At the Apple World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) today, CEO Tim Cook started with a quick recap of some really impressive numbers. 400 Million App Store user accounts have been created. This is the largest known retail ecosystem. By the end of the month the App Store will expand to over 150 countries and will have 650,000 apps for iOS in the App Store with over 225,000 created specifically for the iPad. We also learned that there have been 365 million iOS devices sold and that 80% of those devices are running iOS 5.

To date, Apple has paid app developers over $5 billion on over 30 billion app downloads. Speaking directly to developers at the WWDC keynote, Tim Cook showed a video showing the changes that apps have made in people’s lives, like accessibility for blind users, anatomy being taught from an iPad in India, Airbnb connecting people and spare rooms, and speech therapy benefits using Toca Boca apps – all solid, heartwarming examples of how iOS app developers are changing the world.

After going over some impressive changes to the MacBook line (I really want that new Retina MacBook, BTW), and Mac OS X Mountain Lion, we got into the main event, the reveal of iOS 6.

iOS 6
Scott Forstall came on stage to announce the new iOS 6, which includes over 200 new features, starting with some updates to Siri.

These updates include some new natural language queries that Siri can understand. These include the subjects of sports (“What was the score of last nights Giants game?”), restaurant details, movies (“What’s showing at the Metreon?”), and launching apps (“Launch Temple Run”).

You can also send a Tweet or Facebook status update with Siri.

A new feature of Siri is being called “Eyes Free” mode. This seems to utilize the speak/answer button that some cars have on their steering wheels. This connects via Bluetooth to the iOS device and should allow you to start a conversation with Siri without diverting your eyes from the road.

For a big change, Siri will also now be available on the new iPad in addition to the iPhone 4S.

Facebook Integration
Last year, Apple integrated Twitter into the iOS system. This year, we get Facebook. It appears as though whatever feud Apple and Facebook had has been resolved – with iOS 6 we get some rather deep integration of Facebook into the OS.

This includes, much as Twitter, the ability to have your accounts signed on from the OS. This will mean an end to the annoying Facebook logins inside every single application, which is something long needed. But, as we’ve seen with Twitter, developers will need to support new APIs to allow this, and that will take a while.

Facebook user info will also be synced to your iOS device. So if your friends have a phone number on their Facebook account, it will show up in your contacts.

Facebook events will also be available within the Calendar app.

Phone is one app that Apple has really ignored for years. It’s also the one that has the most potential for some really great features. It looks like Apple is paying attention to the Phone app again and has launched some sweet new stuff for it.

When you receive a call under iOS 6, a phone button appears to the right of the “Slide to Answer” bar — much like the Camera does with the slide to unlock bar when you turn your phone on. This button allows you to either send a quick text back to the caller, or create a reminder to yourself to call them back. Selecting one of these features will then give you options to better refine your message or reminder.

One of the more interesting ones is the preset reminder called “When You Leave.” This will send you a notification when you leave your current location to call the missed call back.

Do Not Disturb is a new device-wide feature that gives you fine grain control over what notification you get and when you get it. It’s basically meant to not disturb you when you sleep. Not a new feature (pretty sure I had a feature phone in the 90s that did this), but in typical Apple fashion, it’s well thought out.

Do Not Disturb will give you a time frame you can set to disable notifications. Notifications will still be delivered, but they will be silent.

There are a couple of overrides that can be set for this, as well. One is favorites. You can set your phone favorites to be allowed to ring even if Do Not Disturb is turned on. In addition, a repeat call function will allow the phone to ring if you get a second call from the same number within a few minutes.

FaceTime will now be available over cellular networks. No mention at all if the carriers have a say in this. If so, then this would be best explained as, “FaceTime will be available for carriers to allow over cellular data plans.” And, if the past is any indication, it will be turned on for all carriers except AT&T.

In addition, a change that will impact both FaceTime and iMessage is that your iPhone number will be integrated with your Apple account. This should help with some of the instances where you don’t get iMessages or FaceTime calls on your desktop.

Safari is undergoing some big changes in iOS 6, including iCloud syncing of tabs across all of your devices. Offline Reading List will allow you to take long articles with you when you might not have a data connection. Safari has also been updated to support full screen browsing when the device is in landscape mode.

One of the most needed features in iOS 6 is that you can now upload photos to a web site directly from your iOS device.

Photostream has been updated to allow you to share a subset of your photos. Once chosen, the shared photos will show up on the device on whoever you share them with as a unique album. These shared Photostreams can be viewed on iOS devices, Mac OS X, and even Apple TV. An interesting feature will allow anyone who the album is shared with to comment on the photos.

Mail gets a few frequently requested features. Things like VIP, Flagged, and Junk mailboxes. VIP allows you to note the important people you talk with and have their messages to you be highlighted on your lock screen and in a special folder.

In addition, you can insert a photo/video directly in the Mail app now – no need to go to the Photos app and copy/paste it in. A long press on the message compose, much like when selecting text, will bring up an option to insert a photo/video.

And one of my most wanted features – a control that I’ve wanted to become an OS-wide one – pull-to-refresh comes to the Mail app! When you pull down your inbox past the top, a pull-to-refresh control will appear. Pull down a little more and release to check for new email.

This pull-to-refresh control was originally conceived by Loren Brichter in the Tweetie app. It has become an indie app favorite control and with this, I hope it becomes an iOS standard.

Passbook is a new app, and it’s a bit hard to explain. It’s basically a virtual folder for your electronic tickets, coupons, club cards, and special payment cards. You can keep electronic movie tickets in it and have them pop up on your lock screen when you pass through the geo-fence of the theater. You can keep you Starbucks card on it and charge that triple-skinny-mocha-chino-half-caff-latte to your account, right on your phone.

It’s a great idea, but developers of other third-party apps need to support it for it to work. They need to modify their apps to feed the ticket data into the app. And I’m not sure they will. They have very little to gain in doing so. If anything, they risk their brand being just one of many in a list app.

Considering the developer support needed for this app to work, I don’t see it being of much use, but only because the developers of the apps that would most likely feed data into this app are huge corporations that have such closed ecosystems. I’d love to see it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Guided Access – Single App Mode – Apple continues to impress in the accessibility area. This new feature allows an administrator to mark areas of the screen (by circling with your finger) that are off limits. It will also allow you to disable the home button. This will in effect make the device a single app device. The user can do anything in the app, but can’t get out either accidentally or or purpose.

As mentioned in the keynote — great for kiosk type things as well as learning apps.

Maps updates were the worst kept secret of the event. Still, what was revealed was impressive.

Apple will be dumping Google as a provider of map data and will utilize their own internal systems (mainly from recent acquisitions) to replace the Maps app.

Some of the features of the all-new, built-from-the-ground-up Maps app include:

• New Topography
• Maps are vector not tile based = faster loads
• 100 million business listings
• Crowd sourced traffic information
• Yelp integration for business info and reviews
• Turn by Turn navigation
• Siri integration
• Flyover – 3D photorealistic maps

The Turn by Turn Navigation is a great addition. It gives you Siri to talk you through your route. It will also suggest alternate routes if the traffic gets bad on your current route and there is a better one.

Turn by Turn is also available right from the lock screen. No need to unlock or keep your screen on all the time for it to work.

The new maps really looks great. I can’t wait to try the Flyover feature. One downside is that it doesn’t look like the maps have any real topographic info in them. At the keynote, they routed to Coit tower in San Francisco, which is on a huge hill, but it was as flat as the surrounding areas in the demo.

Summary
iOS 6 is a solid update. But it’s not amazing. The features that we know of for iOS 6 are all easy safe updates. It’s also very true that there might be features of iOS 6 that we don’t know about yet. There will likely be new features added that will only work on the next iPhone.

What iOS really needs is an earth-shattering update that really lights up the sky. Something truly mind-blowing and genre defining. I hear it’s coming, but it might still be years away.

While a lot of responses on Twitter were from people upset that the next iPhone wasn’t unveiled, it sorta was. You have to remember that a new iOS makes every 3GS and later like a whole new device. An update to iOS usually brings with it way more new features than updated hardware.

Now the bad news: for some of you, iOS 6 won’t be compatible with your device. It only works with the iPhone 3GS and later, the iPad 2 and 3, and the 4th gen iPod Touch. It will be available to owners of these devices in the fall.

If you want to watch the full video of the keynote, nearly two hours of it, check out this page on the Apple site.

[ image credit: Apple ]

Posted in: Blog, First Looks