Yesterday, Apple released the latest version of the operating system for the iPhone and iPad, iOS 6.1. There was a time when Apple released more frequent updates to iOS throughout the year, but nowadays we just see one major release every year and, except for bug fixes, maybe just one or two .1 or .2 updates during the course of the year. iOS 6.0 was released on September 19, 2012. There was a tiny update on November 29, 2012 when iOS 6.0.1 was released to add some performance and stability fixes, and in December Apple released iOS 6.0.2 for the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini to fix some WiFi bugs. Perhaps we'll see an iOS 6.2 at some point this year, but maye not. With iOS 5, the last release was iOS 5.1.1 on in May of 2012.
So what is new in iOS 6.1? Just a few things.
First, Apple added support for LTE on many more carriers — an additional 36 iPhone carriers and an additional 23 iPad carriers. For example, here in the U.S., the iPhone can now take advantage of LTE on Alaska Communications, Alaska GCI, Bluegrass Cellular, C Spire, Cellcom and Pioneer Cellular. Visit this page on Apple's website for a list of all of the more than 50 currently supported LTE carriers around the world. I've loved using the screaming fast AT&T LTE here in New Orleans where I often see well over 30 Mbps and sometimes see speeds over 50 Mbps — much faster than any WiFi I've ever used. Thus, if this update brings LTE to your iPhone 5, you are going to love it.
Siri gains Fandango support
With iOS 6.1, you can use Siri to purchase movie tickets using the Fandango app. It's always nice to see Siri support another external app, and this is a pretty good one to support. The fastest way to use your iPhone to find out what movies are playing in your vicinity is to activate Siri and just ask "What movies are playing?" But now, in addition to seeing a list of movies and times, you can tap on an entry in the list and Siri will launch the Fandango app where you can quickly purchase tickets. And since the Fandango app works with Passbook, your tickets will be right on your screen waiting for you when you get to the theater. Note that I haven't tested this feature yet — I did not go out and watch a movie last night — but whenever I next catch a movie, I look forward to trying it out.
If you use iTunes Match, you can now download individual sounds from iCloud. I don't use iTunes Match, so I haven't tested it.
Advertising Identifier reset
There is a new button to reset the Advertising Identifier. OK, great ... so what's the Advertising Identifier? It all has to do with iPhone apps that include ads. App developers can potentially make a lot of money from ads in their apps, but the advertisers often seek to target a specific audience and will pay more if they have more of a sense of who is seeing their ads. About a year ago, this caused privacy concerns, and even inquiries from people like Congressman Waxman, because every iPhone has a unique number associated with it called the UDID. Apps were telling advertisers the UDID, and because the UDID is forever tied to a specific iPhone, there were some privacy concerns about being able to connect information with a specific person.
To address this, Apple banned app developers from using the UDID, and starting in iOS 6.0, lets developers instead simply associate you with an Advertising Identifier. That number is not forever tied to your device, is random, and isn't associated with any personal information about yourself. It's similar to the cookies that many websites use so that they know that you have visited the site before but don't know your name (unless you give it to them). And just like you can turn off cookies in Safari on the iPhone and web browsers in your computer, in iOS 6 you can choose to turn off the Advertising Identifier...
...except that it's not even quite that simple. From what I understand, you can't actually tell your iPhone to turn off the Advertising Identifier, but you can tell your iPhone to "limit" it. Huh? According to an article by Laura Stampler of Business Insider: "Even if users take the time to limit tracking, their identifiers will still be sent to advertisers. The information, however, is flagged and advertisers should respect users' wishes."
So that brings us to iOS 6.1. Now, in addition to choosing to limit the Advertising Identifier, whatever that means, you also have the option to reset your number. Presumably this means a fresh start on life ... or at least, on your relationship with advertisers.
I have to admit that I don't get too worked up over this stuff. Some people are very concerned about privacy when it comes to advertisers, and I see where they are coming from. But frankly, I don't really mind seeing advertising targeted towards me. I don't have any interest in the musicals at a theater in South Dakota, but if someone wants to show me an ad for a Broadway show coming to the theater here in New Orleans, well that just might be relevant to me. Likewise, I don't mind when Amazon shows me ads based on my prior purchases becuase the ads tend to be for items that interest me. But maybe one day I'll decide that I want a do-over for iPhone app advertisers, and now there is a button to press for that.
To use this new feature, go to the Settings app, then tap General, then tap About, and then tap Advertising. The new button is the one that says "Reset Advertising Identifier."
As with every iOS update, there are updates to make the iPhone and iPad more secure. The descriptions of the security updates are a little over my head, but if you are so inclined, you can read about them on Apple's website.
The Passbook app has added a new card — a Welcome card that includes a helpful link to the section of the App Store where you can download apps that work with Passbook. I'm a little surprised that we are four months into iOS and yet there are only 22 such apps right now, although the ones there are pretty useful. There are airline apps (Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines and Lufthansa), apps for buying tickets (Eventbrite, Fandango, Live Nation, two MLB.com apps, Ticketmaster and Viator Tours), apps for shopping including rewards cards (Apple Store, Belly, Living Social, Sephora, Starbucks, Target and Walgreens), payment apps (Discover Card and Square Wallet) plus an Amtrak app and a Starwood Hotels app.
There are also some other minor changes. For example, and as always, the update includes various bug fixes.
The music controls on the lockscreen are updated to have an aluminum finish, and the circle on the volume control has a reflection that changes as you tilt the device, just as it would on a "real" aluminum knob in your hands. (iOS 6 brought this same minor but amusing addition to the Music app itself.)
And I'm sure there are some other minor updates that I haven't noticed yet.
Installing the Update
You can install the update right on your iPhone or iPad without needing to connect to a computer. In the Settings app, tap General, then Software Update. You will see an indication that iOS 6.1 is available. If you are low on power you might want to plug in your device, but it only takes a few minutes to update. Just tap Download and Install.
All of the screenshots above are from my iPhone 5, but I also installed this update on my iPad 3 and my iPad mini, and everything seems to be working fine.