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Apple iOS 6 gives iPhone and iPad a smarter Siri

Consumer Reports News: June 11, 2012 05:23 PM

Apple today previewed its newest mobile operating system, iOS 6, at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. The company also announced the debut of the Siri voice-activated assistant on iPad and unveiled the first Apple Maps app.

In addition to being available on the new iPad—the newest, third-generation model only—Siri will also be more powerful on both the iPhone 4S and iPad. You'll be able to access most of iOS 6's 200 new features by voice command through Siri, who will for the first time be able to launch third-party apps on command. Say "Play Angry Birds," and those addictive avians will appear.

The mapping app sees Apple depart from its longtime use of Google Maps, and finally gives iPhone users a feature long enjoyed by Android-phone users: A full navigation app that's part of the operating system. This new app tops Google Maps' navigation by better integrating real-time traffic data and offering rerouting options to avoid trouble spots.

The maps themselves are impressive, too, allowing you to fly over areas cities and view structures and streets from multiple angles in one fluid motion. When you zoom in close enough, a 3D animated image of the buildings pops up. (Google introduced similar capabilities for an upcoming upgrade to Google Maps).

In addition to real-time driving directions, you can have the Maps app simulate your entire trip with an animated car that travels along streets with translucent buildings, or see an overview of the whole route.

The search engine in Apple's new Maps app borrows extensively from the Google and Bing search engines, deftly integrating useful information from a variety of sources keyed to the context of your searches. For example, you can use GPS to find local restaurants, show reviews, and make reservations with minimal effort.

Other iOS 6 features include:

Hands-Free. This feature allows you to keep your hands on the steering wheel while you're using your phone. The phone will be entirely controlled by voice command. Apple says car manufacturers (so far BMW, GM, Mercedes, Land Rover, Jaguar, Audi, Toyota, Chrysler, and Honda) will be adding a button on their cars' steering wheels that iPhone or iPad users can push to put the device into this mode.

Preset text messages for incoming calls. This feature, already on some Android phones, allows you to choose and send a preset text message, such as "I'll call you in a few minutes," to an incoming caller when you can't answer the phone.

Do not disturb. This feature mutes push notifications so as not to disturb you, and it silences the ringer of calls coming from people not on your Favorites list.

FaceTime over cellular. For the first time, iPhone and iPad users will be able to make video-conferencing calls over the cellular data network, confirmation that the next-gen iPhones will certainly support the faster 4G LTE and HSPA+ networks available on a growing number of carriers.

Safari. The Apple Web browser will make it easier to upload photos quickly to Shutterfly and Smart App Banners.

Photo Stream. Photo stream users will now be able to share their photos with friends and others not on their Apple account. These contacts will get notifications when new photos upload to iCloud.

Messaging. You'll be able to designate some of your contacts as VIPs so that their message will be highlighted in your mailbox. It will also be easier to insert photos and videos while you're composing an e-mail. You'll be able to have separate signatures for work and personal e-mails.

Lost mode. If you lose your phone, in this mode, you'll be able to send a phone number to your misplaced device so that the person who finds it can call you.

Passbook. This will be a one-stop shop for your boarding passes, credit cards, movie tickets, sporting events, and other account information. It supports GPS activated notifications, so your Starbucks card will appear on your iPhone or iPad's locked screen when you're near a Starbucks.

Guided access. There will be new controls to help parents customize the iPad or iPhone experience to their development needs, such as a lockout to prevent autistic children from accidentally exiting apps. Teachers can lock iPads into a single app.

When it ships in the fall, iOS 6 will support 3GS-and-greater iPhones, second-generation and newer iPads, and the fourth-generation iPod Touch.

Mike Gikas

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