- Review Date: 09/20/2012
- Bottom line: Apple iOS 6, Cupertino's latest mobile operating system, offers slick new maps, Passbook, and numerous tweaks and additions. If you own a compatible iOS device, there's simply no questioning whether to upgrade.
- Pros: No Mac or PC required for setup. iCloud backup and recovery. Facebook and Twitter integration. Stable.
- Cons: Using Mail and Notes with iCloud requires creating an @me.com account. Only a few cities are given the Flyover treatment in updated Maps app. Not all compatible hardware can access all iOS 6 features.
iOS 5 was a significant upgrade to Apple's mobile operating system that added numerous long sought-after features, such as computer-free setup, wireless syncing, and a fresh take on notifications that took inspiration from its Android competition. iOS 6 (free) isn't as game-changing, but it adds numerous features (such as a new Passbook app, a revamped Maps app, and new accessibility options) that make it a must-have download if you own a compatible device: iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (4th Generation), iPad 2, and new iPad (3rd Generation)
iOS 6 Set Up and iTunes Wi-Fi Sync
If iOS 5.1 is already installed on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, you can update to iOS 6 either over-the-air or via iTunes. If you have a new device, there are three set up options: "Set Up as New," "Restore from iCloud Backup," and "Restore from iTunes Backup." The first option is for people who are brand new to iOS (or existing users who want a fresh start); the other two options recover previously backed up data and are what existing iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch owners will likely choose.
Once you're set up, you can enable iTunes Wi-Fi Sync, which syncs apps, music, photos, and other files between an iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (via iTunes) when they're connected to the same wireless signal. In fact, the sync happens automatically when you plug an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch's plug into a socket (you can also sync manually without a plug by pressing Sync Now in Settings > General > iTune Wi-Fi Sync). The process went off without a hitch for me. I synced nearly 15GB of data to my iPad in less than 20 minutes. The only downside is that you must first set up wireless syncing in iTunes—after you physically connect your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad to a Mac or PC via a USB cable. Thankfully, it's just a one-time connection. You can go completely wireless afterward.
Home Screen and Maps
The default home screen features a blue background image with ripple effects and several icons (App Store, Clock, iTunes, Notes, etc.) that should be familiar to iOS users. There is, however, a new app icon that may look similar to the old one, but what's inside is actually quite different: Maps. It's one of the iOS 6 features that garnered the most buzz when it was announced at WWDC a few months back. Maps is Apple's in-house replacement for Google Maps, which was included in iOS up until this version (both Maps and YouTube were kicked off the home screen).
Maps, at first glance, looks very similar to Google Maps but with subtle differences: restaurants, dinners, coffee shops, and other places of interest are highlighted with more eye-catching icons which, when tapped, open reviews and information supplied by Yelp. Both Google Maps and Apple's new Maps app displayed eateries within Madison Square Park, but Apple somehow missed a NYC hotspot: Shake Shack.
Like Google Maps, Apple's Map offers turn-by-turn directions (with or without voice). It also includes 3D functionality, dubbed "Flyover," that renders a real-life recreation of the city you select. Flyover looks great from a distance, but when I zoomed in close, I noticed some jagged polygonal figures and rough textures. Still, if you want to check out a city without leaving the sofa, this is a fine option. The one drawback? Only a handful of cities—all metropolitan areas—have received the Flyover treatment, including Chicago, San Francisco, and Sydney.
But in practice, Apple's Maps don't work as expected, if your expectations are built on Google Maps, which is to say, not very well. As PCMag's GPS expert wrote, "it's a 1.0 app in a 6.0 OS" (click the link for a more thorough breakdowns of Maps).
Passbook and Phone Features
Passbook is an iPhone and iPod touch-exclusive app—at least for now—that is supposed to be a tidy hub for passes and tickets. At launch, however, it wasn't working, throwing repeated errors about not being able to reach the Apple App Store.
But here's how it's supposed to work. Instead of handing over a paper ticket, coupon, boarding pass, or gift card to be scanned, you'll simply whip put your device, which will display the appropriate item when you stroll into the appropriate store, theater, or airport. When you delete a pass, a very cool virtual paper shredder appears on screen and slices and dices the ticket. The success of this app, unlike the others mentioned in this story, will rely heavily on third-party support. Supports include American Airlines, Eventbrite, and Kony.
iOS 6 adds new calling options that give you more flexibility over how you handle incoming calls that you don't want to take. Instead of simply declining a call, you can now reply to it with a text message (either pre-fabricated or custom) or set a reminder to follow up with a particular person later. You can see the new options by swiping the screen upward when a call comes in. Apple also adds a Do Disturb Option that ensures you won't be bothered by anyone save for contacts you marks as exceptions during designated hours. Both options are useful additions.
Siri, iCloud, and Find Features
The one downside to the new set of apps is that Siri (Apple's voice control software that lets you send messages, place phone calls, and schedule appointments), is only available on iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, new iPad, and new iPod touch. I used Siri to find local restaurants and grab sports scores (a new feature) by asking queries in simple, everyday language. I also updated by Facebook and Twitter feeds without ever touching the virtual keypad. The only challenge was remembering to speak out punctuation. It occasionally missed a few commands, but if you speak clearly you can perform numerous activities using just your voice. Siri currently recognizes several languages including English (American, Australian, British), French, German, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and more.
iCloud, which debuted in iOS 5.0, is Apple's Web-based storage and syncing service. It gives users a free 5GB to keep Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Bookmarks, Documents & Data, and Photo Stream (a feature that automatically uploads pictures to iCloud downloads them to all your iCloud-enabled devices) synced across multiple Apple devices, including Macs.
You can also access email, contacts, calendar, iWork, and Find My iPhone data from iCloud.com. Mail and Notes compatibility requires creating an @me.com account, which you can do from the iPad. As one would expect from Apple, the backup process happens inconspicuously behind the scenes, but you can view your backup status by visiting Settings > iCloud > Storage & Backup. My initial backup, which included 13.9GB of data, didn’t happen because I didn’t have enough iCloud space. Fortunately, you can increase iCloud's storage by an additional 10GB, 20GB, or 50GB for $20 per year, $40 per year, and $100 per year, respectively. After I added 10GB of storage, iCloud backed up my files without error. Note: When you activate iCloud, you deactivate the iPad’s ability to automatically backup to iTunes.
FindMyiPhone and FindMyFriends are also part of the iOS 6 experience, as they were in iOS 5, but there are some features worth pointing out in case you missed them last time around. For example, through iCloud, you can access FindMyiPhone and enable the "Lost mode" to lock a missing device using your four-digit passcode. You can also push a message that will display on screen in case someone you know has found it.. FindMyFriends is the more social of the two features. With it, you see where other iOS users are on a map, should they wish to share their location information with you, and receive location-based alerts when they enter or exit areas—very handy if you have teenage children and want to keep tabs on them.
Notification Center and Photo Stream
One of the most sought-after iOS features that iOS 5 made manifest is a robust and intuitive Notification Center, which Android users have enjoyed for quite some time. The Notification Center lets you view your calendar, email, text messages or iMessages, friend requests, and other notifications from one central location. By default, notifications appear at the top of the screen ("Banner" style), but you can set them to appear in the middle of the screen ("Alert" style) in Settings.
In my tests, Notification Center worked flawlessly. New appointment alerts appeared at the top of the screen, and I could view them at any time by swiping down. Even if you're not actively using your iPad you can still receive notifications, as they appear on the locked screen. When a Google+ alert appeared on the locked screen, I simply swiped the alert from left to right to read the message. This revamp was much needed, and its implementation is solid.
Photo Streams have a more streamlined sharing mechanism in iOS 6. You simply select the photos you want to share, tap the Share button, select a contact, and you're done. It works well—a recipient received the image on his iPhone's Photos app seconds later. However, recipients who don't have iOS 6 installed on their devices must open a link to view the photos. Photos shared with you don't count against your iCloud storage capacity, thankfully.
Social Networking with Facebook
iOS 5 introduced Twitter integration throughout the operating system. After entering your credentials into the Twitter section of the Settings, you can tweet directly from a number of other applications, such as Photos, Safari, and YouTube by hitting the drop down option icon from within the respective app. It's super intuitive, and makes you wonder (in retrospect) how you've managed to clumsily tweet content in iOS 4 using only the Twitter or third-party apps.
Facebook is the new addition here and it works similarly to Twitter. In Settings, just enter your Facebook login credentials, and sharing to the social network becomes a baked-in feature of the operating system itself. Using it you can perform a simple status update, post links or photos to your wall, and add location information.
Camera, FaceTime, and Safari
As in iOS 5.1, a quick-access camera icon now lives on the locked screen when you double tap the home button for iPod touch, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S. Taking impromptu photos became much easier and faster with this addition. Now, iPad 2 and new iPad devices see the camera shutter shift from the bottom of the viewfinder to the right of the frame, making it easier to reach. The camera app also highlights any detected faces. As before, you can crop, rotate, enhance, and remove red-eye without leaving the Photos app. You can even organize your photos in albums on the phone. iCloud compatibility means that snapped photos can be pushed to other Apple devices.
FaceTime, Apple's video chat client, now lets users place face-to-face calls over cellular signals (previously, it was limited to Wi-Fi). FaceTime video quality suffered from stuttering and a slight audio delay when I tested it on an iPhone over 3G. You may want to stick with Wi-Fi, although you may see better cellular results with a new iPhone 5 on a 4G LTE signal.
Safari's tabbed browsing lets users keep multiple Web pages open within a browser at the same time. The "Reader" icon lives within the address bar. When tapped, it strips away ads and Web design, leaving behind just text and the in-body images. In fact, the pages look very much like streamlined pages you'd find in Flipboard (free, 4.5 stars) or Zite (free, 4.5 stars). Reading List lets you save interesting articles to read later in a drop-down menu that displays both all the saved articles and those that are unread. Unlike Instapaper, Reading List doesn't allow you to read articles when the iPad isn't connected to 3G or Wi-Fi.Safari doesn't support Flash, which caused some stir when iOS devices first hit the market, but that's of little consequence now that sites like YouTube have HTML5 support. Even the Android OS, which supported Flash for years, dumped it and went Flash-less with 4.1 Jellybean.
New here is iCloud Tabs, which displays links to Web pages that you have open on other Apple devices, including Macs. It's remarkably handy. I was able to continue reading a page on an iPad that I opened on an iPhone. Its iCloud base means that you can pick up and read even when the source device is shut off. If other people share one of your iOS devices, you may want to surf in Private Browsing mode.
Mail and Calendar
Mail received a makeover with iOS 5, which added features that let you bold, italicize, or underline words. iOS 6 adds VIP List, a filter that shows messages from very important people, the idea being you can always check that box and never have a message from someone important get buried in the email bulge. You add VIPs by, well, tapping "Add VIP," and selecting the contacts you'd like to include. You can also set up VIP alerts that appear in Notification Center.
Previously, editing Calendar events required tapping to create an event and keying in times. iOS 6's Calendar lets you use your finger to drag the event block from one time slot to another. It took a bit of acclimation, but I was soon dragging and dropping dates from one area to another. Calendar app users on an iPhone or iPad touch will see a scrolling week view of their calendar while iPad users will be able to scroll through a year view of their calendar. iCloud also syncs appointments across your Apple devices.
Game Center, Gestures, and AirPlay
Game Center has two features that are displayed when you launch the app. Your Public Profile can now be toggled on and off. With it on, your profile, including your real name will be visible to other players. Your Game Center nickname, however, is used on leaderboards. There's also Friends Recommendations that you can turn on and off that uploads your contacts so that you get personalized friend recommendations.
You use four or five fingers to swipe up to reveal the multitasking bar, pinch to return to the Home screen, and swipe left or right to switch between apps. In those moments when you're not swiping and you'd like to showcase a video, photo, or game on the big screen, you can mirror the image to a TV or monitor using AirPlay and Apple TV. In our tests, games played smoothly on the big screen but, unfortunately, AirPlay Mirroring is limited to iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 2, new iPad (third-generation), and new iPod touch.
Time to Update to iOS 6
It's absolutely time to update to Apple iOS 6. This update adds enough new features that make the mobile operating system one of the best in the business. It's unfortunate that some features are limited to more recent hardware releases, but that's the consequence of ever-evolving technology. If you own a compatible Apple mobile device, consider this Editors' Choice OS a must-have upgrade.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.