Apple could still strike Android, Windows Phone with iOS 6 zinger

Few iOS 6 features will leave Google and Microsoft chasing behind. But Apple could be saving its One More Thing for a fall launch.

Apple CEO Tim Cook at WWDC 2012.
Apple CEO Tim Cook at WWDC 2012. James Martin/CNET

Shock and awe. This is typically Apple's motto -- and mode of operations -- for its hardware and software announcements. Don't give users time to forget your goods; don't give competitors a chance to catch up. The philosophy has worked wonders for Apple in the past. In announcing iOS 6 months ahead of its "fall" launch, Apple is giving Google and Microsoft time to plan their own counter-attacks. But chances are high this is just sleight of hand.

At the outset, Google and Microsoft have little to worry about with iOS 6. At yesterday's WWDC keynote, Apple executives trotted out feature after feature that either play catch-up with software that has existed on other platforms (mostly Android), or that are small touches, rather than the revolutions or reinventions for which Apple is known.

New iOS 6 features                                        Android 4.0                         Windows Phone 7.5 
Launch native apps by voiceS-Voice, third-partyMicrosoft Tellme
Launch third-party apps by voiceS-VoiceMicrosoft Tellme
Automotive integrationYes, Car HomeNo
Facebook integrationYesYes
Message replies for incoming callsYesNo
Set call remindersNoNo
Video calling over cellular networkYes, Google TalkThird-party apps
Offline reading of webpagesYesThird-party apps
Natively share photo streamsGalaxy S III only    No
Natively store and access ticketsNoNo
Turn-by-turn naviationYesYes
3D mappingComing to Google MapsNo
Info about nearby businessesYesYes
Credit: Lynn La/CNET, Comparing Apple iOS 6 with Android 4.0, Windows Phone 7.5

There were some bright spots. Passbook is one uniquely native feature that neatly stores boarding passes, loyalty cards, and tickets.

Another is being able to tie your phone number to your Apple ID for smoother FaceTime calling. This type of small-but-thoughtful convenience is one that Android and Windows Phone OSes could also apply to Google Hangouts and to Skype, respectively.

Another clever Apple feature, integrating Siri's voice actions with an in-car steering-wheel button, is at least a year out, a schedule that gives Google and Microsoft plenty of time to make chase.

Yet, while it seems like smooth sailing for Google and Microsoft to work on their own tactics before the final iOS 6 release, it's likely that Apple has a zinger of a feature among its 200 tweaks, a secret One More Thing set to rattle its rivals and convert more fans.

There are two good reasons to think that something more stirring than FaceTime over 3G is coming to iOS 6. The first is that Apple has done this before. Recall, if you will, that Apple kept Siri hidden until its iPhone 4S announcement last October, even though the company shared bits of iOS 5 the previous June.

Second, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently promised the world that Apple would double down on secrecy, a strategy that has worked remarkably well for Apple so far.

So while iOS 6 comes across as a collection of small, iterative updates and additions, it's a fair bet that Google and Microsoft could scramble on an unforeseen, game-changing feature when the iPhone 5 launches this fall.

Chart updated at 12:20pm PT.

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