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Apple previews iOS 6, launches beta

Apple showed off a ton of improvements to iOS at today's WWDC keynote, some expected, others not, but all pretty impressive. Senior VP of iOS Software Scott Forstall showed off the latest version of the OS that powers Apple's mobile devices, iOS 6.

For starters, Siri is stepping things up a bit – Apple showed off a whole host of improvements that should make their digital assistant a whole lot more useful. Not only is Siri coming to the new iPad, but she's also gaining the ability to open apps and access even more information than before. That includes information and access to things like sports scores, ratios, and even tickets, movies, and even restaurant reservations.

Forstall also revealed that the new iPad would also be gaining access to Siri, expanding on the Dictation feature that's currently available. He also announced Eyes Free, which is a partnership with automobile manufacturers to provide an integrated 'Siri button' on steering wheels. Oh, and Siri can launch apps now, too.

As expected, Apple also showed off Facebook integration, which provides an experience similar to what's currently offered by Twitter, in addition to new Siri support (which is also coming to Twitter).

Other features like a 'do not disturb' button for reminders also showed up. The Reminders app also got some enhancements, like integration with the Phone app. This means you'll be able to instruct your phone to remind you to call someone back later, or when you get to a certain location. And with the do not disturb setting, you won't have to worry about getting annoyed by your friends Angry Birds score while you're in an important meeting.

iDevices will also be gaining the ability to make Facetime calls over cellular, as opposed to the Wi-Fi only support that we're used to. What's more, you won't have to worry about contacting the wrong device any more, since your phone number and Apple ID will be integrated – that means that contacts won't have multiple addresses for each device. So an iMessage will appear across all of them, rather than just your friend's iPad.

Safari, which Scott Forstall kindly informs us is the “best and most popular” browser “on the planet,” is getting the iCloud tabs feature that was detailed for the Mac earlier, in addition to offline reading lists. It's also taking a step closer towards being a full fledged browsing experience by letting users upload photos. Unfortunately, it looks like we won't be getting an integrated search/url bar, unless Apple makes some last minute changes.

Building on the sharing features that have been steadily appearing in iOS, iCloud is getting more social with Photo Stream sharing between friends, with a full fledged commenting system, and it's also easier to add attachments to emails with just a tap.

Now for the big ones... Apple showed off two new apps at today's keynotes. One of them we were expecting, but the first is more of a pleasant surprise. If you do much shopping you know how annoying it is to keep up with the plethora of discount cards offered by stores; Passes hopes to save you from those frustrations by grouping all of your 'cards' into a single app. But it goes beyond discount cards; you can also store digital tickets to events like movies, sports events, and even flights. It's even integrated with GPS to automatically pull out the right card when you're near a store.

And finally, we have a new, Google-free Maps experience. We can't say that we didn't see this one coming, but Apple cleared up any lingering uncertainty we had. If there's one feature iPhone users have really been missing out on it's turn-by-turn navigation, and iOS 6 will fix that by offering a Siri integrated navigation system. It works right from the lock screen and takes traffic info into account.

The 3D maps that we've all heard about made an appearance too, in the form of a new feature called Flyover, which looks pretty cool, as you can see below, but probably won't be something you use very much once the 'wow' factor wears off:

The beta of iOS 6 is launching today, but the rest of us will have to wait until Fall to get our grubby little hands on it. By then, of course, Windows 8 should be with us, and it'll be interesting to see them go head to head. In the meantime, take a look at the slide below to get an idea of some of the new features coming to iOS that weren't previewed at today's event:

Images via The Verge | MacWorld

Source: The Verge (Live Blog)

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