Peter Baer Galvin: Apple iOS 6 Review

Written by Peter Baer Galvin

After months of testing, our tech pro Peter Baer Galvin, also a tech pro at Boston University, says Apple iOS 6 isn’t all bad. Or all good. In depth review.

Using Apple iOS 6 for the past several months on my Apple iPhone 4S on AT&T in the U.S. has brought me to several realizations.  Yes, I’ve had my problems with it and I’ve joined the chorus of naysayers, sure. But there are good things here, too. Here’s my Apple iOS 6 review.

I like many of the features that you’ll find covered in depth on this site and everywhere else. But it’s the system’s built-in photo panorama feature that I find really cool. I like that you don’t need a third party for this anymore. Check out these pics, below.

Yes, Apple Maps could be better.  And Google Maps is missing. As for the former, it needs more points of interest and off-line mode with cached maps would be excellent.

Locating of points of interest should be a high priority for Apple — and, especially, better routing — as Apple revs this OS. Just last week when I tried to get to the Ridge Winery in Santa Cruz, it lost its sense of direction.

I ended up at a dead end, even though the route had plenty more turns ahead for me. That’s my experience with Apple Maps. Apple bought this technology from a Dutch company last year, but it sure needs some QA testing.

But I find the new maps app to be much more useful than the pre-iOS 6 version. That one lacked usable turn-by-turn directions, which was a deal killer for me.  I instead tried a variety of third party apps, and settled on Waze for most uses (although Waze is not perfect either, but then what software is?).

Those who disparage Apple’s efforts in comparison to the Android maps app are welcome to try to use my Daughter’s Droid X2 for navigation. In spite of frequent visits to the Verizon store, GPS directions on that phone work for a couple of days before epically failing to track her location as she drives, making it useless. Resetting caches and rebooting the phone solves the problem, starting the cycle again. Googling for a solution (which is ironic) shows many other folks have this same problem.

She likes Swype (the better virtual keyboard entry system) but is switching to the iPhone for her next communications device.

I’m now using a mix of the Apple maps app and Waze.  The maps app is integrated, so an address from another app can become a destination in maps, and Siri of course directs maps to a given requested destination.  Waze on the other hand has tremendous social networking, with other users adding alerts about accidents, hazards, traffic and police activities.  I never feel safer than when I’m driving with Waze keeping an eye open on the road ahead.

A general bug I’ve experienced occurs when updating apps. The apps are listed as having an update available, but selecting “update all” from the App Store app updates some but leaves others in a “being updated” state which never completes.  Sometimes reselecting them to update works, and sometimes poking each one’s icon causes the update to occur.

And as others have noted, apps seem to be crashing more frequently with iOS 6 and with iOS 5.  One presumes these issues will be resolved with forthcoming updates.

And then there is Siri, who I want to love but instead I find to be very frustrating. When she works, she is science-fiction perfect. But other times she teases and doesn’t deliver, wasting my time and making me head elsewhere for satisfaction. Siri is only in beta, of course, so let’s hope version 1.0 brings up her performance.

The Wish List

No software is ever bug free or complete. Maps needs more points of interest, as well as more accurate maps and routing.  Also adding social features such as those that Waze has would make it a killer GPS.  Another nice map feature is multipoint routing, which some third party GPS apps have but is lacking in Apple maps.

Speaking of frustrating, it’s a multistep effort to make a simple change, such as turning on Wi-Fi or going to airplane mode. Fast access to settings (say via the notification screen) would be most welcome.

Speaking of the notification screen, it is only somewhat useful at the moment.  But allowing third party apps to have more access to it (with permission) would make it far more useful. Why can’t my preferred weather apps show their data there instead of the Apple weather data? Likewise the limited Stock application display there would be nicely replaced by other, better applications.  Generally, turning that screen into a place where I could quickly interact with apps of my choosing, without having to invoke the app as a full screen experience (did I hear someone say “widgets”?) would take iOS 6 to a new level of utility.

Of course, no wish list is complete without the usual requests for more battery life and fewer dropped phone calls.

The Truth?

In the final analysis, the truth as usual lies between the extremes of Apple fans who find nothing to worry about in iOS 6 and those who take great joy in inflaming any small Apple problem from tinder to a full out bonfire of the haters. iOS is quite useful, quite stable, quite feature rich, and overall a joy to use.

I recommend having at least one other GPS app available in case the included Maps app does not find your proper destination or does not provide the points of interest locations to meet your search query.

Waze is free, fast, full-featured, and quite socially adept.  The included Maps app is far more useful for me than the previous Maps apps in iOS, but not as useful as Android’s included GPS app (when it works that is).  Apple is attempting to close that gap and one presumes will do so with updates.

iOS 6 has many new, useful, well-executed features — especially Panorama mode in the camera app — that make it the best version of iOS yet. I have few regrets about upgrading to it and would not be interested in reverting to iOS 5, even if Apple permitted that, which they don’t and which they should. If you did want to downgrade, you would have had to save the blob files from iOS 5.1.1. first.