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iOS 6 - Performance, Panorama, App Store and Safari
iOS 6 Camera and Panorama
From a UK perspective, it's starting to sound like we're not getting a particularly good deal with iOS 6, an update that's supposedly pretty major. However, look at the less location-centric updates and we do get a few worthwhile goodies.
The best of the lot, arguably, is the new camera panorama mode. This sits innocuously in the Settings menu of the standard camera app, and takes a high-resolution, roughly-3MB wide shot of your surroundings. In typical Apple style, it's dead easy to use - you just slowly turn your iPhone, trying to keep the guide line level.
Quality is impressive, with good management of changes in light intensity. However, as with most panorama apps, it struggles with some straight lines, as you can see in the distortion of the handrail below. As you can see, there's little-to-no distortion elsewhere, so we can't have been jiggling the handset about all that much.
Today's masterpiece - the Lonely Man
It's disappointment time again for iPhone 4 users, though, because Panorama doesn't feature in that model.
iOS 6 iTunes and App Store
Not all of iOS 6's new bits are functional changes. Some are aesthetic. The colour scheme of many part of the OS have changed, for example. The light blues and greys of menus have been switched for moodier-looking dark greys and blacks. Apple is donning the Ray-Bans and doing its best to look cool, and while it's something that may look a little odd to you for about 22 minutes, we imagine most people will have forgotten that there was even a change within a week or two.
Apple has also made some more significant changes to the looks of its digital storefronts. iTunes's frontend is a lot more flash than it used to be, with an interface that's actually closer to the Spotify app's than the rather staid approach iTunes used to have. It's more visually-driven now, letting album covers themselves act as part of the visual architecture of the portal, rather than hemming everything in with drawn interface lines.
It's doesn't fundamentally change how iTunes work, but it does make it look more modern.
iOS 6 Browser and email
Visual tweaks blend with functional benefits in the Safari browser's updates. Apple has added a full-screen landscape mode in iOS 6, letting you get rid of all space-consuming UI elements with a new button lodged in the main nav menu.
You can also save full web pages for offline viewing, which will come in handy if you travel underground on the way to work, or live in an area with poor 3G reception. As with the long-time-coming social network updates, these feel like features that could have been implemented a while back, and are already available through third-party apps.
The email app gets a few similarly-enriching tweaks. You can now label email contacts as "VIP", which will direct them into a special, important inbox. It's email streamlining, the Apple way.
iOS 6 Game Center
More interesting, but also more likely to get overlooked, are the iOS 6 improvements made to Game Center, Apple's take on Xbox Live. It looks more-or-less the same, but you can now send game challenges to your friends.
Once they beat them, you'll be notified, and you can send your own personal, taunting messages along with each challenge. We have a feeling this may not catch on all that well with many who would actually have good fun using it, but it's a neat addition that should add an extra shot of adrenaline to the already-vibrant iPhone games scene.
iOS 6 Do Not Disturb and Privacy modes
Sound like too much fun for you? Apple also makes it easier to go dark, with its Do Not Disturb and Privacy Modes. You can schedule times when the phone won't alert you to emails and so on, making it much easier to give you quality time away from the incessantly nagging partner that is a modern smartphone.
This will come in particularly handy for those who don't want the horrible chorus of the alarm clock to be followed up by the bleating coda of the iPhone email notification sound. Blessed be.
iOS 6 Performance
So far, we've mostly looked at the new features of iOS 6 and whether they're worth bothering with, but perhaps the most crucial thing is that it doesn't ruin the basic iOS experience. It doesn't add anything too flashy - no widgets, no added home screen customisation - but it does run quickly enough on an iPhone 4S, and while some slight slow-down does appear to have been introduced to the iPhone 4, it's not going to make you run out to buy an iPhone 5. Apple's marketing is there to do that.
iOS 6 Verdict
Those who think that iOS is due a change, one that will start to bring in the customisation features offered by Android and the upcoming Windows Phone 8 platform that will feature on the Nokia Lumia 920, may be disappointed by iOS 6. Many of the best bits of iOS are ones you won't necessarily notice instantly, and when you do they'll simply implicate themselves into your day-to-day life to the extent that you'll soon forget they're "new" at all.
Some of the changes, such as Apple Maps and Passbook, feel a little limited in the UK at the moment, and iPhone 4 users will undoubtedly be disappointed at the number of features they miss out on. iOS 6 doesn't spoil iOS, but it'll be a few weeks or months before its benefits become more apparent, as features develop and a few niggles are squished.