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Apple iOS 6 mobile software upgrade - review

By and Amie Parker-Williams

Apple yesterday released iOS 6, the brand new version of its mobile operating system that runs on iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch.

Anyone upgrading to the software may not immediately see major differences on their iDevice, but iOS 6 actually brings more than 200 new features.

We have now put the software through its paces on a new iPad and iPhone 4S to explore the changes from Apple, including the good and the not so good.

Apple - Introducing iOS 6


Facebook Integration

iOS 6 integrates Facebook in the same way Twitter is already built in to the operating system. Users of newer iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch devices are now able to sign in once and then post from the Notification Centre and all Facebook-enabled apps, including Photos and Safari.

Apple iOS 6 video review screengrab

© Digital Spy



Facebook is also integrated with Siri, enabling status updates to be posted with just voice commands, while the App Store and iTunes support direct 'likes' of content, as well as display what friends have recommended.

But don't expect a social revolution from this change. The system essentially just means that there is a Facebook button wherever possible on iOS, just like with Twitter. It is not a massively dynamic integration, but at least a worthy addition to the OS.

Apple Maps

Alongside dropping Google's YouTube, iOS 6 also sees Google Maps leave Apple's newer mobile devices as a pre-installed service.

This is replaced by Apple's own Maps system, which looks similar to Google Maps but attempts to offer a range of options for viewing the data.

Users can choose from traditional 'flat' maps, or go 3D with vector-based versions enabling full pan, tilt and zoom. There is also some satellite imagery.

Turn-by-turn navigation is available, including voice directions from Siri for walking, public transport and cars.

Apple iOS 6 video review screengrab

© Digital Spy



Apple has further created some pretty impressive 3D 'flyovers' of major cities and locations, such as Big Ben and the London Eye. These detailed 3D images can be fully explored from any angle and really do add something to the maps.

Alongside real-time traffic updates and "time-saving" route suggestions, the system offers local search options for more than 100 million businesses, including Yelp ratings, reviews, deals and photos.

Maps is clean and polished, but losing Google Maps means that you also lose the mountain of mapping data that Google has built up over the years, including local information, satellite imagery and Street View.

It may take Apple a while to really match the scale and reach of Google Maps, and iOS 6 users have already started reporting inaccuracies and misplaced towns and cities on the service.

If you really dislike Apple Maps and don't want to defect to Android or another mobile platform, it is understood that Google is working on a dedicated Google Maps app for iOS.

The search giant recently rolled out a YouTube app for iPhone and is developing one for the video sharing service on iPad.

Siri gets smarter...sort of

Siri, the voice assistant that launched last year on the iPhone 4S, is now available on the new iPad and will arrive on the iPhone 5 and new iPod Touch when they launch.

The system is essentially the same. You use Siri to perform a range of tasks with just your voice, such as asking the weather or dictating a text message.

Apple iOS 6 video review screengrab

© Digital Spy



But now the assistant has got smarter. Well, a bit smarter. It offers information on some local businesses or reports the football scores on the weekend. It is rather humorous to hear the assistant pronounce, "Ev-vert-on".

You can book a table at some restaurants and also get movie times at the cinema. The same problems with Siri mishearing commands or getting confused still exist in the new version, and there is a lingering sense that the US Siri probably works much better. But this is at least a step in the right direction for the much-maligned voice assistant.

Passbook takes on NFC

Apple opted against including dedicated Near Field Communications (NFC) hardware in the iPhone 5, but it has included the Passbook app in iOS 6 on iPhone and iPod Touch.

This 'digital wallet' allows you to put airline boarding passes, store cards or concert tickets and so on in one place. These can then be redeemed electronically with an iDevice.

Passbook automatically displays the passes on the screen based on the specific time and location, meaning if you walk into your favourite coffee shop the device will display any loyalty card you have stored so you can buy a drink or check your credit balance. The system will also alert you if there are any last-minute changes to transport arrangements.

Unfortunately, though, no UK app currently supports the feature, meaning it was impossible to truly test Passbook out. Much will also depend on whether businesses actually embrace Passbook as an alternative to NFC.

iTunes and App Store Revamp

With the introduction of iOS 6, Apple has opted to give a full refresh to the App Store and iTunes. Both stores have been built with visually rich carousels of icons showing the available content, including apps and games on the App Store, or music, films, books and so on in iTunes.

Apple iOS 6 video review screengrab

© Digital Spy



Usability is fast and fluid on both large and small screen, and Apple has clearly made an effort to editorialise the stores and showcase content in their vast catalogues.

The App Store and iTunes also support direct 'likes' of content, as well as display what your friends have recommended.

Other features

Other new features in iOS 6 include the FaceTime HD video calling service now working over most cellular 3G networks, in addition to WiFi.

There have been a number of changes made to the email, including the great new VIP inbox taken from OS X Mountain Lion, which enables you to designate people as 'VIPs' and then get all their messages in one place.

Incoming calls on iPhone can now be declined with a specific message, while call-back reminders can be set and Do Not Disturb messages added.

Apple iOS 6 video review screengrab

© Digital Spy



iCloud, which has more than 120m users worldwide, gets some really strong new functionality, including shared photo streams involving groups of iOS users being able to view and comment on each other's pictures and albums.

The Safari mobile browser also now integrates iCloud tabs for offline bookmarks, meaning browser tabs can be shared across Apple devices, including iPhone, iPad, Mac and iPod Touch.

Concluding thoughts

Apple has brought some bold new ideas in iOS 6, such as the new Maps system, but also introduced various features that just make life as an Apple device user easier. In that sense, iOS 6 is a really welcome update to the operating system.

However, this is also a rather incremental step forward for iOS and does not create greater convergence of the whole ecosystem. Using iOS is still a very dynamic experience that can feel a bit confined at times.

With stern competitors now on the market, such as Google Android and Microsoft's new Windows Phone 8 with its 'Live Tiles' architecture, Apple may need to take a more ambitious step forward with iOS 7.

How to get iOS 6

iOS 6 can be downloaded now for free for iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, the new iPad, iPad 2 and iPod touch (fourth generation), although some of its features are not available for all products. It will come pre-loaded on the new iPhone 5 and fifth generation iPod Touch.

For the first time, the iOS update is available over the air, meaning that you don't have to plug in your device to download and install the software, as long as you are already on iOS 5.

It is advisable to back up your device before downloading the new software, after problems reported by some users of the wiping of their apps and images following the launch of iOS 5 last year.

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