Apple iOS 6 review: A worthwhile upgrade

iOS has now evolved into a robust and powerful mobile OS.

Today, Apple officially released iOS 6, the latest update to the mobile OS that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Unveiled in June at the annual World Wide Developer's Conference, iOS 6 promised to deliver a variety of needed enhancements. It does just that, delivering a stable and responsive OS that all recent iDevice users should download and install.

iOS 6 Share Sheets
The ability to share links, images and other data gets a boost with redesigned Share Sheets in iOS 6.

So, what's new? This year's upgrade offers more than 200 new features according to Apple, which apparently counts numerous minor tweaks as notable changes.

Some of the more noteworthy additions in iOS 6 include: shared Photo Streams, redesigned Share Sheets with Facebook integration, Siri enhancements, iCloud tabs for viewing on one device the same sites you were reading on another device, and -- finally -- voice directions for navigation. You can also now update apps without having to enter your password.

Minor changes include a new theme for the music player on iPhone, design enhancements to Apple's digital stores, a dynamic menu bar that shifts color depending on the background, and FaceTime over cellular networks.

(See a slideshow detailing even more tweaks and updates in iOS 6.)

iOS 6 is, of course, compatible with the iPhone 5, which goes on sale Friday; it can be also installed on last year's iPhone 4S, 2010's iPhone 4 and even the iPhone 3GS, now three years old. Also supported: the fourth and fifth generation iPod Touch, the iPad 2 and the Retina display iPad released in March. Not all models support all features, however. For instance, the iPhone 3GS may be able to run apps written for iOS 6, but it won't suddenly get access to Siri, which the Retina display iPad does. Outside the U.S., not all features are supported; Apple has information here about each feature by region.

Installing iOS 6

I tested and installed iOS 6 using an iPhone 4S, an iPad 2 and a Retina display iPad, and focused on features available in the U.S. market.

Before you head to Settings> General> Software Update to download iOS 6, it's a good move to first back up your iPhone to iCloud. Doing so will make it much, much easier to recover from any problems, if any crop up during the install. Performing an iCloud backup saves all of the data on your device, including details like app placement and settings, to Apple's online servers. (You can also plug your device into a computer and back up using iTunes. Be sure to download iTunes 10.7 first.) Backing up is not a step I would skip.

Once that's done, you can begin the update. If the battery is at less than 50% capacity, you will have to plug your device in or the install won't begin.

You can also upgrade from a computer running iTunes, and here there are two options: Upgrade (which leaves existing data in place) or Restore (which erases content and brings the device back to default settings).

After iOS 6 is installed and the device has restarted, you'll see a welcome screen and "Welcome" cycling through different languages in the slide-to-unlock area. Once you unlock, you go to a Setup Assistant similar to that used in OS X. After choosing your language and country/region, connecting to a Wi-Fi or cellular network and activating the phone, you're asked to decide whether you want Location Services on or off and sign into iCloud.

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