Emerging Technology

GADGET WATCH: iOS 6

Patrick Stafford /

Apple didn’t just release its iPhone 5 last week, but also provided its biggest iOS update yet – iOS 6.

The software has over 200 new features, but it also has some downsides – the controversy over the Apple Maps update has been well documented. So is it worth the upgrade, even if iPhone owners get it for free?

Hardware and features?

iOS brings a suite of new features, including social network integration – users can post to Facebook, Twitter and other networks through the Notification Centre, or through Safari.

Other new features include Passbook, a new app which aggregates coupon cards and passes like movie tickets. Other updates include the new Do Not Disturb mode, which blocks notifications between certain times, while a new feature in the camera app allows users to take panoramas by just hitting one button.

Siri has been given substantial updates, including new language updates. Voice activation can now open apps, along with post to social networks.

Mail has been given a pull to refresh update, along with a VIP inbox for selected contacts in all inboxes. Safari has also been given the ability to browse in full screen.

However, the biggest change is the maps system. Apple has gotten rid of Google’s iconic app and implemented its own system, which has turn-by-turn navigation and 3D flyover rendering.

What’s the consensus?

Overall reviews of iOS 6 are positive.

Engadget had good things to say overall, noting improvements in Siri, which allows access to more apps and features, along with the improvements in minor apps like Reminders.

It also noted the improvements to the phone app, which hasn’t been touched in years – its keypad has now been given a major update, and users can now automatically press a button to text a reply to an incoming call.

“Obviously, that’s not much of an enhancement from a functionality standpoint – it’s just such a departure from the iconic look that we’ve become so accustomed to over the years.”

The Verge had great things to say about the camera app, including the panorama feature.

“Apple’s implementation of panoramic images in the camera app is simple and straightforward, and works without issues. Unlike many of the third-party panoramic apps available, Apple’s version is quick, reliable, and easy to use. It is also remarkably fast at processing the panoramic image once the capture is complete.”

However, it wasn’t so impressed with Passbook, the new app designed for managing passes and coupons.

“Unfortunately, it will take some time for retailers and service providers to support Passbook, which means that for a while, it will be yet another unused app on the screens of many iPhone owners.”

“Apple has partnered with some retailers already, such as Target, Walgreens, United, Ticketmaster, Fandango, and more, but at the time of this writing, the support for Passbook was still pretty thin.”

TechRadar also said the software was more of an evolution than a revolution, but also emphasised this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In particular, it said the improvements to Siri were worth noticing.

“There’s much, much more to Siri than just voice navigation: where iOS 5’s version didn’t really deliver for UK users, the new version is superb.”

However, the Maps application has received a huge amount of criticism.

Over at Engadget, the publication notes that while this is still a first generation app, it’s still “a work in progress and won’t be perfect”.

However, it did say that even though it’s going to be frustrating for users, “we’re intrigued by the direction Apple has taken”.

CNET touched on one of the biggest gripes here – Apple Maps don’t actually locate markers and locations accurately.

“The app also doesn’t do well with generic searches like ‘coffee’ or ‘pizza’, giving some results but nowhere near what you see on the Google-powered maps in iOS 5.”

“We often don’t compare an app directly to another in a review, but in this case, Google Maps is what was on the iPhone in iOS 5 so a direct comparison is fair.”

It also pointed out the lack of public transport results, which will be a huge blow for many users in urban areas.

The Verge was similarly scathing.

“There’s hope, and Apple’s clearly motivated, but there’s no denying that this new version of Maps is not as feature-complete as the old version — especially on the iPhone 4, which lacks turn-by-turn navigation to make up for losing transit data.”

Who’s it for?

iOS 6 is a comprehensive update that doesn’t take much away from the casual user. In fact, it makes their browsing experience even better – if you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, there really isn’t reason to upgrade. That is, unless you use the 3GS – the software may drag your phone’s speed.

But if you’re a power user of Google Maps, maybe it’d be worth holding off just now. You can use the browser version of Maps, but it’s nowhere near as slick. If you depended on Google for its navigation tools, then it could be worth holding off for a few weeks to see if the search giant submits its own app.

iOS is usually a no-brainer update. But the deletion of Google Maps should make you think twice if you use at least a handful of times a week. It’s amazing how much difference a poorly constructed app can make.

It’s not enough to make you stop using the app. But it’s definitely serious enough to make you wait to see if Google releases its own solution.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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