My friend and former manager David Henderson, an Ontario-based SEO and website developer, challenged me to put my thoughts online about iOS 6 so that he could write a companion article. I am going to cover what I consider to be the pros of upgrading to Apple’s latest mobile operating system for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, and David will counter with what he considers to be the cons. Let’s get started!
PREFACE: I own an iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 GSM and a 1st generation iPad. I was disappointed the iOS 6 update didn’t apply to my iPad – it’s got just as fast a processor as the 3GS (maybe faster even) but Apple is agressive in their planned obsolescence. While I agree with this in theory, as it allows developers to code more efficient operating systems, I do wish even a cut-down version of iOS 6 was available for the 1st generation iPad, if only to enable the Facebook integration and Shared Photo Streams.
As promised at WWDC, Apple went live with Facebook integration across platforms this month, releasing not only iOS 6 but a Mountain Lion update that allows for system-wide integration of Facebook. This allows for apps to share and post directly to Facebook without opening a browser window or the Facebook app, and allows you to post Facebook updates from the Notification Center of iOS and OS X. A welcome addition, in my books. You can post photos and videos from the Photos app, web pages from Safari, even Podcast episodes from the new Podcasts app. You can also Like apps in the App Store and post links to songs in iTunes.
Facebook Contacts Kerfuffle
Some users are complaining about how Facebook is integrated into the Contacts apps, as just recently Facebook silently changed the default email address on all user’s profiles to an @facebook.com address. If you know it’s there, you can change it back to your regular email address, but if not the default email for a contact imported from Facebook into iOS’s Contacts app will be the @facebook.com address. Emailing that address is the same as sending someone a message through Facebook’s built-in messaging service. This change in the Facebook email address does not overwrite email addresses for contacts that already exist, so it is not as worrisome as some blogs are making it out to be.
Overall I think it’s nice what iOS has done with Facebook integration, along with the makeover to the share sheets, which now feature a grid-based layout with icons as opposed to the previous pop-up menu with plain buttons.
Apple, in an effort to cut ties with Google, has released an all-new Maps application, which draws data from a number of new partners, most notably TomTom and Yelp. The most notable new feature is Flyover, which shows 3D-rendered maps of major cities. So far, Flyover isn’t supported in my home town of Winnipeg, but I did check out New York, Los Angeles, London and Toronto and was impressed by the ability to manipulate the orientation and viewpoint of the map by pinching and two-finger rotating. However, I do miss Google’s Street View functionality, as I find that a little more practical than what Flyover shows you. The new Maps app isn’t a beta, but the information contained within is limited at this point. Apple’s got a long way to go to catch up to the amount of location data amassed by Google but what I do like about the new Maps app is the interface, the design of the maps (the font in particular is beautiful) and the integration with Yelp. Getting restaurant reviews inside of the Maps app is really handy.
As previously mentioned, Facebook is now built into iOS, along with Twitter, which debuted in iOS 5. This means you can now share information, photos and videos from almost every app that works with those formats. The new share sheet that is invoked by tapping the share button inside an app is grid-based with icons indicating where you’d like to send a particular piece of information. This includes printers that support AirPrint and the clipboard, a welcome addition. I can now copy a photo to the clipboard and paste it into an email, a Pages document, a note in the Notes app or any other app that supports embedded images, including Evernote, a personal favourite of mine.
A number of refinements have been made to iOS’s interface elements in this new version. Some are more subtle than others, some downright don’t make any sense at all, but overall Apple has done a great job of making the experience of using iOS more consistent and easier to use. I’ll touch on just a couple here.
Status Bar Colour Changes
The status bar, which includes the time, connectivity and battery information, now changes colour to match the application you’re using. It basically takes a pixel-average of the colours used in the bottom row of the app and uses a muted version of that colour in the status bar. My inclination is that this is to create better awareness of where you are in the OS. “Oh, the status bar is now a washed-out blue, I’m using Facebook right now”. A subtle reminder. I don’t mind the status bar changing colour, but I do wish I could toggle that behaviour on and off.
App Store & iTunes
Since Apple acquired Chomp, they’ve been working with that newly acquired team to revamp the App Store and the iTunes store in iOS to give a better experience when searching, downloading and installing apps. The recommendations engine is all new and works much better than the previous Genius engine. You can now search by topic or keyword with far more accurate results than before. Overall the look and feel of the new App Store and iTunes store is an improvement. The App Store also no longer requires you to enter your Apple ID password to download updates for apps you already own, which is something that annoyed me in previous versions of iOS.
As one of the most-used and most-overlooked apps on iOS, Mail has been due for a major overhaul for a while now. We don’t see that in iOS 6, but as Apple tends to do, they are working in iterative design rather than reinventing the wheel with every release. Mail in iOS 6 sees the addition of VIPs, a special inbox that pulls mail from a list of contacts you select. You can set special notifications for your VIPs that operate differently than the rest of your incoming mail.
You can also now place photos and videos in an email while you compose it, a much less cumbersome process than in previous versions of iOS. Now you just tap and hold the screen, move the context menu over and import your photo from the camera roll or photo stream. Bingo.
Mail also now includes a pull-to-refresh feature for the inbox, something innovated by the original Tweetie client for Twitter. It’s interesting to see when innovations from third-party apps end up baked into the OS, especially with how litigious Apple has been protecting its own software patents. Imagine if pull-to-refresh came from Samsung.
Camera & Photos
The camera app also has seen some improvements, most notably the addition of the panorama feature. Panorama only works with the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and the 5th generation iPod Touch. That means as an iPhone 4 owner, I couldn’t test the feature out, but from early reports, it works remarkably well. This will likely hurt camera and photo apps in the app store whose main selling point is the panorama feature – they’re likely to be Sherlocked.
The Photos app now adds Shared Photo Streams to iCloud, which allows you to set up a private or public stream of photos that will automatically be delivered to anyone who subscribes to it. You create the Shared Photo Stream inside the photos app and add whoever you want to see those photos, provided they have an iCloud account attached to their iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Mac.
And one more thing … Podcasts
While not an app exclusive to iOS 6, the recently-released Podcasts app has been one of my most-used apps since it was released, so I thought it warranted a mention here. It now supports syncing of podcasts over iCloud, a feature I couldn’t be more excited about. I listen to podcasts on my Mac, iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, so to have them all sync the episodes I’ve already played and download the latest episodes automatically is a gift from on-high (and by on-high, I mean Cupertino, California).
Apple’s marketing materials state there are over 200 new features in iOS 6. I’ve covered only a few of them here – what are your favourite new features? Post in the comments below, and watch http://davidhenderson.ca for his take on Apple’s latest version of iOS.