Apple iOS 10 preview: beta 7 update squashes more bugs and improves some features
iOS 10: What it means for iPhone users
It’s true that both iPad and iPhone users benefit from most of iOS 10’s new UI features, such as the rich notifications and customisable lockscreen widgets, and the ability to access the camera more easily with a swipe from the right edge of the screen. But these sorts of improvements seem to have been added with the iPhone user front and centre.
Not that this is a bad thing. I use an iPhone a lot of the time, and I can see many of the new features coming in handy. I’ve long disliked the bare, rather dysfunctional lockscreen view of previous iterations of iOS, and the new card-based notifications are a significant step forward. They look nicer, are easier to read and let you do stuff without having to unlock your handset.
The new widgets, accessible with a swipe to the left, make the job of accessing key information quickly much easier, too, and I’m already loving the easier camera lockscreen access.
The one concern I have is that to make the most of the improvements to the lockscreen, I’m going to have to modify my behaviour somewhat. Currently, every time I pick up my iPhone I unlock it straight away; in the future, I won’t have to do that to check my notifications – I’ll just need to pick it up. That takes some getting used to, and I suspect it will for most long-term iPhone users.
Still, once you have unlocked the phone, there’s plenty of other stuff to play around with. Pull down from the top of the display and you’ll see the new-style notifications are here, too, with those widgets off to the left.
Pull up from the bottom of the screen and you’ll see that the Control Centre has expanded: there are now two panels to swipe between instead of one. Your toggles, AirDrop and AirPlay options are on one panel, while the brightness slider and media controls are on the other. There’s still no sign of a Settings shortcut, however, which is utterly maddening for anyone (like me) who tweaks settings a lot.
That’s it for major UI changes, although it is worth mentioning the onscreen keyboard, which has also seen a handful of improvements. It can now switch between multiple languages on the fly, which is great news for multilingual types, and it has a host of new contextual capabilities. For example, it will sense when someone has asked where you are, allowing you to quickly send back your location with a single tap. Undoubtedly a useful improvement.
iOS 10: 3D Touch and phone app improvements
I expected to see Apple introduce a bunch of optimisations aimed at improving the integration with 3D Touch in iOS 10, and I was not disappointed. The lockscreen notifications, in particular, make heavy use of Apple’s pressure-sensitive screen, allowing you to drill down for more details on any notification, without having to unlock the phone.
Again, this presupposes you haven’t already unlocked the phone and bypassed the lockscreen by pressing your thumb to the home button. If you do simply pick up the phone, the screen will now turn on automatically (another big new feature in iOS 10), allowing you to see your notifications, access the new widgets, and get more information by pressing down on those notifications.
More major iPhone-specific features within iOS 10 are found in the phone app, most excitingly the ability to have your voicemail messages automatically transcribed, so you don’t have to call up your voicemail service and listen through them.
This isn’t working yet (curses!) so I wasn’t able to test it out, but I can imagine this coming in super-handy in meetings where you don’t want to lift the phone to your ear (which would, of course, be incredibly rude) but need to keep yourself up to date.
Where 3D Touch and new richer notifications become really powerful is when they work together, and the best example of this is the Messages app (about which more in a minute). When you get a notification of a new message, while you’re in any application, you hard-press on the notification and it pops up the option to reply. This means you can reply to a message instantly, without leaving your front-most application. But it’s not just a single reply-and-go: if you like, you can keep that notification open while you have a short coversation, and return immediately to your “open” app when you’re ready. It sounds like something trivial, but in action it totally changes the way you do replies. The only time I open Messages now is when I want to initiate a conversation – otherwise, all my messaging happens in rich notifications.
iOS 10: The Messages app
According to Apple, the Messages app is the most frequently used app on iOS, so it’s understandable that it’s seen the most attention. And there’s a lot of new features to get your teeth into – mostly, it has to be said, inspired by third-party apps such as Slack, Line and WhatsApp.
Rich links bring in images when you share URLs, emoji are THREE TIMES BIGGER than before and the app will even suggest emoji to replace words after you’ve typed them. Sounds a bit puerile to me, but whatever floats your boat.
Other changes include the ability to add chat-bubble effects by changing their appearance, and add scribbles, various animated images and even full-screen effects to the chat window. I’m the first to admit that these features aren’t for me – I find them rather facile – but there’s no doubt that this kind of stuff is very popular, and a key feature of the aforementioned WhatsApp and Line. I suspect you’ll either love it, or, like me, go “huh?” a lot.
I’m a little more inspired by the ability to send quick message affirmations. For those moments when a little encouragement is needed, or you want to quickly agree, little reactions like this can be more effective than words themselves. And these are “smart” – they’re pre-canned responses, but they take account of the context of the conversation you’re having, and so are much more useful.
iOS 10: For developers
Of course, as you’d expect from a developer release, there’s a whole host of features aimed at third-party app developers which will (eventually) improve the iOS experience as a whole but will take time to fully round out.
From the ability to set a default phone app for certain contacts, to receiving VoIP calls as if they were native calls, and the ability to tap into Siri and third-party apps within iMessage, there’s a huge amount in iOS 10 for app developers to digest. Expect a slew of updates in a few weeks when iOS 10 is released.