iOS 6 and Mountain Lion

As usual I'm a little behind the charge on Apple's latest big news, and having had time to muse over some of the upcoming changes in iOS 6 and Mountain Lion I have a few thoughts to share for what they're worth. I'll start with the most immediate release, Mountain Lion.

Mountain Lion

There seems to me an emergent pattern in major OS X releases following a big new edition release with a refining and improving release the following year. Mountain Lion is clearly more about refinements than it is about new features, though there are a couple of new features worthy of note. iCloud gets some anticipated expansion, though there's nothing all that exciting here. It's some of the iOS "incorporation" that is more noteworthy.

OS X is becoming more like iOS in each release, but most of this is cosmetic and interface level stuff. This continues with the consolidation of app names across devices. iCal is now Calendar, as it is on your iPad or iPhone. It's not really that significant but it does make sense. The big deal in iOSification of OS X this time around is the appearance of Notes and Reminders. They're self-explanatory and probably not a big deal if you don't also use an iOS device. There's also iMessage, which I've addressed in a previous post.

Notification Center is a pretty big deal for me. Centralised, consistent, non-modal activity notifications are something that should be essential on any operating system for any device. The implementation looks great. This is especially necessary for anyone who intends to use iMessage on their mac, as it can be exceptionally distracting when it's bouncing on your bar all day.

Sharing pages are also a great touch - seamless integration of your social networks. Really a convenience rather than an awesome feature in their own right. This kind of native support removed the need to app-switch on iOS and standardised your interface as well as giving you more advanced and universal contacts access. Less significant on a desktop/notebook but none the less quite nice (especially considering full screen apps in Lion).

Of course, there's plenty I'm not touching here. Apple's product page has a more thorough breakdown.

iOS 6

iOS doesn't really follow the same trend as OS X when it comes to release schedules, but version 6 does appear to be more about refinements than new toys. Siri gets the most notable set of new features, some of which are well implemented but on the whole I don't see how these will improve Siri's usefulness to the majority of users. The exception here is app launching; a step in the right direction, but without a fully featured API, not nearly a big enough step towards integrating Siri into iOS' wider interface. Siri has some useful features but remains a limited assistant rather than a viable method of device operation.

The big news was the replacement of the Maps app. Apple have totally eschewed Google Maps in favour of their own solution. It looks great and incorporates directed navigation, something that Android has done for a long time now and was well overdue. I do use maps to navigate, and this is certainly a welcome improvement. I really want to play with it to make a judgement on it's quality. It does appear that Siri takes it's local business information from this new Apple-maintained database, meaning that Siri's business search should work outside the US now. An interesting note is that a number of additional features are integrated by third party apps, rather than Apple baking them in.

As with OS X, iOS now has Facebook integration.

Passbook is one of the more interesting features for me. As with Newsstand, it will really sink or swim based on third party uptake of the feature. If it hits critical mass, then it may well be an awesome addition (with some clear potential for NFC transactions on future iPhone models). I'm a bit neurotic when it comes to my wallet, and being able to rich cards for a working, consistent phone-based interface is very appealing to me. I suspect though, as with Newsstand, it may take some time for enough companies to get on board Until companies feel obliged to support this as part of a comprehensive customer service package it will feel a bit like a half-measure. I want this to be good.

The other particularly interesting development for me is the actual Phone app, or more accurately a side-feature that Apple announced with it. The Phone app has some additional response options, but more useful to me is the Do Not Disturb mode setting that can be toggled - and more critically scheduled - from within settings. It's pretty granular, with settings to allow not only phone calls, but other notification centre alerts to be silenced (the screen won't even light up). It allows for messages and calls from certain people to get through, and may be indispensable if like me you iMessage internationally a lot and don't want your phone to start chirping at 3 am.

Again, a more comprehensive breakdown can be found on the Apple website.

All in all, a nice set of features but nothing groundbreaking from a user perspective. Some indication of further developments to come that could be quite cool though.