The Best New Features To Try In iOS 12

Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

The latest version of Apple’s iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS 12, is out. It features dozens of new features and improvements; there’s something for everybody.

How to update

This update is compatible all the way back to the iPhone 5S, coincidentally making the 5S the iPhone that has been able to run the most versions of iOS. Some of the improvements relate directly to hardware the 5S doesn’t have (Face ID improvements, for example), but even older iPhones will benefit from the update.

To update, open Settings and go to General > Software Update. It will check for updates for your device and, after authenticating, begin the update process. It’ll take a little bit, but when your device finishes with the grey Apple progress bar, you’ll boot up to the world of iOS 12.

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All the new

We won’t dig into every single change in iOS 12 here, but will focus on a solid overview of the best and most notable new additions. Let’s start with two pretty small changes that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

First, you may be familiar with 3D Touch's “trackpad mode” for the keyboard, where a hard press on the keyboard would blank out the keys and let you swipe around to move the cursor quickly. This is now available to everyone, 3D Touch or no, by just holding the Space bar down for a second to switch into “trackpad mode”.

Also, and of no less interest to me, dictation is now available in third-party keyboards. I love Gboard from Google, but I hate using Google’s dictation on iOS. Now, the little microphone icon shows up at the bottom no matter what keyboard you’re using.

New and updated apps

A bunch of Apple’s apps got significant updates. For starters, the Stocks app finally got an overhaul, incorporating Apple News stories so that you can tap a stock and see related news stories.

Voice Memos got a new interface, as well as iCloud sync, which is appropriate because Voice Memos is now also a first-class iPad app.

iBooks got a makeover, reminiscent of the App Store remake that Apple unveiled recently. Actually, even the name got an update: It’s now Apple Books.

The UI is redesigned and reorganised, with a focus on discovery and organisation. The reading experience is optimised in different ways depending on the device you’re using. Audiobooks get their own section, and a couple of new options in the Settings app allow you to determine what information syncs between your devices.

Similarly, the News app is updated with a better discovery experience and an optimised iPad reading experience.

Screenshot: Brett Terpstra

A lot of work went into improving the Augmented Reality (AR) experience on iOS, and the improvements will be seen in third-party apps very soon. As of iOS 12, Apple is including an app called Measure which lets you use your phone’s camera to measure objects.

Similar to some existing apps such as Measure 3D Pro, it does a pretty accurate job of letting you just drop points in the room and measure the distance between them. It can also do 3D measurements, aided by new 3D object recognition in ARKit.

Safari is seeing a lot of attention. You can now go to preferences and choose “Show Icons in Tabs” to enable favicons in tabs. iOS now also offers strong passwords with immediate storage to your keychain when signing up for new accounts (and in other apps as well).

Combine that with a new password reuse auditor that tells you if you’ve used a password on more than one site as well as new blocking capabilities, and this is a significant security update for Safari.

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Apple Music can now search for songs using lyrics. That’s a subtle but pretty cool update right there. There’s also a change on the Radio tab that replaces “Recent Stations” with Featured Radio Stations.

The Dictionary now includes a thesaurus, as well as a new Hebrew dictionary and bilingual dictionaries for Arabic and Hindi.

If you go to Settings > Podcasts, you can now customise the skip forward/back buttons to different increments, and adjust them individually. So your skip forward button could go forward 30 seconds, and the back button can jump back 10 seconds. There’s also an option to use the skip buttons on an inline remote with the aforementioned controls.

Messages has a myriad of improvements. Four new Animoji is a start, but you’ve probably heard about Memoji by now (for those owning an iPhone X, or any iPhone released after it), Apple’s customisable Animoji that you can make look like you (or anyone). There’s also wink and tongue detection in Animoji, so you can get expressive and, dare I say, possibly a bit creepy. And you now get 30 seconds to do it when recording Animoji.

Messages also has its own app additions and improvements. Filters and Shapes allow you to customise and spice up video and photo messages, and you can add text now, too.

You can use a lot of the improvements from Messages in FaceTime, too, including Animoji (and Memoji), filters, shapes and text.

Photos boasts a solid lineup of improvements. The search is more powerful, including the ability to search not just by general map location, but by specific buildings. You can even search by a type of location, say “museums”, to search across all the museums you’ve been to. The Shared Activity and Memories tabs have been merged into a For You tab. There’s also a welcome update to the import tool for those using DSLR cameras to add photos.

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Digital Health

iOS 12 brings a new section of tools that Apple calls Digital Health. These include changes to Notifications and Do Not Disturb, as well as Screen Time, a way to track the time you spend on your iPhone or iPad.

Do Not Disturb improvements start with avoiding lock screen notifications during scheduled times, preventing that whole “hey, your eyes are open, here’s literally everything you need to immediately be aware of” thing when you get up in the morning. To enable this, go to Settings > Do Not Disturb and switch on Bedtime.

In addition to scheduled times, you can now quickly turn on Do Not Disturb for one hour, until this evening/tomorrow morning, or “when I leave this location”. Control Centre gives you access to these options, as well as a “Schedule” button that will take you directly to Do Not Disturb settings.

Notifications are now grouped, which goes a long way to clean up the notifications screen. When grouped by app, all unread notifications from the same app get stacked together, and you can tap the stack to expand it, or clear them all at once by swiping the whole group left.

Screenshot: Brett Terpstra

The newest piece of the Digital Health setup is Screen Time. Opening Settings > Screen Time shows you how much time you’ve spent on your phone, and where you’ve spent it. You can see various breakdowns of your “screen time”, for today and for the last week.

You can also set App Limits to time limit usage, and Downtime periods, during which only apps you choose (and phone calls) will be available. You can always override the limits, one time or for the rest of the day, but it’s a great way to keep yourself mindful of the time you dedicate to apps that might be, well, less than productive. You can even add a widget to see a Screen Time overview in the Today view.

Screen Time integrates family sharing to allow parents to add restrictions for their kids’ iOS devices.

Security

Screenshot: Brett Terpstra

As mentioned above in regards to the Safari improvements, iOS 12 is deft at generating strong, random passwords throughout login screens and apps. When you tap the “Strong Password” button in a password field, it generates the password and adds it to your iOS Keychain. After that, iOS will auto-fill your password for you, and you can access the password from the Settings app.

One cool new feature I hadn’t expected is a security code autofill. If you receive a two-factor authentication code in a text message, iOS will offer to autofill the field for you, saving a trip to Messages and back (or having to quickly memorise the six-digits from a notification banner).

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You can also now ask Siri for passwords and be taken to the entry in the Keychain. Don’t worry that she’ll read your password out loud, you’ll need to authenticate to actually see it.

iPhone X users will find a couple of Face ID improvements, starting with “alternate appearance”. If there’s an affectation that you commonly sport that throws off Face ID, you can create a second appearance with your hat, beard, glasses, or whatever is changing your appearance enough to negate the feature. While Apple doesn’t explicitly say it, you can also use this to add an entirely different user to your phone.

If Face ID does fail, you can now swipe up to rescan. I’ll admit that’s something my brain has always thought should happen, so I’ve been doing it anyway. Now it actually works.

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Siri and Shortcuts

Siri graduates to the next level with iOS 12. She works in Low Power Mode, she can control the torch, she can turn on the locator sound on multiple iOS devices, and she does a pretty good job of guessing what you want to do next. The suggestions provided in Spotlight, notifications and around various apps are the most astute yet. A lot of these suggestions include “shortcuts”, or ways to let Siri trigger things you usually need a few taps to do.

Screenshot: Brett Terpstra

Shortcuts is its own app in iOS 12. If you’re a fan of Workflow, you probably know that Apple purchased the iOS automation app last year. Shortcuts is one of the results of that acquisition. Any previous workflows that you had will be automatically imported into Shortcuts. It’s essentially the same app, but now you can add Siri phrases to trigger your own automations.

Even without building your own automations, you can go to Settings > Siri & Search and use Add a suggested shortcut to browse ready-made shortcuts that Siri thinks you might find handy.

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And more...

Geekbench scores have shown that hardware performance is only marginally improved, but beta users have reported notable improvements in launching apps, battery use and app responsiveness. Third-party apps will still need to update to take advantage of various hardware improvements, but you’ll immediately see the benefits when launching Apple’s apps.

As of iOS 12, iOS can finally automatically update itself. Just go to Settings > General > Software Update and turn on Automatic Updates.

For iPhone X users, a welcome interface update brings back “swipe up to force quit” apps. When you swipe up from the bottom and open the app switcher, swiping an app up will kill it. If you’ve shot as many accidental screenshots on your iPhone X as I have, you’ll also appreciate that iOS 12 only allows screenshots when the screen is on. Raise to wake will still give you plenty of oopses, but I have about half as many random screenshots in my camera roll already.

On iPad, aside from individual apps’ optimisations, there’s now a date in the status bar and the screen recording interface is more, um, humane than the red bar across the top that iOS 11 added.

The iPad also gets new gestures closer to those on the iPhone X, such as swipe up and release to open the app switcher, swipe up from bottom to bring up dock, and swipe down from right to bring up the Control Centre.


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