09:04 AM
Chris Spera
Chris Spera

iOS 6 Beta: First Look

iOS 6 appears to be a great update, with many new and useful features for iPhones and iPads--but the changes aren't so radical that you'll have to learn the OS all over again. Apple has made important changes to Music, iTunes, Maps, and Siri. It has added Facebook and Twitter integration, and a useful location-based feature called geofencing.

One of the biggest announcements Apple made at the recent Worldwide Developer's Conference was the release schedule for iOS 6. Being in the developer program I was able to install the OS on my unlocked iPhone 4S. Here are my first impressions of the first beta release of iOS 6.

The changes begin with Maps, which Apple has overhauled with new map data from TomTom and numerous other improvements. A completely new feature is Passbook, Apple's wallet app, but it works differently than other apps of this type. You can keep not only credit cards and receipts, but tickets, boarding passes, and much more.

Many changes appear in the Settings app. Some are just reorganization, but many are for new features such as Facebook and Twitter integration and Do Not Disturb. The Music app and iTunes have changed in significant ways, too.

Siri has grown up some. She does a lot more than before, although she can still be a bit quirky. One of the coolest new features is geofencing, the ability to set behaviors based on physical location. It integrates with other iOS features, including reminders, to create productivity aids that you might not have imagined possible. Also, iOS 6 now has built-in support for Facebook and Twitter, which make extensive use of the Notification tray.

This is the first iOS 6 beta Apple has released, so we expected it to be rough around the edges--and it is. Maps is a work in progress and we had problems getting some of the other new features to work. But all in all, iOS 6 seems like a great update.


The Maps app reflects perhaps the single biggest improvement in iOS 6. Here, Apple did two important things: First, it ditched Google Maps--the software hadn't seen an iOS update since its original introduction in 2008, when it was released with the iPhone 3G. Getting rid of Google Maps and developing its own local search, directions, and turn-by-turn navigation is an important step for Apple. Second, Apple partnered with the well-respected TomTom to provide the map data.

Maps: Stability And Battery Life Use

iOS 6 uses the same TomTom maps as the ones in the popular TomTom iOS navigation application. I've been using the application nearly every day to get turn-by-turn walking and driving directions from current locations to my destinations. Maps isn't ready for prime time; it has crashed on me nearly every time I've run it, sometimes immediately after launch. Right now at least, Maps also drains battery life. My phone ran through nearly 80% of a full battery in just under three hours.

Maps: Accuracy

I also noticed that GPS accuracy is a smidge off--by about nine to 18 feet (or 2.74 to 5.5 meters). It's not horrible, but it's not accurate, either. This was especially noticeable when trying to use the app for walking directions. Although the app currently doesn't distinguish between walking and driving, it was hard to get it to update my current location if I was walking. I must have been traveling too slowly.

I suspect that Apple will be able to easily correct all of these issues with Maps. I hope so, because the beta Maps, although promising, needs a lot of work.


Passbook, "for the stuff you have in your pocket," is a Google Wallet competitor, and potential killer. Passbook does not rely on near-field communications (NFC) or other static hardware, like Google Wallet and other payment systems do. It doesn't rely on vender partners to support specific payment methods. Instead, using QR and other types of barcodes, Passbook collects receipts, discount cards, tickets, and boarding passes and then displays them on your iPhone screen so they can be scanned by retailers at the time of purchase or redemption.

Unfortunately, Passbook is very unfinished--aside from our one screenshot, the application is pretty much non-functional. I look forward to learning how Apple plans to collect my "data"--all my receipts, tickets, and passes--so I can take them with me on my phone. Will it be via camera, email, file sharing, or all of the above?

Settings: Bluetooth

The first thing I noticed was that the settings for Bluetooth were moved out of General, and are now located in the Settings home screen, right under Wi-Fi. This makes it a lot easier to turn Bluetooth on and off, as well as pair with troublesome BT devices. Although many would like to see at least the top four top options--Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Carrier--moved to the Notification Tray, it's just as easy now to get to BT options as with other operating systems.

Settings: Facebook

Further down the Settings list, you'll see separate settings for Facebook. These let you download and install the software as well as sign in with a specific account. One of the coolest options here is to update your contacts with Facebook data, including profile pictures. To do this, simply tap the Update contacts button. Depending on the speed of your Internet connection and the number of contacts needing an update, you should whip through this pretty quickly.

You'll also notice that Facebook now gives you the option to not only work with your contacts and your calendar but also interfaces directly with iTunes. Apple is phasing out Ping, its social network inside the Apple Music Store, and seems to be replacing it with Facebook, at least on your iDevice.

Settings: Twitter

Twitter also has been added to Settings. Additional options include the ability to work with Instagram as the built-in picture-taking tool for Twitter.

Settings: Do Not Disturb

When the new Do Not Disturb feature is enabled, and an incoming caller is not on the Allow Calls From list, or an active white/black list, you aren't even notified of the call. However, you do have the option of allowing repeated calls to ring the phone. This is especially handy in the case of an emergency; if a caller calls more than once, he'll get through.

Settings: Do Not Disturb

You can also set DND to answer with predefined actions, such as a text message or by forwarding the call.

Music & iTunes Match

I didn't expect the Music app to force quit or error out on me at all, but it did. Unfortunately, those weren't the only problems I had with it.

One of the big new features in iOS 6 is the implementation of music streaming via iTunes Match, direct to your linked iDevice. Currently, iTunes Match is the default play method, even if the music you're interested in is on your device.

That doesn't mean that the device streams everything. What seems to happen--I can't be sure because the app was so unstable--is that Music taps your music locker stored in iCloud before it plays the track. If you have a decent Internet connection, you hear the track. If not, you might or might not hear the track, even if that same track is on your device.

The more I use my iPhone 4S with iOS 6 Beta on it, the more I see of this behavior, especially after long stints of listening to music, and only with tracks that I purchased through the iTunes Music Store. Tracks that I ripped from CDs that I own, whether they're in iTunes Match or not, seem to play on the device consistently without issue.

After an extended period of time playing music or after a number of different applications have been used in rapid succession (perhaps when memory is low), Music will either force quit, or more likely, refuse to play DRM'ed music. Every time I've looked at the device when this happens, I have a low (one or two bars) cellular or Wi-Fi signal. I suspect that Music is trying to validate the license required to play each song, regardless of whether or not it's actually on the device. When it can't make the verification, the song refuses to play.

This would be exactly what the RIAA wants to happen. However, from an iPhone experience perspective, it totally sucks. The way iPhone and iTunes work, I can't have the track on my device without being authorized to play it. If I have a song on my device, there's no reason why I should want iPhone to stream it for me.


Our little girl is growing up. In iOS 5.x, Siri had a great deal of trouble understanding me. I was convinced that regardless of how clearly I spoke, the current incarnation of the speech recognition software just couldn't handle my speech patterns. As long as you speak directly to the phone, Siri now seems spot on--if she understands what to do with what you've said. Basic questions about weather, local points of interest, or the calendar, are mostly handled well. With iOS 6.0, using Siri with a Bluetooth microphone and speaker (note the Bluetooth icons in the Siri screenshots), yielded excellent results when asking about weather. Siri got it right, first try.

Siri: What's My Day Like?

But when I asked Siri, "What is my day like?", she got belligerent, insisting I had asked her, "What is my daylight?" Sorry, but this one really hacks me off. Okay, so the question Siri successfully answered in all the Apple commercials was actually, "What does my day look like?" But you would think she could handle a little variation on that theme by now.

Siri: What About Meetings?

Instead, I decided to ask, "What meetings do I have today?" This brings me to my second issue with Siri: she needs to learn the difference between an all-day event--including multi-day all-day events--a birthday, and a meeting. Just because an event is on my calendar does not mean it's a meeting. Birthdays are clearly not meetings. Calendar seems to know the difference and marks them as such. So Siri should be able to exclude them when asked what your day looks like, or how many meetings you have.

Reminders And Geofencing

One of the newest and niftiest things in iOS 6 is geofencing, which is the ability of iPhone to execute specific events when you cross a specific geographic threshold or location. Geofencing prompts your iPhone to do one thing when you arrive at a specific place and do something different when you leave. This is especially helpful for Reminders. For example, I created a Reminder to have my iPhone tell me to buy a gallon of milk and coffee after I left the train station near my home, so I could pick them up before I got home for the evening.

Geofencing: Not Working Yet

Siri was able to create the reminder, and her much-improved "attention span" makes a huge difference in creating a geofencing-based reminder. The only problem is that geofencing isn't quite working yet, at least not for me. After creating the Reminder, and after I crossed the geo-threshold, my iPhone didn't even blip at me. I'm not certain where the issue is: with arriving at the location, or with leaving the location, or something else.

Geofencing: The Bug

My problem with geofencing seemed to be a bug in the arrival mechanism. Setting up a reminder to trigger when you cross a geofence requires Location Services to run from the moment that the reminder is set until you satisfy the conditions of the Reminder. That's how geofencing works. But in my case, the trigger didn't fire when I arrived at the location--it fired when I left it. But in order to know that you've left, iPhone must know that you've arrived, which the bug is currently preventing. It's a Catch-22, not to mention a battery drainer.


Mail is pretty solid; but then again, Mail has nearly always been pretty solid. In previous versions of iOS, Mail had a rounded clockwise pointing arrow button on the bottom of the screen that you could tap to refresh the app when needed. With iOS 6, Apple changed that to use the standard "drag to refresh" method used in all other apps.

Twitter And Facebook Integration And The Notification Tray

iOS 6 makes posting your status easy. Thanks to the OS-level integration with both Twitter and Facebook, you can Tweet or post a status directly from the Notification Tray. Just pull down the Notification Tray, tap the Tweet or Post button, and you're immediately taken to the appropriate dialog box with a flashing cursor and the on-screen keyboard active. Type your post, tap the Send or Post button, and you're good to go, at least theoretically.

Twitter Posts

I tried posting to both Twitter and Facebook via iOS 6. It worked for Twitter.

Facebook Posts

It did not work for Facebook. The post never showed up in my timeline.


iOS 6 looks like it will be an amazing update with some great new features--once the kinks are ironed out. Although the OS is still a bit bumpy, it clearly shows the direction Apple wants to take with the iPhone, and I'm really excited about it. One thing that happens a great deal with Android and Windows Phone upgrades is that users have to relearn how to use them. New features and functions often change the way the device works. With iOS 6 Apple stays true to its vision and mission of always supplying a revolutionary device in an evolutionary fashion.

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