updated 09:00 am EDT, Tue June 12, 2012
We go hands-on with the latest volley in the Apple-Android battle
Apple had a lot on offer at yesterday’s WWDC keynote to kick-off its World Wide Developer Conference for 2012. However, none may be more crucial than what Apple had to say about its next-generation mobile OS -- mobile devices have become the driving force behind most of Apple’s staggering growth since the iPhone was launched back in 2007. Underlining this is the incredible fact that Apple’s iPhone business alone now outstrips the total revenue generated by Microsoft. MacNN has had the opportunity to go hands-on with the developer preview of Apple’s iOS 6 Beta for iPhone. Read on to see whether we think this early preview suggests that Apple has delivered enough to keep the iOS juggernaut rolling on.
For users who were hoping for major UI tweaks to Springboard (the iOS home screen), Apple will have left you disappointed. There is nothing fundamentally different about Apple’s tried and true formula in iOS 6. One of the driving philosophies behind iOS is that the OS and its UI remain as transparent as possible, which is probably why it might be some time before we see Apple give its iconic home screen any kind of major revamp. If using an iPhone is all about its ease of use and Apple’s incredible app ecosystem (which is loaded with apps that have all kinds of incredible and innovative UIs in themselves), then at the end of the day the iOS UI really matters little as long as it serves its purpose.
So as Apple did not reveal any major UI tweaks, that leaves the focus on value adding to the OS through feature enhancements and the addition of new apps and UI tweaks to existing apps. The headlining feature enhancement is probably the addition of the new iOS 6 Maps app with free turn-by-turn navigation. Of all the rumors leading into the WWDC, this was one of the hottest and Apple didn’t disappoint on this count. In fact, it exceeded expectations by launching its new Maps app with free turn-by-turn navigation powered by Tom Tom (and 'others'), but with an Apple designed UI.
Also given a substantial upgrade is Apple's vaunted Siri voice-controlled interface. In addition to now being able to launch apps and other tricks like getting information about sports and movies, Siri has also been integrated into the Maps app. As outlined below, Siri can be asked about local points of interest, including the location of gas stations as well as how to get users from point A to point B. Users can also ask Siri about where to grab a quick bite to eat near to where they are currently located.
Although Google tried to steal the thunder from Apple's then-rumored integration of 3D mapping capabilities in its new Maps app, Apple's implementation in iOS 6 is beautifully accomplished, even in its still Beta state. Flyovers look amazing on the iPhone's Retina display, and the way it renders topography and buildings is cool to watch.
Some of the other notable additions to iOS 6 includes the ability to make FaceTime calls over a 3G connection, although users concerned about data allowances needn't be as Apple has given users the option to toggle this function on and off. Much ado was made about the deeper integration with Facebook in iOS, which is a welcome addition -- if you've seen how Apple integrated Twitter into iOS 5, it works in very much the same way. Beyond this, Apple has also overhauled its UIs for the App Store and iTunes Store apps in iOS 6. The changes have been designed to make navigating both stores easier and less cluttered. The Music app also gets revamped with hints of the overhaul Apple gave to the Music app for iPad in iOS 5. The new-look player looks more contemporary as a result.
It has also tweaked the Phone app, giving users the option to send preset messages in response to incoming calls. Users can also continue receiving messages and calls in the background without being bothered now with the inclusion of a new Do Not Disturb function. Apple has further included a new Privacy function in Settings that aims to explicity address user and regulator concerns about privacy and user tracking by informing users which apps are using information from Location Services, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders and Photos.
While there are still room for Apple to make further enhancements to its mobile OS in future releases (ie. think widgets and further enhancements to notifications), it has ensured that its latest marquee additions to iOS continue to make it compelling for end users. In some respects, from a feature perspective, iOS 6 lags behind Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). However, where it continues to stay well ahead of Android is in its stability and its slickness. Even the Beta 1 version of iOS 6 feels rock solid.
That Ice Cream Sandwich is Google’s most polished version of Android to date is not in question. However, it continues to have what may be perceived as architectural shortcomings not always visible to the end user, particularly with its lack of proper optimization for multi-core processors. Intel recently highlighted the inefficient way in which the Android OS makes use of the system resources that Android manufacturers are stuffing into their devices for the sake of the hardware spec wars. iOS is built on the full Mac OS X kernel, which helps to explain why it does what it does so well by comparison -- it takes much better advantage of its system resources. Overall, iOS 6 looks to be yet another step in the right direction for users who are looking for the easiest to use and master mobile operating system. MacNN will revisit iOS 6 when it is officially launched in the coming months with a full review.