Alongside new hardware, Apple announced iOS 6, the latest version of its mobile operating system. The update brings many new features, including an Apple-designed Maps app with turn-by-turn navigation, Siri enhancements, Facebook integration, Passbook for easy access to store memberships and event and travel tickets and Mail and Safari app improvements.
Apple’s SVP of iOS, Scott Forstall, took to the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco to walk the audience through the changes and improvements to iOS 6. Much of Mr. Forstall’s discussion covered topics already revealed by Apple at its World Wide Developers Conference in June, where iOS 6 was first announced.
Major features include:
Maps. Amid growing tensions between the two companies in the smartphone market, Apple said goodbye to Google Maps for iOS 6 and now includes its own Maps app with independently sourced mapping and satellite data. The new app provides customers with new vector-based graphics, real-time traffic information, turn-by-turn navigation and “Flyover” views of select cities and landmarks that give users a highly detailed and realistic view as if they were hovering in a helicopter.
Facebook. The world’s most popular social networking service is now integrated directly into iOS. Via a single sign-on in iOS system preferences, users can directly post and share images, links, and app data directly to their Facebook pages and “like” content in the iOS and iTunes stores from within those apps. A more controversial new feature is the ability to automatically update your contacts and calendars with data pulled from Facebook, although some users may wish to keep the two databases separate.
Shared Photo Streams. Apple’s Photo Stream service, introduced as part of iOS 5 last fall, allowed users to easily share photos between their own devices. Now with iOS 6, users can selectively share albums or individual photos with other iCloud users. It’s a perfect way to keep friends and family up-to-date with vacations or special events.
Passbook. With what many believe to be a direct precursor to an eventual Apple-based mobile payments service, Apple’s Passbook provides an easy and organized way to keep track of store membership and rewards cards, movie tickets, sporting tickets, and travel reservations. Passbook items are time and location based, meaning that your movie ticket will automatically display on your lock screen when you arrive at the theater, and your airline ticket will pop up as you pass through airport check-in a few minutes before your flight.
FaceTime Support Over Cellular. Apple’s FaceTime video chatting service, until now officially restricted to devices on WiFi connections, is finally available over cellular data networks. Some U.S. carriers are placing restrictions on the feature, however, so it will not be available for all users on all plans.
Phone Controls. With the great capabilities of the iPhone, we sometimes forget that the device is, at its core, a phone. To help us remember that, Apple has included some handy new phone features that allow users to automatically respond to incoming calls with predefined text messages, remind the user to call someone back, and set a “Do Not Disturb” time, during which calls and texts will be silenced, except for those from a user-defined whitelist.
Mail. Apple’s Mail app gets a few improvements, including VIPs (already found on Mail in OS X Mountain Lion), swipe to refresh, and easier photo and video integration into email messages.
Safari. Apple’s Web browser gets offline Reading List pages, so that users can download a webpage for offline viewing later, full-screen viewing in landscape mode, and the incredibly useful iCloud tabs, which lets users share tabbed websites between all of their iDevices and Macs.
Siri. Siri is now available on the third generation iPad and offers more customized responses for inquiries relating to sports scores, movie theaters, and restaurants. With new social networking support, users can also use Siri to update their Facebook status or send a tweet. The service also now includes support for more international languages in additional countries.
Accessibility. With Apple’s push into iPad-based education in the past year, new accessibility features help the device meet the needs of individuals with accessibility needs. New features include Guided Access for keeping individuals with learning disabilities focused on the content by restricting touch input to certain sections of the screen, and new VoiceOver screen reading, AssistiveTouch, and Zoom capabilities.
App Stores. In addition to the new iTunes 11, Apple revamped its iOS and mobile iTunes stores for iOS 6. The new interface provides more information for each app but, to the dismay of some who have already previewed the changes, reduces the number of apps on a user’s screen at any given time.
iOS 6 will be a free update and is compatible with the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPhone 5; the iPod touch 4th and 5th generations, and the iPad 2 and third generation iPad, although not all features are available on all devices.
It will be released next Wednesday, September 19.
This article will be updated as more information is revealed.