Countdown to iOS 6 -- five new features to look forward to

September 12 is coming up fast, and while much of the anticipation surrounds the expected "iPhone 5" or whatever it will be called, the forthcoming availability of iOS 6, and its new features, will affect many more users. I, for one, am really looking forward to it. Apple introduced iOS 6 last June at the Worldwide Developers Conference, so unlike the iPhone 5, this isn't rumor. Plus, developers have been using this new version in order to make their apps compatible, and they've continued to update us on its new features. Apple will likely announce next week when iOS 6 will be available.

I want to highlight some of the features that I'm looking forward to.

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Maps: To me, this is the biggie. Apple has dumped Google Maps in favor of its own Maps app. Maps will speak turn-by-turn directions, which is such a boon when you're driving around. I purchased Tom Tom this past summer and really appreciated how this helped me get where I wanted to go. In addition, as you navigate, the app has a 3D image of the road ahead, with a large arrow that moves along the road as you drive and shows you the way to go. In place of Google Street View, Apple's new app will use Flyover, which consists of aerial 3D images of a city that Apple has created digitally based on data gathered by helicopters and planes. Initially it will likely be available in a limited number of cities. In addition, under the hood Apple has used vector graphics to create the maps instead of discrete drawings at different resolutions, as in other mapping apps. This will greatly improve your user experience because of the way that vector graphics let you quickly zoom in and out. No more waiting each time you change the view. Unfortunately, spoken directions will only be available on the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 or later devices.

Passbook: This will be a completely new app, and it's now looking like Apple will be eschewing NFC technology in favor of this app. NFC lets you make a purchase just by bringing your device in close proximity to an NFC terminal at a store. But there are issues with security and with standardization. The technology is available on a number of Android phones, but in general there hasn't been widespread adoption. It's even been said that the industry is waiting for Apple to come up with a version of mobile transactions that has mass appeal. And Passbook seems to be the direction that Apple is taking. Apple introduced the app at WWDC, but at the time it seemed more like a means of conveniently gathering in one place the various digital coupons and airline tickets and other vouchers offered by third-pary apps. A great article on AppleInsider suggests it will be much more: "a framework that enables retailers to develop smart apps for transactions, without relying on new Near Field Communications (NFC) hardware to do so." What better way to speed the adoption of mobile payments than to completely bypass the security issues of NFC and the competing standards of mobile payment systems? This framkework will make it easier for major vendors to build apps that let you make purchases within the apps when you're out and about.

New calling features: The iPhone will get a number of useful new features related to receiving calls. When you get a call, you can swipe to reveal two new options: 1) Reply with Message, and 2) Remind Me Later. If you select the first option, your phone automatically sends a text message to the caller. You can choose from several preset messages: I'll call you later, I'm on my way, and What's up? Or you can create your own custom text message. If you tap Remind Me Later, your phone then shows you several options, such as In 1 hour and When I get home. Your phone then automatically gives you an alert later or when you arrive home. In addition, the Preferences app in iOS 6 has a Do Not Disturb option. If you turn it on, it suppresses all incoming calls and notifications. You can set it to automatically be enabled during certain time periods, and you can also stipulate that only calls or messages from your Favorites or specific contact groups be allowed to get through.

Siri: iOS 6 brings Siri to the new iPad with retina display and adds a number of useful specialized domains of information related to sports, movies, and restaurants. You can ask, "Siri, what's the score in the Braves' game?", or "Where is Prometheus playing?", or "Find Chinese restaurants in North Beach." Deep Facebook and Twitter integration will let you post to these social networking services just by speaking. The new version of Siri will also let you launch apps. 

FaceTime via the cellular network: You will no longer need to be in range of a WiFi hotspot to use FaceTime. With iOS 6 it will also work over 3G and 4G cellular networks. If you have an iPad with cellular data, you'll be able to use the phone number associated with your iPad to make and receive FaceTime calls.

All this and more is coming with iOS 6. I can't wait. For a more complete overview of iOS 6, see Apple's iOS 6 preview

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Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.