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Summary:

There were dozens of new iOS 6 features announced at WWDC, but for me the most interesting things are the little, sometimes-overlooked updates that have the biggest impact. Here are four things Apple is doing in iOS 6 that I’m most excited about.

Passbook in iOS 6

There were dozens of new iOS 6 features announced at WWDC Monday, including significant new structural changes that will affect users and developers alike, such as Apple building its own mapping service. But for me, the most interesting things are the little, sometimes-overlooked updates that can have the biggest impact for users.

A couple of those things made my eyes light up during this morning’s presentation, and the common theme is that all of them turn small annoyances into small delights. When you add them up, those features can create an easier, more enjoyable user experience. Here are the things in iOS 6 that I think are going to have an immediate, positive effect on my day-to-day use of my iPhone or iPad.

PassBook: a traveler’s BFF

I have serious love for this specific feature because it will make travel just slightly less painful. Here’s how it normally goes when I book a flight (and many of you know this routine well): open up the email from United with my mobile boarding pass, take a screenshot on my phone. At the front of the security line, I fumble around while finding the photo in my Photostream, hold it up to the scanner — wait a couple seconds, re-rotate my phone because the image has inevitably rotated from landscape to portrait — then get in line where I hope not to be sent through one of those X-ray scanning machines of death. And then this is all repeated when I actually board the plane.

What Apple has done with PassBook is make a depository for all my mobile travel documents. Any mobile boarding pass I download will automatically show up there — no hunting around for it. And even more conveniently, it’s location-sensitive. So when I’m at the airport, the boarding pass will pop up on my phone’s lock screen. The information in PassBook isn’t static either: If the gate information changes, it’ll alert me and reflect the change in the PassBook boarding pass. It’s not clear yet if availability will vary by airline, or if it will be universal.

This isn’t limited to air travel: Apple says it also can include Amtrak passes, which is convenient, since our nation’s train system is rolling out mobile boarding passes across its routes this summer.

SVP of iOS Software Scott Forstall at WWDC on Monday.

And while I’m particularly stoked about what it means for travel, PassBook is for more than that. It functions the same way for movie tickets as it does travel tickets and keeps track of membership and loyalty cards as well as some gift cards, like Starbucks mobile cards, which will reflect updated balances after use.

Calling it PassBook makes it sound like a place where you keep your money, but it’s not a payment system — though it certainly opens up some possibilities. It’s not clear Apple IF is on the NFC payment bandwagon, but at the very least, the company seems to be reserving the right to do some sort of iWallet someday.

Transit apps in featured maps

Speaking of travel, there are several cool things about Apple’s new maps application. But the decision to feature transit apps within maps is really smart. It’s not quite clear how it will be implemented, but Forstall said that Apple wasn’t going to build its own public transit apps. Instead, if I’m looking to see when the next BART train is arriving in San Francisco, it will suggest the iOS apps that will give me that information. If you live in SF, you very likely already have an app for this. But if you’re just in town for a trip, it’s something that makes Maps that much more useful. And for app discovery, it’s an interesting way of highlighting new travel-related apps outside of the App Store.

Email: attach photos, pull to refresh

These fall into the category of so-obvious-you-can’t-believe-it-wasn’t-there-before features. How many times have you started composing an email on your iPhone or iPad and realized you wanted to attach a photo? Naturally, I think of this after I’ve written a few paragraphs and have to grudgingly copy the email, open up Photos, select the photo I want, click “email photo,” re-address the email, paste my text in, and send. But not anymore! In iOS 6 you can attach photos into the email you’re composing. It’s so simple, but it removes a legitimate hassle.

And in another small tweak to email, Apple has taken a page from its friends at Twitter: You no longer have to reach across the screen with your thumb (assuming you’re right handed) to click the refresh arrow in the lower right corner for new mail. Now, it’s a more natural pull-to-refresh function.

Do Not Disturb

Since I don’t live in the same time zone as a lot of my friends and family, they end up sending me texts at weird hours. This inevitably causes my phone on my nightstand to vibrate and bring me out of my REM cycle. Which: ugh. (Love you, Mom.)

Do Not Disturb means I can flip a switch to keep those texts or calls or notifications at bay, either while I’m sleeping, or when I’m in a meeting, or if I just don’t want to be distracted. But the fine-tune controls make it even better: You can still let selected people through your DND mode, or you can put on an emergency mode, which means if you get two calls from the same person in three minutes, the second call will be let through.

Like PassBook and email photo attachments, this feature is one those that looks deceptively simple to implement, which makes it easy to argue that some of these should have been in iOS many versions ago. But the fact that they’re coming very soon — sometime this fall, according to Forstall — is what matters to me.

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  1. John Chisum Monday, June 11, 2012

    Excellent!

    Now if they could make the system automatically resend failed text messages, that would be a winner for me.

  2. Really! Maybe in 5 years you can attach ANY file to an email….duh!

    1. Exactly ! People seem to be hypnotized by this mono-tasking system so much that every little idly-piddly extension to mono-tasking is hailed as the most brilliant invention since the wheel. Whereas since the beginning of time (or thereabouts), multitasking has been around, until of course we learnt “slide to unlock”.

      Next time you want to attach *any* file, you’ll need an app that fakes that *any* file you wish as a photo to the email client. And the world will thus get it’s iOS app #6500001.

  3. ok I’m a dinosaur.

    I am using a Palm Pre that runs webOS 1.3.5…nearly 3 yrs old.

    And my HP Touchpad (webOS 3.0.something) is less than 1 yr old.

    Both phone and tablet can attach pix, videos, songs and some docs to an email before, during, and after the construction of an email.

    iOS 5 cannot do this?

    …hey gotta check my wife’s iPad…

    1. Attachment could be done before but you had to go to the source first and then mail it from there rather than doing it directly in Mail. This is better indeed though.

    2. sadly, same’s true for android GMAIL attachments as well…

  4. You can switch out of Mail into Photos and copy a photo to paste in your already-composed message…there’s no need currently to go through the extra steps of deleting the message in progress and starting over in Photos.

    Admittedly, the new method sounds easier still.

  5. Okay, while two of these things may be nice for some people, that email attachment thing has been a feature of BlackBerry for years. That “do not disturb” thing – also something BlackBerry has done, and done more easily for years with greater general functionality.

  6. Is Erica Ogg new to technology? Have you never heard of TripIt (or the many long-running gift card/coupon apps) before? Really shocked this actually published on GigaOm.

    1. I think you actually need to *read* the article again. Go try again before commenting on her tech skills.

      1. She doesn’t mention a word of all the apps already out there that does what Passbook aims to do…

  7. Mahroof Ali Monday, June 11, 2012

    sounds really cool! and i can’t believe that adding photos into your mail was such a risky thing so far!

  8. Andrew F. Butters Monday, June 11, 2012

    If they didn’t get rid of the “whoop” sound when you send a text message (or at least make it configurable) then this iOS release is a giant failure.

    1. Very easy. Settings > Sounds > scroll down to Sent Mail and select any sound or none.

  9. Erica, Do Not Disturb is fine but before it was introduced, why couldn’t you just turn your phone off or put it in another room when you wanted to sleep?

    1. Or you could simply use the “airplane” mode. This DND feature sounds like another name for airplane mode.

    2. Because the boot time of the telepjhone is much longer then toggling the switch in Settings. That said, it would be nice if I could tie the Do Not Disturb switch to the physical Mute switch since Apple doesn’t seem to want to fix the Mute switch where it mutes all sound instead on most of the sound.

  10. Honestly, claiming that being able to attach photos to emails is “a delightful thing” is not unlike claiming (in 2012) that car seats with simple cushioning are a delight – of course they are when compared to not having them… but then again, when exactly did humankind invent cushioned car seats?

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