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Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Thoughts on iOS 6 and the New iPhone 5

Barely one week has elapsed since the release of the iPhone 5, along with its accompanying iOS 6, and we’re already seeing some amazing numbers. It took just three DAYS for iOS 6 to be downloaded over 100 MILLION times. Wow! Thanks Apple for over the air updates and tight control over the hardware!

In contrast, Android’s latest 4.1 Jelly Bean release has only managed to touch 1.2% or about 6 million of the 500 million Android devices worldwide in two MONTHS. You can thank Android’s massive fragmentation problem for that.

Also, in just two days Apple managed to sell more than 5 million units of the iPhone 5. Those are numbers any other company would be downright giddy over. I’m sure Apple is plenty excited about it, but they've had such a string of successes this past decade that they’re probably used to it by now. My wife was one of those lucky 5 million and I’ve had a chance to steal her phone away from her from time to time (I’m ‘stuck’ on the 4S for at least another year).

There isn’t much I can add to some of the already fantastic reviews of the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 that are out there, but I thought I’d at least share some thoughts on the things that stood out for me:

 iOS 6

What do I like about iOS 6? According to Apple, there are over 200 new features included. I am very busy and far too lazy to describe them all, but here are some of my favorites:

The New App Store: Thank you God, and thank you Apple (to some those are one and the same), for finally redesigning the App store so that it doesn't boot me back to the home screen every time I make a purchase or download an app update. For the first time in iOS history, I can finally click download on an app and that action will occur in the background while I continue to browse for more apps. That is only good business sense and it’s convenient as hell too. An added bonus is that updates to apps you have already purchased no longer require a password.

Custom Vibrations for Each Notification Type: I must have a lot of dirty minded friends because each time I say how much I like this feature, I invariably get some giggles. To the less juvenile minded among you, I am referring to the awesomeness of being able to tell what type of alert I am receiving without even removing the iPhone from my pocket. Ever since I ditched my BlackBerry, I’ve longed for a way to tell whether an alert is a new email, meeting reminder, or an SMS message just by the vibration pattern. That’s old-hat for RIM, but totally new for Apple. iOS 5 introduced the ability to define a custom vibration pattern but that same pattern then applied to all alerts. Finally I can set them individually based on notification type.

Pull To Refresh in Mail: This is such a simple improvement, but one I really enjoy. No more hunting for the refresh button to update my inbox in Mail. Now I can finally use the innovation pioneered by Loren Brichter of Tweetie (and now used in hundreds of other apps) in one of my most frequently used apps. The animation is pretty cool when it does this too, but that’s just eye candy.

Facebook Contact Integration: Notice I just said contact integration, not calendar. More on that in a moment. As far as contacts go, I am so happy to finally be able to pull in profile pictures and other contact info from Facebook and have them all displayed together in a contact entry (without actually merging the two and mucking up my contacts). Android has handled this with aplomb nearly since day one and its nice to see Apple finally figure out how cool that is.

Apple Maps: Say what? I like maps? Haven’t I heard that it is the worst thing to befall the tech world in the history of mankind? Yes, I’ve heard and no I don’t love it either. I still miss Google Maps (street view especially). Apple Maps has apparently been so badly received that Apple’s CEO Tim Cook was recently forced to make an apology over it. Yes, it is far from perfect and I think Apple should have waited out the additional year of their contract with Google before letting it loose. What I do like is some of the cool things that were lacking in the Google Maps app. The new Apple Maps loads very quickly thanks to the vector-based maps. The 3D buildings are really cool when you are in a city that supports them (I’ve tried San Francisco, New York, and Seattle so far). The Yelp integration is also pretty nice (though irritating when it boots you out to the Yelp app to read more than a few lines of a review). Finally, it is great to see turn by turn navigation built in (though I still prefer Waze). Ultimately, I think this will be a good thing as it will force both Apple and Google to innovate heavily on the maps front. It will also allow Google to update the (soon to be released) standalone Google Maps app more frequently than yearly iOS updates allowed for in the past.

Do Not Disturb: I've wanted a feature like this for quite some time. I always silence my phone at night so I can actually do the thing we used to do before all this technology kept us awake….SLEEP. One thing that has always worried me about silencing my phone though, is what if someone needs to get a hold of me in an emergency? Finally I can silence the phone with a just a couple of quick taps but still allow a VIP list of callers to break through or other callers only if they dial repeatedly (so I guess it still won't save me from the drunk dial).

There is much more that I like, but once again I’m lazy. What don’t I like?

Apple Maps: Wait what? I can’t include this twice can I? Well I have, and only because I miss Google’s Street View. A lot. Google please hurry up with that standalone app. Please?

Facebook Calendar Integration: Apple finally made one of my dreams come true with the Facebook contact integration, but it's a double-edged sword. With the contact integration comes calendar integration hand in hand. Sure, there are probably many that like this, but I don’t and I can’t turn it off! In the settings you have the ability to turn off access to your calendar, but this doesn't stop it from integrating with the calendar (even if I turn on integration and then quickly deselect the calendar). The effect of all this is that I now get the joy of being alerted whenever one of my hundreds of Facebook contacts has a birthday. I like all of you guys but I don’t have time to think about each and every birthday. Now I know I can go into the calendar app and tell it not to display the Facebook calendar, but maddeningly it turns itself back on periodically. Maybe it is just a bug that will get fixed soon. I sure hope this “feature” isn't by design.

Siri Still Sucks: Siri drives me so crazy sometimes that I have actually screamed at her and told her just how much “she”sucks! How did my little virtual assistant reply to me? With a scary Hal-esque “I’m sorry you feel that way.” I really wanted to like Siri when it was first announced. While it is a major step forward in voice recognition technology, it still isn't where it needs to be. I shouldn't have to learn how to talk to Siri, she needs to learn how to understand me. Technology serves us not the other way around. Many a time have I tried to make use of Siri to send a message hands-free while driving (I wouldn't dare look at my screen while on the road) only to have her fail miserably. After repeated tries to understand me, I get a cheery “Okay here is your message, shall I send it?” Well I don’t know Siri, repeat it back to me so I don’t have to look at the screen and crash my car or kill someone. I know better than to do that and instead tell Siri to send the message, only to have the recipient receive a gibberish message. Finally, simple voice control actions like sending a short text shouldn't require a data connection. I've seen Siri fall flat on her virtual face many a time when in high congestion areas when data doesn't work so well. Apple, if voice control is so complex that it needs data to work, put it away and tell me about it again when you've figured it out in iOS 10 or beyond.

No iPad 1 Support! Say what? The old 3GS gets iOS 6 (albeit a limited feature set) and my 2.5 year old iPad doesn't? I’m not asking for the full feature set and I don’t expect support forever, but come on Apple, at least support a $500 to $830 device for at least three years. My consolation is that by the time developers start requiring iOS 6 for app updates, I’ll probably have saved up enough pennies to buy the fourth generation iPad. Update 9-30-12: Okay, so this article from Marco Arment, the creator of the excellent Instapaper site and iOS app, poses a very good theory about why Apple has done this that I've wondered about myself. Okay Apple, I forgive you on this one. 

Something  I’m not sure of yet?

Passbook: I think I am probably missing something (fill me in please), but I really don’t get Passbook. It still requires that you have a corresponding app (Target, Starbucks, etc) so if I need something why not just open that app in question? Why do I need yet another app like Passbook? I assume one of the draws is the geofencing capability where Passbook will pop up a gift card I may have or a coupon when I near a particular establishment, but until they invent some amazing new battery technology, I can’t imagine regularly using the battery sucking GPS feature required for this to be useful. It is very possible I may eat my words on this someday, but for the time being, I just don’t get it.

iPhone 5

I’ll leave you with some parting comments on the iPhone 5. Since I don’t use it myself and haven’t had much time with it, I don’t feel comfortable giving a full assessment of it. What I will say, is that I had my doubts about it when I heard the announcement and looked at the specs on paper. I initially thought that maybe Apple was ceding ground to some of the cool devices being put out on the Android and Windows Phone 8 fronts (think Samsung Galaxy S III and Nokia Lumia 900). This was all until I held it. I now firmly agree with Joshua Topolsky over at The Verge when he says, “until you've held the new iPhone, you really haven't seen it at all.”

That made all the difference for me. The thing is fantastically light, thin, elegantly designed, and makes my “old” iPhone 4S seem chunky, clunky, and downright obese. If my boss is reading this, please buy me an iPhone 5! I can't do a business justification for "it's just plain cool," but please? Christmas is coming up soon. Oh well at least now I'll be able to gloat when the iPhone 6 comes out. Here are some other quick impressions:

  • LTE: Holy cow this thing is fast on Verizon in the U.S! Wow!
  • A6 Processor: The speed of the A6 processor is noticeable and welcomed.
  • Larger Screen: It really does feel nicer. It looks a bit odd at first and I wonder where Apple will go from here, but so far I like it.
  • Nicer Display: The display looks nicer for some reason when held side by side with my 4S. I wasn't expecting that. Perhaps it is the 44% better color saturation that Apple is touting.
  • Nicer Cameras: As a photography fan, I’m always jealous of any camera improvements. According to this article the iPhone 5 gets a nice max ISO bump which should really help in low light. I also appreciate that they finally bumped up the resolution of the front facing camera. Please though Apple..pretty please allow me to manual control over Shutter, Aperture, and ISO in the future. PLEASE.
  • New Connector: Yes, it is a pain in the a$$ to buy new cables, but it was time and the old connector really did impede design innovations. The compact cable is appreciated, though I am stupefied as to why they only are supporting USB 2.0 instead of USB 3.0 on it. Seems very limiting for the future.

I also hear that voice quality, battery life, and the ear buds have all been improved with the iPhone 5. I haven’t tested any of those so I can’t really comment. Have you? What are your thoughts on the iPhone 5? How does it stack up to the competitors? What about iOS 6? Is it innovative enough to keep you away from Android or Windows Phone 8? Are you as entrenched into the iOS ecosystem as I am? Let me know!