Mountain Lion may be getting all the attention these days, but there’s no need for iPhone and iPad owners to feel left out—your OS update is coming soon.
During its Worldwide Developers Conference in June, Apple gave the world its first glance at iOS 6, the next major update to the company’s mobile operating system. Continuing Apple’s tradition of an annual iOS update, this latest version boasts plenty of new features and enhancements—more than 200, according to Apple. We can’t possibly cover all of them here, but we have an overview of what to expect from iOS 6.
You’ll have to wait a bit before you can install iOS 6. Apple says it’s not going to arrive until the fall, which could mean anytime between September 22 and December 20. (For the sake of comparison, iOS 5 shipped on October 12, 2011.)
When it does arrive, iOS 6 will be available as a free update, but it won’t run on every device. Apple says it supports the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S; the iPad 2 and third-generation iPad; and the fourth-generation iPod touch. Noticeably missing from that list is the original iPad. While it may seem surprising that a tablet that debuted only two years ago can’t run iOS 6, it’s really not—Apple hasn’t sold that version of the iPad for a while. And a growing number of newly released iPad apps require the faster processor and improved graphics of the two most recent models. From Apple’s perspective, it’s time for the original iPad to join devices like the iPhone 3G in the unsupported bin.
Continuing Apple’s tradition of an annual update to its mobile OS, iOS 6 boasts more than 200 features and enhancements. And just because a device will run iOS 6, don’t expect it to support every feature we detail here. The iPhone 3GS gets left out of quite a few iOS 6 features: no flyover or turn-by-turn navigation features from the revamped Maps app (more on both of those in a bit), and it also doesn’t support Siri, Photo Streams for sharing photos, FaceTime, VIP lists and flagged mailboxes in Mail, and Reading List (for offline reading). The iPhone 4 also misses out on flyovers, turn-by-turn navigation, FaceTime over 3G, and Siri. The iPad 2 remains Siri-less.
Several built-in apps gain new capabilities in iOS 6, with one established app getting a complete overhaul.
Maps iOS 6’s built-in mapping app has a new icon, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Apple has overhauled Maps, doing all the cartography itself. That means Google’s mapping tools—which have been part of Apple’s mobile operating system from the beginning—have gotten the boot in iOS 6.
Maps offers local search that’s powered by more than 100 million business listings and integrated with Yelp for reviews and ratings. Maps can also show you where traffic is heavy, using anonymously generated user data as one of its sources for traffic conditions. Other new features include turn-by-turn navigation and the ability to give an estimated time of arrival, updated in real time with traffic data. Maps also integrates with Siri.
Flyover brings an Apple-built 3D model of major metropolitan areas to Maps. The vector-based maps make zooming in and out quick and painless. Tap a specific building to get an information card with more details from Yelp. You can switch to a 3D map mode to see wire-frame images of individual buildings, adjust camera angles, toggle between 2D and 3D, and more.
Siri The voice-driven personal assistant gets a lot smarter in iOS 6, gaining the ability to give you sports scores and more-detailed restaurant information. It can also launch apps, and it lets you post to Facebook and Twitter. And you’ll be able to do all this from a third-generation iPad, which joins the iPhone 4S among the devices that support Siri. (See “Siri’s New Tricks” for more details.)
Phone With all the things your iPhone can do, it’s easy to forget that first and foremost it’s a phone. A new iOS 6 feature may remind you of that fact. When you get a call that you can’t take at the moment, slide up an icon (similar to the camera icon that appears on iOS 5’s lock screen) to reply with a prewritten message telling the caller you’re unavailable; you can also remind yourself to call that person back.
FaceTime In iOS 6, Apple’s video-chatting feature works over a cellular connection, not just via Wi-Fi—at least if you’re using an iPhone 4S or a third-generation iPad. To bring FaceTime to cellular connections, Apple tweaked it to use less bandwidth; FaceTime is also a bit more robust at handling data dropouts. If you’re worried about unplanned calls eating up your cellular data allotment, you can turn this feature off.
In addition, Apple is unifying your Apple ID and phone number, so if someone sends a FaceTime message (or an iMessage text) to your number, it arrives on your iPad or Mac as well.
Safari Apple’s mobile browser gains some Mountain Lion–driven features in iOS 6. Your mobile devices will be able to sync any open browser tabs with iCloud, making the sites you visit on your iPhone or iPad accessible on your Mac and vice versa. iOS 6’s Safari also supports offline reading for webpages saved in Reading List, just as in Mountain Lion’s browser.
Safari acquires the ability to upload photos and videos to websites that request them—a photo-sharing site, say. The mobile browser now supports full-screen mode when you’re browsing in landscape.
Mail Look for the Mail app to gain a pair of Mountain Lion–style organizational improvements: flagged messages and VIPs. Users could flag messages in the past, but now you see all those messages in a folder. Mail also organizes VIP messages into a smart folder: Mark someone as a VIP, and you get a notification on the lock screen when that person’s messages arrive.
Mail makes it easier to add photos or videos to your messages. Just tap and hold on the body of your message; video and photo options appear in the Copy, Cut, And Paste popover menu.
Photo Streams Shared Photo Streams in iOS 6 allows you to easily share photos with friends. Choose the photos you’d like to share, select some friends, and you’re done. Those friends receive a push notification, and the photos appear in an album in the Photos app. Friends can also comment on your photos.
iTunes and App Store Apple has said that its stores for downloading music, media, and apps are getting a redesign, though we’ll have to wait until iOS 6 arrives to see what that entails. We do know the changes include in-app downloads, which allow you to buy music and apps without leaving the app you’re in, and a section for viewing your preview history, so you can buy the music, movies, and TV shows you’ve been perusing.
iOS 6 introduces some systemwide enhancements, as well as a new app.
Passbook That new app is Passbook, which Apple bills as a simple way to keep things like boarding passes, tickets, and affinity cards in one place. Arrive at a location where you need one of those cards—a Starbucks, say—and iOS detects it and brings up the appropriate pass on your lock screen. If you have a boarding pass stored on your iPhone, iOS can update it if there’s a delay or gate change.
Facebook Integration iOS 5 added Twitter integration. iOS 6 is doing likewise with another social networking behemoth: It’s adding Facebook tie-ins throughout the operating system. You can share photos, links, locations, iTunes and App Store items, and more via Facebook. And iOS 6 integrates Facebook directly into Notification Center; pull the latter down to post a new Facebook update or tweet.
As mentioned earlier, you can post to Facebook via Siri as well. Your Facebook friends’ contact information and calendar events can also sync to your iOS device.
Do Not Disturb With the new Do Not Disturb option, your iOS device still receives push notifications, calls, and text messages, but they won’t light up your screen or make a sound. For added control, you can let certain numbers make your phone ring even with Do Not Disturb enabled. If someone calls you back within three minutes after a muted call—implying that it’s urgent—your phone rings.
Accessibility Features Apple intended iOS 6’s Guided Access feature primarily for students with disabilities, but it’s also a welcome addition for parents of young children. Guided Access lets you disable certain sections of the screen and turn off hardware buttons, touch, and motion.
In other accessibility enhancements, Apple’s VoiceOver service now supports Maps, AssistiveTouch, and Zoom. Also, the company is working to create Bluetooth hearing aids for the iPhone 4S.