Look past all the complaining and see the solid features that Apple delivers with the latest update to its mobile operating system
It’s become as predictable as the changing of the seasons: Fall is here and that means a new version of Apple’s mobile operating system – iOS 10 – is available for the millions (billions?) of iDevice users around the world. But what’s equally predictable is that there will be pros and cons to using it – and that for some unlucky users, the update process itself may cause phones to become unusable, albeit usually temporarily. So should you agree to Apple’s incessant reminders to upgrade, or keep hitting “remind me later.” There really is no third choice.
Before we get to the top highs and lows, let’s start with the most important part: Before you install any update, do yourself a favour and do a backup. iCloud backups are most convenient, but if you tend to be a photo and/or app hoarder, you may well be out of room on your iCloud account. Your safest bet is still to connect your device to your Mac or PC and let iTunes create a backup for you. iOS updates have been known to corrupt data, so a backup is really your only protection, and iOS will not remind you to do one if you update over WiFi.
And now you’re ready for the benefits of upgrading. Namely …
Locks, camera, action!
The first thing you’ll notice about iOS 10 is the new lock screen. You wouldn’t think that changes here could be controversial, and yet, thanks to the removal of slide-to-unlock – a feature of iOS since its earliest days – Apple has taken away one of the best protections against pocket dialing, texting or any other unwanted action. That’s because now you press the home button twice to unlock the phone, or use TouchID. No big deal if you’ve got a PIN or use TouchID, but if you don’t, this change could prove annoying. On the other hand, you can now swipe left on the lock screen to access the camera, which is much faster and more convenient than the previous swipe-up from the camera icon gesture.
Swiping right reveals a customizable widget screen – something that Android users have had for years – and it’s a masterpiece of quick information. By default Apple gives you Calendar, News, Weather, Maps Destinations, Reminders, and Stocks, but these can be moved, removed or replaced with dozens of others. Any app you have installed is a potential new widget for this screen, assuming the developer has chosen to support it. We’d like it if you could pull up a history of old notifications on this screen too, but perhaps a future update will add this.
You’ll also notice that one of iOS’s handiest features – the Control Center you see when you swipe up from the bottom of the screen – has been given a split personality. The first pane shows you all of the usual phone functions (camera, flashlight, rotation lock, et cetera) while all music functions have been given their own pane. Or should we say music pain?
Your music now gets its own control pane
The problem: Whichever pane you used last is the one that pops up when you next pull it up. While we acknowledge that the Control Center was getting cluttered, it’s annoying to pull it up expecting to quickly turn on the flashlight, only to discover it’s still on the music pane because that’s what you used last.
Don’t shoot the Messenger
Easily the most hyped part of iOS 10 is Apple’s acknowledgement that in the age of Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram, messaging is no longer defined by text and emoji. The Messages app is now a virtual playground of special effects, animated GIFs, customizable videos, and third-party apps. This move is clearly designed to keep as many users within the iMessage world as possible, and there’s no doubt, these extras can be fun. But the downside is that what was once a clean, easy-to-read conversation tool can now quickly become an unruly mess of constantly moving animations and other visual junk.
Have more animated discussions
It’s easy to criticize the extra noise that can now be created, but you’ve got to hand it to Apple’s developers – some of the new features, such as “secret” images that recipients need to rub with their finger in order to see in full detail, or Digital Touch (which it borrowed from its WatchOS) that lets you send a heartbeat or doodle, are a lot of fun, and totally original from a messaging perspective.
Yes, you can get there from here
Maps, an app that has been much maligned in the past for its lousy directions and peculiar displays of buildings and terrain, now includes some genuinely useful enhancements. Features like a more clearly laid out turn-by-turn navigation screen, and the ability to interrupt driving directions at any time to ask for a nearby gas station, parking lot, or food spot, make it a much more useful tool for getting around – that is, unless you’re using the truly outstanding Waze app.
Siri, call me an Uber
“OK Simon, you’re an Uber.” Until iOS 10, that lame attempt at humour was about the best Siri could do. But Apple has become very serious about giving third party app developers access to many of iOS’s core features, so Siri can now hail you an Uber car, or start a Skype session with a specific contact. Third party app support for Siri is limited at the moment – of the more than 100 apps on my phone, just six are currently compatible – but you can expect this to change quickly. On the upside, this will be a welcome improvement for those who rely on Siri during long car commutes. On the downside, expect to overhear a lot of folks on public transit getting Siri to order them a pizza.
Hear me, see me
Apple’s Music app got a revamp in iOS 10 too, and it’s a welcome change. Though some have criticized the new version as confusing, we found it much easier than the previous version to do the one thing you expect from a music app: Playing your music. Your Library is now front and centre, under a massive label you can’t miss, plus you can easily edit which categories appear.
Lastly, we can’t end this round-up without a grateful, middle-aged hand-clap for Apple: If you wish, a triple-click on the home button will now bring up an interface that turns the camera into a magnifying glass. For those of who need (and now constantly forget to bring) reading glasses, this was the biggest gift Apple could give.
Yes, iOS 10 isn’t a perfect 10, but it’s pretty darned good. We’ll give it a solid 9, and our recommendation as a worthy upgrade for your iPhone or iPad.