This is what iOS Maps selects as my destination when I search for USPTO
This is what iOS Maps selects as my destination when I search for USPTO

I neither lined up for nor pre-ordered an iPhone 5 (lining up for the iPhone 4 on launch day persuaded me that there is no gadget I want that badly), and just placed my order (estimated delivery 3-4 weeks) after debating whether I really want a phone at all for several weeks. It follows that my impressions of iOS6 are based on using it on my iPhone 4.

Flirting with Android

In case you’re wondering: yes, I did consider switching to Android. Indeed, I have bought two tablets — one a Nexus 7, and one a Kindle Fire, since I last bought an iOS device (that would be my iPad first generation 64GB, which I still use daily). The Nexus 7 has done a good deal to persuade me that Android is still essentially an exercise in frustration. E.g. I tried to order my iPhone 5 on my Nexus 7, but its various quirks combined to prevent me from completing the transaction. These quirks are:

  • The keyboard can (and frequently does) become so unresponsive that it loses tap events altogether.
  • Sometimes I simply can’t tap on targets in the browser (Chrome is my favorite browser)
  • I’ve progressed from “quite liking” the user interface to loathing it with a deep and abiding passion

It’s a shame. There’s a lot to like about Android, especially as a developer. Being able to build an Android game directly from Unity without launching Eclipse is wonderful, and I was able to port Manta to Android and post a (somewhat wonky) version in the Google Play store in a couple of lunch breaks. The iOS development experience is certainly a lot less unpleasant today than it was in 2008, but Android is completely frictionless. Of course the net result is that there’s a lot of half-assed crap, like my quick and dirty Manta port, in Google Play.

iOS6 First Impressions

Probably the first thing I noticed with iOS6 is that my iPhone seemed to run a little faster (and it was just fine before), and battery life seems slightly better (maybe 30-50% battery for a day of typical use for me). Not bad for a two-and-a-half-year-old phone. It reminds me of Mac OS X upgrades up until Tiger.

iOS6 Maps App
Directions are much more readable in the new Maps app, and you can flick from stage to stage easily, and get back to your current stage by tapping the arrow button.

The Maps app has gotten the most attention. On my iPhone there’s no 3d flyover frippery, and as far as I can tell there’s no turn-by-turn directions. But the way the Maps app works is insanely better than the old map application (although goodness knows it could easily be further improved):

  • The big green directions are much easier to read at a distance, e.g. wedged on my dashboard
  • You can flick back-and-forth through a series of directions easily (and get back to your current leg with a tap of the “center on me” button)
  • If you tap the “center on me” (or “arrow”) button when using directions, turning it subtly purple, it keeps you centered and automatically steps from instruction to instruction. This is a killer feature and makes the device, in my opinion, superior to a dedicated GPS navigator (or my wife…)
  • You can also pop back to an overview of your route without interrupting anything.

As for the things that could be improved:

  • I assume turn-by-turn navigation will automatically recalculate routes, but I’d like a shortcut for recalculating routes in the direction mode.  Right now, just as in the old Maps app, you need to tap your destination (again), and search for directions (again), and then click the Route button (again) and start navigation (again). Ick.
  • I think that the “purple triangle” mode (follow me and update current stage automatically) should be the default, and not require an extra tap to activate.
  • The way Waze lets you add small detours (e.g. for gas) to a route would, if Waze weren’t a bit of a usability-free-zone, be genius. Steal the idea and do it properly.

I haven’t found the actual directions to be bad (I live and work inside the DC “beltway” so your mileage may vary), or even discernibly different, from the old app’s (or Waze’s). The big difference (and this also applies to Waze to a slightly lesser extent) is that the new app simply sucks at searching for destinations by anything other than exact address. It doesn’t alway fail — e.g. it can find “Smithsonian National Zoo” without a problem — but it fails more often than not. It seems to me that a quick fix would be to pick some search service and attempt to resolve a search that isn’t producing satisfactory results. Even Duckduckgo, which I believe assiduously avoids basing its searches on any information it may have about the user gets a good result searching for the USPTO’s street address. So, it seems to me that Apple could easily fix this problem without going cap-in-hand to Google.

Do Not Disturb is wonderful, but falls in the category of “stuff I was amazed wasn’t implemented in version 1.0”. It lets you tell your phone not to ring or make noises between certain times (and can be toggled manually, e.g. during a meeting). As far as I can tell it doesn’t automatically figure out you’re in a meeting if there’s a meeting scheduled in your calendar. iOS11 perhaps. But, unlike the VIP feature in Mail, it allows you to automatically allow favorite contacts to penetrate the Cone of Silence.

Speaking of General Settings, Personal Hotspot is back at the “root level” of settings — where it belongs — having disappeared into the hierarchy at some point.

Facebook integration is interesting. You can install Facebook from the settings panel. So you can integrate to Facebook without having the app installed, but you can also install the app from the settings panel. Neat. And yes, Twitter integration works the same way and intrinsically supports multiple accounts.

Passbook. I can only parrot the comments others have made suggesting that Apple might have kicked this sucker off a bit more effectively. How about a bunch of discount coupons and some gift certificates ($10 off any iPhone 5 case at your friendly local Apple Store). As it is, I have no clue what this is for right now.

A number of other apps, notably the Phone app, have had significant cosmetic changes for no readily apparent reason. And there’s a few new apps — iTunes U, Find Friends (potentially useful, but I haven’t set it up), and Podcasts — that at least have the virtue of not being folders in disguise (so you can tuck them into folders to hide them if you want).

There’s a new VIP feature in Mail, but I’d rather see support for Gmail’s Priority Inbox (or automagic functionality rivalling it) which seems to work almost flawlessly and required no setup on my part. I thought it might automatically include everyone on my favorites list in contacts, but that might involve not dividing communication into silos (snarl).

Overall, Maps is great but needs work (it seems fine once you give it a street address), everything else is fine, and it seems to run leaner and meaner than iOS5. What’s not to like?

Ustö is quite hard to find using Google Maps
Ironically. Ustö is quite hard to find using Google Maps. I had to specify “Ustö, Sweden” to get any result, and this looks wrong to me.