By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)
Around the time of Apple’s developer conference WWDC every year, I am faced with a dilemma. Do I update my iPhone/iPad to the new version of iOS, which is in Beta for developers or do I wait till it is more stable and publicly available? Somehow, I always come up with the same answer and it involves my heart stopping for a few minutes while my precious iDevices come back to life. If you have updated an iPhone or iPad, you know exactly what I am talking about.
While those few minutes of not breathing can’t be good for the oxygen to my brain, I am almost always happy I decided to upgrade. Of course, I could have waited, but that would mean, in this case, that I would not be able to FaceTime over 3g, use the Facebook integration, but most importantly, had I not updated, I would not be able to pull to refresh my inbox! (That was a joke for all you “That was on Android ten years ago” people. Sheesh!)
In reality, iOS 6 does not have one single feature that will absolutely blow you away the way Siri did when it launched. Most of the significant new features are updates that Apple really should have implemented two years ago. Having said that, the five features below really do add to the overall polish and user experience in iOS. Some of them exist on competing platforms, yes, but as usual, Apple did not do it first, but it did do it better, at least in my humble opinion.
So here goes:
At the risk of ticking off Apple fanboys worldwide, I am just going to say it. Until iOS6, Siri was 98% marketing and 2% product. Yes, it was that bad. She could not launch apps, she could not post to Twitter or Facebook, and most importantly, Siri was mostly a gimmick that answered questions most people would never ask.
Enter iOS 6. On the iPad, Siri is now more accurate than she ever was before, she launches apps, she posts to various networks, she has integration with many services including Yelp, and she even reads you your notifications. Siri also has data on sports, movies, actors, and many new languages are now supported. While Siri might not be as Google Now, she is a whole lot smarter than she was yesterday.
While Siri was cute before and now became awesome, FaceTime was pretty useless before and just became practical. Making a video call over Wifi is not something you will usually do since if you have Wifi (at home or in the office), then you probably have a computer and you can just use Skype. I understand that there are hotspots in public places, but there is something awkward about making a FaceTime call in Starbucks as well, so when exactly is FaceTime meant to be used?
Now, on iOS 6, you can FaceTime over 3G! Yes, I know what you’re thinking…”But there are many apps that offer that ability. Apps like Fring, Tango, Skype (Thanks David), and many more.” Again, Apple was not first, but it did do it best. FaceTime over 3G is not much different than over Wifi, meaning, the quality is really awesome. Something tells me it uses quite a bit of data but that aside, FaceTime over 3G is huge for iOS users. Yes yes, Android has that too. <Claps hands slowly for ruining the mood>
Let’s Welcome Apple to “Social”
While Apple still does not have an official company Twitter account, and has failed repeatedly at the social game, it seems the company has finally caved and has gone all in on the social front. Full Facebook and Twitter integration means contacts and calendar access to Facebook, it means the ability to share from Photos, Safari, Maps, App Store, iTunes, Game Center, and most importantly, it means easy and quick posting to Facebook and Twitter directly from the Notification Center.
While Windows Phone might still be the fastest OS when it comes to performing activities directly from the home screen, the new social integration in iOS 6 makes iOS a close second. Of course, in Android, there are also widgets, which enable you to perform actions quite fast as well. Either way, it is nice to see Apple finally embracing the social web. It only took them five plus years.
Email, the Way it Was Meant to Be
If I had to choose one functionality that is crucial for a smartphone user, it would definitely be its email client. That is the only reason myself and millions of others around the world used BlackBerrys for so many years. Now, the iOS email experience is still not as good as the old school Berry, but with every major release, it gets that much closer.
Some important updates to the iOS Mail app include Pull to Refresh (LOVE the new animation), different signatures and notifications for each account, and most importantly, the ability (and don’t laugh, I know it sounds funny) to attach an image from within an email as opposed to from within the Photos app. Yes, I agree, this should have been possible for iPhone users years ago but it wasn’t and now it is, which is awesome. Shutup, Android users, my apps are better than yours!
Call Management: My Boss Will Thank you, Apple!
OK, who doesn’t recognize the following scenario? You are in a meeting and your iPhone rings. You don’t want to answer, but you can’t really ignore your wife, or else. Besides, what if it is something urgent? So you answer quietly, out of the corner of your mouth by saying “In a meeting, is it urgent or can I call you later?” Then you get that look. You know the look!
Now, and again, this has been possible on Android phones for some time, you can automatically respond to a call with a text message saying “In a meeting” or one of many other message templates. Yes, it is a simple new feature, but it is an important one. Oh, and as far as notifications during these meetings, iOS 6 now has a Do Not Disturb switch so your notifications are turned off until you disable the feature. Again, nothing revolutionary, but definitely useful.
There are Others, Many Others
OK, that’s all folks, those are five of the main reasons I am happy I updated to iOS 6 despite it being somewhat unstable. You will notice I did not include Maps in the list, because, well the Turn by Turn Navigation, which is the only reason I would use the new Maps app, does not work in many locations outside of the US, and I happen to be in one of those locations! So Apple, add global support and I will gladly chuck Waze and update this post. Thanks.
Other awesome features in iOS 6 include big enhancements to Safari, which is not a big deal for me since I now use Chrome on iOS, the new Passbook app, which is useless at this point and other loose ends.
OK, but is it Stable?
The upgrade process went flawlessly and took only a few minutes. I did not even need to restore the phone from backup, all my pictures were restored from iCloud. I am using iOS 6 Beta 2, which is the latest build as I write these words. Is it stable? I would say, 75%-80% stable. It crashed on me a few times and outgoing emails got stuck in the outbox for 20 minutes for no apparent reason. (at least 100 new grey hairs were added to my head during those 20 minutes.)
All in all, as I mentioned, I am happy I upgraded, but if you get freaked out when your phone’s screen blacks out all of a sudden or apps crash on you just as you are about to hit Post on a 100 word Facebook post, then I would suggest you wait a week or two till the next build is released or if you are really patient, you can wait till iOS 6 is released to the public. But then you lose the “Early Adopter” label. Your call.