Hands on with iOS 6: Spotlight on Facebook, Maps, and more

ios6 upgradeeverything iphone 5It’s finally here: No, not the iPhone 5, but iOS 6 is a nice placeholder to tide us all over until then. The latest iteration of the Apple OS is here and ready for download. Before you plug in and connect (or opt for the dreadfully slow over-the-air WiFi update), here’s a look at all the biggest changes you’ll be greeted by with iOS 6, and how they measure up.

Maps

Without a doubt, the elephant in the iOS 6 room is Maps. As we’ve known (officially) since WWDC, Apple has been wiping its ecosystem clean of all things Google, including Google Maps. And as expected, when you launch your iPhone post iOS 6 update, you’ll kiss the Google Maps icon goodbye and see it replaced with Apple’s TomTom-fed proprietary app, Maps.

maps routing appsAs you can imagine, there’s the standard unfamiliarity of working with a new maps tool after becoming so comfortable with Google’s version, but it’s all pretty straight-forward: Selecting the arrow icon in the upper left-hand corner allows you to choose start and end points, as well as indicate whether you’re on foot, car, or public transit. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t feed public transit on its own; if you choose this option, you’re pushed to a prompt to download an outside routing app.

Also obnoxious is the fact that you can’t edit your route once you’ve entered it. After you enter your start and end points then hit route, you’re taken to a page where you can either choose “clear” to abandon your trip, “start” to select it, or the viewing options: zooming in, 3D, or listed. You can lift the page to view traffic (which when I selected it, made no timing or perceptible difference to my trip), drop pin, print, or choose satellite mode (this is that gorgeous flyover view we saw back during WWDC).

apple maps eugeneA few other grievances with Maps: I entered three large cities in Oregon – Eugene, Salem, and Beaverton – which weren’t auto-populated by Maps. The app was able to find them upon hitting enter, thankfully.

The other major problem I had with Maps’ function was turn-by-turn (a function only available with the iPhone 4S… and we can assume the iPhone 5). With Google Maps, you’re able to follow along and skip from point to point if need be – and for me, I often needed it to be. I may want take a different turn than the one recommended and just skip to the next indicated turn. But Maps doesn’t allow this: You have to actually get to the next indicated turn before you can see the rest of the directions, unless you pull up the “listed” option. Essentially there is no “next” indicator like there is in Google Maps.

And although Google Maps can’t do this either, there’s no ability to add a third (or fourth or fifth etc) location to your directions.

flyover viewA few things that Maps does well: The design is nice, as expected. The font, layout, and color scheme are familiar enough without being a Google Maps copycat and the flyover view-populated imaging is undeniably good looking. Apple also does a lot to keep Maps effective and not distracting; there is a prompt to return to navigation if you hit the home button for some reason, and directions stay on your lock screen as well. The Yelp integration is also well implemented and a welcome change. 

Overall, though, suffice it to say you’re going to miss Google Maps – and once it’s available, you’ll probably download it and replace Maps on your home bar after a little bit of experimentation with the new app.

Want to see more of Maps? Check out our photo gallery here

Facebook

facebook iphoneTwitter was the belle of the iOS 5 ball, and now it’s Facebook’s turn. Facebook is natively integrated into iOS 6, meaning you can automatically share photos to the site, and your contacts list has gotten an incredibly heavy social makeover. There’s also the ability to link your Calendar with Facebook, so that events would automatically fill up your iPhone’s schedule. Apps can now also access Facebook via the iPhone, granted you opt-in.

This all looks as you’d expect: Photos can be auto-shared, you can add notes and choose your audience. You can’t, however, tag friends.

Be prepared for the onslaught of @Facebook.com email addresses to inundate your iPhone, too. All your unsuspecting friends (with smartphone connected Facebook accounts) who didn’t change their default email address when Facebook went ahead and did it for them, now have that ported to all iOS 6 updated contact lists. It also means you have their profile pictures and other Facebook-fed information in your address book.

Camera

The iPhone camera has gotten a few fun new tweaks thanks to iOS 6. You now have a panorama mode (another iPhone 4S-only feature), which is incredibly easy to use. The iPhone will prompt you to slow down and keep the hand steady while capturing the image – you can’t, however, capture panorama stills in horizontal mode.

The UI and setup here are subtly different, but nothing significant. Within your Photo Gallery, the native options for sharing photos also have a nice new visual format as well.

camera panorama

Passbook

The new digital wallet app from Apple requires a bit of setup. After opening it, you’re immediately sent to the App Store to download the Fandango, Live Nation, Lufthansa, or MLB.com At Bat apps. These are the currently participating platforms, but we all know there will be more (right?!). Of course, that means it’s time to download what’s available from the small list, so stay tuned for a hands-on rundown of how Passbook actually works in action.

siri and twitter ios6Siri

Siri has been something of an iOS disappointment: She was the iPhone 4S’ big sell, but we quickly all learned what a novelty feature she is (and seriously, those commercials are not helping). Luckily, Siri has gotten a little more functional now. You can now make restaurant reservations, find movie reviews and show times, and best yet – finally launch apps and make posts using the voice command feature.

And we’re happy to say it all worked: Twitter was opened, tweets were written, statuses were updated and sent – all hands free. Same goes for restaurants reservations; a vague command to find a table for two tomorrow brought up some well rated restaurants that had space according to OpenTable. It’s a big improvement from what we saw when Siri first debuted.

Privacy

This is a very small note, but an important one for battery-saving addicts out there (including yours truly): Now if you want to turn Location Services off, you’ll need to go find it under Privacy.

App Store

app store upgradePerhaps the most hush-hush, but most necessary update, went to the App Store. It’s long been a source of frustration for developers and users alike who are caged by Apple’s narrow Featured page and the absence of suggested downloads.

Now we’re finally getting a glimpse at what that long-age Chomp acquisition is being put toward. Like we previously mentioned, Genius has been turned on for the App Store. The results are… average, but it’s better than the nothing we had before.

The UI is also more visual, with big descriptive cards in search showing you your options instead of the old listing method. Overall, everything is better-looking, more streamlined, and makes browsing and installing apps more fun and interesting – seriously Apple, it took long enough. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely, but this is a huge step in the right direction.

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