Review: Refined iOS 6 highlighted by stunning Maps overhaul
At a Glance
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iOS’s other marquee app is, of course, its Web browser. Like Mail, Safari’s improvements are fairly modest in iOS 6, though there are a couple of additions that bring an extra dimension of functionality.
Reading List The Reading List feature Apple introduced in iOS 5 gets an upgrade here. No longer just a way of shuttling links back and forth, it now also caches the links you add to it for offline reading. So if you're reading—oh, let's say, a very long review of a mobile operating system platform—you can add it to your Reading List and still access it while you’re on a plane, the subway, or inside your lead-lined panic room. This works for any item in your Reading List, regardless of read/unread status. However, if my Reading List is any indication, it’s worth noting that publishers can opt not to make their content available for offline reading.
iCloud Tabs It’s a good thing Apple added that caching feature to Reading List, because otherwise iCloud Tabs might have rendered it largely obsolete. One of my favorite new features of iOS 6, iCloud Tabs lets you bring up a list of every open tab in Safari on any iOS device or Mac that’s logged in to your iCloud account. So if you realize that you left a crucial page open on your browser at home—directions to your cousin’s new house, for example—you can pull it up in a few seconds.
While iCloud Tabs is easily accessible in Safari on the Mac and iPad, it’s squirreled away in the iPhone’s browser: You need to tap the bookmarks icon in the toolbar and find it in the top-level bookmark list. The list that shows up is divided up by device, and tapping any bookmark will load it in the frontmost browser tab.
Web Inspector One of the best features of Safari in iOS 6, Web Inspector is buried miles deep: in Settings -> Safari -> Advanced. Flip on Web Inspector and connect your iPad or iPhone to your Mac, and you can use the desktop browser’s Web Inspector to tweak settings on the webpage you’re looking at on your iPad. As you change elements using the Web Inspector on the desktop, those changes are reflected immediately on your mobile device. It’s impressive to see in action, and it’ll likely be a boon to Web developers who fret over compatibility with the latest devices.
Other improvements In addition, just as you can tap and hold on the new-message icon in Mail, if you tap and hold on the back or forward button in Safari, you get quick access to your browsing history (or your browsing “future”) for that tab.
Finally—and, yes, I do mean “finally“—Safari now has the ability to upload images to websites. When I spent a few days working from my iPad earlier this year, one of the problems I ran into was uploading a profile picture to a website: Simply put, it could not be done. Now, though, it’s easy enough: Tap any button for uploading a picture, and you’ll get an option to either take a photo or video or choose an existing image from your photo library. Of course, rich HTML tools for editing, resizing, or cropping pictures may or may not work correctly.
The iPad and iPhone versions of Safari each get their own improvements in iOS 6. In the iPhone version, you can now summon a full-screen mode in landscape by tapping the double-arrows buttons that appear when you tilt the phone sideways. That makes the content of the browser window take up the full screen—the URL bar slides up out of sight (though you can get it back by swiping down) and the bottom toolbar goes away completely, although the back and forward buttons continue to appear, when relevant, as translucent overlays. To undo the full-screen mode tap the arrow buttons again, or just turn the phone back to portrait. It’s a pleasant enough feature, but given the small size of the iPhone’s screen—at least, pre-iPhone 5—I’m not sure how much real estate it really buys you.
iPad users get another subtle improvement: Apple has significantly increased the number of tabs you can have open. Previously you could only have nine open; iOS 6 raises that to 24. At a certain point, when there isn’t room enough for all the tabs, Safari adds a little “>>” menu which, like its counterpart on the Mac, gives you a pop-up list of all your other open tabs. iPhone users, however, are still limited to just eight open tabs.
Just as pretty much every iPhone update has improved the device’s camera, iOS updates usually beef up the Photos and Camera apps. There are two major improvements in Photos in iOS 6: iCloud users can now make Photo Streams to share with others, and users of the iPhone 4S and 5 can now take panorama images.
Shared Photo Streams On the face of it, Shared Photo Streams are a cool idea: Say, you’re on a trip and you want people to see your photos as you take them. Sure, you could upload them to Twitter or Facebook, but wouldn’t it be a lot easier if your friends got those pictures delivered right to their devices?
When you create a Photo Stream, your contacts will get an email and a push notification inviting them to join the Photo Stream; you’ll get another notification when they join it. Once they’ve done so, they’ll get a push notification each time you add an image (or images) to the stream. They can also add comments or Like a photo (for which you’ll get a notification), plus share photos with all of Photos’s normal options (Facebook, Twitter, Email, iMessage, and so on) or save it to their Camera Roll. (Note that in iOS 6, the Share button doesn’t appear until you tap Edit while viewing an album or photo stream.)
The one thing they can’t do, however, is add their own photos to the stream. That’s a disappointment, because it means that if I go on a trip with my family or friends and we want to pool our photos, we each have to create our own Photo Streams that we share with everyone else (or do the ritualistic memory-card exchange dance at the end of the trip). I hope that Apple looks into adding this feature in a future update, since it would greatly improve the experience of sharing photos.
When you subscribe to a Photo Stream, it shows up automatically on all of your iOS devices.
You might wonder what your contacts will do should they be among the iOS-less. No problem: As mentioned above you can also create a Web-based Photo Stream for them to view in their browser, although they can't comment on or Like pictures posted there.
The URL for the Shared Photo Stream is accessible from its settings page, which you can get to by tapping on the blue arrow next to your Shared Photo Stream (on your iPhone) or tapping the Edit button and then tapping on your desired stream (on your iPad). The URL is listed at the bottom of this settings screen, right below a Share Link button, which will let you send the URL via email, text/iMessage, tweet, Facebook, or copy and paste. The preferences also let you remove people from your stream, or delete the stream entirely.
If you’re viewing a stream that doesn’t belong to you, you can tap on the blue arrow to see who else is subscribed or unsubscribe yourself.
Panorama Users of the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 get one additional feature: the new Panorama mode. Panorama photos are nothing new—plenty of apps exist to make this job easier, and I even remember using disposable panorama film cameras years ago. But Apple, as is its wont, has attempted to make the process of taking a Panorama shot even easier.
Fire up the Camera app in portrait orientation and tap the Options button. Below the toggles for Grid and HDR, you’ll see a new Panorama button. Press it and you’re off to the races.
Like other panorama photo apps, iOS captures a scene by having you pan across it, rather than the old-fashioned messy technique of taking a bunch of pictures and having software stitch them together. A small box shows you where to pan, while you keep the camera steady using an arrow that points at the centerline. If you start to move too fast, iOS will tell you to slow down.
The process generates an impressively high-quality—and rather large—image file that rings in at 10,800 by 2470 pixels. (A test shot I did ended up as a 17.8MB file, so keep that in mind before you start emailing them to your friends.) It’s worth noting, however, that this isn’t a 360° panorama—it’s probably more like 270°. Also, the smaller area you’re trying to capture, the more curvature you’ll get—so landscapes will probably look more impressive than, say, your home office. Still, it’s a remarkably easy process that produces a pretty seamless image.
Face(book) the music (and books, and photos, and video)
iOS 5 brought Twitter integration, so I suppose it’s only fair that Facebook get its day in the sun. If you’ve used the existing Twitter integration at all, you’ll find the Facebook options pretty straightforward. In pretty much any place you can Share something, you can now post it to Facebook in addition.
First, you’ll need to configure it by visiting the Facebook section of Settings. You’ll need to enter your username and password—or create an account if, horrors, you’re one of the few who doesn’t have one. Apple will provide you a lengthy list of things that you’re giving access to, along with telling you to disable many of the features. You’ll also be prompted to download the Facebook iOS app if you haven’t already.
Once you’ve set up Facebook, you have some options. For one thing, you can choose which apps can access your Facebook account—by default, they include the App Store, Calendar, and Contacts, but other apps can request information as well, which it’s up to you to allow or deny.
You can also choose to update your contact records with their respective information from Facebook. Be careful before choosing that option. My colleague Lex Friedman, who is more daring than I, ended up having his contacts’ Facebook.com email addresses added to the contact records. In addition, you could also end up with a Facebook Friends’ Birthdays calendar, which may lead to many more alerts than you’d wanted about great-aunt Mildred’s pending 87th. On the upside, that information should stay in sync, which means that if your friend changes their phone number, that change will be reflected in your Contacts, which can be handy.
When posting to Facebook from Photos or updating your status via Notification Center, you’ll have the option to choose which groups you want to post your message to, as well as add your location. (In my quick test, it only gave me nearby known locations, as opposed to iOS’s Twitter implementation, which actually gives your exact location.) And, of course, you can have Siri post to Facebook for you.
Finally, you’ll now find an integrated Like button under the Reviews tab in the App Store, iTunes Store, and iBookstore, so you can share your tastes in media with the world.