iOS 16 Preview: The Best Yet

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Gone are the horror days of messy iOS updates that were universally feared by the community – some of us still remember the controversial iOS 7 release. Today, software development is a much more grounded affair, with companies taking significantly less risks.

Why us that? You could argue that we’ve probably reached software nirvana, where a mature ecosystem meets a fully developed operating system, and there is little to no reward for reinventing the wheel with each annual software refresh. Longtime users are likely to grab the pitchforks in audible protest and try to spend their money elsewhere while shopping during the holiday season, a dire possibility for any hardware manufacturer.

Another possibility is that times are just different. Ten years ago, the telephone market was still the virtual equivalent of the Wild West, a somewhat volatile and highly dynamic space in which key players actively competed for potential new long-term users by experimenting with the fundamentals of the Android, iOS or whatever, hoping to perfect the formula and lay the groundwork for long-term development.
The latest version of iOS, iOS 16, announced in June at Apple’s WWDC’22 development summit, is the perfect example of an annual software update that doesn’t aim to shake the tree too much. Instead, we see Apple carefully tailoring the experience where it counts, as well as emulating some of Android’s biggest strengths in a arguably better way. It also finally brings some features that should have been introduced years ago, but overall it fulfills its mission: it keeps the iPhone experience fresh and familiar at the same time. This cautious evolution is the common thread of Apple’s recent iOS updates, and frankly, it feels like a winning move.
iOS 16 is currently available for both the developer and public beta channels for anyone with an eligible device to try.

iOS 16 Lock Screen Customization: Eat Android Lunch

iOS 16 certainly continues the tradition of each iOS update, focusing on a specific aspect of the operating system and refreshing it. This year it’s the turn of the lock screen to get a refresh, and boy, is this a major refresh!

As a customization fan, I was quite excited to load up the beta and play with the new ones lock screen customization, which allows you to change almost every visual or functional aspect of the lock screen (aside from the two shortcuts on the lock screen, which is a big no-no). And yes, you can even put mini widgets there, although the selection is limited to some stock Apple apps at the moment, but may be open to third parties in the future.

And the options we have, as you can now micro-manage Focus to work in accordance with your lock screens and have a unique one for each of your different modes. This is a great addition: it allows for a greater visual distinction between work and sleep focuses, for example, where you can have a separate themed wallpaper and general lock screen settings for each mode. I will definitely play with that in the future, but so far the possibility for customization is more than welcome.

Be it a live weather wallpaper or an astronomy wallpaper (which is very similar to Xiaomi’s Super Wallpapers), all the new live wallpapers from Apple, you can go ahead and customize your lock screen. But my absolute favorite is using a portrait photo as your lock screen, as it allows for some snazzy depth effects. You can’t have those and widgets enabled at the same time, so it’s a toss-up between the two new features.

iOS 16 Notifications: Fresher Than Ever

utilities, iOS notifications have certainly gone through one too many changes during iOS’s existence, and while they still lack some of the key functionalities found on Android, they’re at their best right now. With iOS 16, Apple wants to make them less intrusive and a little more discreet. Notifications now appear at the bottom of the screen and unfold as a list upwards. The latest notifications appear on the lock screen, while the full list can be revealed by swiping up. Meanwhile, a swipe down hides all notifications for an even more discreet look that shows off your carefully designed lock screen.

In my humble opinion, the change is certainly beneficial. Aside from significantly reducing visual clutter and overload, it also makes one of the most important usability aspects of using an iPhone – interacting with notifications – a much more ergonomic affair. One-handed use is now much easier as you no longer have to extend your finger toward the center of the device. Essentially, all the major controls on the lock screen are at the bottom: the flashlight and camera shortcuts, the unlock lever, and now the notification flow with the media playback widget.

Not everything is sweet, though – the volume slider in the media playback widget has been removed. The track progress finder has also been minimized too much, making it harder to interact with. Overall, the changes to the music widget aren’t great, and the large album covers that have been introduced aren’t enough to make up for the changes.

iOS 16 Messages Improvements: Why Did It Take So Long?

Looking at how ubiquitous iMessage is, you’d assume that features like editing and unsending messages should have been part of the ecosystem a long time ago, and yet… here we are. Better late than never, as the saying goes, and the two new features work great, especially when you combine them with the revamped Dictation feature.

In addition to the improvements to Messages, Apple has added some additional Animoji customization options, which are certainly nice to have. Now some people may absolutely love this one, while others may have a hard time telling what animoji even is, but the bottom line is that the feature is slowly but surely getting better with each iOS update, making it easier to express yourself with the cute animated avatars.

iOS 16 Quality of Life Improvements

The fact that you can finally use Face ID in landscape mode to unlock your phone is one of the features that certainly didn’t get enough airtime in the spotlight. Adding iOS 15.4’s Face ID with a mask makes Apple’s facial biometrics increasingly useful. The newfangled landscape mode for Face ID will presumably only work with supported devices, which means the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 series now.

There are multiple improvements to the stock iOS video player. Apart from a completely redesigned interface that is largely based on gestures, which was not the case before. It now makes it possible to search for videos by scrubbing every part of the screen, a really great and easy-to-use addition!

You can also pause the video by tapping the screen whether the UI is shown or hidden, and pinch to zoom replaces the Fill to Zoom button that was previously available.

While it hasn’t been in the limelight for a while, one of the absolutely stunning new features that was only introduced with some of the latest betas is Lockdown Mode, an extremely secure but optional security mode that severely limits apps, features, and disrupts the normal hinders surfing.

This is extremely helpful for individuals who suspect that they are currently the target of a cyber attack. It locks down the entire system and while it should significantly improve security, it’s hardly supposed to be used at will. Still, it’s nice to know that you have such a powerful security switch at your disposal, but hopefully you never have to use it.

There’s also a handy new Spotlight Search shortcut on the indicator on the home screen, which gives you yet another way to access the system-wide search. Don’t worry – you can turn it off if you want.

Oh, and finally, the default iOS keyboard scores with haptic feedback, a feature found on most third-party offerings that will finally be available on most iPhones near you!

Overall performance

If there’s one thing as certain as the sun rising every morning, it’s that betas rarely give us a good insight into the best view of an operating system’s performance. A software update should not be judged on its beta. But even in its current testing state, iOS 16 works fine, with just a visual bug here or a minor hiccup there, and is perfectly capable of being your daily driver. The reality of the situation is that iOS 16 will run fine on newer hardware, but some of the older iPhones that support it may not run as smoothly.

Final Thoughts

With iOS 16, Apple continues to polish its mobile operating system and keep it fresh without changing too many things at once. Admittedly, the lock screen customization is a biggie that should not only keep iOS users happy for another year, but also the opportunity to see even more advanced customization options in the future.

Imagine if Apple turns its gaze to the home screen with iOS 17 and decides to allow for deeper customization… That would certainly be something, not exactly something we would have expected from the company a few years ago, but the latest iOS releases clearly show that Cupertino is eager to enrich iOS with such features and functionalities. And I admit, if someone had told me I could thoroughly customize my iOS lock screen in ways Android didn’t just half a decade ago, I wouldn’t have believed a single word.

There is certainly a lot of potential for further improvements to iOS that Apple is certainly aware of, and so are we, the users. All of these will most likely be kept for future OS updates, and they certainly can’t come sooner. Extensive widget functionality with live updates and more supported apps and features certainly come to mind, as well as some solid overhauls to some core apps, like Phone, which looks a bit dated and somewhat “disconnected” from the rest of the shiny new interface. . The Recent Apps task switcher certainly has potential for improvement, and how long will it take to get rid of the restrictive, “top-left” mentality of the homescreen alignment?

Overall, iOS 16 feels like a big step in the right direction, even if you’re not a big fan of customization. As long as the user base is spoiled with new and improved features, bring it on!

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