Monday, September 24. 2012
OK, I'm still finding things out about iOS6 but a few new bits...
They've changed the app store. I haven't explored it all... but there's a different look to the landing page, with more cover-flow like presentation and less in the way of tables. The updates page has also changed - much more black and white for one. After an app has downloaded, if you're still on the updates page, it offers you a button to open the app you've just updated. This is more or less useless to me I must admit - I mostly update apps when I get a reminder not necessarily because I want to use them at once - but it's a nice touch. The cover-flow look is nice, although you get less per page with it... but it does seem more inviting. I suspect it's a move that will encourage people to shop more which won't be bad for Apple's quarterly profits. The presentation of sub-groups such as games etc. via tabs on the front page as well as in a cover flow stream of their own is also very nice. The "open" button for installed apps crops up on all pages, so if you're looking at the top free apps say, you can easily see the ones you've got and there it makes a lot more sense to me. So the App Store in iOS6 has distinctly improved I think.
They have added a few core apps too. Find my Mac, Find Friends, iTunesU and Podcasts for sure. I think if offered an iBooks option too, but I have that already. I've only really used the iTunesU and Podcast apps.
iTunesU presents an interface to find courses on the iTunesU site. The app lays out the material fairly nicely, with info, material, documentation and notes sections easily accessible. The layout and design is nice and makes it easy to use which is all good. There is, as always on iTunesU next to no quality control over the actual materials. I downloaded a couple of courses to see how they went. One I will probably work my way through although it needs to be better integrated - some is in the iTunesU app, other bits hop you out to Safari or similar, and some parts need to be downloaded and accessed on a desktop. I guess I was expecting to stay in the app for all of this. The other... at the point the lecturer told me the best way to learn the programming language she was meant to be teaching was to give myself to God, I decided I wouldn't be learning with her. She's welcome to her faith, but I'd rather not rely on it to learn how to programme thanks.
The podcasts app is... odd. There is absolutely nothing wrong with how it delivers podcasts. You can search all podcasts, you're presented with some based on your home location when you first log in (assuming you've allowed that) so I got a lot of BBC radio show podcasts offered, but the search process is easy enough and gets you podcasts from everywhere. You can configure each podcast separately - how many to keep, do you want it to download them automatically and the like. That's nice. It will play podcasts in the background well, which is also nice. The UI for the playback is... dull but functional. You have a play/pause button of course. Options to skip forward and back 30s and a scrub forward and back command. I don't know what else you could ask for and there's some element of retro tape-deck about it too, but to me it just feels flat compared to most Apple apps. You can also hook in to internet radio stations although I haven't used that option yet. One thing I did notice with a little surprise - there's no alert badge saying "you have new podcasts" on the app itself. Inside, the splash page for your podcasts shows some image for the podcast (chosen by the podcaster) and that's where the alert badges appear. Even some days after writing this, I can't work out what I'd add except a button showing total podcasts to listen to on the top level of the app, but I still feel this app is need of a little design love. Perhaps, because it's such a one-trick pony there just isn't more that's needed but Apple's bar for form is so high that fully functional doesn't seem enough.
The alarm app works fine. Whether or not it will wake me up will depend on how soundly asleep I am, but it works as advertised. I've also used Siri to set up reminders. I need to work on that... "Remind me, doctors, 3:50, next Thursday" recorded "Doctors 315" at 9am next Thursday instead. Oops. But "Lunch at noon tomorrow" got all the right bits. Albeit lunch is later than that for me... but I wanted to see when the alarm actually rings and how. It turns out it rings at exactly the time you set and there's no way to set a 20 minute offset say, so I had to edit the Doctor's Appointment to 3:20 to get a reminder but that's not too onerous. Thanks to iCloud the alarm rings at the time you set for it on both my iMac and my iPad. There's nothing particularly pretty and clever about it, but it's good and solid. If you include numbers in what you say, Siri can get confused. Don't record your reminder to buy District 9 on DVD for example or you may have trouble!
iCloud is also doing nice things with Safari. Having signed in on both the iMac and the iPad, if I hit the cloud button I get a list of the pages last open on the other machine (even if I've quit on the other machine). This lets me pull down pages quickly and easily when I change devices. It doesn't do away with Instapaper completely, although it might make me use it a bit less, but it does make for a very smooth process of working across devices. It would be nice if I could remotely close pages too but that is really asking for an extra step of integration that isn't (yet) part of the package.
I've used iMaps a bit more, including hybrid and satellite modes. It's not perfect - for me it's not bad but it's not perfect - and the smooth zooming is still nice in those modes. Routes seem accurate and are generated quickly. In map mode it works just fine and although I hadn't found it before, the arrow button pressed once takes you to your current location, pressed twice shows you the way you're looking. I don't remember that on Google Maps and it is definitely a nice touch. I'm certainly not claiming the app is perfect but after some time playing with it, I find myself how much people are moaning because it's different rather than because it's bad.
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