With the official release of iOS 10, it’s hard not to feel a deep sense of nostalgia looking back on 10 versions of iPhone software since Apple’s mobile operating system launched as “iPhone OS” on the original iPhone in 2007. iOS has gone from no App Store to App Store to FaceTime to Siri to Apple Maps to Apple Pay to Health and more.
In the span of ten iOS releases, Apple has sold over 1 billion iPhones. That doesn’t even count all the iPads and iPod touches that also run iOS. It hurts my brain to even think about it for too long.
Every year, Apple releases a new version of iOS, each with tons of new features and tweaks and security updates. Apple CEO Tim Cook has called iOS 10 the “mother of all releases.” It’ll be the operating system installed on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and all iPads going forward.
iOS 10 is what a mature mobile OS looks like.
Rather, iOS 10 brings more powerful features that build on iOS’s solid foundation to help users do more, especially with the more robust Messages app. iOS 10 is what a mature mobile OS looks like.
As an iOS user since 2007 (I started with the first-generation iPod touch), however, I can’t help but feel iOS 10’s best new features are designed to keep users locked within Apple’s increasingly tall walls.
For sure, iOS 10 is more open in some ways (i.e. Siri integration with third-party apps via SiriKit), but if you don’t work and play through Apple’s own apps and services like me I’ve migrated to better third-party apps and services over the years the fireworks show ends pretty quickly and it’s hard to get excited for anything but Messages.
Changes you’ll notice first
Once iOS 10 is installed, you’ll notice a couple of stark changes as soon as you wake up your iOS device.
The first is the lock screen. Since iPhone OS, Apple has conditioned us to “Swipe to unlock,” which would either unlock the screen or bring up the passcode screen. On iOS 10, swipe to unlock is dead and replaced by “Press home to unlock.” It took a few hours to retrain my brain, but the new unlock method, especially coupled with Touch ID, actually feels faster.
Swiping from the right on the lock screen also launches the Camera app. I also like this change a lot because I can now press the Power button to wake the screen and swipe left to open the camera or press the Home button to wake the screen and swipe left. On iOS 9, you swiped up to get to the camera and if you wanted to wake up your phone by pressing the power button, you’d have to reach back down to swipe the camera icon up.
Another front-and-center change I like is the new location of “Today view;” swipe from the left on the lock or home screen and you get instant access to all your widgets and Siri suggestions.
Widgets are just easier to access in their own space than crammed inside the Notification Center like it was on iOS 9 and earlier. While still not as versatile as placing widgets on the home screen itself like on Android, the better widget placement got me to actually use widgets.
Both the Notification Center and Control Center got some tweaks. Visually, the panels are now more like bubbly cards. Notifications now show more information with support for photos, videos and live updates right on the spot.
Redesigned Control Center
Another subtle, but welcome change is the addition of colors to the quick setting toggles in Control Center; the colors make it easier to know when they’re on or off.
Music playback controls, however, are now one card swipe from the right. I don’t love this change since it’s less convenient than having one panel of quick settings, but at the very least the music control panel stays there when you call it up again (but then you need to swipe back to see all the main shortcut toggles).
Also, Night Shift has needlessly expanded into a wider button in Control Center. I’m not sure why it was perfectly fine as a button on the bottom row of shortcut toggle.
For iPhone 6S, 6S Plus and SE users, there’s a “Raise to wake” feature that turns on the screen when you pick it up and more advanced 3D Touch features like the ability to clear all notifications with a harder press or add widgets through the Quick Actions menu when you 3D Touch a supported app icon.
Messages on steroids
The App Store may be one of iOS’s greatest gifts, but I would argue iMessage is what is keeping people from even thinking about defecting to Android. When all your friends are blue bubbles (iMessage), you really don’t want to be the odd green one (non-iMessage), especially in group chats.
There are many new delightful things you can do in Messages on iOS 10.
Which is why iOS 10’s revamped Messages app has more and better ways to communicates ways that keep up with 2016, but will probably also leave little time to use other messaging apps.
There are just so many new delightful things you can do in Messages on iOS 10. It’s a lot to take in, and it’ll take a few days to master them all.
Some of my favorites new things include: Sending handwritten messages, drawing all over your photos, Snapchat-style, before sending, sending fullscreen effects (balloons, fireworks, lasers, etc.), sending messages that remain hidden with “invisible ink” until the receiver swipes them open, viewing previews of website links, easily sending GIFs, getting predictive emoji (emoji shows up for words as you type so you don’t need to go searching for them, not to mention the boatload of new emoji to pick from) and automatically replacing text with emoji.
Even features like Digital Touch, cribbed from the Apple Watch, which lets you send sketches and heartbeats to people is more useful in iOS 10 than on the smaller smartwatch screen.
There’s also an icon for quicker access to the camera and Photos app, a “Tapback” response which is a quick way to acknowledge a specific message and stickers support from sticker packs purchased from the new built-in Messages App Store.
My only complaint and Apple says it’s intentional is that the cool little effects including the “louder” and full screen effects activated by long-pressing on the send (up arrow) button don’t work if you have the “Reduce motion” feature turned on (Settings > General > Accessibility). I still struggle to understand why since Reduce motion is a setting designed to turn off the home screen’s 3D parallax effect and lessen the zooming in folders. I can only pray Apple introduces a separate control in a future update because I get motion sickness without the Reduce motion setting flipped on, and I don’t want an gimped Messages.
All of these new additions turn Messages into a platform that can compete with the likes of Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Line.
If you live in Messages and live and die by iMessages, you’re going to love iOS 10. While I dig all of the new features, iMessage isn’t that central to my digital socializing. I haven’t been an avid iMessage person in years.
I have friends and family who live in different cities and different countries who use different messaging apps that work better for their regions. For my Korean friends, we use Kakao; my Japanese friends prefer Line; for my closest friends, we use Messenger; with my immediate and extended family we use WhatsApp or WeChat because many of them have Android, and for a lot of my work friends and Twitter buddies we use Snapchat to keep things a little more confidential.
The new Messages app is excellent, but I’ve learned to live in a multi-messaging app world. Would I love it if we all iMessaged each other? Hell, yeah! But different geographical preferences have forced me to adjust accordingly. And trust me, I’ve tried getting my iPhone friends who live in other countries to use Messages, but they’re not interested because apps like WhatsApp and Line are what everyone else uses where they are.
Redesigned Apple Music
I gave Apple Music a real chance when it launched a year ago. As a music service, it’s clear Apple has put a lot of focus into securing music exclusives like Frank Ocean’s Blond. Courting artists and putting out an Android app has helped Apple Music rocket to 17 million subscribers. Spotify still has more with 30 million subscribers, but Apple Music is off to an incredible start given it’s only a year old.
In my co-review with former Mashable Senior Tech Correspondent Christina Warren, I praised Apple Music’s Beats Music-like music discovery features, was split over the Beats 1 24/7 live radio station, predicted Connect’s doom and slammed Siri’s new tricks as a gimmick.
But the one thing I hated the most about Apple Music was how busy and confusing it was. Design-wise, it looked modern and fresh, like the Zune’s interface did. But from a usability standpoint, Apple Music was terrible. Apple gutted the perfectly fine Music app and forcibly grafted Apple Music’s features in.
For most people, the upgrade to Apple Music was anything but smooth. Some people, including The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple saw thousands of songs disappear.
In iOS 10, Apple Music is a brand new app with a new look and everything. It’s better than the original version, but there are still many things I don’t like about it.
The big bolded black text is too loud and the font sizes throughout the app are too large and not balanced with Apple’s other official apps. Every time I open Apple Music, my eyes bug out for a second to re-adjust to all the enlargements.
It still annoys me there’s no way to remove the “Radio” section and the app keeps recommending other music I might be interested in even when I have Apple Music’s streaming features turned off (Settings > Music > Show Apple Music). No, I don’t want to see any of Apple Music’s music streaming features and I don’t want to keep being reminded to get a subscription.
The regular local music listening experience is improved for people who don’t care about any of Apple Music’s streaming features, but not by much. I switched to Cesium at Christina’s recommendation and would highly recommend it if you’re sick of dealing with a music player that doesn’t have your offline music interests at heart.
And don’t even get me started on the “new” lyrics support, which works with some songs but not all of them. Prior to iOS 9, the Music app could already show lyrics. It was easy: Tap on the album art and voil. I spent years buying songs with lyrics and adding them in manually through iTunes myself, all for them to just vanish with Apple Music.
I truly believe Cook when he said “Music runs deep in Apple’s DNA.” I’m just waiting for the company’s actions to speak louder than words because Apple Music is still a half-baked experience a slightly better half-baked one, but still pretty disjointed.
I said in the Apple Music review that I’d probably be sticking to my Spotify Premium account and a year later it’s still the superior music listening experience.
Apple Maps could not have been a bigger disaster when it launched. Cook has never hidden the fact that they really messed up.
Time, fortunately, forgives mistakes when you work and work at fixing them. And Apple Maps on iOS 10 is a much improved experience compared to previous versions. So much, in fact, I’m actually considering switching from Google Maps to it.
The redesigned Maps app has a slew of new useful features such as superior search, improved turn-by-turn navigation and more transit support for more cities worldwide.
Overall, the lousy Maps app of past is now a well-thought-out app that’s also fast. And once apps like OpenTable and Uber and Lyft get updated with Maps extension support, you’ll be able to book restaurant reservations and hail cars right from the app.
Digging up the past
I have 17,535 photos and videos in my camera roll. When I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll scroll back a couple of years and remember the good ol’ times. But it’s a chore. That’s why I rely on apps like Timehop, Facebook and Google Photos to do the reminding for me.
On iOS 10, Apple’s leveraging advanced computer vision to scan all your photos and basically do the same thing with a new feature called Memories. The idea is the same: To let the machine help you rediscover old moments by sorting them based on people, places and things.
It’s neat and Apple says it retains your privacy by keeping all the AI machine learning on the device itself instead of crunching it through the cloud.
So how good are the results? Ehh. Sorting places and events and clumping them together into little Memories albums is nice, but the facial detection still needs some work. I don’t know if it was my different haircuts, but it recognized me as four different people.
And even though I’m not one for cheesy auto-generated feel-good videos, the ones produced the Photo app produced weren’t half bad.
A ton of little things
Not everything in a new OS release is worthy of novel. Here are some of the more notable of the bunch that pad out iOS 10.
Deleting stock apps
I thought I would be more excited for the ability to delete, or “hide” as Apple prefers, many of the stock apps, but I wasn’t.
It’s kind of like how I’ve become numb to the whole bloatware situation on Android phones. Out of sight, out of mind. And I’ve had all the Apple stock apps I don’t use in a folder on the last home screen for so long, I don’t even care.
The News app has a new “For You” section, which is like a landing page of news with top, trending and featured stories and categories; there’s also notifications for breaking news and you can add subscriptions. Yay?
My primary way of reading news is with my own curated website feeds in Feedly or through Twitter. That said, the News app is well done; it’s fast and it’s easy to use perfect for an everyday person who just wants to keep up with the news at their own pace instead of real-time.
There’s a new Home app that makes it easier to control your HomeKit-enabled smart home gadgets in one place. Many have called it the app Apple should have released alongside HomeKit since it’s essentially a central hub. In what would appear to be a more serious attempt to get people interested in HomeKit and the smart home, Apple’s included a HomeKit panel with shortcuts located within Control Center (two swipes to the left).
From what I’ve seen, the app looks quite straightforward with the ability to create controls for individual devices or grouped ones into rooms or “scenes”. If you own an Apple TV, you can remotely control and automate your smart home based on the time, location, etc. And all of Home’s controls can be controlled with Siri.
Sounds great, but I don’t own a single HomeKit device, so unfortunately, Home was one of the apps that I immediately deleted. I’m really happy with my Amazon Echo and Alexa voice commands and all the smart home devices that connect to it. Apple may be late, but it’s not down for the count; it’s still very early days for smart homes and with the Home app, things could change in the company’s favor.
Apple Pay on websites
Apple Pay is one of those magical technologies that always puts a smile on my face whenever I use it. It’s the best way to pay for things at Walgreens or Whole Foods and makes the checkout process even faster within apps (especially when it comes to ordering new Apple products like the iPhone 7).
Using iOS 10, online merchants can bake in Apple Pay as a secure way to make purchasing just as fast and safe as within an app. The list of websites that support Apple Pay is short and of the four that I tried (Adidas, Lululemon, B&H, Target), none of them supported the feature. Apple, might I suggest a creating a growing list of Apple Pay-supported websites instead of clumping them in with the list of apps? It’s impossible to tell which is which.
The Phone app has three new features. VoIP apps can tap into a new API so that calls come through just like regular phone calls with fullscreen contact pictures instead of just as ugly notifications. There’s a spam call identifier to help screen calls. And a voicemail transcription service that’s in beta, which works with most carriers so long as they support visual voicemail.
Some of the other miscellaneous updates that users will easily miss include recent suggestions in Spotlight for faster searching and related “Look Up” hints for Spotlight search results in Notes, Mail and Messages. Alright, cool.
You’ll still download it
New iOS updates are almost obligatory. Even if you don’t care for half of the new features or if your phone doesn’t support every single new thing, you’ll still want it. On older phones, major new updates actually make them slower, sometimes to the point where they are way worse than not updating.
But the counter argument is that new software usually contains vital security updates that keep your device from harm, as we learned with iOS 9.3.5.
There are a handful of genuinely great things in iOS 10 that I have embraced, but a lot of the padding is really kind of meh.
Messages, however, is the primary reason everyone should update. It’s the best new thing about iOS 10 and you don’t want to be left out when everyone else has updated.
So many awesome new Messages features Maps is actually good! Cool Photos Memories Richer notifications Ability to hide some stock Apple apps
Apple Music is better, but still stinks
The Bottom Line
iOS 10 is a no-brainer update just like every iOS version, unless your phone is older than two years, in which just buy a new iPhone.