iOS 6 Launched Today

According to industry sources, Apple’s new mobile operating system – the evocatively titled iOS6 – begins rolling out today.

These are exciting times for fans of Apple.

Firstly the new iPhone 5 is mere days from completing the laborious transition from exciting news story to exciting object, which is a shift from the infinite possibility of marketing-speak to the large though still finite range of possibilities inherent in the actual device. It can do a lot, but it can’t do everything, and it can’t quite do everything as well as Apple makes out. Users of Siri have spent almost a year discovering that.

The second piece of exciting news is that iOS6 goes live today, across Apple’s entire range of mobile devices, from the iPhone 3GS and iPad 2 onwards, which will happily mean that those devices can do a bit more than they could before. If history is any guide, they’ll also be doing it a bit slower. Anyway, what are the features of the new operating system, which includes incremental rather than radical improvements? Read on.

Siri

The number of Australian users who can be vaguely disappointed by Siri is set to increase. Siri is now free to all, and can now inform a whole swathe of interested customers that key parts of her functionality are not available in this country, but that she’ll help you search for stuff on the internet if you want. Apple coyly remarked that Siri has spent the last eight months studying up, and is now much smarter. Unfortunately that only applies in certain countries, of which Australia is not one. She’s only slightly smarter here, with some added local search functionality (a marked improvement over none).

Siri will now open non-Apple apps for you, like Angry Birds. Think of the time you’ll save. But she will still chat amiably, can save time with Reminders and messages, and she has grown progressively better at understanding the accent, although as far as I can tell she still cannot tell the difference between ‘called’ and ‘cold’.

Maps

Apple’s big announcement was that it has replaced Google Maps with its own mapping app, which is prettier and features turn-by-turn navigation. There are also helicopter flyovers of many cities, which doesn’t seem all that essential to me, but looks quite nice. If whatever reason you’re attached to Google Maps, it is still available at the App Store. Word from Google is that it is getting an upgrade as well.

In case you’re wondering why Apple would go to so much time and (enormous) cost to do this, the answer is that map searches generate a large amount of online searches, and that on the vast majority of Apple devices these will now be funnelled away from Google. That’s the plan, anyway. It should also be noted that the Youtube App will no longer be included natively, and must be downloaded from the App Store. Google owns Youtube, you see.

Passbook

The new Passbook app lets users ‘store loyalty cards, movie tickets and even airline boarding passes virtually on their iPhones’. It should be said that this is not quite the digital wallet that everyone talks about – it doesn’t store actual money or credit card details – and that the iPhone 5 still does not include NFC (Near Field Communications) functionality, meaning that you won’t be able to pay for stuff by waving your phone at it. I honestly find this Passbook app quite hard to get excited by, but that could be because I’m never juggling so many loyalty cards or airline boarding passes that keeping track of them becomes an issue. I usually only ever catch one plane or attend one movie at a time. It’s handy, but hardly worth the effort Apple spent on talking it up. Your mileage may vary.

Enhanced Social Media Integration

This is a fancy way of saying that Twitter and Facebook are more closely embedded into the core elements of the operating system. For example, you’ll be able to share photos and updates more readily from traditional iPhone apps. Your Facebook contacts will now be automatically added to your address book. Photos can be uploaded straight to Facebook (although from what I can see they can already be sent straight to Twitter). Again, it isn’t that revolutionary. 100 million Instagram users have been sharing photos quite seamlessly for some time.

New Call Functions

Apple has included new ways for users to be antisocial in declining calls, but also a few ways to be more courteous about it. Now instead of simply declining a call, you can choose to send an automatic SMS response, from a premade list of lines such as ‘I’ll call you later’, although you can also customise this. You can also just decline the call, but have your phone remind you about it later.

There is also a handy new ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode, which can be scheduled to block calls at a certain time. You can pre-define a list of callers whose calls are allowed through even in emergencies. I’m pretty sure Android phones can already do this, but it’s still a nice addition.

Various Other Features

Mail has a new look, and is by Apple’s account easier to use. It now allows you to tag correspondents as VIPs, which in turn means their emails are more visible, and will pop up on your lock screen. There’s a new panorama function for the camera, which is something HTC and Nokia phones have had for a while. Safari has also been upgraded, and now features iCloud functionality, which syncs your browser across all eligible iDevices. Safari also now includes an offline mode, which is something that has been sorely needed.And finally, Facetime can now be used across across the mobile network, whereas before it needed a Wifi connection. Be advised that this will use your plan's included data allowance.

I should also add that the iOS 6 update requires at least 2.5Gb of space, which may prove inconvenient for devices with smaller storage capacity.