A lot of cool stuff happened in San Francisco today.
Apple’s annual World-Wide Developers Conference has traditionally served as the venue for groundbreaking announcements out of Cupertino: Apple’s move from PowerPC to Intel chips; iOS 5 and iCloud; and the iPhone 3G, 3GS, and iPhone 4 were all announced at WWDC events, along with countless other Apple milestones.
This year was no exception to the rule: we got a new lineup of Macbooks, including upgraded Air models as well as a ground-up redesign of the Macbook Pro. The new version of OSX, Mountain Lion, was shown off as well. Finally, about an hour into the event, the presentation’s focus turned to mobile, and Apple took the wraps off iOS 6.
And quite a lot was under them wraps! Among other features, iOS 6 gives us an improved, increasingly multilingual Siri that can tell us sports scores, reserve us tables at restaurants, tell us what movies are playing nearby, and tweet for us via voice- all of which will also be possible later this year through a car audio system at the touch of a button (depending on what cars we buy). The new update also gives us Facebook integration at the OS level, allowing iOS users to post and share just like we currently do on Twitter, and it also ties Facebook into the App Store, so we can see what apps, movies, and songs our friends have “liked.” That integration also extends to the calendar and contacts, finally bringing a feature to iOS that some other platforms have enjoyed for years.
In somewhat larger news, Apple has completely renovated its Maps application in iOS 6. The app no longer relies on data from Google, instead drawing on a new mapping platform created by Apple itself, which we reported might be happening way back in 2010, and thanks in no small part to the acquisitions it has completed since then. The new app features Siri integration so you can ask it if you’re “there yet,” highly detailed 3D models of major cities, integrated Yelp support with 100 million business listings, and finally, mercifully, built-in turn-by-turn navigation.
There’s also a new native app called Passbook -basically a password keeper and mobile wallet on steroids- that will embed the iPhone even more deeply in users’ day-to-day existence, as well as a new Photo Stream implementation that will make it easier to share photos with groups of contacts. There’s new, granular call-filtering and answering-machine options in the Phone application, a VIP mailbox and multiple-signature support in Mail, photo-upload ability in Safari, and FaceTime support over cellular. Unified phone number and Apple ID. Custom vibration alerts. Alarm-with-song support. HDR improvements. The list goes on and on. (To check out the stuff that most piqued our interest, see Brandon Miniman’s breakdown of the five most interesting features of iOS 6.)
So, What’s Not Included?
Honestly, it took me a while after the WWDC keynote ended to decompress. I needed to organize a few lists and sift through a lot of notes in order to assimilate all of the new features in iOS 6. It’s a massive upgrade, certainly worthy of the full-point bump. Were I using an iPhone as my daily driver, my heart would be all pitter-patter with glee at the coming avalanche of awesome. As an iPad user, I’m pretty excited.
But I’m also disappointed about a few things. Chief among them: the iOS user interface.
I’m a user-interface maven, so I’m bound to be more sensitive about this stuff than the next guy, but even the average consumer has to be getting at least a little tired of the iOS springboard by now. It’s been five years of the same homescreen experience, with static rows of square icons arranged over a dock of four, more special, static squares down below. Sure, these days we’ve got folders and a linen-backed Notification Center, but it’s just variations on the same tired theme. There’s one thing I hope for every time Apple announces a new version of iOS, and that’s a new, smarter, more glanceable UI.
Many people like the consistency and ease-of-use the current interface offers. While I understand that, I’m also haunted by memories of Windows Mobile and Blackberry, two platforms that employed a virtually unchanged user interface over generations of devices, eventually iterating themselves into irrelevancy. Apple is in a much better position than either of the companies behind those OSes, but complacency will kill even the biggest Mountain Lion. See what I did there?
Another bonus I was hoping for was a rethinking of the aforementioned Notification Center, which is a huge step up from Apple’s previous it’s-in-your-face-now-deal-with-it approach, but still falls short from a usability standpoint. Grouping notifications by app is cumbersome, as is the inability to dismiss notifications one at a time and the ridiculously small clear-all button (itself requiring a double-tap once you actually activate it). The list’s center-mounted position on the iPad’s display makes is especially annoying in landscape mode, and its fixed position at the top of the screen, the least-accessible part of the display, is clumsy and annoying. All of this would be fine if any of those parameters were adjustable, but in true Apple tradition, they’re not.
Finally, I’d like to have seen a revamped approach to cross-application communication in iOS 6. While we’ve seen Apple make a definite and welcome step forward with their new inline selector for adding media to emails, it’s nowhere near as versatile an experience as on a device running ICS. One of my favorite features of Android is the ability to press the “share” button in, say, the Gallery application, after which I’m provided with a list of all the apps available to share my photo. The list is even adaptable, learning which apps I use the most and categorizing them accordingly. It’s a huge improvement over what’s available on the iPhone, and I was hoping we’d see something like it announced today.
On the whole, I didn’t find this afternoon’s announcements anti-climactic, or even disappointing. There’s an awful lot to like about what Apple unveiled today, and I’m very excited to try some of the new features on my iPad. But as with all Apple events -and this is increasingly true for other companies, like Samsung- it’s often very hard to live up to the buzz, and there are always people out there for whom disappointment is always the preferred state over contentment.
Are you one of those people, or do you just have some unfulfilled wishes burning a hole in your tongue? You know where to spit it; sound off below and tell us what you wanted to see from Apple today. Or, if you’re elated by iOS 6 and confused as to how anyone could be anything but, let us know about that too. I’ll be sitting by the computer, waiting for the beta to download and thinking of all the quirky questions I’m finally going to put to Siri when she arrives.
iOS 6 image source: Wired