fonts, more organic artwork, and vector-based details that can upscale or downscale impressively; you can rotate the maps and zoom in or out with your fingers. This content is now generated by Apple, TomTom, and others, rather than Google. Traffic alerts, including the ability to anonymously report problems, are currently being integrated into the app.
Yelp business data has been added, along with business-specific photography, and 100,000 points of interest are already in the database. The app now turns the map to widescreen mode on the iPhone and iPod touch, as it did on the iPad before; Google Street View is gone.
The biggest features are turn-by-turn directions and a new 3-D view, which allows users to see polygonal representations of certain cities captured with satellite photography. These modes are separate; turn-by-turn uses shaded polygons with automated 3-D camera motions, and the 3-D view uses textured polygons with manual camera control. Apple uses very clear signs to indicate the next two turns, and Siri’s voice is used to speak directions aloud. Users can ask Siri for assistance, such as locating a nearby gas station, and get help from the Maps application; automatic re-routing is also supported. The iPhone 4S, iPad 2, and third-generation iPad can all do 3-D flythroughs of cities and turn-by-turn directions; unfortunately, older iOS devices cannot.
Apple appears to still be adding data and polygon maps to major cities within the new Maps application, as shown above.
Long-awaited “deep” integration of Facebook into iOS arrives in iOS 6, thanks to a Twitter-style pop-up panel that can contain text, location information, and an attachment—photo, web site, or map details. After logging in one time with your Facebook account credentials, you can post from within multiple iOS integrated apps, choosing who to share each update with, see Facebook birthdays and gatherings, and access your friends’ Facebook profile information in Contacts. The contact information is automatically brought into a “Unified Info” contact form that shows with a small Facebook icon whether the data comes from Facebook or your prior contact information.
Settings enable you to choose whether to send video to Facebook in HD, and how you want to be alerted to updates posted to your timeline. You can also post to Facebook through the Notifications Center via a Tap to Post button, now found alongside a Tap to Tweet button.
iOS 6 adds Siri to the third-generation iPad, and improves Siri with several new features across both devices, including support for a substantial number of additional languages.
More powerful restaurant searching is included thanks to a more developed integration of Yelp, and Opentable reservations are built in, as well.
Siri now tracks sports scores, player statistics, and start times for sporting events. Baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer are supported.
Siri can now look up movie show times and locations, as well as cast members. Rotten Tomatoes reviews and ratings are included, as are links to movie trailers. And Siri can now post Facebook updates, tweet over Twitter, and launch third-party applications—but, for now, not do anything else save take dictation within them.
On the iPad, Siri appears as a speech block-like window, centered wherever the Home Button is physically located on the device in landscape or portrait orientation—top center, bottom center, left center, or right center. This reinforces the fact that Siri is activated using the Home Button. A new developer feature called Eyes Free will allow Siri to be triggered by a hardware button installed in cars, similar to the way some accessories can currently activate Siri by holding down the play/pause button.
Slight UI tweaks for the iPhone and iPod touch have replaced the once light grey bottom of screen bar with black, inverting previously dark still/video camera icons to become lighter.
A combined settings menu for Photos & Camera eliminates the need for separate settings for these applications.
The iPad now has a Clock application, conceptually mirroring the one on the iPhone and iPod touch. It has a handsomely redesigned icon for the iPad, and also new features: multiple full-screen clock faces, a map of time zones with weather information for each city you desire, a new grid that displays multiple alarms set across the week, plus full-screen stopwatch and timer features.
For the time being, the iPhone and iPod touch app has not received the new icon.
Photos: Improved Sharing + Shared Photo Streams
Sharing buttons are now icons, rather than text, and add support for Facebook and Weibo.
The original implementation of the iCloud feature Photo Stream was a powerful but incomplete follow-up to Apple’s earlier MobileMe photo storage service: iCloud made it super easy to upload photos to the Internet, but gave users no ability to share them with others. Shared Photo Streams remedies this by letting you share whichever photos you want over the Internet; the photos are delivered instantly to friends using iOS 6, OS X Mountain Lion, or the Apple TV, or viewable on the web by other devices. Push notifications let iOS and Mac users know that new photos have been added.
Liking and commenting are enabled for photos, and Shared Photo Streams work over both Wi-Fi and cellular networks.
Conceptually an alternative to Google Wallet, Passbook is a brand new integrated iOS app designed to hold digital versions of airplane and train boarding passes, movie and show tickets, cards for retail services, and coupons. These digital versions resemble user-printable passes that would otherwise be inked onto paper and then disposed of, complete with varied bar, QR, and other codes that can be scanned by other handheld devices.
Passbook requires partners to sign up with Apple to enable their documents to be stored inside. United Airlines has been announced as a launch partner; Fandango, Starbucks, and Amtrak were also shown alongside the Apple Store as providing Passbook passes. Once a pass has been used, you can delete it, complete with a shredding animation to suggest that it’s securely removed.
At least on current devices, Apple has bumped the YouTube app off of the iPhone and iPod touch’s first Home Screen, relegating it to the second page alongside apps such as Stocks, Contacts, Calculator, Voice Memos, and Compass. This makes room on the screen for the new Passbook application; we’ll see whether taller-screened iPhones and iPod touches move these icons back, or leave them on the second page. Updated August 6, 2012: Apple has officially removed YouTube from iOS 6, noting that its license expired and is apparently not being renewed. Google is being left to develop its own iOS YouTube app to add the functionality back.
FaceTime has been updated to allow video chats over cellular connections—at least, on the iPad 2/third-generation and iPhone 4S. As of the moment, no cellular switch is included for the iPhone 4. This may be bandwidth-related, or could be due to something else.
FaceTime also now aggregates all of the e-mail addresses and phone numbers (!) associated with your personal account, and allows you to receive video calls made to your phone number on a non-iPhone device.
To add an iPhone’s phone number to other iOS devices with FaceTime, an iOS 6 iPhone 4/4S needs to toggle both FaceTime and iMessage off, then toggle them back on. This will push the iPhone’s number to Apple’s servers, which will then automatically add the number to the associated FaceTime account. The same trick works to add an iPhone’s number to iMessage, and may change in the final version of iOS 6.
Settings: Do Not Disturb, Privacy, Notifications
Do Not Disturb is a new Settings option that enables users to deactivate the phone’s screen and noise-making capabilities manually at night, or in a movie theater, or other situations when light or sounds are strictly unwanted.
Notifications can now be set in a more granular way to prevent unwanted, unknown people from disturbing you with notifications; a setting lets you display only notifications from contacts. You can also control notifications from additional apps, such as Photos.
Privacy lets you take granular control of location services, cellular network location, and other types of settings that might gather information from your device quietly and pass it back to Apple or others.
iCloud settings now include support for new applications such as Passbook, Reminders, and Notes.
Several wallpapers have been added, and others deleted. Additional restrictions have been added, as have new sound and vibration patterns unique to specific applications and activities.
Without explanation, Apple added a reference to “Bluetooth Sharing” to the Privacy settings in iOS 6 Beta 4 (August 6, 2012), noting that “Apps that have requested the ability to share data via Bluetooth will appear here. These apps can share data even when you’re not using them.” A source reports that Apple will allow certain of its devices to transmit phone, message, and other content to one another. While the most obvious use of this feature might be to send iOS data from an iPhone to an Bluetooth-enabled iPod nano wristwatch—something that doesn’t as yet exist—it could also enable an iPad to initiate a telephone call from a Bluetooth-connected iPhone, or display messages that were received over the iPhone’s cellular connection. We’ll have to see how it plays out in the near future.
The iPhone has received a redrawn and improved Phone application, replacing the black and blue number pad of every prior iteration with light grey keys.
As integrated into the Lock Screen, the Phone app now enables users to handle incoming calls in two nice ways: Swipe to Answer now permits users to answer, decline, or text message a caller with one of several pre-typed messages, as well as to remind themselves to call back either at a specific time or location. The messages can be typed in advance using Settings.
Mail now supports easier insertion of media files such as photos and videos into messages, adds a VIP mailbox, a flagged messages mailbox, and separate signatures for each of your e-mail accounts if so desired.
Safari can now share its tabs on an iOS device with a Mac running Safari. Sharing options for web pages have been expanded and given nicer-looking buttons. Reading List can now save pages for offline viewing at any time, or solely when you’re on Wi-Fi.
Accessibility + Guided Access
Guided Access has been added as a new feature to limit the issues that some disabled users may encounter with iOS devices, selectively disabling hardware buttons, touch buttons, and other features for autistic and other users who might otherwise accidentally trigger app exits or other problems when using the device. Hearing Aid support has been added, with Made For iPhone hearing aids coming soon.
Music + Remodeled Stores
The Music application for iPhone and iPod touch has been substantially redesigned cosmetically to mimic iOS 5-vintage changes to the iPad application, complete with wider buttons, as well as switching some of the graphics from black over to light grey.
Apple has redesigned the iTunes Store and App Store to increase the presence of banners and decrease the number of borders on pages. It has also added sharing links, replacing text-based, opaque dialog boxes such as “Twitter” or “Message” with translucent-paned icons.
When you download an app, the App Store no longer exits and returns to your Home Screen; instead, you’re able to continue using the Store, and the finished download presents an “Open” button to take you to the app. The new app is presented with a “New” ribbon the first time you see it.
iTunes Match and its prior options found in Music have been duplicated in a new settings menu titled iTunes & App Stores, renamed from Stores. For the time being, the iTunes Match settings are found in two places.
Apple has added Emergency Alerts and AMBER Alerts as options to Notification Center. It has also added a “Tap to Tweet” button, and again, the ability to turn off notification screen activation with Do Not Disturb.
The online game matchmaking and friend tracking service Game Center has added a new Challenges tab to encourage friends to compete in specific games, beating scores or earning achievements.
New Features For China
To service its growing customer base in China, Apple has added a new Chinese dictionary with iCloud multi-device synchronization, improved typing and handwriting recognition for the Chinese language to include over 30,000 characters, and added support for Baidu, Youku, Tudou, and Sina Weibo services.
Find My iPhone
This Apple-developed but separately downloaded application has added a Lost Mode that tracks where the device has been and reports back whenever Find My iPhone is loaded on another device. You can lock the iOS device with a passcode and send a message with a contact number in hopes of retrieving the phone. The application has been substantially altered cosmetically, featuring a new font, new icons, and new maps.
Find My Friends
Like Find My iPhone, this app is separately downloaded but effectively part of iOS 6, based upon the earlier version debuted last year. Location-based alerts can let you know automatically when a user (such as a child) leaves school or arrives home, and provide notifications to other people about your location as desired. New iOS 6 maps appear in here, as well.
We’re currently building this article out and will be updating it with additional screens and details. Thanks to our source for the screenshots!