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8/7/2012
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iOS 6: 10 Things Worth Knowing

Apple's forthcoming revision of its iOS mobile operating system delivers more Apple and less Google. Here's a look at other key changes.

Apple iPhone 5 Vs. Samsung Galaxy S III: What We Know
Apple iPhone 5 Vs. Samsung Galaxy S III: What We Know
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Apple has not specified a release date for iOS 6, the next version of its mobile operating system. But with the arrival of iOS 6 beta 4 on Monday, the official release should come in late September or early October. The company has only said that iOS 6 will be available this fall.

iOS 6 is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Unlike earlier iOS updates that filled missing gaps with additions like multitasking or in-app payments, iOS 6 focuses mainly on improving existing features and integrating cloud services.

Among the various changes, these 10 are the most noteworthy.

No More YouTube App

Apple says that its license to include the YouTube app in iOS has expired. Given the bad blood between Apple and Google, chances are that Apple didn't try too hard to renegotiate that deal. Let the celebrations begin: Google is working on a new YouTube app that will be distributed through the App Store and whatever the result, it's sure to be an improvement on the primitive YouTube app that has shipped on iOS devices since June 2007.

Maps Will Be Different

Apple's desire to limit its reliance on Google services led it to purchase three online map companies in the past few years. The result of those acquisitions was revealed at Apple's developer conference in June: Maps in iOS 6 will depend on Apple's own geo data. Will Maps by Apple be better than Maps by Google? Apple isn't prepared to say as much, though it insists that Maps is "the most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever."

No More RSS In Mobile Safari

Apple eliminated the ability to read RSS feeds in Safari 6, its desktop browser in OS X 10.8, Mountain Lion. Some users don't like this and are complaining. One has flagged the change as a bug. Nonetheless, the change is also coming to mobile Safari. As noted in iOS 6 beta 3 last month, "In iOS 6 and later, Safari no longer registers for the common feed: RSS/ATOM scheme. Apps that can view those types of feeds are encouraged to register for that URL scheme." In other words, if you want to read feeds, get an app other than Safari or write your own.

Talk Less, Text More

Apple has finally gotten around to improving the phone call experience, which hasn't changed much since the iPhone first shipped. iOS 6 allows you to answer or decline phone calls with preset or custom text messages, or to set a reminder to respond to a declined call. It also includes the option to configure do-not-disturb times. Call avoidance is about to get much easier.

FaceTime Will Run On Cellular Networks, And Probably Cost You

FaceTime, Apple's video messaging service, presently runs only over Wi-Fi connections. In iOS 6, it will also function over a cellular data connection. It will thus be much more useful and probably more expensive: AT&T has suggested that it will bill for cellular usage of FaceTime, which isn't surprising given that AT&T charges for other cellular network usage. What remains to be seen is whether AT&T wants to charge extra for the service, above its standard data rate.

Passbook, An Opportunity To Provide More Data To Merchants

iOS 6 includes a digital loyalty program app called Passbook. Apple sees an opportunity to organize the rather disorganized world of digital loyalty programs, digital ticketing, and the like. Whether any major merchants want to put themselves at Apple's mercy remains to be seen--they could achieve the similar results by creating their own app. But even those determined not to become dependent upon Apple are likely to find Apple's Pass Kit API to be more convenient than building their own code to create, distribute, and manage digital passes. The success of Passbook and the Pass Kit API is likely to hinge on the reporting data Apple can provide its business partners and the degree to which Apple can convince developers that it won't subsequently seek payment for its services or impose contractual restrictions.

Photo Streams, Apple's Instagram

Every app that deals with photos seems to provide some capability to share images with others. Apple's Photo Streams in iOS 6 promises the ability to share with a select audience. That might be compelling if every other photo sharing app only offered the ability to share indiscriminately with the world. But Apple's real goal with Photo Streams is social: It wants people to share using Apple hardware and iCloud and to post comments to each other. And that's something people might actually do.

Siri Becomes More Useful

The original Siri was novel but disappointing: She didn't quite live up to the hype. Her iOS 6 incarnation promises to be a bit more useful. Now, she can interact with external applications. The new, improved Siri can make reservations through OpenTable, post tweets, and launch specific apps.

iOS 6 Supports 640 x 1136 Displays

Sure, that's nice. If only there were an iPhone with a screen of that size. Chances are there is: The iPhone 5. It just hasn't been released. Stay tuned. It's coming soon.

You Will Be Able To Share Something Via Bluetooth

iOS 6 includes a new privacy setting called Bluetooth Sharing. When enabled, it allows apps to share data with each other, even if the apps are not actively being used. How will this be useful? Passbook, perhaps: It could allow iPhone users, for example, to transmit Passbook ticket data without doing anything. Or it might be useful for playing multiplayer games against other iOS device users in the same general area.

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