iOS 6 Roundup

Last week, Apple announced the iPhone 5, much to the surprise of everyone I’m sure (that's sarcasm). The new phone has some pretty nifty features, but not everyone will be waiting in line for days in order to get their hands on one. Those of us who don’t want to trade-up just yet still have a way to scratch that “new Apple gadget” itch, however: iOS 6. This new iOS will be compatible with most older devices, including the iPhone 3GS (Yay!) and above, the fourth generation iPod Touch and up, and the iPad 2 and later. So while I might not be able to get my hands on a 5 just yet, I can still feel special when my phone starts to do new and exciting things!

iOS 6 - Plenty of changes to some old favorites

Before we get in to all the major changes and new features I want to take a moment to go over some of the smaller tweaks to the apps many iOS users can’t live without. The camera has gotten a bit more attention this time around. Users can take panoramic photos now with their iPhone 4S/5 and iPod Touch 4th/5th generation, up to 240 degrees both horizontally and vertically. They have simply to sweep the camera along using a predefined motion and the device and software takes care of the rest. Then, said photos and everything else on the camera roll can be shown off to friends quickly and easily with the Photo app. Video chatting with friends and family via FaceTime has also gotten much simpler now that the app can work over a cellular network and Wi-Fi is no longer required--provided the carrier allows for that sort of thing, naturally.

Even the Notification Center has been revamped with Twitter or Facebook posting allowed directly from the notifications window and the option to quiet those irritating 3am notices, thanks to the new Do Not Disturb feature (more on that later). Last, but certainly not least to the accident prone, Find My Phone has been updated to include a Lost Mode which allows users to remotely lock their misplaced phone with a 4-digit code and display contact information for honest folks to use in order to return the lost device. This goes hand-in-hand with Find My Friends, an app that uses GPS to keep track of friends and family, even going so far as to issue alerts when certain individuals have left or reached specific destinations. It sounds weird, but think of it in terms of the kids leaving school and getting home. Pretty nifty, I know, but this is just the beginning.

iTunes, App Store, iBookstore - Refurbishing the storefronts

iTunes, the App Store, and the iBookstore are also getting adjustments by way of some slightly revamped storefronts, Facebook integration (“like” items in the store or view items that friends like), and a new preview feature that automatically keeps track of any apps/music/books that you browse through. You can view this list from within any of the three stores--and across any of their iOS devices thanks to iCloud--and make purchases from it directly.

Mail - Finally more convenient than using a browser

In other Internet-app news, Mail has received some much-needed interface adjustments as well as a new VIP list for super important email contacts. No more accidentally missing vital correspondence through a junk mail mix-up. Per-account signatures are also allowed now, and users can--at long last--post images and videos from directly within the app: no more having to back out. Oh, and we can finally refresh the inbox by swiping down. It’s about time.

Facebook - Like

Last time around with iOS 5, Apple integrated Twitter into their product, so why not Facebook this time around? Facebook integration lets users share their location, images, Game Center high scores and more with a tap or a quick word with Siri. This merging of concepts carries over into contacts as well, where information can automatically update when it changes on Facebook. In other words, you’ll know everyone’s birthday and if they move (and change their info on Facebook), their address will update on its own.

Photo - Share those precious or hilariously inappropriate moments instantly

Next on the docket is Photo’s new Photo Stream feature. Users can now share their freshly taken images, or those already in their camera roll, with whomever they please immediately via iCloud to iOS 6 and the Mac's OS X Mountain Lion. These photo streams can then be viewed, liked, and commented on by friends and family, and you can keep an eye out for your own friends’ new streams as well. It’s like Facebook using nothing but pictures.

Maps - Going places has never been so painless

Maps has also been getting a fair bit of attention in no small part due to its admittedly cool new 3D Flyover feature (limited to iPhone 4S/5, iPad 3rd gen, or iPod Touch 5th gen). But as nifty and handy as viewing simulated 3d maps might be, a feature I consider far more impressive is the entirely new app. No more Google Maps, now it’s built from the ground up and - if the demo video below is any indication - loads a lot faster. The way the app can find traffic information such as construction or accidents is also sure to be essential to commuters hoping to avoid bottlenecks and full-on jams. And while the in-app transit feature has been removed, it can now suggest worthwhile apps for download directly from the App Store. It might not be as streamlined as it once was but as someone who takes mass transit all the time I'd much rather be pointed to some nice, solid transit apps that do everything I'll need rather than utilize a small feature of a much broader app. Just imagine visiting Manhattan and immediately getting recommendations for subway apps. Yeah, good stuff.

Of course there’s also the fully-voiced (by Siri) turn-by-turn navigation that might not be new to smartphones but is no less welcome. A 4S, iPad 3, or 5th generation iPod Touch and higher can all become an incredibly an useful navigation tool with 3D route views and suggestions for alternate paths if the going gets rough.

The Phone - Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

Now we’re getting into the kind of features every iPhone user will love. We’ve all gotten calls at inopportune times and have been forced to decline, but sometimes those calls will be forgotten and feelings might end up getting hurt inadvertently. iOS 6 itself now offers users the option to follow up a declined phone call with an immediate text message or callback reminder. Callback reminders can be set for a specific time (1 hour, or place ("when I leave" my current location) and will make sure the user doesn’t forget to return their calls. So long as they don’t ignore the notification, anyway. Of course, none of that is as mind-blowingly amazing as the new Do Not Disturb feature. Activating Do Not Disturb mode suppresses all incoming calls, texts, and alerts for the duration it’s active. Users can simply turn it on or off at will or even set specific recurring times that it activates itself each day. Don’t worry about missing important calls from loved ones or bosses, however, any desired contacts can be flagged so that they’ll still come through if the mode is active. Seriously, how amazing is that? Goodbye forever, telemarketers!

Safari - I can upload media from inside the app now? Sweet!

Safari has also been shown a bit more love with the addition of iCloud-tab-saving, which lets users continue browsing from one device to another. It also offers offline Reading Lists that save entire web pages instead of links to allow web page reading (available for iPhone 4/iPad 2 and up) anytime, anywhere. Video and image posting can now be done from within the app itself (woo-hoo!), and a full screen landscape view mode is available for anyone interested in perusing their website of choice without a browser interface cluttering things up.

Guided Access - Perfect for teaching and demonstrating

Guided Access is billed mostly as a special set of options designed to aid users with disabilities, but the possibilities go well beyond simply deactivating buttons and using VoiceOver to read the screen. Simply deactivating the Home button may not sound like much, but it’s the sort of thing that’s perfect for showing off a new app or game while preventing anyone from exiting and doing anything else. It also allows users to define and deactivate entire portions of the touch screen, which seems full of potential when demoed in the cultofmac video below.

And if nothing else it could be used as a great way to prank iPhone-using friends.

Siri - Now more helpful than ever

Everyone’s favorite 4S and up hands-free assistant has expanded her resume. Siri is now available on the iPad (3rd gen and up), recognizes more languages, and can even open apps for you! Of course that’s not all she can do. Users can get Siri to track sports information from any football, baseball, hockey, basketball, or other football with a few spoken words. Want to know the current score of the game you can’t watch right now? Just ask Siri. Curious to know what your team’s schedule is for next week? Ask. The same extensive coverage also applies to dining and movies, too. Siri can be used to bring up a restaurant’s menu (including prices) and location, Yelp ratings, and can make reservations through OpenTable. She can also find movie times, trailers, and reviews from Rotten Tomatoes. And if simply reading about it doesn’t quite pique your interest, here's a video demo.

Passbook - I’ve saved the best for last

Passbook is set to be the be-all and end-all for any retail-minded iOS users. The app will digitally store coupon codes, airline tickets, and those little membership cards we all have dangling off our keyrings for convenient use, although there’s more to it than simply scanning barcodes. That would be too easy and there are already plenty of apps that do it. What makes Passbook so special is the way it incorporates all the club card/coupon/ticket storage with time and location-based services. It can tell where you are, so when you walk into the grocery store it will automatically call up any valid coupons for the store to the lock screen. It can keep track of dates and expirations, too. Users simply have to swipe out of the lock screen to browse through their digitized clippings. The same thing goes for reward or membership cards. Heck, it can even notify frequent flyers if their gate has been changed while they’re sitting in the terminal. I know I’ve said something akin to this throughout the whole article but come on, how cool is that?

Acquisition and Installation - You have to get it before you can play with it

Remember, iOS 6 is only available for the iPhone 3GS and up, the 4th generation iPod Touch and up, and the iPad 2 and up. The simple way to install iOS 6 is to connect your iOS device to your computer, start up iTunes and click on “Check for Update.” Thanks to iOS 5’s new addition of updating wirelessly, however, there’s an even more direct method. Simply open up Settings, then the General tab, then hit Software Update and let the device do the rest. It will be available to the masses today, September 19th. In the past iOS updates have been released around 10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern. Check out Twitter feed and we'll let you know the moment it's available.


As exciting as all of this is, it’s also a little creepy when you think about it. Once Skynet becomes self-aware there’s a good chance our iOS devices will be out for blood. And they’ll know where we hang out, what we eat, where we sleep, and who we’d run to for help. Assuming none of this actually leads to a machine uprising and the fall of humanity, it is pretty freaking cool. I can only imagine what iOS 7 might bring, but for now we can all look forward to the imminent release of iOS 6.

As always, we encourage you all to chime in with your thoughts. Are you looking forward to iOS 6? What feature are you the most excited about? Anything you wish they did/didn’t do? Let us know!

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