Apple lifted the lid on iOS 6 for the first time at its Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco today, with the next-gen OS managing to look both predictable and impressive in equal measure.
The all-new Maps and improvements to Facebook and Siri top the list of over 200 new features in iOS 6, but there were a couple of other surprises too that we weren't expecting.
Apple's transformation from arty niche brand for creative types into worldwide tech colossus was largely built on mobile foundations, with first the iPod, then of course the iPhone and most recently the iPad driving a scarcely believable run of success that now sees the company valued at upwards of half a trillion dollars.
But before any of that Apple was of course Apple Computer, and WWDC 2012 represented what has become an increasingly rare opportunity for the company's computing products to take top billing ahead of their mobile brethren.
So while Tim Cook's keynote kicked off with the usual self-congratulatory number-crunching centred mainly around the success of the App Store (this being a developer conference after all), things then quickly moved on to the headline hardware announcement – a revamped MacBook line headed up by a pretty tasty-looking new MacBook Pro.
That led into an extended session focused on OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and the various new features on board developers will be looking to plug into. Looking especially at elements such as the revamped iCloud and AirPlay, it was a timely reminder of just how close the traditional “mobile” and “computing” sectors have become. One wonders how long it will be until Apple's One More Thing announcement will be an all-conquering single OS for its entire device portfolio.
But anyway, at long last – in fact, a full 68 minutes into the keynote – we finally got some iOS 6 details to sink our teeth into.
Senior VP of iPhone Software Scott Forstall took to the stage and immediately came out swinging, hitting Android at its major weak spot – fragmentation. The bit about how just 7% of Android users are using the “dairy product” version 4.0 was particularly well played.
As for iOS 6 itself, there are apparently upwards of 200 new features, headlined as expected by Maps and a raft of improvements to Siri. The voice assistant can now FaceTime someone, call up sports scores (and hopefully not just US ones), and is better at dealing with things like movie or restaurant bookings.
As expected, iOS 6 will introduce Siri to the iPad for the first time – though only the new iPad, so tough luck if you bought one more than a few months ago.
Far more interesting for the future is Apple's efforts to work with car makers on in-car Siri integration, which hopefully should appear in the next year or two.
Facebook integration is another big step forward in iOS 6, in fact Forstall reckons it delivers the “best integration ever on a mobile device”. New features include a single point of login, one-tap updates from a number of iOS apps and services, instant uploads, the ability to Like apps in the App Store and the ability to automatically sync Facebook events with the iOS 6 Calendar.
Next up is FaceTime over 3G, which sees you able to create unified contacts that include both phone number and Apple ID, and interact with your contacts using whatever method is available.
Safari also got a mention, with iOS 6 introducing an iCloud tab, the ability to cache pages for reading offline and a host of other new features.
Improvements to the Phone app, Photo Stream and a new PassBook feature also got a mention, as did Guided Access, a new feature that helps modify the Apple OS to suit those with particular accessibility needs while also allowing you to disable features in apps you don't want to be accessible.
Last, but far from least, is the new Maps service, which as expected drop-kicks Google Maps to the sidelines in favour of Apple's own mapping solution. Much of the Maps wow factor has already faded thanks to a series of leaks, of course, but it still looks mighty impressive, and Apple gave it plenty of airtime as it wrapped up the near-two hour keynote – clearly it's a feature that has been long in the pipelines.
Better than Google Maps? Hard to say, but it – along with the rest of iOS 6 – will be heading to iPhones from the 3GS onwards, and iPads barring the first-generation model in the autumn. Developers, however, will be able to get their hands on a Beta version as from today, which means plenty of other new features will emerge in the days and weeks to come once the code has been picked through.