Editors' note:This First Take was originally posted on June 11, 2012, at the time of the WWDC Keynote. We are updating this post with changes to the iOS announced today at the Apple event.
During the Apple event today, the company announced the latest version of the operating system that powers its popular mobile devices. Scott Forstall, Apple's SVP of iOS, promises that iOS 6 will bring 200 new features, including tighter Facebook integration, an empowered Siri voice assistant, and the capability to conduct FaceTime calls over a cellular network.
Yet, it's Apple's new Maps app that was easily the star of the show. Created by the company, the app finally adds turn-by-turn directions along with info cards for businesses, a "flyover mode" when searching for an address, and a full 3D satellite view that displays buildings, terrain, and landmarks. There will be much more, of course, but even at this early point it's clear that Apple has filled a few gaping holes on our iOS wish list.
iOS 6 will become available on September 19 to the iPhone 3GS and later models and to second- and third-generation iPads. Note, however, that not all of the new features will be available for all iOS 6-compatible devices (more on that below). And, now, here's a breakdown of the features talked about today.
Apple's voice assistant was the most talked-about feature (no pun intended) when the iPhone 4S debuted last fall. It could remind you of a meeting, answer trivia questions, and predict whether you needed to leave the house with an umbrella. Though in the following months some iPhone users have questioned just how effective Siri is, Apple is using iOS 6 to transform the feature from fun novelty into an integral method for interacting with the handset. Earlier iPhones still won't get Siri, but it is coming to the third-generation iPad.
The most notable change is that Siri will now launch apps. Once you've launched some apps you'll be able to use Siri to perform some functions like updating your Facebook status or sending a tweet. Though it's unclear whether it will work with every title, this is a welcome addition, even if the list is small to start off. Siri delivering trivia is good for parties, but Siri actually helping you use your phone is much better. On the Galaxy S III Samsung offers a similar app called S-Voice. Jessica Dolcourt compared the two features here.
On that note, the new Eyes Free features brings Siri into your car. Forstall said that Apple is working with car manufacturers like Toyota, GM, Mercedes, BMW, Honda, and Audi to let you use Siri from the steering wheel. You'll get spoken alerts without the screen lighting up, but the car integration means that you'll be able to use Siri safely and without taking your hands off the wheel. Just remember that you'll have to wait longer than until fall for Eyes Free; Apple said its partners would complete integration for new vehicles within the next 12 months.
Apple is also letting Siri hook in with more third-party services. Forstall showed how she'll be able to give sports trivia like a baseball player's batting average, tell you the score of a recent game, and display the start of the football season. It's pretty basic stuff, and it appears to come from Yahoo Sports. The integration with Yelp to show more information about local restaurants (like hours and cuisine type) isn't revolutionary, either, but we do like the tight integration with the OpenTable app (an exceedingly useful service if there ever was one). To make it happen when looking at a restaurant, just ask for reservations.
Rotten Tomatoes gets some Siri love, as well. With your voice you can find films and showtimes, watch a trailer, and research individual actors. A very useful feature for those inevitable, "What else has she been in?" questions.
The addition of language support for Spanish, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, and Cantonese means that Siri is now optimized for 15 countries. Of course, just how useful she can be in those places will depend on how well Apple can surface a database of local businesses. Yet, it's those little details that Apple remembers, so we imagine that the information will be extensive. But either way, letting more people use a feature is always a good move. And in China, it's a very big deal.
Ever since the first iPhone launched five years ago, we've complained that Apple's handset lacks turn-by-turn directions, which is why finally getting them is such a big deal. Other phones have, after all, long offered the feature (it's pretty much a staple on Android), but Apple has a history of sitting on a feature until it gets it exactly right. And from what we saw today, the company is off to a good start. We liked the bird's-eye view that shows where you are at a given time, and that you get a preview of upcoming turns when two directional points are close together. On the whole, it appears to be very user-friendly. Siri will speak the directions as you go, and you can ask for directions without touching the phone.
The Flyover mode looks like a lot of fun, though we admit its appeal doesn't extend much beyond the "wow" factor. Just keep in mind that Flyover and turn-by-turn navigation will come only to the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2 or later. The 3D maps are flashy, too, and should make for a few hours of fun. That said, it will be best for the iPad unless Apple decides to grant our wish of a bigger display with the next iteration of the handset. Eminently useful will be the capability to rotate the vector-based maps with your fingers, the traffic information, and the info cards, which display vital details about points of interest.
Again, Apple didn't invent all of these features, but it did make them unmistakably Apple. Of course, the biggest story here is that Apple has created its own maps app. We've been expecting some kind of a divorce from Google Maps, and from what we can tell this divorce will be pretty final.
With iOS 6, you'll be able to make FaceTime calls over a cellular network, but only on the iPhone 4S and the most recent iPad. Sure, we'll take it, even if we're concerned about just how much data the app will use in an era in which unlimited data contracts are disappearing quickly. We're also concerned about the quality of the FaceTime experience over a 3G network. Indeed, as we understood it, that was the whole reason Apple restricted FaceTime to Wi-Fi when the feature debuted on the iPhone 4. As we now know, the new iPhone 5 will feature 4G LTE, obviating the need for FaceTime calls over cellular, but we have yet to see how the feature performs with only a cellular connection.
On the other hand, we're totally pleased with Apple's decision to integrate your phone number with your Apple ID. So when you get a FaceTime call you could answer it on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Sometimes it's the little touches that really matter.
Shocking, I know, but the iPhone can make calls. And Apple reminded us of that fact by adding new features to the phone app. With iOS 6 you'll be able to reply to an incoming call with a text message or ask to receive a reminder about the call later. The former will be useful for when you're in a meeting or out for a meal. When using the latter option you can set the reminder to come at a specific time (like in an hour) or when you arrive or leave a specific location (like home or work).
Another useful addition is a Do Not Disturb option that will block incoming calls while allowing texts and alerts through. You'll also be able to filter calls by group and set the phone to allow only the second call if someone rings twice within 3 minutes. Here again, we get small, but very welcome, tweaks. Hopefully, they point to a more sophisticated address book for current and future iPhones that will let you organize caller groups and set different levels of access for each. That's one area where the iPhone needs to catch up.
On a somewhat related note, iOS 6 adds a '"VIP" option in which you'll get an alert when e-mails arrive from your chosen contacts. That's not a bad option for when you're playing hooky from work, but still want to respond to inquiries from your boss. (This feature won't come to the iPhone 3GS.) Best of all, though, is the option to add photos directly into e-mail after you start typing them. Frankly, Apple should be embarrassed that it took years to add such a simple function to the e-mail app, particularly since it's existed on the text-messaging side for so long. Huzzah.
With Passbook, you can store and quickly access electronic versions of your admission tickets, airline or train boarding passes, merchant loyalty cards, and coupons all in one place. This feature will be for iPhone models only. Forstall called it, "the simplest way to get all your passes in one place." On the whole, it does appear to be pretty simple. The clean interface stack shows a list of all your passes, which you can open to see the necessary bar codes and QR codes. The feature will alert you to changes to time-based events (like a flight delay or gate change) and it can use location to sense when you're near a merchant and display the necessary card even when the lock screen is on. Finally, when you delete a card it will be virtually "shredded" on the screen.
Though unexpected, Passbook is intriguing and we suspect that it could serve as a convenient way to organize your passes and cards instead of having them scattered around in different apps and e-mails. We also can't help but wonder if it points to NFC features in the new iPhone and if it spells doom for some app developers. Another question is how will it compete with Google Wallet?
After iOS 5's tight Twitter integration last year, iOS 6 does the same with Facebook. You can post pictures and video directly to your account without using the Facebook app. Safari will get the same treatment, so you can share a link with just a couple of clicks. As mentioned previously, you'll be able to use Siri to post status updates and you'll see better syncing between your device and Facebook photos, calendar, events, and birthdays. Lastly, you'll be able to "like" apps, television shows, and movies in the iTunes App Store.
Of all the new features, this is the one that excites us the least. A recent upgrade to the Facebook app has made it much faster and easier to use and anyone without a Facebook account (they exist!) simply won't care. But having Facebook accessible from the photo library to quickly post photos and the ability to post a status from several apps will surely be useful for Facebook fans. And the added ability to pull friends and birthdays into your Contact list and Calendar on your iPhone is definitely handy (though it could make your contact list much bigger.) Hopefully, the added integration won't encourage your already attention-seeking friends to overshare even more.
Shared photo streams
The photo stream in iOS 5 let you set your devices to share photos with other iOS devices on the same account, but a handy new feature in iOS 6 makes it easy to share photos with friends and family as well. Now you'll be able to select photos you would like to share, touch the share button, and send them to as many contacts as you want. Recipients who are also on iOS devices or use Mountain Lion on the Mac will be able to view them right away in Photos or iPhoto. Those who are not using Apple hardware will be able to view your photos in a Web browser. Apple has also added the ability to "Like" and comment on shared photos. This iOS 6 feature works on both Wi-Fi and cellular connections.
Rounding out the list are a few new features for Safari. You can view a Web page in full-screen when using landscape mode, cache a Web page and save it for reading later even when you're offline, and share photo streams. The addition of iCloud Tabs means you'll be able to pick up where you left off on any device. So if you started reading something on your iPad, you could continue to read the same Web page on your iPhone or MacBook (running Mountain Lion) later simply by hitting a button. These changes continue to follow the overall theme of keeping you connected across all devices.
With 200 new features in iOS 6, there are a lot more tweaks and enhancements than we talked about here. Some of the features revealed on the big screen at the event showed a "lost mode" that will let you send a number to a lost phone for displaying on the screen, in-app content purchases, Game Center challenges, multiple e-mail signatures, redesigned stores, Game Center Friends from Facebook, and custom vibrations for alerts. For now, though, we're pleased that Apple added some of the most-wanted features that have plagued us for a long time. Naturally, we're disappointed that not every feature will come to every iOS-compatible device, but Apple has never been shy about forcing customers to upgrade. Indeed, iOS has always been evolving and with its latest version Apple continues to give us something sharp, powerful, and exceedingly easy to use.