Apple's iOS 6 announcement this week has everyone talking about all the new features coming to iPads and iPhones in the coming months. But most of them aren't really that new. You can get some of the great new iOS functionality today—even with a first-gen iPad.
Virtual assistant: Evi
The biggest iOS news from the WWDC keynote was that Siri is coming to the iPad. Apple's virtual assistant made her debut on the iPhone 4S, but she's not the only game in town. Evi is an iPhone app that provides similar functionality to Siri. On the heels of Apple's WWDC announcement, an updated version of Evi launched that includes SMS, email, and calling capabilities. There's no native iPad version, unfortunately, but Evi works fine on iPads, including first-gen models.
The new turn-by-turn directions baked into iOS 6 are great, but Waze features maps, navigation, and and crowd-sourced traffic information, and it's available now. Waze even features voice commands, so you can report traffic conditions and get directions home without having to take your eyes off the road.
Universal browsing: Axis
The universal browsing features getting added to Safari are useful for anyone who uses multiple devices. With Yahoo's new Axis browser, you can accomplish much the same thing. And since Axis on desktop computers operates as a plugin, you don't even have to switch browsers in order to use it. In our recent review of Axis, we especially liked the inline searching and thumbnail site previews, which Safari doesn't have.
Offline reading: Instapaper
Reading lists are all the rage. In iOS 6, Safari is beefing up it's support for Reading List, adding offline caches of webpage content so that you can catch up with articles whenever its convenient, and not be at the mercy of a data or Wi-Fi connection. It's a great idea, and the best implementation so far is Instapaper. In addition to collecting and downloading articles to read later, Instapaper also lets you save articles via email, and share to social networks for an even richer reading experience.
Passbook: TripIt & Dropbox
Passbook looks great for saving all sorts information, from travel information to boarding passes. With TripIt, you can easily organize all your travel plans. Once you sign up for an account, forward your confirmation to firstname.lastname@example.org, and the app keeps track of your itineraries. Whether it's flights, rental cars, or restaurant reservations, TripIt can keep you on track while traveling. And for storing things like boarding passes and tickets, Dropbox is a solid choice with a fantastic iPad interface.
Mail: Notes & Sparrow
In iOS 6, Apple is finally introducing multiple email signatures. For business users, the ability to switch between mail accounts is crucial, but Apple's Mail has been limited by the use of a single email signature for all accounts. In the App Store, you can find any number of signature managers, but in reality, they all require extra tapping. So skip the third-party apps, and create your own solution.
In Notes, create a new note, and build your signature. Then, when you need it, use iOS5's multitasking to quickly switch to Notes, copy your custom signature, and paste it into your email.
Alternately, if you only use a few different signatures, you can add them all to your iPad's email signature, and then delete the lines you don't need before sending your message.
For an even better experience, check out Sparrow, a replacement for Apple's mail that features multiple signatures and the pull-to-refresh gesture. The iPhone version works fine on iPad, and the developers are working on a native iPad version now.