Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

The hit and miss features of iOS 6

Screenshot of Siri in iOS 6Next week, Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) takes place, and it’s likely that the next release of iOS, version 7, will be announced. This will be the first release under the stewardship of famed Apple designer Jony Ive, who took over following restructuring last year. Ive has designed pretty much all of Apple’s products since the late 1990s but until recently his influence on iOS has been limited.

With this in mind, I thought I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the features that were new in iOS 6, and how good they were with the benefit of hindsight.

Maps

One of the biggest changes iOS 6 brought was a new Maps app. Google was eschewed as a data provider with Apple largely going it alone, with some help from Yelp. This didn’t work out so well. Though the quality of the maps has improved over time, they’re still not great – in my local town, the aerial photography is from around five years ago, it shows roads that have long been dug up and lists long-closed restaurants and bars. Many were relieved when Google launched its own Google Maps app late last year.

Overall, a miss, and while I can’t see Apple grovelling back to Google, whether it’ll improve in iOS 7 depends on what resources Apple is willing to put into improving its data.

Siri

Siri was new in iOS 5 but updated in iOS 6 to be able to do more things. Siri remains a cool feature to show off with but it’s not something I use regularly, and I never hear other people using it either (not in public at least). It’s still a bit limited as to what it can do, and occasionally struggles with my not-all-that-strong Yorkshire accent.

I’m reluctantly calling this a ‘miss’ on account of it not being used much, even though I like it.

Facebook integration

iOS 5 brought integration with Twitter, and iOS 6 followed with Facebook. This enabled easier sharing of photos and links on your timeline, your Facebook contacts showing in Contacts (intelligently merged with your existing address book where appropriate), Facebook events in Calendar, and the ability to share your Facebook credentials with an app with one tap.

As an avid Facebook user this is definitely a ‘hit’ in my mind – sharing is much quicker than before and I like the contacts/calendar integration.

Shared Photo Streams

Building on Photo Stream in iOS 5, iOS 6 allows you to create additional photo streams to share with other people. Apparently. I’ve never used it – I prefer to synchronise my photos using Dropbox. Nor am I aware of many others using it, so this is another ‘miss’ in my mind.

Passbook

I wrote a bit about Passbook last year and, sadly, the situation hasn’t changed much. In the UK, only 22 apps support Passbook, 10 of which are airlines (and I don’t fly very often). I gather that Passbook is more useful in the US but I’ve struggled to find a use for it here. A ‘miss’ in my view, and really I wish Passbook was an app that you could remove, like ‘Find My Friends’ or ‘Podcasts’, as I never use it.

Facetime over cellular networks

I’ve used Facetime a grand total of once over the past two and a half years. For me, Skype is far more useful. That said, having it available on both Wifi and cellular networks is a good thing, and I expect it was only AT&T’s protestations that prevented this from working sooner.

Phone enhancements

iOS 6 added a couple of options for when your phone rings – instead of simply cancelling the call, you can also send a quick text message to the caller, or set a reminder to call the person back. I haven’t used these personally but I can foresee them being useful.

Changes to Mail

Even though it’s no longer being developed, I prefer to use Sparrow for my email on my iPhone, so I’ve not really used Mail much. The changes in iOS 6 didn’t tempt me back, either. The app as whole looks old and tired now, having only had incremental changes since 2007, so I hope it gets a major refresh in iOS 7.

Safari updates

There were some changes to Safari – your tabs can be synced to iCloud and there’s a Reading List feature to save articles for later. I use Chrome as my browser on iOS because it’s got a simpler interface, and also synchronises all my data (not just open tabs and bookmarks) wirelessly. Similarly I use Pocket rather than the Reading List, so neither of these features appeal to me. Like Mail, Safari is due for a refresh, in my opinion.

Do not disturb

It’s not mentioned much on Apple’s web site, but for me one of the best things about iOS 6 was the ‘do not disturb’ mode, which can be enabled on a schedule. That means that my iPhone turns off all notifications between 10pm and 6:30am for me, with the exception of phone calls from my favourite numbers. That way, I don’t get woken up by my screen lighting up, or my iPhone making a noise because I forgot to put it on silent before I went to sleep, and people I don’t know can’t disturb me at night.

A lot of misses, but some hits

Looking back, I’m surprised just how many of these new things I don’t use. Of the changes, better Facebook integration and Do not disturb are the only two that have made a difference to me. Others may have different experiences but hopefully iOS 7 will offer something more.

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