The two most important features in iOS 6

Ok, so the next version of the iPhone and iPad iOS 6 was announced a few days ago at the WWDC keynote. It adds a few cool features to both the iPhone and the iPad, but here are the two features that I believe are really important:

FaceTime on cellular (and phone numbers)

This is a lot bigger than people realize. The important part of Facetime isn’t actually the video, it’s the fact that you can call someone without using your minutes. It didn’t matter much when it was only enabled on WiFi, but once it works on 3/4G as well, its full power will be unlocked: Facetime is an incredibly disruptive VoIP service.
Two reasons for that:
– Many people don’t know this, but you don’t have to use the video. Once you’re on a Facetime call, press the home button and it’s just… a call. No video. A ton more use cases, and a lot less bandwidth needed for spotty cell reception.
– You don’t need to build a friends list, or be connected to a specific service. If you can do Facetime, you just do it. And you can easily transform a “regular” call into a Facetime call, too: just press the “Facetime” button on the phone. This is the absolute genius of the system: it doesn’t need you to manage it, it just comes on top of the contact list you already have. Beautiful. Of course not everyone has an iPhone (or an iPad or Mac), but it can still severely cut down on minute costs, and take us one step closer to an all-data driven phone bill.

The other piece of the puzzle that makes Facetime really usable is the fact that you will now be able to associate your cell phone number to your Apple ID (this also works for iMessage by the way). So when you call or message someone, they’ll get the call or message on all of their devices: iPhone, iPad, or even Mac. Again, this doesn’t mean these solutions ubiquitous, but it does make them damn usable.

As I said when it first announced a couple of years ago: Forget video calls, FaceTime is an amazing VOIP trojan horse.

More Siri (in more locales)

Siri isn’t what it could be yet, but its potential is quite amazing: it can replace Google Search, by being easier to use. And when you think about how much we use Google, you understand that this is a big deal.
“Easier to use” than Google was almost unthinkable a few months ago; clearly they are almost unbeatable on the web itself. But use a different technology, like an added “voice recognition” layer between the user and its search queries, and you can take them anywhere they want: Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes, Fandango, your own map service… The only hurdle left is to make sure that recognition system works. A lot. For anything.
iOS6 is showing us Apple’s determination to make this happen, slowly but surely.

Today, Siri isn’t quite there. Especially outside of the US, where any query involving local search is denied. Adding movies, sports and reservations to the engine, by itself, already makes it twice as useful (about half the time I pick up my phone it’s to check something about a movie). And since all the local searches are also coming to the “lots of countries that aren’t the US”, it’ll become “a metric ton” more useful for me… and a few other people out there.

Even then, Siri won’t be at its full potential… but things are starting to get interesting. If they add three essential services with each revision of the OS (and maybe add it to the Mac next year as well), I can absolutely imagine that it will become a very very efficient little thing very very quickly. It’s the kind of thing with which we could find ourselves wondering how things worked “before”.

And just for fun, here’s my take on the other nice additions

– Turn by turn directions: I’m sure this is a big one for many people, and that a whole range of standalone GPS products just got shoved a little deeper into the ground where they’ve been lying, bleeding out, for the past few years. It is a big deal for that industry, but it just isn’t that big a deal for me: I live in a horrible socialist country where we have affordable and efficient public transportation systems. So I don’t have a car. I get it though, and it looks nice, too. So… yay AppleGPS!

– Do Not Disturb: I was surprised at the very clever implementation of the DND feature. Some of it is obvious, but having “favorites” that can still reach you, or the option to have the phone ring if someone calls repeatedly take it over the top. It means you can use it without fear of missing something important, which is essential.

– Phone “quick answers”: Again, the idea isn’t new, but having the option to send a text message or set a reminder to call that person is very clever. And the possibility to get that reminder to go off “when I get home” is just super cool.

– Privacy menu: Mobile device manufacturers and app developers have been taking a lot of flack in recent months because of embarrassing privacy blunders. I’m not as hard on these people as others can be: I think we’re still all figuring this out, and I think in most cases people did the right thing. Still, this is a real issue that needs real addressing, and it seems Apple is making things very clear: you will now be able to know (and control) pretty much all the data on your phone, and how it is shared to which app. This extensive section of the settings and system is a bit unexpected, but very welcomed.

– iTunes cloud streaming: For those who missed it, your music stored in iCloud can now be streamed instead of automatically downloaded (and by “now”, I mean “with iOS 6”). A nice change that makes this feature a lot more useful: you just have a few essential things on your device, and your entire collection is always accessible. Everyone else already does it, so…

– Facebook integration: I’m not a huge fan, but yeah, whatever. Nice to have I guess.

– Share menu icons: Nice cosmetic update. Instead of having very old looking lists of text saying “send to Twitter”, “Send via email”, “You’ve stopped reading this already”, now we get icons. Again, this was kind of overdue.

– Safari offline reading lists: For the live of me I couldn’t understand why a “reading list” of articles wouldn’t be saved for offline reading… Overdue as well. Oh, and the tab sharing between desktop and mobile Safari is handy as well, I suppose.

And here are the things that I think are cool, but just not THAT cool

– Flyover 3D maps: They look awesome. How often will I use it? When I want to show people that it looks awesome. And maybe when I go somewhere new and want to check it out. Short version: far from a life changer.

– Shared Photostreams: Very cool idea to show the baby’s picture to grandma, really. But what I really want is “collaborative” photostreams, where you all contribute to a stream. Perfect for a trip, or a party, or… Well, I hope it’s coming.
NB: Hisptamatic Disposable Camera is a really cool iPhone app that kind of works like that, but as the wise Greeks of old often said: “there’s nothing quite like native system integration”.

And that’s it for my iOS summary. Hope you liked it!

June 13th, 2012