The incomplete Maps have been making all the headlines, but Passbook could make a difference to travelling and Siri has become more useful – although there are still software glitches
Major features of the operating system include a digital travel wallet called Passbook, the Maps app from Apple, which replaces Google’s offering, and Facebook integration. At last this will let you share links from your browser – and offers the same facility for App Stores and iTunes, so you can encourage your pals to purchase more from Apple.
Put yourself on the map?
When Apple Maps was revealed in the summer, it garnered plenty of praise, but it turns out that in the UK it’s pretty disappointing to say the least. We tried it out in a number of areas and only the centre of London – so Oxford Circus, Piccadilly and Soho – actually offers the Flyover view, which is a 3D satellite view rather like Street View on Google Maps. Head anywhere else – whether it’s Manchester, Milton Keynes or East London – and you are stuck with the flat view – only of much interest if you enjoy looking at roofs.
And Apple seems to have taken little interest in the accuracy of mapping this sceptred isle – Battersea Bridge appears as an 8-bit highway, Colchester is nothing more than a blur, and in Ireland there’s a farm that has been marked up as an airfield. We searched for the Tyne Bridge and found ourselves directed to a garage not far from the South coast.
The issues remain if you look for local services – we asked for pubs in Sunderland and were presented with only four – we know for a fact there are more drinking holes in real life! We also lost the Maps server while we were testing the app – we were confronted with a server error message when we attempted to try out the new turn-by-turn directions. Apple has said that this first incarnation of maps is what it calls a ‘foundation’ but as we are stuck with it until updates appear, that’s not really good enough. And it in no way at this moment in time replaces Google Maps. The good news is that there are rumours that Google may bring Maps back to iOS.
Share and share alike
The newly introduced share feature is well implemented – tap an icon next to your address box and you’ll see plenty of ways to share your links – whether it’s by email, text, on Twitter or Facebook. You can also choose Read Later, which enables iOS 6 to put away pages for later reading offline.
The iCloud icon, meanwhile, will let you see any browser tabs that are open on other gadgets that are linked to your Apple ID. Apple has also made a teensy change to the Mail app in the shape of the VIP inbox, which is a fancy name for a favourites list, which you can manually alter to include your chosen contacts. It’s rather like a not-so-good version of the Priority Inbox on Gmail.
What did impress us was the new Photo Streams sharing facility. This lets you add pictures to a ‘stream’ or album on iCloud, which you can then share by sending family and friends a link. Handy for sharing shots from a family gathering or weekend away with friends. Just as with other photo sites such as Flickr, your friends will need to be part of the network and have an Apple ID.
You can also use the Panorama mode (it’s located under the Options tab in iPhone cameras) which lets you take and stitch together a 240-degree image.
Have Passbook will travel?
The idea behind Passbook is enthralling. This is a holder for digital loyalty cards and boarding passes. You can see all the boarding passes loaded onto the device, and the Passbook pops out the correct one, using the information from the clock and GPS when you’re at the airport.
So far airlines signed up to the Passbook are Virgin Australia, Delta Airlines and American Airlines, so we don’t see it having major impact for UK travellers just yet. But we hope to see more airlines and UK merchants signing up soon.
Passbook is also Apple’s first venture into mobile payments - and it may be the start of paperless travelling. It doesn’t use NFC for barcode scanning, so terminals that are already in use can be used – indeed a traveller on Virgin Australia has already managed to check in successfully using the beta version of Passbook. Passbook can only be downloaded to iPhones at the moment, but it’s to be hoped that when it is next updated it will be available to iPad users as well.
Siri gets serious
The personal assistant that appeared on earlier versions of the iPhone has now got a much-needed boost. Siri is now able to direct your device to local businesses – this was only available to US users in previous incarnations. So that means you can find shops and restaurants of all kinds. Siri found us a burger when we asked; we said we were hungry and she gave us details of the 15 nearest places to grab a bite – she even managed to find shops selling dresses, shoes – and noodles.
Siri finds you the closest places to you GPS locations, but unfortunately, the information comes from Yelp – which doesn’t have a complete list of places in the UK. It meant that when we looked for an eatery, our favourite sushi restaurants were not included in the search results.
The voice recognition worked with us speaking naturally – we didn’t have to shout, even when we were in a noisy environment. Siri told us what it thought it had heard, and told us it wasn’t completely sure it had heard correctly. In fact, it hadn’t but we still think it’s come on in leaps and bounds since it first appeared on the iPhone.
Crash and burn
We downloaded iOS 6 to a number of devices, and we suffered a lot of freezes. The Twitter notification screen froze on the iPhone 4 when we tapped it – and this was followed by both the power and home buttons freezing. The phone finally decided to reboot itself. On the 4S we tried organising the homescreen icons, only for the handset to freeze and then reboot itself. The new iPad wasn’t safe either – we got the Maps server error and our iCloud backup decided to freeze the whole tablet when we were confronted with a message that there was insufficient storage to back up the iPad. To get the device up and running again necessitated a hard reset.
iOS is starting to feel rather dated. We’ve seen Android get better with age and Windows Phone offering a whole new approach to the software of smartphones. And as they’ve have changed, Apple's interface has started to look rather dull, rather than elegantly designed.
Yes, there are some well-executed features, such as the Facebook integration and the new Photo Stream facilities, but there are also major issues such as the Maps app. We also suffered a lot of freezes when finding our way around the OS. Hopefully a small update will iron out a lot of the issues, and all in all the iOS upgrade is worth downloading – particularly for the exciting features offered by Passbook. But really we would hope to see at this stage that Apple was making some major changes, rather than just adding a few extra features.
By Simon Thomas on 27th September, 2012