It took a weekend for 100 million users of Apple mobile gear to upgrade to iOS 6, the flashy refresh that promised some 200 new features. That number of early adopters amounts to a quarter of the user base, which is even more impressive when you consider that older iPhones, iPod touches and the first generation iPad aren’t eligible for the upgrade.
The promise of iOS 6 is encouraging. Yes, Siri remains beta, but she does more things and also works on the new iPad. All right, the voice seems more computerized, but when it works, Siri is fun. When it doesn’t work, and that’s true for a surprising number of people who don’t have the menacing voice and glare of actor Samuel L. Jackson, Siri can be utterly frustrating. That explains why Apple has been named in several legal actions, although you’d think that a beta label would be sufficient warning that it’s not perfect. But those TV ads strongly imply otherwise. How can Siri not be perfect if famous people can use it without problem, or maybe that’s a skill only an actor possesses.
Among the other promising features, Passbook seems a terrific way to store gift cards, coupons, boarding passes, movie tickets and such in a single app that’s time and location-based. Of course, that depends on the company you deal with actually supporting Passbook. Some might have preferred that Apple not just add Passbook, but include NFC capability (the near-field radio feature that lets you charge your credit card wirelessly) in the iPhone 5, but such a decision would be questionable right now since such support is hit or miss.
Other enhancements seem less compelling. Being able to open a site on your iPad, and pick up where you left off on the iPhone is nice, but little more. Having more choices in the Share menu is encouraging, but what about allowing apps to add themselves to the screen? I’m thinking in terms of something you can apparently do on the latest versions of Google’s Android.
Apple did answer lots of complaints by allowing you to store multiple account-based signatures in Mail. This is a feature many of you have long wanted, and you wonder why Apple didn’t take it seriously until now. It does put an end to some third-party multi-signature apps, but the one I tried and paid for never worked anyway, so I’ve since removed it (I can’t recall the name). The other feature, VIP, lets you flag a contact, and have messages from that person show up in a special mailbox. This feature matches the one that premiered in Mail for Mountain Lion.
Certainly Face-book integration is neat, assuming you’re an active social networker. I also like the idea of having more options with which to respond to a phone call from someone who is not in my contact list, though I’d still like to see a dedicated Redial button. As it stands, you redial by tapping Call without selecting a new number. The one last dialed will appear, requiring another tap to dial. Or maybe Apple feels the Phone keyboard is too busy already (I don’t).
Now these features, and most of the others added to iOS 6, aren’t really jaw-droppers. You will welcome them, of course, but not suffer tremendously if you decide to stick with iOS 5.
The real cliffhanger, however, remains Maps. In recent days, Apple has apparently begun to repair this highly-flawed service. Apple made a huge deal of the use of vector graphics, 3D views, and all the other goodies. It looked nice, but didn’t work so well when it came to some destinations and landmarks. If you want to use a public transit system, you have to rely on third-party apps. Sure that presents an opportunity for developers, but I suspect Apple just didn’t have time to finish this feature. By iOS 7, it may be that several app developers will find they are redundant. Or maybe Apple will buy one of those companies, and leverage their technology.
However, Maps came highly flawed, with distorted or incomplete 3D images, misplaced landmarks, and flaky accuracy when it came to turn-by-turn navigation. The defects were demonstrated with screenshots, thus becoming viral. Apple got hit by reviewers, and harder by customers who made a huge deal over the loss of Google Maps.
My old friend David Pogue, the tech columnist for The New York Times, lamented that he was late to a public appearance because Maps sent him to the wrong place. Yes, I suppose David should have had a backup, perhaps a Google Maps printout, but the experience makes for a good story, and I trust he gave the appropriate apologies to his audience. And you well understand why Tim Cook apologized, and even recommended other people’s mapping apps.
However, my encounters with Maps aren’t so severely flawed. Sure, some landmarks are a little difficult to find, unless the search request is really precise. But most routes I’ve tried have been presented accurately. A few hours before I wrote this column, in fact, I let Maps devise a destination to a location about 35 miles from here, a place where I had never visited. Throwing caution to the wind, and not having enough time to pursue other options, I let the app do its thing, and it accurately took me on a very direct route to the correct destination. That’s just what I want in a navigation app, and I wonder how long it’ll take Apple to issue a press release touting how much they improved Maps.
In total, I think iOS 6 is a worthy upgrade. The complaints, other than Maps, are few, and the defects don’t appear to be show-stoppers. My conclusion: If your iOS gadget is compatible, just go for it.
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