This summer, Apple, Google and Microsoft announced updates to their mobile operating systems: iOS 6, Jelly Bean (Android 4.1), Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. All of the operating systems are at different stages of maturity, which is reflected in their unique mixes of competitive and innovative features.
iOS 6, which spans iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices, includes 200 new features, some of which will once again redefine user experience. It will power the iPhone 5 and the iPad Mini, and be available as a software update to iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch 4th generation, iPad 2 and iPad 3. Not all features will be available in all countries, all languages or for all devices. The official launch is rumored to be Sept. 12.
Backward compatibility. No huge issues here, iOS developers say. “iOS has always had a good way of handling backward-compatibility issues. You can create weak links to the libraries that don’t exist on older platforms,” said Dave Lane, director of developers at Metova. “So if you’re using the iPhone 3 and you download an app that relies on iOS 6 features, developers can hide the features that are not supported.”
Maps. Apple’s own map engine has replaced Google Maps, and its functionality has been extended with the help of third parties, including Tom-Tom, Waze and others. The vector engine enables crisp graphics and smooth zooming. The showstopper is a Flyover feature that delivers realistic, interactive, 3D from-the-air views of major metro areas. Maps also provides turn-by-turn navigation with help from Siri, as well as traffic maps that can calculate estimated time of arrival. The local search capabilities allow users to find businesses, check their Yelp ratings and reviews, and access deals and photos. Third-party routing apps are displayed as options.
Siri. Siri now understands nine languages, works in 15 countries, and is available on the iPad 3 and the iPhone 4S. It can tell users the latest sports scores or movie showtimes, as well as make reservations, post Facebook updates, tweet, or open an app. Unfortunately, there is no API developers can use to take advantage of it.
Passbook. Passbook stores loyalty cards, boarding passes, tickets, coupons and reservation confirmations. It also has an alert capability that can notify a user of a flight delay or gate change, for example. Using Pass Kit APIs, developers can allow users to access passes from their apps. Credit card and alternative payments such as PayPal are not yet included. Lane thinks Passbook could be very valuable to retailers with a local presence who want to take advantage of foot traffic.
Facebook integration. iOS 5 introduced Twitter integration. iOS 6 integrates Facebook with Contacts and Calendar, Maps, Photos, Safari, Shared Photo Streams via iCloud, and Passbook. Developers who integrate Facebook into their apps can allow users to post status updates and photos while using the apps. Facebook is also integrated with iTunes and the App Store, which Lane considers a big plus for developers, virally speaking, since ratings will appear on Facebook pages. “Having Facebook and Twitter integrated just simplifies social integration for all our apps,” he said.
Multiplayer gaming. The Game Center now allows developers to enable multiplayer game capabilities, including leaderboards, across iOS and OS X apps.