Apple’s iOS 6 boasts more than 200 new features, many of them small fixes and incremental improvements. Others are bigger and bolder, like maps, turn-by-turn directions and the Passbook mobile wallet.
But what’s really inside iOS 6?
I reached out to some top Seattle area iOS app developers today to get their take on the new mobile operating system. They let loose, touting its coolest new features (panorama camera mode), but also exposing some warts (Maps!).
I actually installed iOS 6 on my iPhone 4 last night, and within 30 minutes of doing so a photo I’d just taken of Seattle superhero Phoenix Jones (who was filming a Halloween-related commercial in our back alley) mysteriously vanished. (No joke). A bad bug, or was some odd super power going on?
Who knows. But as millions of gadget freaks line up to purchase Apple’s new iPhone 5, which debuts Friday at 8 a.m., we thought it would be fun to catch up with the folks who know mobile phones the best. Here’s what developers from Dwellable, Familiar, Hive Brain, Trover, EyeJot, Black Pixel and Walk Score had to say about the new operating system.
Adam Doppelt, Dwellable:
What’s most impressive about iOS 6? “By the far the most impressive change is the new Apple Maps app. I’ve done a fair bit of mapping myself, both at Dwellable and Urbanspoon. The problems they are trying to solve are quite difficult, especially if you try to solve them for all countries simultaneously. Accurate vectors for roads. Internationalized geocoding. A global POI database. Attractive tiles, served up at scale. Satellite data. I applaud the effort.”
What don’t you like about it? “As a developer, I admire the audacity of trying to replace the extremely refined Google Maps app in such a short time frame. As a user, I can say definitively that the new Maps app is terrible. They are about where Google Maps was five years ago. Apple, put those billions to work! I’m also not crazy about the new App Store. It makes discovery even more difficult, in my opinion. This directly impacts the ability of developers to make an impact with their app. The new app store search is very clunky.”
What’s missing? “Passbook is pretty interesting, but it’s very app centric. Do I really need a separate app for every merchant? Maybe I just want to pay at 7-11 without having to install some crappy app.”
Other thoughts? “Man, there are some bad bugs. ALL iOS 6 Wi-Fi was broken (Wednesday) due to a 404 on Apple.com. Seriously, how could they break Wi-Fi on every device? Clicking the find apps button in Passbook gives an error. Those are some pretty major issues for such a big launch. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by past iOS releases, but I expected better.”
Ray Fortna, Familiar:
What’s most impressive about iOS 6? “I think its the sheer number of additions in iOS6 that is most impressive. There are lots of small to medium features that taken individually don’t blow you away. But there are dozens of these changes that as a whole amount to a massive update for users and developers. But mostly I am just excited about the new emojis.”
What don’t you like about it? “The way that search results are displayed in the updated App Store is concerning. Previously, a user could do a search and quickly scroll through the single line results effortlessly. A searcher could easily consume dozens of lines of search results in seconds. Now, each result is shown separately as a “card.” You can no longer scroll through the results, you have to instead flip through to each card. The result of this is going to be much less discovery through search. If the app you are looking for is not in the first couple entries, you are not going to find it. It’s bad for developers and users.”
What’s missing? “I would have liked to see a more thought out privacy solution for applications. As an app user, I am relieved that apps cannot access my contacts and calendar without my permissions anymore. However, I dislike being presented with a barrage of permission prompts every time I install an app. I think most users get “permissions fatigue” and just blindly hit “yes” or “no” without really understanding what they are agreeing to. As a developer, I would like more opportunities to explain what permissions I need and why. The ‘one and done’ permission prompt makes this difficult, and can’t help but to feel aggressive and pushy.”
Other thoughts? “I hope that the changes to the App Store signal a continued investment from Apple into fixing the problems of the store. App discovery is a major issue in the iOS app ecosystem, and I would love to see Apple really try and tackle this. Time will tell.”
Michael Schneider, Hive Brain, maker of Relax+:
What’s most impressive about iOS 6? “Many of the new features in iOS 6 are incremental improvements over the existing features. Those changes make the whole experience better, but they don’t stand out as impressive because they don’t seem new. There are a few things that seem most impressive in terms of new technology though. The panoramic picture mode in the camera app is an impressive feature. That enables users to stitch together a panorama of individual images by panning the camera from side to side. The maps app also has some very impressive 3D maps that should wow users. Lastly, the guided access feature that I mentioned on your podcast is really impressive. It enables users to disable hardware and software buttons in an app so that the iPhone or iPad can be turned into a kiosk for business purposes, or make the device safe to give to a child.”
What’s missing? “I said I was impressed with the 3D maps, but I think people are going to be disappointed at first with the change from Google maps. Apple’s mapping data just isn’t as good as Google’s is yet. As a result, finding points of interest and searching for businesses and landmarks is going to be worse, and frustrating. I think users will see this change as a downgrade.”
Other thoughts? “I would love to see Apple implement an API that would enable developers to add functionality to Siri. I was really surprised that they didn’t do that. I am guessing that Apple is still working the bugs out of the existing system and doesn’t want to complicate that process yet. It would be nice if you could ask Siri to launch a particular app and have it perform a particular function. Favorite Features: Guided access so I can let my son play with the phone without accidentally closing the app we are in. Turn by turn directions in the Map app.”
Tristan Rees, Trover:
What’s most impressive about iOS 6? “There aren’t any single killer features that impress me but there are a handful of new capabilities that I like. It’s great to finally have turn-by-turn directions, the panorama feature in the camera is pretty cool and Passbook seems promising. As a developer, the Facebook integration is nice but I’m most excited about the extra screen real estate the iPhone 5 will afford.”
What don’t you like about it? “Besides adding turn-by-turn directions, Apple’s map application feels like step backwards from Google Maps. Hopefully, Apple will keep iterating and improving their mapping data and app capabilities. I’m not really a fan of the updated App Store app. It’s a lot more visual but it seems like it’s harder to navigate and dive deep into.”
What’s missing? “I would love to see some improvements to the notification center to allow developers to create more engaging/actionable notifications. Lock screen widgets or other customization would also be a welcome addition.”
Other thoughts? “iOS 6 feels like an incremental step forward with a collection of new features and tweaks to the OS and core apps. None of the new features individually jump out to me as ‘must haves’ but overall iOS 6 is an improvement from iOS 5.”
David Geller, Eyejot:
What’s most impressive about iOS 6: “I love the fact that I can inject photos into mail messages I’ve already started composing. Previous versions forced you to start from your photos and share them. Also, if you’re using a web page, in Safari, and there’s an opportunity to upload photos, iOS 6 supports that action, just like a desktop version would. That’s very helpful, especially if you want to want to add photos to a new post you’re creating in eBay or Craigslist.
Signatures for mail accounts are a nice improvement. I have several accounts and this will let me customize my outbound email, slightly.
Scheduling quiet times might actually be very useful and allow people that keep their iPhones charging on their night table more restful evenings.
I actually like the new maps applications. The vector-based art is fast and responsive and the turn-by-turn navigation worked well in my tests. The display and behavior was better, for me, than Waze, which had been one of my favorite navigation apps.
While I haven’t used it yet, I’m excited to be able to send automated responses via SMS to people calling me that I can’t talk to, at that moment. Super useful to signal to someone that you’ll call them back, or you’re on your way. I see myself using this, despite the fact that I use my phone less and less for talking.
Tighter Facebook integration is welcome. I’m an avid user and investor in Facebook, so I appreciate as much integration with iOS as the two companies are willing to implement.”
What’s missing? “I’ll miss public transportation transit data until third parties start providing their data to Apple’s new mapping application. I expect this will happen relatively quickly for large metropolitan transportation systems.”
Other thoughts? “iOS 6 on an iPhone 4S is a great stop-gap measure for anyone thinking about upgrading to the iPhone 5 but can’t for cost or contract reasons. The new iOS version adds significant value existing iPhones – something Apple has consistently offered its users. They have one of the best upgrade paths with backward device support of any company. The upgrade process, too, is wonderfully simple.”
Daniel Pasco, Black Pixel, maker of TheDaily app, Kaleidoscope and NetNewsWire:
What’s most impressive about iOS 6 in your view? “Do Not Disturb – My iPhone is my primary phone. I frequently have to silence my phone at night, because I get so many pings. It is great that I now can allow the truly important ones to wake me up, if necessary.
As a consumer, I’m most excited by Passbook in iOS 6. Passbook has the potential to be a real game changer in our everyday lives. Imagine your phone holds your movie tickets, your sports tickets, your rewards cards, your boarding passes, all in one place and it even live updates to show you schedule changes or latest information. That’s an incredible feature, and I hope developers and businesses adopt it in droves.
As a developer, MapKit has some really compelling improvements for transit apps that I’m excited to dig into. Beyond that, Apple has done a great job bringing even more features and polish to UIKit to make it easier to build beautiful apps. UICollectionView is by far the star on that front.
What don’t you like about it? “iCloud integration still needs work, particularly with Core Data. In theory, it should be easy to synchronize your local databases between devices. In practice, there’s still a lot of work to be done here by Apple before it’s perfect.”
What’s missing? “The biggest thing missing for me is Scene Kit, which is available on OS X. Scene Kit provides built-in support for 3D apps so that they can easily set up the visual environment, load models, run pre-built animations, etc. iOS, which does not (hopefully just “not yet”) support Scene Kit, requires developers to either roll their own frameworks for this functionality or use a third-party 3D engine such as Unity3D.
Other thoughts? “iOS 6 is less about enormous new developer features than previous OS’s, which introduced things like OpenGL ES 2.0 support in 3.0, Core Text support in 3.2, Grand Central Dispatch in 4.0, iCloud in 5.0. Instead, they’ve really focused on refining and polishing and filling gaps in features. One great example is bringing more of the Cocoa Text system to UIKit so you can do sophisticated, styled text layout without always having to go down to Core Text. That is going to be a huge timesaver for developers.”
Matt Lerner, Walk Score:
What’s most impressive about iOS 6? “I couldn’t be more excited to get an iPhone 5, but it’s the hardware not the software that has my consumer lust pumping. I do love the new photo panoramas though. I’m too lazy to install a separate app to do this!”
What don’t you like about it? “The maps in iOS 6 are more car-centric than Google Maps and are not as good for walkers and bikers because many parks, paths, and transit stations have less detail.”
What’s missing? “The biggest disappointment for me is the lack of built-in public transit directions. In fact, Walk Score made a little petition last June to urge Apple to include built-in public transit directions.”
Other thoughts? “I love seeing Sir Jonathan Ive on the Apple site doing most of the iPhone 5 promo video. I actually spent a Saturday night watching a video of him discussing how the MacBook Pro’s asymmetrical internal fan shape creates less noise. He is doing a great job carrying the Steve Jobs mojo torch!”
What do you think of iOS 6? Leave your comments below.