iOS 5 was a significant upgrade to Apple's mobile operating system that added numerous long sought-after features, such as computer-free setup, wireless syncing, and a fresh take on notifications that took inspiration from its Android competition. iOS 6 (which is a free upgrade) isn't as game-changing, but it adds numerous features (such as a new Passbook app, a revamped Maps app, and new accessibility options) that make it a must-have download if you own a compatible device.
Compatible devices include the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod Touch (4th Generation), iPad 2, and new iPad (3rd Generation). It will also be the operating system for the iPhone 5 when it emerges tomorrow. But some features aren't available on all devices either due to hardware limitations, or because they're specific to iPhones or iPod Touches.
iOS 6 setup and iTunes Wi-Fi sync
If iOS 5.1 is already installed on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, you can update to iOS 6 either over-the-air or via iTunes. If you have a new device, there are three set up options: "Set Up as New," "Restore from iCloud Backup," and "Restore from iTunes Backup." The first option is for people who are brand new to iOS (or existing users who want a fresh start); the other two options recover previously backed up data and are what existing iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch owners will likely choose.
Once you're set up, you can enable iTunes Wi-Fi Sync, which syncs apps, music, photos, and other files between an iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch (via iTunes) when they're connected to the same wireless signal. In fact, the sync happens automatically when you plug an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch's plug into a socket (you can also sync manually without a plug by pressing Sync Now in Settings > General > iTunes Wi-Fi Sync).
The process went without a hitch for me. I synced nearly 15GB of data to my iPad in less than 20 minutes. The only downside is that you must first set up wireless syncing in iTunes, after you physically connect your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad to a Mac or PC via a USB cable. Thankfully, it's just a one-time connection. You can go completely wireless afterward.
Home screen and Maps
The default home screen features a blue background image with ripple effects and several icons(App Store, Clock, iTunes, Notes, etc.) that should be familiar to iOS users.
There is, however, a new app icon that may look similar to the old one, but what's inside is actually quite different: Maps. It's one of the iOS 6 features that generated the most buzz when it was announced at WWDC few months back. Maps is Apple's in-house replacement for Google Maps, which was included in iOS up until this version (both Maps and YouTube were kicked off the home screen).
Maps, at first glance, looks very similar to Google Maps but with subtle differences: Restaurants, coffee shops and other places of interest are highlighted with more eye-catching icons which, when tapped, open reviews and information supplied by Yelp. Unfortunately, Apple's new system seems a little weaker than Google's, and more prone to data inaccuracies.
Like Google Maps, Apple's Maps offers turn-by-turn directions (with or without voice). It also includes 3D functionality, dubbed "Flyover," that renders a real-life recreation of the city you select (such as San Francisco, above). Unfortunately, only a handful of cities in the US have received the Flyover treatment thus far. Also, while Flyover looks great from a distance, when zoomed in close, some jagged polygonal figures and rough textures are noticeable.
Passbook and phone features
Passbook is an iPhone and iPod Touch-exclusive app – at least for now – that will act as a tidy hub for passes and tickets. Instead of handing over a paper ticket, coupon, boarding pass, or gift card to be scanned, you'll simply whip out your device, which will display the appropriate item when you stroll into the appropriate store, cinema, or airport.
When you delete a pass, a very cool virtual paper shredder appears on screen and slices and dices the ticket. Of course the success of this app, unlike the others mentioned in this review, will rely heavily on third-party support.
iOS 6 also adds new calling options that give you more flexibility over how you handle incoming calls that you don't want to take. Instead of simply declining a call, you can now reply to it with a text message (either pre-fabricated or custom), or set a reminder to follow up and call the person back later. You can see the new options by swiping the screen upward when a call comes in. Apple has also added a Do Not Disturb option that ensures you won't be bothered by anyone save for contacts you mark as exceptions during designated hours. All these are useful additions.