Say hello to iOS 6, the latest version of Apple’s hit mobile operating system for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. It’s available on the iPhone 5 and upcoming iPod touch 5G out of the box, as well as via a free download for iPad 2 and 3, every iPhone since the 3GS and the fourth-gen iPod touch. Although it appears that little has changed at first glance, you’ll find more than 200 new features on board, including a new Maps app, visual tricks and a smarter Siri.
Truth be told, there aren’t really many marquee features in iOS 6, but overall, there's more polish than ever before. From the subtle accelerometer-controlled glinting effects in the music player as you tilt your device to the long awaited pull-to-refresh in mail (along with a ridiculously cute animation), Apple has filled in the gaps with iOS 6, and creating a smoother experience in general.
The homescreens are snappy, and safari is faster than ever before, and there are useful sharing options to send links and media in apps via email, SMS/iMessage, Twitter and Facebook, with pop-up menus much like Android offers (Though admittedly not nearly as extensive).
Siri meanwhile answers lots more questions (and even launched apps and composes Facebook and Twitter updates), and it’s nice to finally be able to make use of it for things like directions in the UK, as well as British sports scores - previously the entire world outside of North America seemed like an afterthought for Siri.
Turn by turn navigation integrated with Siri (Only available on the iPhone 4S and up and new iPad with data connectivity) meanwhile is the almost perfect example of how to make a satnav app on mobile: hands free control, with all your media only a command away.
There are new apps onboard, including Passbook, Apple’s take on the mobile wallet, that show great potential, even if no apps take advantage of it yet - it’ll be handy to keep all your plane tickets stashed here, and end those pesky printer woes once and for all.
It’s also a welcome surprise to see the now venerable iPhone 3GS get an iOS 6 update, even if it does miss out on a few key features, such as Offline Reading and 3D maps and navigation: even Passbook and the new sharing options are better than nothing, which is what most phones get three and a half years after launch.
As you might have heard by now, that new Maps app for iOS 6 is less flagship feature than unmitigated PR disaster. There's no easy way to say this: apart from turn by turn navigation, the Maps app in iOS 6 without Google’s data is the complete opposite of an upgrade.
The situation isn’t so bad in North American cities, where TomTom has provided the data. In the UK though, it’s little short of a joke. Rural areas are missing almost any detail, and any sort of sensible prioritising in search goes out of the window: search for Chorley, and you’ll get a small village near Stoke with no road names, not the large town of 70,000 people.
Even London is missing vast swathes of detail: tube stations in relatively central zone two that have been open for more than a decade (Bermondsey, for instance) are nowhere to be found, and we’ve found instance of roads more than three years old that still don’t exist. Did we mention there’s no public transport times anymore either?
In fairness to Apple, it’s very very hard to do mapping right on an international scale. And Google will likely right all wrongs with a standalone Google Maps app very soon. But right now, if it’s not enough to stop you upgrading, it’s certainly a dealbreaker for Android fans used to the full, powerful Google Maps experience.
And that’s really the nub of our problems with iOS 6. It’s beautiful, it’s polished and it’ll keep iPhone users and new smartphone upgraders happy campers.
But if you’ve tasted the beautiful new UI of Windows Phone, or the power features of the latest versions of Android, you’ll be left wanting. Mail lacks Gmail’s search powers and labelling; Maps isn’t a patch on Nokia’s super Drive app for Lumia devices. For the first time, it feels a little bit like Apple kept thing safe and familiar, rather than pushing the boat out like it used to.
For millions, that’ll be enough. For the vocal types who like to stay on the bleeding edge of tech, it’ll be anything but.
The bottom line
With iOS 6, Apple's consolidating on the software front. Like Google's Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" update, this isn't a huge, feature-packed upgrade, but it's faster, more efficient and adds just enough new toys to warrant the upgrade.
Yes, there's no doubting that Apple's Maps app is now vastly inferior when it comes to the sheer amount of data on offer, but with TomTom on board Apple could fix that pronto - and we're sure Google will be back shortly with its own iOS 6 Maps app.
Yes, it's a minor niggle, but make no mistake - this is a superb update that you need in your life if you already have an iOS device, even if it won't make a convert of any Google or Microsoft loyalists.