Seen the new iPhone 5? Fairly unimpressed? Me too.
I’m no Android fanboy, nor am I getting unreasonably excited about the Nokia Lumia 920 when so far Windows Phone has had bugger all in the way of app support, but Apple’s playing it exceptionally safe with the iPhone 5. The biggest feature is “It’s got a 16:9 screen” and has a new connector. So freakin’ what? But iOS6 is coming out real soon, and you can actually get it right now if you know where to look and are happy to take the risk. But is it worth it? Will it be a drastic upgrade? Eh, probably not.
As everybody should know by now, Apple have ditched Google Maps and come up with (read: bought out) their own solution. Part of the benefit in doing this was to support turn-by-turn navigation out of the box, something the Google Maps application for Android has been doing for ages. Amusingly, if you’re in Australia like me, you won’t get proper turn-by-turn support until October (allegedly). There is still a form of turn-by-turn nav but it’s extremely basic and relies entirely on your location being close to a waypoint before it moves onto the next. It’s not the full thing with spoken directions or rerouting or anything like that.
So with that aside, how does the new Maps app look and work compared to Google Maps? Functionally it’s pretty much the same I suppose – the UI is fairly similar to how it was, you drop pins to select locations, there’s a search bar… the only real change here I guess is that there’s a navigation button. Visually, the maps have changed a bit. The default colour is now a pale peach-ish colour and… wait, who really gives a shit? You can see the differences in the screenshots below. Of particular note is that Google Maps show a lot more detail, though the Apple maps look cleaner. But that’s not saying much, because with less detail comes less freakin’ clutter. The Apple maps list a fair number of points of interest, though Google does a much better job. Also there’s no street view of course. There’s also no 3D mapping available for Australia, which doesn’t surprise me. I checked out the 3D map for Toronto, and it’s sort of impressive. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a replacement for Street View but with the right data fidelity it might come close.
If you’re hoping for a Google Maps app for iOS… well, there isn’t one yet, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether we’ll get one or not. While the Google Maps website has a mobile-specific version which works fairly well, it has no Street View. Right now you’re out of luck unless Google releases their own Maps app and Apple allows it. Or I guess you can use the regular desktop version, but that’s not practical for an iPhone.
Quick, name one thing most Android camera apps do that the iPhone doesn’t! Did you say “panorama mode”? Actually you probably could have said anything outside of “takes photos” and been right, but panorama mode is one of the bigger points. Apple have implemented a panorama shooting mode in iOS6, but only for the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5. Why the limitation? I really don’t know. I guess the new iP5’s camera is better suited to it with a faster capture speed, but the iP4S wasn’t that different to the iP4 before it, so what the hell guys? Enough about that though, how does it work?
It’s braindead simple to operate. Turn the phone, keep the big arrow centred on the white line, and capture your panorama. The app then stitches it together. It functions very similar to the Galaxy Nexus where you continually move the phone rather than take a shot, move to the next point and keep it aligned, and take another shot, etc. It’s very simple and easy to use. But it doesn’t compare with Autostitch, which can be had for a few dollars and can take much, MUCH higher resolution panoramas. Sure, it still works by taking a photo manually at each point, but the results can be a lot better (though stitching takes a lot longer). That said for the most part the new Panorama mode actually does a very decent job, but there are better solutions… just as there are on Android.
Siri isn’t particularly useful for most of us. It’s a novelty that we play with for a few minutes before rarely ever touching again. Siri is actually a fairly decent bit of tech – it’s good at interpreting voice and providing an answer to most questions, and often manages it in a way that sounds more like a virtual assistant than what it really is (a Googling machine, for want of a better term and acknowledging the actual lack of Googling). Thing is most of us don’t want to talk to our phone anywhere except in private, because we feel like absolute dickheads. I’ll admit I’ve made use of Siri in some cases where I can’t use my hands to do something, like setting a reminder. Siri generally works fine with my typical Australian accent, but YMMV in other cases.
Siri has been largely crippled here in Australia though, because it could only search for places in the US in US English (or something to that effect when used here). Basically we could use Siri to control the phone, and to ask questions of Wolfram|Alpha. Apple have finally updated Siri with some Australian knowledge, so you can ask it where the nearest restaurant is, or presumably where to dump a body or find a hooker as people have already demonstrated. Siri has had a few new features added, like searching for movies and stuff like that, but again not all features will work in Australia (movie showtimes for example aren’t supported at all).
Is it enough to make Siri really useful? Arguably Siri is useful as it is… but it doesn’t change the fact that I feel like a tool talking to my phone. We’re just not accepting of it, and with good reason I guess.
Yeah, there’s that Passbook app. It says that it can handle boarding cards, tickets, store cards, and coupons, and directs you to the app store. Whatever it’s supposed to display never actually loads for me – it attempts it then promptly gives up, so I have no idea what will end up being there. More to the point, chances are nobody in Australia is going to support it for quite a while, so like Newstand it’s just another pain in the arse taking up space on the home screen.
5. Do Not Disturb and stuff
Ever been woken up in the middle of the night by an email alert or something? I sure have. There’s a new feature called Do Not Disturb, which you can toggle at will or schedule between particular hours. For example I refuse to have anything to do with anyone between 2300 and 0600, so I have DND scheduled for those hours. When enabled, all notifications and calls are silenced. No vibrations, no lights, no sounds, nothing. If someone calls you again within 3 minutes of their first call, it’ll override DND and ring as normal. Notifications, messages etc don’t get the same treatment. That’s a fairly reasonable approach – presumably if someone’s calling you again within 3 minutes of their first call, it’s because they really need to talk to you. Missing a call to say that your house is on fire and everything is gone because of DND mode would be pretty shit.
There’s also a new Privacy option which now contains Location Services and lets you know what apps are requesting access to your photos, or using Bluetooth, or whatever. Bluetooth and Personal Hotspot now appear in the first page of Settings. Also most apps will cause the top bar to change colour, usually to blue, when they’re opened. The Phone app has had a facelift – it’s now all in white, and I don’t like it. It also now has the ability to refuse a call with an SMS message, which you can customise. The App Store has had a new design too, and to be honest they probably shouldn’t have bothered. It might look cleaner but navigating it is now a bitch. Searching for something presents a cover-view style swipe thing, as opposed to a list of apps. Everything else is pretty much as it was. Oh, the Mail app has a few upgrades too, namely a VIP section, but who cares, it’s not particularly good anyway. Youtube is also gone, but nobody ever used that piece of shit, right? There’s already a much better Youtube app out there right now from Google. Use that instead, you’ll be better off for it.
So is it a major upgrade? Hell no. If anything it’s either bringing iOS functionality into line with Android (to an extent) or sort of shuffling things around. In terms of actual stand-out features it’s mostly in the new Maps app, and in most ways it’s a step backwards. Granted turn-by-turn navigation, once finished, will be very handy to have, but otherwise it’s a step back from the all-consuming Google Maps. Still, we’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out.