When Apple held their Worldwide Developers Conference last week, new Macbooks stole the headlines. But Apple didn't leave smartphone developers out in the cold – and there's a lot to love in iOS 6, the update the company unveiled at the conference. Let's take a closer look.
Some observers have noted that iOS 6 is one of the most feature-packed iOS updates that Apple has released. Many of the new features represent requests that users have been making for years; others illustrate heightened competition in the tablet and mobile device space.
One sign of that competition is iOS 6's overhauled Maps app. Apple is no longer using Google's mapping capabilities. Given the increasing popularity of Android devices, it's no surprise that Apple chose to part ways with the monolithic search company. What is a little surprising, however, is how much Apple put into this app. Users will experience incredibly detailed graphics, spoken turn-by-turn directions, more accurate ETAs thanks to real-time traffic info, and specific information about the holdup – is it an accident, construction, or just heavy volume? The app apparently can even find alternate routes around traffic on the fly, something many standalone GPS devices don't do.
Apple also updated iOS's notification settings. One little-noticed addition to Notification Center allows your iPhone to inform you of government alerts. These could include things like Amber Alerts for missing children, but also “emergency alerts,” which are a separate setting. This kind of alert used to be broadcast over TV and radio, but audience habits have changed so much that adding it to the iPhone can mean that the alert reaches more people than it would through those older, more public channels.
Apple also integrated Facebook into iOS 6. This feature will allow iOS 6 users to log into their accounts in the iOS settings and share to Facebook from a wide range of apps, including Maps, Safari, and Game Center. The Facebook integration reaches other parts of the operating system, too – for example, users can see what apps their Facebook friends like in the iTunes store, and a user's Facebook events will automatically appear in their iOS calendar. Facebook is promising an SDK for iOS 6 soon with “significant new features and enhancements” to make it easy to add Facebook integration to iOS 6 apps.
Siri also got smarter with iOS 6. Yes, Siri will now be on the new iPad, not just the iPhone anymore. It comes with international locations (not just the US), sports information (including team and player stats), reservations through Open Table, and information on movies. Siri can also help users launch apps now, and even speaks and understands Spanish, Italian, Korean, and Mandarin.
Apple found ways to make synchronizing multiple devices less of a pain, thanks to updates to Safari, their mobile browser. Safari in iOS 6 offers iCloud tabs that let users resume browsing tabs and offline reading lists on multiple devices. And if you ever get tired of holding your tablet in portrait mode to use Safari, you can now turn it on its side; it supports full screen landscape mode.
All told, Apple has included more than 200 updates in iOS 6. Many features were unannounced, such as a makeover for the App Store that includes full-screen app screen shot previews. Sadly, there's still no integrated weather app – you could always ask Siri, of course, but sometimes that's not enough. Personally, I'd rather receive weather alerts without having to ask for them. Perhaps Apple will include that in a later version; right now, iOS 6 clearly shows that the company does listen to its customers, and there's a lot to like about it. iOS 6 will be available in the fall.