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Although the new OS for the iPad and iPhone is largely a collection of refinements, users will still want it
Welcome to the iOS evolution
We're used to major advances in each version of iOS, but that's not the case in iOS 6 with the exceptions of the new Guided Access mode for the iPad and of the Passbook app for managing digital tickets on the iPhone.
Instead of revolution, iOS 6 is about evolution -- and a fair amount of filling in of long-standing gaps. For example, you can finally insert a photo from within an email and upload images to the Web into the Photos app, as well as assign individual signatures to each email account. Gone is the requirement to enter a password to install software updates.
Read on for the 16 new or improved capabilities that are worth an update to iOS 6.
Insert photos and videos in email messages
For years, users have complained that to send photos or videos, they had to initiate the email from the Photos app. Finally, you can insert either type of file directly in your emails. Tap and hold in the text to get the contextual menu, then choose Insert Video or Photo. A popover appears in which you select an image or video stored in Photos app. It's about time!
Assign signatures to email accounts
Another long-standing annoyance in iOS has been the fact that one email signature was applied to all your email accounts. iOS 6 finally rectifies this limitation: You can now set a separate sigature via the Settings app for each email account.
Maybe we'll get mail filtering in iOS 7?
Reorder mailboxes, filter by favorites
Another fix to iOS's email is the new ability to reorder mailboxes in your list of accounts, so they appear in your preferred order rather than the seemingly random order of previous versions.
iOS 6 also uses the VIP virtual mailbox that debuted in OS X Mountain Lion: Mail from anyone you specify as a VIP appears in the virtual VIP mailbox for quick access. (These are aliases, so the actual message remains in the original mailboxes and folders.) Tap a name in a mesage and choose Add to VIP in the popover that appears; VIPs in OS X's Mail also sync with iOS.
Another minor change: The flagging feature now gets its own button at the top of the message pane.
Upload images to websites
iOS has long let you tap and hold website images so that you can save them into the Photos app or copy them into compatible apps. What it couldn't do is upload images to websites that supported uploads. In a world where people upload photos to sharing sites, this was a big problem. iOS 6 fixes that, letting you upload images from the Photos app or even take a picture to transfer to the website by clickig its upload button.
Scheduling quiet times
OS X Mountain Lion debuted the Do Not Disturb feature to turn off alerts in the Notification Center that it copied from iOS 5. Now, iOS 6 copies Do Not Disturb and makes it better: You can schedule a daily do-not-disturb period, such as overnight, but let phone calls and other messages through from the groups of people you choose. That way, your kids' calls will ring through at any hour, but not your boss's.
Siri comes to the third-gen iPad
Apple's Siri voice-based personal assistant debuted last fall as an iPhone 4S exclusive. With iOS 6, the third-generation iPad gets Siri, too (along with the iPhone 5 and the new iPod Touch, of course). But earlier iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches still don't support Siri, due to hardware limitations.
Get turn-by-turn directions
One enduring Google Android advantage over iOS has been its turn-by-turn navigation feature -- ironic, since Apple used Google's Map apps to deliver directions. Apple has dumped Google Maps (as well as the Google-owned YouTube app) from iOS 6 and delivered its own version.
On an iPhone 4S or later or on a third-gen iPad, that Maps app delivers turn-by-turn navigation, with the option of spoken instructions. Sadly, earlier devices don't get this capability, so you'll need an app like Navigon or TeleNav instead.
Share Safari open tabs across devices
Here's another capability introduced in OS X Mountain Lion: iCloud tabs. Tap the button to get a list of open browser tabs in Safari on your Macs and other iOS devices, so you can start with a Web page on one device and continue on another. But note that iCloud tabs does not work with Windows Safari.
Choose how to answer an incoming call
iPhone users will like this: When you get a get a call you can't answer, you now have new options besides ignoring the call or sending it to voicemail (double-click the power button to do that). Tap the phone icon to get two new options: Reply with Message and Remind Me Later.
The Reply with Message option sends any of several canned responses (such as "I'm on my way") via SMS or iMessage; choose Custom to type in your own reply in the Messages app.
The Remind Me Later option lets you have the iPhone remind you an hour later, when you leave your current location, when you get home, or when you get to the office (if you've set those two locations in your Contacts card).
Open Safari in full screen on an iPhone or iPod Touch
The small screens of an iPhone or iPod Touch can make viewing desktop-oriented websites a bit difficult. Sure, you can zoom, but that navigating a page bit by bit has its own issues. In iOS 6, when you view a website in horizontal orientation on these devices, you now get a Full Screen button that gives you a few more pixels for seeing the page (the menu bar disappears).
How much do you want to bet that the "iPad Mini" will have this feature, too?
Share via Facebook
Last year, Apple added Twitter to its suite of standard sharing options in iOS 5. This year, Facebook joins the party. If you have a Facebook account and set it up in the Settings app, Facebook appears as an option in the Sharing menus and popovers for websites, photos, and more.
Manage your tickets in one app
The Passbook app is the most intriguing new capability in iOS 6, but also a big question mark. The app is meant to store tickets -- airline tickets, movie tickets, and more -- so you can use your iPhone to check in to all sorts of venues from the convenience of a single app that has them all. (Passbook is not available on the iPad or iPod Touch.)
That sounds great, but for Passbook to be useful, ticket issuers need to get on board, and it's unclear how many will do so and when they might. So far, the good news is that American, Delta, and United have committed, so other firms -- not just airlines -- are likely to follow.
Share your photos via iCloud
One of the key capabilities in iCloud, which debuted in iOS 5, is the ability to sync photos across iOS devices, Macs, Windows PCs, and your personal iCloud account on the Web. iOS 6 extends that Photo Stream capability so that you can share a photo stream with others by making a virtual album publicly accessible on iCloud.com.
If your friends and family have iOS 6 devices, Macs running OS X Mountain Lion, or an Apple TV, they can see the shared photo stream directly on their devices.
Share in more ways
As Apple adds more ways to share data through services such as WebDAV, iCloud, Facebook, and Twitter, the iOS Share menu risks getting too big for the iPhone's screen. Pus, many apps use the Share menu for other purposes; the Photos app uses it to save an image as your wallpaper or contact card photo, and Safari uses it to add bookmarks to the bookmarks list, Reading List, and home screen. And many apps use it for printing.
iOS 6 has replaced the Share menu with the Share popover, with each option displayed as an icon. When the popover is full, navigation buttons appear below to switch to other panes with even more sharing options.
Restricting app use with Guided Access
Available only on the iPad, the Guided Access setting limits users to just the current running app, which is great for a kiosk or as a form of basic parental control when you hand over an iPad to your kid. (Triple-click the Home button to enter Guided Access mode; triple-click it again and enter a password to exit.)
But Guided Access does more: You can disable certain areas of the app's screen, such as to prevent opening the iTunes Store within iTunes or accessing bookmarks in Safari. You just circle the area to block access to when setting up Guided Access. You can also disable the touchscreen entirely and/or disable screen rotation.
Setting alarms and checking the time
iOS 6 brings the Clock app to the iPad; the iPhone and iPod Touch have long had this app. With the Clock app, you can set alarms, check the time throughout the world, or run a timer or a stopwatch.