iOS 6 is the latest iteration of the operating system that powers the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. It’s come a long way since it was first introduced, and this release continues to up the ante with useful new features – and one not-so-useful new feature.
Let’s address the huge white elephant in the room straightaway: I’ve been using iOS 6 on my iPhone since the WWDC announcement and the release of the first beta, so I wasn’t surprised by the backlash against the sub-par Maps application. Everyone seems to be up in arms about the Flyover feature, which displays a satellite view in 3D of many major cities, pointing out (correctly) that bridges seem to be warped, amongst other graphical glitches. I haven’t yet experienced missing roads, nor do I care that some bridges in 3D mode are warped (to me, Flyover is a “gee-whiz” show-off feature anyway).
However, the lack of details on the map itself is a showstopper for me as it omits pretty much every point of interest save for some restaurants and the occasional gas station. I used Google’s Maps app extensively to see what was around my location while travelling, and no longer can, as hardly anything appears on the map. A shopping center near my house is a blank space in the iOS 6 Maps app, but had many of the local businesses displayed with Google’s Maps. Now, you wouldn’t know that anything is there unless you search for it directly. This is the case essentially everywhere.
The same area in iOS 6′s Maps App (left) and Google Maps WebApp (right)
So, for now, I am using Google’s mobile web maps and iFindYou (for Street View – a decent app for that), and hoping like heck that Google’s promised Maps app is released soon in the App Store. I can’t help but think that Apple could have spent some of that massive cash stockpile of theirs earlier in the game and gotten this part of the app right.
All is not lost, however. The turn-by-turn navigation is decent (and enjoys such Apple-only tricks such as lock-screen integration). However, it’s not perfect. It doesn’t seem to give as much notice before a turn as other turn-by-turn products, which caused me to miss a turn or two, and therefore caused me to pay more attention to the screen than perhaps I ought to. The presentation, however, is very nice, and the directions themselves seemed to be as accurate as I could ask for.
So, Maps is largely a bust. There is, however, a lot to like in iOS 6:
Do Not Disturb is a godsend; it means that my night is no longer interrupted by email sounds from my iPhone and iPad, and I don’t have to remember to silence either device. From 10pm until 7am, not a peep is heard from either one – just as I configured it. This alone has been a godsend during my weeklong trip in Europe, during which I received inordinate amounts of email from the US during the European overnight hours. It’s comforting to know that since I have also configured Do Not Disturb to allow calls from both my Favorites and from anyone who calls twice within 3 minutes, I won’t miss any urgent calls – or, more importantly, emergency calls.
Shared Photo Streams are a treat; I was able to quite easily share with a colleague photos from our sightseeing, and he was able to reciprocate. Plus, as we add subsequent photos to those shared albums, they are automatically updated, with notifications. Since you can share Photo Albums with multiple people, it also allows you to share them not only with those whom you’re with, but those who aren’t there as well.
The ability to receive iMessages on my iPad at my iPhone’s phone number (and, of course, on the Mac as well) is fantastic! Previously, iMessages sent to my iPhone’s phone number (pretty much all of them) would NOT display on the iPad or Mac. However, with iOS 6 (and the new Mountain Lion update), my phone number can be associated with iMessage on both, meaning that all messages go to all devices. Awesome! Now if Apple will add a feature that allows me to originate an iMessage on my Mac or iPad to a non-iOS phone and have it automatically sent as a traditional text message from my iPhone, that would earn some undying love from me.. But I digress…
Reply with Message is handy, especially if you customize the replies in Settings. When you simply can’t answer a call at the moment, it’s polite to inform the caller why (or let them know that you’ll get back to them soon), and this makes it easy.
The Facebook integration has proven to be handy in that you can post pictures to Facebook right from the Photos app. Pro tip: Tap on the thumbnail to select a different album to post pictures in instead of the default “iOS Images” folder that is created.
VIP Mail is another welcome addition. I don’t use it so much for the separate email box as much as I do for a distinctive email alert tone – so that I can tell immediately which emails I should look at right away, and which can wait if I am busy.
FaceTime over 3G is… Oh, never mind. I’m on AT&T.
Siri’s improvements were “okay” during the betas and have improved a little. Siri’s newfound sports knowledge needs some work. I tried asking for the batting average of Derek Jeter several times during the early betas, but each time, Siri insisted that she couldn’t find “Derek Cheater” and offered to search the web for him. That appears to have been fixed. However, Siri still professes no knowledge of Yankees’ pitcher Andy Pettite, instead trying (in vain) to find the ERA of some center fielder named Chris Petit. Incidentally, you sometimes have to reword common phrases to get Siri to figure out what you mean. When I ask Siri “What is Phil Hughes’ ERA”, it asks if I’d like to search the web for “Phil uses ERA”. However, ask Siri “What is the earned-run average for Phil Hughes” and it nails it. Other names, like Raphael Soriano, don’t give Siri such fits – which is frustrating.
Launching apps via Siri was very accurate in my testing. It’s worth remembering that unless you’ve disabled it, you can speak to Siri by raising the iPhone to your ear – which makes launching an app even easier.
While I was in Korea, I gave some native Korean speakers the chance to try out Siri’s newfound ability to speak Korean, and everyone who tried it was ecstatic that Siri now understood them.
Panoramas are a decent offering, but suffer from two flaws: First, you can only do a panorama in portrait mode, and only from right to left. That’s usually – but not always – ideal. Further, there is no dynamic exposure level adjustments, meaning that if your panorama includes varying light and dark portions, you’re going to wind up with it all exposed at the level chosen at the start of the panorama. So, if you have a sunny area and a shaded area – or worse, the sun itself – in your panorama, you might as well not bother – unless you are prepared to crop out those areas. See below for some examples of some good and not-so-good Panoramas:
The sunlight ensured that most of this Panorama was very underexposed.
Keeping the sun mostly outside the initial frame yielded better results.
Avoiding the sun entirely yielded the best results.
On the whole, iOS 6 is a worthwhile upgrade. While Maps is certainly a disappointment, the other new features and refinements to the older ones more than outweigh it in my mind – and once Google comes out with a native Maps app, it’s a no-brainer to upgrade.
What have your iOS 6 experiences been like? Let us know in the comments!