The 4 most delightful things in iOS 6

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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