A Hands On Look At iOS 12

Image: Apple

Apple announced iOS 12 last week and I jumped straight onto my developer account to grab the first beta and try it out. It's been almost a week now and I've been running it on my iPhone X and here's what I've found.

Before you start

If you're a developer or are waiting for the public beta program to start it's important to do a few things. Firstly, backup your device and all critical data. I recommend using iTunes for this and, if you have a OneDrive, Dropbox or there cloud storage account, replicate critical data there. For example, I have all my photos stored on OneDrive automatically. And if you use a password sync tool like LastPass, 1Password or Apple's KeyChain, make sure any user accounts and passwords you use are synchronised.

Installing and running beta software isn't for the faint-hearted. There are moments when apps don't work as they should, the occasional spontaneous reboot is possible and you could even find core functions like Wi-Fi are a little flakey. So, it's recommended that you install beta versions on production gear. If you have an old iPhone or iPad, that's on the supported list I'd suggest using that.

Installation

The installation process for beta versions is quite easy. Assuming you have a developer account, you just download a profile to your device and Apple delivers the software to your iOS device using their usual over-the-air delivery system.

There are full instructions here.

What have I found

As expected, iOS 12 is more about refinement than revolution. At first glance, after the installation, I was a little disappointed - not much looked different. If you're looking for a new user experience, you'll have to wait another year - that's when Apple is rumoured to be introduce a whole new home screen interface.

Keyboards

The first thing I noticed was that the on-screen keyboard had been subtly changed. Sure, it's not a big deal but the onscreen keyboard is one of the things we use the most and it jumped out at me as a thing that was noticeably changed.

Image: Lifehacker/Anthony Caruana

Screen Time

The first thing I wanted to look at was the new Screen Time system. This lets you monitor your iOS usage and set limits on what apps are used, content and the amount of time spent on various activities.

What's interesting is that Apple has added Screen Time into the Settings rather than having it as a standalone app. That makes sense but for parents using it to manage their children's online time it means they need to tap a couple of extra times to get to the app.

Image: Lifehacker/Anthony Caruana

I didn't have an opportunity to test it with the kids in my family. We use Family Sharing to share apps, music and movies, and to ensure the kids are only installing suitable apps. Now I can schedule downtime when they won't be able to use their iOS device, time limits for apps, what apps can be used without restrictions and manage access to content my wife and I deem inappropriate.

It's a powerful set of controls that will help parents who are concerned about the amount of time kids spend on their devices.

Notifications

As I've accumulated apps and services, the number of notifications I receive pile up. Now, iOS actually piles them up, or stacks them.

Rather than cluttering up your lock screen with a a bunch of notifications from the same app, iOS 12 stacks them. For example, if you get a bunch of Facebook notifications or text messages, instead of seeing them listed individually, they're grouped and stacked together, decluttering your screen significantly. It's not a big change but it's nice.

Killing apps

While there's usually no reason to manually stop an app in iOS there are times when killing an app is easier than waiting for an issue to resolve itself. With iOS 11 on the iPhone X, you needed to swipe up and hold, and then tap-hold on the app switcher for to see a small red circle. Once you had that, you could swipe errant apps up and away to kill them.

With iOS 12, that middle step, of tap-holding, has been removed. Now, to kill an app you swipe upwards and hold, then you can swipe apps away.

Again, it's not a big thing but another subtle change that makes life easier.

Performance and stability

In the past, Apple's beta releases have not been all that speedy. They tend to slow down devices and, at least in my experience, by the end of a beta cycle the performance hit you get from running pre-release software is frustrating. But iOS 12 runs at least as well as iOS 11. I upgraded to the beta over the top of my iOS 11 set up which had, for a while, been running iOS 11 beta releases and there are a sick of apps installed.

I have had a few apps spontaneously crash. Evernote has become a little sluggish and I've had Signal and a couple of other apps randomly crash. But, this is a beta release of an operating system so those kinds of hits aren't surprising.

My overall impression, at least on the hardware I'm testing, is that iOS 12 shouldn't make things any slower.

Other stuff

Apple has added a new app to iOS 12 - Measure. It uses iOS 12's augmented reality feature to measure objects and works as a spirit level. I used it to measure the dimensions of my screen. It got the height right, at 40cm, but missed the width, measuring 66cm, adding 1cm to what my trusty tape measure says.

And there are the new Memojis that let you create a likeness of yourself that can be animated when you send messages to friends. I have to admit that while it's cute, it's unlikely to be something I'll use often. I suspect it's not a feature pitched at users of my vintage.

There's also the new Group FaceTime option which will be handy given my family is spread far and wide.

Siri now lets you group actions from different apps. For example, you can tell Siri you're driving to grandmas and it will ping the beacon app for your keys - if you use something like Tile or Trackr - and launch Maps with directions. It seems to lean on the new Shortcuts app that lets you group actions across different apps. That's not in the current beta release but it looks a lot like Workflow, an app Apple purchased in 2017.

iBooks has been renamed Apple Books and gets a facelift. I wonder if the name change, which brings it into line with Apple Music, signals that Apple is trying to make a deal with publishers and start an Apple Books service that is like an online lending library. They already have parts of the required systems in place thorough their iTunes movie rentals.

Are you testing iOS 12. What have you found? Is there something that really grabs you or stands out? Share your discoveries in the comments.


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