Although it’s little surprise after seeing banners go up Friday afternoon, iOS 6 is indeed real and Apple wasted no time jumping right in to show developers what they’ll be working with in the months ahead.
Following the introduction of new MacBooks and a more detailed preview of OS X Mountain Lion, Apple’s senior vice president of iOS software Scott Forstall took the stage to introduce a preview of iOS 6, the company’s latest edition of the mobile operating system powering the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
Forstall kicked off the preview by announcing that 365 million iOS devices have now been sold through March 30, with the vast majority running the latest iOS 5. 81 percent of iOS apps are now using Notification Center and Apple is currently pushing 1.5 trillion push notifications through its servers. iMessage also appears to be a hit, with more than 140 million users and 150 billion messages sent to date, at a rate of a billion per day.
With the stats behind him, Forstall moved on to introducing iOS 6, which will introduce more than 200 new features, including some significant improvements to Siri.
Among Siri’s new superpowers is the ability to tap into sports data; the virtual assistant is also now capable of making dinner reservations, having partnered with OpenTable. Integration with Rotten Tomatoes is also on deck, as Siri can now receive inquiries about which movies are playing where and even offer up a trailer for playback. Forstall also demonstrated asking Siri about specific directors or actors.
Presumably part of a new Siri API, the virtual assistant is now capable of launching apps, and a new “Eyes Free” mode will allow users to send a tweet just by talking into your phone. Automobile support for Siri is being added from key automakers such as BMW, GM, Mercedes-Benz and others, with Ford being a notable exception since they have already thrown their hat into the Microsoft SYNC ring.
Siri is also better at international relations, adding support for Italian, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese and even Canadian — presumably both English and French. Localized search rounds out the iOS 6 edition of Siri, which will be available on both the iPhone 4S and finally, the new iPad.
Facebook is the next iOS 6 feature to be introduced, which integrates into the operating system much in the same way that Twitter did with iOS 5. A Facebook API in iOS 6 allows developers to integrate the feature into their own apps, but it’s also tightly woven into the App Store for liking apps and seeing which apps your friends are using as well. Facebook events now appear in calendars and contacts, including birthdays — and the same functionality will also appear on OS X Mountain Lion as well.
iOS 6 also includes some welcome updates to the Phone app, offering the ability to reply to an incoming call with a message such as “I’ll call you later” or to remind you later to return the call. A new “Do Not Disturb” mode for the iPhone allows users to set a system-wide period of time to make your device unavailable to incoming calls or messages.
FaceTime will finally work over a cellular connection starting with iOS 6, a much-requested feature users can now scratch off their wish list. Apple is also taking steps to unify your phone number and Apple ID to allow users to answer calls anywhere they are — even on an iPad or Mac.
Mobile Safari also goes under the knife in iOS 6 with iCloud tabs, an offline Reading List feature and the ability to upload photos to websites such as Shutterfly.com. Smart app banners now allow users to quickly jump into the App Store to download an app, when available.
iCloud’s Photo Stream has now learned to share with iOS 6 — simply choose a photo, choose the friends you want to share the image with and the photos will appear in an album online.
Mail adds a new VIP feature in iOS 6, which allows users to mark the contacts whose emails are most important, which can be sorted into a separate VIP folder. Photos or videos can now be inserted right from the compose window, and users can finally pull to refresh messages, a feature developers greeted with applause.
More to come!
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