iOS 6 [Review]

iOS 6 [Review]

Editor’s Note: This review has been stickied to the top of the front page. There are likely new posts below it.

After months of testing, iOS 6 — the most recent major update to Apple’s mobile operating system — is now here. Featuring an entirely new Maps, a new Passbook app, some impressive new updates to Siri (who also comes to the iPad with this release), a great Do Not Disturb feature and a lot more, iOS 6 is a great refurbishment of the world’s best mobile OS. But all is not perfect, and in at least one way, iOS 6 might prove disappointing to people upgrading from iOS 5.

Over the last few months, we’ve been putting iOS 6 to the test on our iPhones and iPads. Here’s what we thought.

Siri

iOS 6 [Review]

Let’s face it: Siri — Apple’s major innovation with the iPhone 4S — has had a sketchy history, even for a so-called “beta.” From the start, Siri has been plagued by access issues, and for a supposed personal virtual assistant, Siri’s answers could be temperamental at the best of times, and outright dumb at others.

What has been so frustrating about Siri isn’t that she could sometimes be dumb. That’s excusable in a beta. It’s that she’s dumb inconsistently: one minute smart as a whip, the next a swollen-tongued paltroon. Even Steve Wozniak has publicly complained that Siri was dumber six months after her debut than she was at launch. And it was true. When Siri first came out, if you asked her what the third tallest mountain in America was, she knew the answer. Six months later, she didn’t. And now she does again.

What’s going on? Apple’s not saying. Siri doesn’t process most of your requests locally: instead, it takes your voice, encodes it and then shoots it over your WiFi or 3G connection to a server to feed it through some giant M.O.T.H.E.R. of a quasi-A.I. machine. Her answer is then piped back through to you. When Siri gives bad answers where previously she gave good ones, it seems as if she didn’t have quite enough time and energy to think things through.

In other words, Siri’s failings seem to be tied to server load. That makes Siri in iOS 6 a hard thing to review properly. Right now, using the iOS 6 GM candidate, she seems as smart, and smarter, than she’s ever seemed before, even on new devices like the new iPad. But when iOS 6 goes live, Siri is going to be hit with all sorts of new traffic she’s never had to deal with before: third-gen iPads, new iPod touches, iPhone 5s. Even if she’s whip smart then, how long before she starts acting like a dullard again?

Unknown. But we’re hopeful that, this go around, Siri won’t find herself so dumb and tongue-tied when she finds her servers heating up.

Siri’s ability to give intelligent answers has broadened considerably

For one thing, Siri’s ability to give intelligent answers was previously bottlenecked by her Wolfram Alpha integration, but with the addition of new partners like Rotten Tomatoes, SB Nations and Open Tables, Siri’s possible pool of resources from which to draw her answers has broadened considerably. Under iOS 6, asking “What team does Peyton Manning play for?” or “When does Cloud Atlas open?” or “Find me a Thai restaurant nearby” all bring up reliably useful answers. That’s a big step up from iOS 5, where Wolfram Alpha would try to puzzle out the inquiry and often fail to give a real answer, requiring you to Google it Now. Apple’s drawing more possible answers from more sources, lightening the load on everyone and giving much more reliable answers.

The question is, of course, “how will it hold up?” When the hordes of users download iOS 6 today, will Siri go from a super-genius to an idiot again, as millions of new devices that previously had no access to Siri crush Apple’s servers? It’s too early to say, but one year later, there’s reason to be hopeful that Apple both has a better understanding of how to project demand and ramp up accordingly, and is drawing its answers from enough sources that most common questions can be answered directly via a partner without turning to Wolfram Alpha or Google as a stop-gap. That will go a long way.

Right now, we can say this. Siri in iOS 6 works great, and for us, she’s an infinitely more useful assistant than she ever was before. She sets reminders. She sets calendar entries. She looks things up on the web for you. She tells you what the score to the latest game was. She tells you where to find a good meal. She even tells you what movies it’s worth your time to see. These days, Siri pretty much has a decent answer for everything. If Apple can keep it that way, Siri might go from being the butt of everyone’s jokes to the showcase feature she was always meant to be.

Siri in iOS 6 works great, and for us, she’s an infinitely more useful assistant than she ever was before. If Apple can keep it that way, Siri might go from being the butt of everyone’s jokes to the showcase feature she was always meant to be.

Maps

iOS 6 [Review]

Apple had to kick Google’s Maps out of iOS. Maps is one of the most central things you do on your phone, and yet Apple’s manifest destiny in maps was controlled by a direct competitor. Worse, Google was keeping Apple down when it came to realizing the true potential of Maps by preventing Apple from giving users turn-by-turn directions: a huge competitive advantage for Android. So Apple bought C3 Technologies, started signing secret deals and bided its time until their contract with Google was up. And then they kicked Google out the door.

Now we’ve got Apple’s own Maps in iOS 6. It’s pretty good, but depending on what you want from your Maps and where you live, it could be a big step down from what you’re used to.

Apple’s new Maps could be a big step-down from what you’re used to.

First, the good. Turn-by-turn navigation is probably the biggest new feature of Maps, and Apple’s done a great job here. If you enter the address of your destination, Maps will plot your course, and if your device is moving in a car, it will automatically detect that and give you turn-by-turn navigation on the way, with each turn loudly narrated by Siri. These turn-by-turn instructions persist even on the lock screen, which is a great touch, and it all seems to work to this periodic driver about as well as Google’s Android turn-by-turn directions. That said, turn-by-turn’s not as polished in many ways: for example, on Android, if you go underground in a tunnel, the Maps app will automatically invert the colors of the display so they are easier to read in a dark environment. There’s no such context-sensitive changes in iOS 6 Maps. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a bit of a bummer.

In other ways, Apple has outdesigned Google when it comes to Maps. The new font and tiles choices in Maps are undeniably more pleasing to the eye than Google’s choices… or, at least, “undeniably” if you’re already the kind of person who connects to the design ethos of the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Other details — like navigating between steps in directions by swiping left-and-right on the hovering “street signs” — are also a nice touch.

It’s hard to deny that Google’s Maps data seems to be much more comprehensive than Apple’s

That said, it’s hard to deny that Google’s Maps data seems to be using much more comprehensive data than Apple, at least for now. Google Maps has more fully fleshed-out mapping data, and time after time, it seems to beat iOS 6’s Apple-grown Maps solution when it comes to thoroughness and accuracy of data. In fact, iOS 6 even loses some functionality, like Google Street View. And depending on where you live, the new Maps could be untenable.

Apple does have one ace up its sleeve: the new 3D Fly-By view, which turns your local map into a three-dimensional fully pannable, rotatable, zoomable city… if Cupertino has the data on where you live. It’s a really swish effect, and looks absolutely phenomenal in place, but it’s also bandwidth heavy and, well, let’s face it, pretty much useless. Sure, it’s a cool way to demo iOS 6, but there’s a reason maps are in 2D: it’s an easier way to navigate them. 3D maps are undeniably cool, but unless you find yourself getting lost in busy skylines on a regular basis, we’d be surprised if you use the functionality more than a few times after you first show off the ablity to your friends.

So, Maps. It works well, but not as well as what came before. It looks better, but not enough better to justify the loss of functionality. iOS 6 Maps is clearly Apple’s first step, and we have every reason to believe that in iOS 7, Maps will likely kick the teeth down Google’s throat. Apple doesn’t usually let high-profile, mediocre products stay that way for long. However, right now, iOS 6 Maps may be prettier, and may have turn-by-turn… but we’re still counting down the hours until we can download Google’s new Maps app off of the App Store.

Apple doesn’t usually let high-profile, mediocre products stay that way for long… but we’re still counting down the hours until we can download Google’s new Maps app off of the App Store

Passbook

iOS 6 [Review]

It’s easy to see how Passbook in iOS 6 is the bedstone for what will eventually be another major Apple empire: NFC payments. Imagine, instead of pulling out cash or a credit card when you want to pay for something, you just wave your iPhone instead. That’s the future: it’s going to happen. But for whatever reason, Apple still thinks it is premature to cram an NFC chip into every iPhone.

That’s why we have Passbook. It’s a slick compromise, a virtual wallet for all of your membership cards, tickets and e-coupons that uses scannable bar codes and your location to intelligently pay for services or check-in for events.

The good news is that Passbook is both elegant and fun to use. The way it works is this: let’s say you buy a ticket home for Christmas. In your confirmation email, you might see a link at the bottom that says something like, “Add this ticket to Passbook.” Tapping that on your iPhone would then give you the option of putting a simplified version of that ticket in your Passbook. When it’s time for you to board your flight, you can just pull out your iPhone and have the screen “scanned” at the gate.

It’s all very slick, and because it’s location aware, there’s a lot of cool possibilities: for example, Passbook could automatically tell a restaurant where you have reservations that you’re there (similar to how the Apple Store app handles check-ins) or alert you to deals when you’re around a store where you have a loyalty card.

The problem is, right now, all of this is basically just theoretical. There are absolutely zero Passbook enabled apps right now.

The problem is, right now, all of this is basically just theoretical. There are absolutely zero Passbook-enabled apps right now, and the only company we’ve heard about that is supporting Passbook in the wild is Virgin Air. Right now, if you load up Passbook, it will suggest you download Passbook-enabled apps from the App Store, but there are none… even iOS 6’s default suggestion of Starbucks doesn’t work. To even add any passes to Passbook for the purpose of this review, we had to cheat, using Passsource.com to create some dummy passes for us to check out.

Passbook has a lot of potential, and it is undeniably a cool little app. But without third-party support, it’s nothing, and right now, no one seems to be jumping through hoops to make sure that they have Passbook-enabled apps or web sites ready for today’s iOS 6 launch. How useful, then, Passbook will prove to be in the real world will have to be revisited in a few months time.

Mail

iOS 6 [Review]

iOS Mail has always been fantastic. So fantastic, even, that to this day, there’s a surprising scarcity of third-party email apps on the App Store. It’s the nature of email, though, to be overwhelming, and so there’s always new tools that can be introduced to make managing an inbox easier.

For the most part, Apple hasn’t mucked with Mail too much in iOS 6. It now has Pull-to-Refresh support, which is nice. Nicer still is the new dedicated signature feature, which allows you to set a different signature depending upon which email address you’re using. That’s an important thing to have if you check both your work and personal email on your iPhone. There’s also some new bling around the edges, like in-message App Store previews.

For the most part, Apple hasn’t mucked with Mail too much in iOS 6.

The big headline feature of iOS 6 Mail is probably the VIP Inbox, which allows you to easily set up a list of your most important contacts, then have new emails from your VIPs automatically filtered to that inbox when you arrive. It’s sort of like Gmail’s Priority Inbox feature, except it only pulls in emails from people you tell it are important. To me, that makes it a lot more relevant: when I’m checking email on my iPhone, I usually only want to read emails from a few people and then hold off on the rest for later.

The most welcome change to Mail, though, is the ability to insert photos or videos into emails. You could always email a picture or video to someone else using Mail, but you counter-intuitively needed to start the process in Apple’s Photos app. There was just no way to insert a photo or video into an email you were already writing. Now, it’s as simple as tapping in the body of your email and when the pop-up appears, navigating to “Insert Photo or Video.” Sometimes the most important changes are, in fact, very small.

Mail hasn’t undergone a revolution: it’s mostly the same app you’ve been using for years. If you’ve moved on to a third-party app like Sparrow, it’s unlikely that iOS 6 Mail will draw you back. But the new additions are welcome.

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  • Edwin Torres

    Siri is a lot quicker to responses and understands me a whole lot more. But… she sounds like she got a head injury, what happen? All in all i LOVE the update to Siri.

  • Bob Forsberg

    A review of OS6 would have been nice, rather than your personal tirade of your dislike for Siri.

  • Brian Gregory May
  • EdisPG

    “Messages now unifies all of your email address and phone numbers, so that you get incoming iMessages on all your devices. It’s a big improvement, mostly because you can now send a Message to someone’s phone number, and it’ll pop up on their Mac if they are using Messages on Mountain Lion. That didn’t happen before, and it was maddening. ” – THAT wil be maddening. So when I receive iMessage it is goint go pop up on my phone, my wife phone, my 2 ipads, macbook, and, who knows in future, my apple tv
    That is something that people will not like

  • Brian Gregory May

    “Messages now unifies all of your email address and phone numbers, so that you get incoming iMessages on all your devices. It’s a big improvement, mostly because you can now send a Message to someone’s phone number, and it’ll pop up on their Mac if they are using Messages on Mountain Lion. That didn’t happen before, and it was maddening. ” – THAT wil be maddening. So when I receive iMessage it is goint go pop up on my phone, my wife phone, my 2 ipads, macbook, and, who knows in future, my apple tv
    That is something that people will not like

    It should only appear on ONE phone. And once the message is read, the Notification vanishes from the rest of the devices.

  • Tallest_Skil

    THAT wil be maddening. So when I receive iMessage it is goint go pop up on my phone, my wife phone, my 2 ipads, macbook, and, who knows in future, my apple tv
    That is something that people will not like

    That’s how it has always been, that’s how anyone would want it.

    It should only appear on ONE phone. And once the message is read, the Notification vanishes from the rest of the devices.

    Should, but it DOESN’T, which is the only annoying part.

  • Marcus Rodriguez

    I thought we were promised location based reminders on the new iPad, but they don’t work. Very frustrating.

  • TopherHengge

    All in all I like the iOS update. However, I do not like the fact that you can’t swipe left and right in Reminders any longer to view your other categories. Any reason why this is the case?

  • Brian Gregory May
    THAT wil be maddening. So when I receive iMessage it is goint go pop up on my phone, my wife phone, my 2 ipads, macbook, and, who knows in future, my apple tv
    That is something that people will not like

    That’s how it has always been, that’s how anyone would want it.

    It should only appear on ONE phone. And once the message is read, the Notification vanishes from the rest of the devices.

    Should, but it DOESN’T, which is the only annoying part.

    It works fine for me.

  • Hayden Fong

    facebook contacts not only updated my contacts photos but added every person on the facebook to my contacts list… then saved that to iCloud… now I have 800 people who I dont want to see on my phones contact list -.-

  • Timothy Williamson

    What about the Notification Center iCloud syncing? I think this is one of the best features that will save time so people don’t have to clear notifications on two (or more) devices.

  • mr_bee

    Personally, I’m not liking it at all. Everything is noticeably slower, maps is the worst POS I’ve ever seen/used, no transit directions, poor (and very hard to find) walking directions etc.

    The World clock can’t find any cities, Passbook is yet *another* “useless outside of the USA or southern California” apps, and we still can’t get rid of stocks, Notes, etc.

    Email now has a totally useless (to me) giant f*cking star at the top of the folder list that can’t be removed, yet it still doesn’t have basic spam filtering and all the rules have been completely borked since the last iCloud upstate anyway.

    iOS 6 is a useless, ugly, and just poor in general upgrade if you ask me.

  • ddevito

    Just installed iOS6 on my iPad – Damn the maps app sucks, especially flyover 3D. Awful.

  • ddevito

    iOS 6 blows. I want 5 back NOW.

  • ddevito

    Personally, I’m not liking it at all. Everything is noticeably slower, maps is the worst POS I’ve ever seen/used, no transit directions, poor (and very hard to find) walking directions etc.

    The World clock can’t find any cities, Passbook is yet *another* “useless outside of the USA or southern California” apps, and we still can’t get rid of stocks, Notes, etc.

    Email now has a totally useless (to me) giant f*cking star at the top of the folder list that can’t be removed, yet it still doesn’t have basic spam filtering and all the rules have been completely borked since the last iCloud upstate anyway.

    iOS 6 is a useless, ugly, and just poor in general upgrade if you ask me.

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • ali_plus

    What I saw in iOS so far:

    1. I feel the volume of Siri was low. Before the update it was fine. (Maybe its just me…)
    2. No Map Directions for Saudi Arabia and Pakistan…? Is that how they call it “New and Improved Maps”
    3. Useless people with useless information in my contacts. Also wrong identification of people and assigned them FB names with any confirmation.

    Overall I am enjoying iOS 6. Improvements needed for Facebook integration. Maps… Well (Google please help us) :(

    I have iPhone 4S

  • SamNasri2

    like Andrew answered I am impressed that anybody can earn $8974 in a few weeks on the computer. have you seen this site(Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/nJMFU

  • Ian Campbell

    What happened to downloading individual songs from Match? & more importantly being able to delete the albums you have downloaded, that’s music on the commute to work stuffed as the minute the train I’m on hits a tunnel there goes the new fangled streaming function, and if I download albums to my iPhone I’ll run out of space pretty quick because I cant delete the older albums I don’t feel like listening to, Apple needs to get this sorted NOW!!!

  • joewaylo

    facebook contacts not only updated my contacts photos but added every person on the facebook to my contacts list… then saved that to iCloud… now I have 800 people who I dont want to see on my phones contact list -.-

    Go to Contacts, Press “Groups” then unpress “Facebook”. This hides all your 800 contacts that you haven’t added to iCloud contacts.

  • Andrew McLave

    No facetime over 3G for the facetime phone! Everything else from the ipad to ipod touch! But for us “poor” Iphone4 owners! Nada,Zip or feck all! is what we get for buying the phone which ushered in the era of Facetime, Thank You Apple! and F**K You Very Much! I will no longer trust you or your Add campaigns! I thought that the carriers were the cynical ones, and they are, but with this move you have joined their evil ranks in my estimation! Maybe im just overreacting! Maybe your rationale makes perfect sense, but how would I know as theres no explanations forthcoming, except small print telling us were not worth the hassle or whatever were supposed to infere from said small print in the real world! The cut off point should have been the 3gs obviously! as its not facetime capable in the first place!

  • Tallest_Skil

    No facetime over 3G for the facetime phone! Everything else from the ipad to ipod touch! But for us “poor” Iphone4 owners! Nada,Zip or feck all! is what we get for buying the phone which ushered in the era of Facetime, Thank You Apple! and F**K You Very Much! Maybe im just overreacting!

    You’re overreacting. It has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Apple. It is the carriers that prevent it. Calm down.

  • Bobby Scruggs

    Hey does anyone have this problem? I know its not iOS but I updated my macbook pro to the newest software but after updating it still says I have a software update and I try to update it but the times to download jump everywhere from 11 minutes to almost two hours… any suggestions?

  • Steven Wang

    vTransit , a free public transit search and navigation app working seamlessly with the Maps app http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vtransit-free-public-transition/id561950845?mt=8

  • Bryan Dillon

    Already very frustrated that the youtube app was removed. Now, I can’t watch half of the videos I could previously because they’re flash based and we don’t have that….the frustrating thing was this wasn’t a problem with the youtube app.

  • MisterL30N

    I am getting so tired of particular Cult of Mac journalists always having something to complain about when Apple announces a new product or software update. Bitching about Siri? “Down-graded” maps? No use for Passbook? The hell is your problem? This software was just released this summer. Of course there aren’t going to be a shit load of Passbook tickets for you to stash in it. Of course Siri is going to have server traffic, it’s cool as shit! And as far as I’m concerned, the new maps application is a hell of a lot better than the previous one. Siri’s voice incorporated with turn-by-turn directions is a great addition. I’m so tired of being pumped up for a new product or software release and to log onto CultofMac.com to see how excited they are only to be half bummed out and pissed off because the writer who’s putting the article together clearly is using his iPhone with his eyes closed. I mean, shit. It’s time to give credit where credit is due, and this is by far the most advance operating system on the planet in a complete form. Anyone just starting out with their first iPhone is in for a big treat and a ton of great apps that were designed and created by the hard-working team at Apple. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll have to screen the articles over here at CoM before I continue reading them. What a shame that is.

  • CharilaosMulder

    I just love the retina shutdown spinner…

  • Brett DrMorph WilliamShaw

    thanks to Apple’s incompetance, this update to iOS6 has cost me OVER $99. to other people updating their iDevices to iOS6, make sure to IMMEDIATELY after the update to switch your network from cell data(apple default) to wifi. as soon as the iOS6 install and restart is completed, your phone/ipad will start updating all the apps onboard it. if you haven’t switched over to using wifi and disabled cell data for the apps update, it will cost you heavily with cell data usage. i am lucky i caught Apple’s deception in time before it cost me alot more than $99. for me there is only one good thing to come out from the incremental update(iOS6) and that is not having to enter my itunes password for each and every app update(slowly Apple is catching up to Android, and yes i use both an iphone and galaxy s3). i hope other people updating to iOS6 havent gone through the pain and expense i have suffered.

  • Wayne Bridgett

    Well, according to the BBC the new Maps are even worse than I thought:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19659736

  • Robert X
    Already very frustrated that the youtube app was removed. Now, I can’t watch half of the videos I could previously because they’re flash based and we don’t have that….the frustrating thing was this wasn’t a problem with the youtube app.

    Get the new Google version. It is very very nice.

  • techwarrior

    Passcode: Many users are getting an error in App Store. I noticed when navigating from Passcode. You might add a tip to go into Date/Time in settings, disable auto, set the year to next year and exit. Go into App Store, exit, reset Date/Time to auto and proceed.

    Once done, there are close to a dozen apps that are Passcode enabled.

    It would have been nice for Apple to add a demo mode to help users understand how to use this app. Given their MO is to provide Apps that just work, or need no documentation, this one will baffle folks until they use it a few times.

  • Andrew Smith

    It’s ridiculous that there’s no transit directions in the maps. Redirection to a third-party app? Great. Glad I can now wait for that whole circus to load while i’m on the sidewalks of NYC in the winter.

  • WaynerOscar

    just as Juanita explained I am shocked that a mom can profit $6795 in four weeks on the internet. have you read this website (Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/RBfOP

  • TopherHengge

    All in all I like the iOS update. However, I do not like the fact that you can’t swipe left and right in Reminders any longer to view your other categories. Any reason why this is the case?

    Woops. I just learned you still can swipe left and right – just need to do it on the category title.

    Just in case anyone was wondering the same thing I was.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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