Apple's new iPhone 5 has a lot of new hardware features -- a bigger screen, LTE, a faster processor, and a new design. But a lot of its new features are software based, including a new maps app, Facebook integration, and improvements to Siri's IQ.
Those who are not planning to upgrade to that new hardware can reap some of the benefits of Apple's newest software with iOS 6. Available as a free download from Apple starting today, iOS 6 brings a host of new features that ultimately end up improving your mobile experience. How so? The following are some of the top features you'll want to try out -- and our take on them.
In iOS 6, Apple has dropped Google Maps for its very own home-brewed Maps app. And while we were skeptical that Apple could rival Google's years of digital map making, Apple's maps are beautiful and accurate. While the Hybrid view is graphics-intensive and can suck the life out of the battery, it is really compelling and the 3D renderings of buildings are extremely lifelike. The turn-by-turn walking and driving directions are probably the best part of the app, though. I found them to be accurate in New York City and the fact that this is included will save many the headache of sifting through third-party navigation apps.
Apple also shows traffic data using red and orange lines, and if you have enabled Facebook location services you can see where your friends are on the map. However, I did find myself missing Google's Street View to find exact locations and Waze's crowdsourced traffic app to see where specific people are sitting in traffic. Others have also complained that Apple's Maps didn't bring up as many points of interest as Google's Maps option and doesn't provide public transit information. Google wouldn't comment on if and when it will bring Google Maps to Apple's App Store.
Passbook is one of, if not the most exciting feature of iOS 6. The app collects all your boarding passes, movie tickets, store cards and coupons in one central app so you don't have to go digging into other ones while you're in line at the store. And to further help you avoid that digging, Passbook can be set up to use your location to launch your boarding pass or ticket on your lock screen as you walk into the airport or movie theater. The catch here is that the apps have to be Passbook-supported. Starbucks, Sephora, Delta Airlines and Fandango are just a few companies working with Apple and their respective apps should hit the remodeled App Store very soon.
I wasn't able to test this feature yet since the apps aren't all out yet. In a demo at the Apple event, I did find the interface to be very easy to use. Passes show up as cards in a wallet.
Siri has become a bit smarter over the last year. She now knows more about sports and movies. In a the busy newsroom, Siri was able to tell me about the latest Yankees win and also where "Bachelorette" was playing. On a busy street, she was able to tell me the same. Still, there were some instances when Siri didn't understand what I was asking in perfectly quiet environments and would butcher a word or two. Some people seem to depend on Siri for tasks such as setting their alarm at night and searching the web, while others simply don't utilize the feature much after the novelty has worn off. I assume that will still be the case with iOS 6.
Just as Twitter was integrated into iOS 5, Facebook is now integrated throughout the operating system. If you log on to your account via the Settings menu, you can update your status right from the notification tray and easily share links from Safari. Apple has also improved the sharing functionality within the photos app; you now get the logos of the social networks, rather than a list.
Similarly, you can bring all your Facebook contacts into your address book. It will also display your Facebook contacts' birthdays in your calendar. Thankfully, you can opt to turn that off, but I do wish there was a way to bring in birthdays of only certain friends, rather than say 800 birthdays of, you know, your closest friends.
No, you aren't going to get the iPhone 5's improved camera and lens, which is said to take better photos in low light, but you do get a couple of new camera features with iOS 6.
Apple has added a panorama feature that lets you rotate the phone to take a long horizontal photo. The app takes care of stitching together the photos and works very well if you don't move the phone too fast. (See a sample we took on the iPhone 5.) There's also a new option to share your photos in Shared Photo Streams. Place your photos in an album and you can share that album with a friend; when you add new photos, it will pop up on their phone. Lastly, you can now make FaceTime calls over 3G.
|Do Not Disturb|
It's not a front and center feature, but one of the coolest additions is listed in the Settings menu. The Do Not Disturb feature lets you silence all your notifications yet still allows calls or texts from some of your favorite contacts. You can even schedule when it turns on -- say, from the time you regularly go to bed to the time you wake up. In case of an emergency, you can enable a setting that will send the call through if it is the second call from the same person within three minutes. Also new is the ability to reply to an incoming call with a text message.
|Other Highlights / Bottom Line|
Those are the main events of the new operating system, but not the only ones. Apple has added a VIP feature in the Mail app, which lets you put email from key contacts in a separate folder. It has also cleaned up the App Store layout. There are new emoticons, including ones of same sex couples, and also notifications now for AMBER Alerts and other emergencies.
There are plenty more small changes throughout the software you'll notice -- Apple says there are 200 new features -- but overall the operating system isn't too much of a change nor too small a change. There are some small tweaks I wish Apple had made, like making it easier to enable WiFi from the homescreens. But those are small qualms. In the end, the upgrade button is waiting and it is too tempting not to tap.