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Introducing Apple iOS 6: Everything you need to know

iOS 6, the latest generation of Apple‘s mobile software for iPod touch, iPhone and iPad, has finally been unveiled – and from what we’ve seen so far, it’s going to delight an awful lot of iOS users.

From badly-kept secrets to things that have been on wishlists for what seems like forever, here are the highlights.

iOS 6 introduces Passbook

Passbook is Apple’s new e-tickets app, enabling you to carry electronic tickets for anything from sports events to plane travel, or to have a digital loyalty card. The tickets update too, so for example your airline ticket would send you a notification once your departure gate was announced or changed. Hopefully enough firms will support this one to make it work for all our everyday bits and bobs.

iOS 6 has an improved phone app

The revised phone app offers smart reminders, so for example you can reject a call with a message saying you’re busy, on your way, lost in a forest… You can also be reminded to call someone back when you leave your current location. The new Do Not Disturb mode is particularly nifty: when new messages arrive, they do so silently and without the screen lighting up. If you wish, you can also tell your iPhone not to silence calls from a list of favourite callers, or to automatically silent repeat calls from the same person.

iOS 6 has Facetime over 3G

To tell the truth, we’re amazed it took so long. If this takes off, the mobile operators will be very sad. Unless we use it abroad, in which case they’ll be dancing on great big piles of our money.

iOS 6 has a brand new Safari app

There are lots of useful improvements here: Instapaper-style offline reading, iCloud tab syncing and photo sharing website integration to make uploading less hassle. Less wonderfully, Smart App Banners enable websites to tell you about their sodding iOS apps more easily, which is just brilliant. Who among us hasn’t thought, “man! I wish more websites told me about their iOS app on each visit!”?

iOS 6 Mail has VIPs and pull to refresh

Pull to refresh is here! Yay! You can also create a list of VIPs whose messages will appear on your device’s lock screen and in a dedicated, separate mailbox. Sharing photos or videos from within Mail is finally here too, as are per-account signatures.

iOS 6 photo sharing is more selective

Instead of sharing everything with everyone, you can choose which photos should be shared with which people. We’re not sure why you’d use this rather than, say, put a friends-only album on Facebook or Flickr. Anyone?

iOS 6 makes Siri more serious, and puts it in cars

Siri is able to understand a wider range of questions than before – the demo showed it understanding questions about sports scores, statistics and trivia, booking restaurants and finding out what’s worth seeing at the cinema – but as yet it’s unclear which, if any, of these features will make it to the UK. Local search is being rolled out worldwide, however, and there’s support for more languages.

Siri is also going mobile: the new Eyes Free feature will put a Siri button on the steering wheel of Jaguars, Land Robers, BMWs, Mercs, Toyotas, Chryslers, Hondas, Audis and GM cars. The manufacturers have promised to support the feature in the next 12 months.

iOS 6 brings Siri to the iPad

…but only the new iPad.

iOS 6 has Facebook integration

Apple promises “the best Facebook integration ever in a mobile device”, and to our eyes it looks pretty much the same as iOS 5′s Twitter integration: you can post photos, locations, URLs and so on to annoy your friends. The API is public, so non-Apple apps can share to Facebook too, and you’ll be able to see your Facebook friends’ App Store recommendations.

iOS 6 has guided access for children

The new Guided Access feature enables you to disable certain parts of the screen so that children can’t accidentally hit the wrong buttons. We’re going to use it on the in-app purchase icons in every kid-targeted iOS game. Hahah!

iOS 6 has a new Maps app

New York, London, Paris, Munich, everybody’s talking about – iOS 6 maps! Well, maybe not, but Apple’s much-rumoured mapping system finally breaks cover. It’s pretty, will have traffic information, doubles as a sat-nav system with turn-by-turn navigation, can be controlled via Siri and will probably be rubbish outside major metropolitan areas in the UK. Still, the new Flyover 3D views of major cities are lovely.

iOS 6 should be adopted very quickly

Unlike other mobile operating systems, iOS isn’t dependent on mobile operators approving updates: as a result 80% of Apple’s 365 million iOS customers are using the latest iOS, compared to 7% of Android users. Once iOS ships, expect a similarly speedy take-up.

iOS 6 doesn’t work on everything

iOS 6 supports iPhones from the 3GS onwards, the fourth generation iPod touch and the second and third generation iPad. Check our story for more on iOS 6 compatibility.

The iOS 6 release date is Autumn

iOS 6 was released as a beta today, but the final version will ship in “this Fall”.

Previous iOS 6 rumours

Here are the rumours we reported on before the WWDC 2012 announcement.

What hasn’t been certain is what will be involved in the new platform – but we’ve sifted through the upcoming releases to see what’s likely to appear, whether you’ll be getting it and more importantly: the iOS 6 release date.

iOS 6 launch

If Apple doesn’t release the new iOS 6 platform for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch this evening (spotted by T3), we’ll be gobsmacked – and it will have wasted loads of money on all these signs.

So, we can probably expect to see the ‘world’s most advanced mobile operating system’ unveiled at WWDC…

iOS 6 maps

If you were a gambling type of person and had a very tech-savvy bookie, we’d recommend you pop a few dollar on this: Apple bringing out its own mapping application.

Not only has Apple acquired C3 3D mapping firm last year, but it also snapped up the likes of Placebase and Poly9, both companies involved in the same space – and moving into the mapping space would give Apple a fantastic leg up in the location-based services that are getting more and more popular every year.

The fact Google is launching its own ‘next dimension’ of Google Maps imminently is unlikely to be a coincidence, further backing up the rumour that Apple and Google are set to dissolve their partnership on the mobile side of things.

Facebook integration

There are strong, strong rumblings that Facebook is going to do what Twitter did with iOS 5 – namely, become more of an integral part of the iOS 6 experience.

TechCrunch is stating that integration with Zuckerberg’s creation is a ‘go’ for the new release, but details of how far that integration will permeate through the iExperience are still vague.

What’s most likely is being able to quickly share photos to Facebook from the Photo app in the same way as Twitter – whether Apple takes the next step and allows features like autosharing, contact integration or offline access to Facebook albums remains to be seen.

Either way, it’s a massive coup for Facebook as it looks to get more involved in the mobile space – perhaps this can stop the pesky rumours of a forthcoming Facebook phone.

Siri coming to the iPad

We were verging on the gobsmacked when the new iPad 3 didn’t launch with Siri – instead we got the less-exciting Voice Dictation instead.

However, according to 9to5Mac the experience will be massively improved by adding in all the functionality of Siri on the iPhone 4S (minus the phone business), allowing instant search, music control and more by a simple long-press of the home button.

But how will it look? According to the same sources, the app won’t run in full screen, instead popping up from the bottom of the display to show you the information you requested.

Which, let’s face it, will quickly be setting alarms and timers and the odd voice search when you’ve heard certain questions evoke comedic responses from Siri.

Enhanced email and Do Not Disturb

OS X Mountain Lion seems to be something of an inspiration for the forthcoming release of iOS 6, with a couple of sensible features likely to be added, so says a 9to5Mac source.

The first is VIP Mail, which allows you to tag the key people you talk to most (or your boss) and make sure their mail is front and centre when you pop open the Mail app.

This is the same system we’ve seen within HTC Sense and work very nicely, especially as you’re able to group your contacts accordingly.

It’s also an automatic feature in Google Mail these days, and as such we’d now expect it from Apple too.

The other is Do Not Disturb: allowing you to turn off notifications when you’re looking to do things like run full screen apps or just not bother with getting bugged on the way home.

Whether it will be offered to become part of apps’ design remains to be seen – or if users will have to toggle it manually.

iCloud Tabs

In the same way that Android has live synchronisation to the Chrome Browser, Apple apparently wants to repeat the trick with iOS 6 and Mountain Lion, which will be a simple synchronised list of opened tabs between the devices.

The button will be kept in the Bookmarks toolbar to give access to the relevant tabs – but whether the feature will be available for users of Safari on other non-Apple devices is still uncertain.

Live icons?

This is a biggie, and would be the equivalent of the notifications bar coming to iOS 5 – basically bringing one of the best bits of Android to the Apple mobile OS.

So it makes sense that Apple could look to Windows Phone’s Live Tiles and think: ‘we’ll have a bit of that’.

We’ve spoken to a number of UI designers from the Android and Windows Phone camps who have criticised the way Apple’s icons are pictures of information waiting to be opened, rather than the picture itself.

Of course, Apple has always been about simplicity, and app icons that change too frequently might confuse some users, but the option to make some apps more widget-like would appease the legions of iFans that have looked on with quiet envy at their friends’ Android devices.

iOS 6 release date

The iOS 6 release date is still very much up in the air – but some sites are claiming it will be as late as autumn, which plays very much into a mooted iPhone 5 release date of October.

However, it’s unlikely Apple will wait that long to launch something it announces in June (especially when iPad and iPhone users will have ready-to-use devices), so expect the iOS 6 release date to be somewhere in July or August… and the chances of seeing an iPhone 5 then don’t look too outlandish either.

Of course, if you’re running the older Apple hardware (and by that we mean iPhone 3GS and older, plus probably the first iPad) you won’t get access to the new iOS 6 if previous form is anything to go by.

Update: it seems you lucky 3GS owners are getting a reprieve – here’s hoping Apple has at least optimised the new platform so you’re not subject to terrible slowdown.

Introducing Apple iOS 6: Everything you need to know

 


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