Apple iOS 12 hands-on review
Last year’s iOS 11 update focused on adding a little more customization into the iPhone and iPad, along with a redesign of some parts of the operating system and key services like the App Store. Things are a little different with this year’s iOS 12 update, though. Yes, there are many new features that improve productivity on your iPhone, but there’s also a big effort to help people manage screen time, making it easier to stay offline.
The iOS 12 public beta is now available for download, and we took it for a spin. If you want to check out every single new feature in the update, we’ve rounded them all up in a handy guide.
Under the hood improvements
With iOS 12, Apple wants to deliver an OS that’s faster and more responsive across all iOS devices, which is why the update works on more iPhone and iPad devices than ever before. This means ramping up CPU performance to its highest state for performance and ramping it down to preserve battery life. Other improvements include animations that are smoother and faster.
The premise is that you should notice hefty performance boosts on older iPhones, and we certainly did. We installed the beta on an iPhone 6S and an iPhone 7 Plus, and performance is fluid and fast.
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Sadly, we didn’t see much of an improvement in battery life. Our iPhone 7 Plus had an 88 percent battery efficiency rating — which means we shouldn’t have to replace it just yet — but running iOS 12 killed our battery fast. On a work day, we often found ourselves at about 5 percent by 3:30 p.m. after using it only for sending text messages and some social media. Apps also tended to crash more often, but it’s a beta so we’re not too surprised. Hopefully we see some improvement here with the final version, though at that point we may have to replace the battery on the iPhone 7 Plus anyway.
We didn’t have any problems like apps crashing on the iPhone X. The app switcher was swift and fluid as usual. Battery life didn’t take a noticeable hit either, but we also didn’t use it as our primary phone for a full day. We’ll be doing more testing to see if there are any noticeable changes to performance or battery life.
Screen Time takes commitment
Over the past few years, there has been conscientious discussion about smartphone addiction. To help people manage their smartphone usage, iOS 12 adds a new section in the Settings app called Screen Time. It offers a summary of your smartphone use, and the ability to set time limits on specific apps.
Seeing how much time we spent on our device and on specific apps, and how many times we unlock our phone is interesting, but the novelty quickly wears off. We didn’t necessarily feel as though looking at these stats would change our phone habits. We are happy it’s here, though, for those that do want to keep tabs — especially parents.
The Screen Time features also aren’t as restrictive as we’d like. If you set a limit to how long you can use an app, you’re conveniently provided with the ability to override the limit, or simply add 15 more minutes when time is up via a pop-up notification. You don’t even even have to go the Settings app to turn the limit off, which makes it far too easy to simply tap to ignore the limit and keep scrolling through. If someone is taking the time to set up an App Limit, chances are they’d want stricter enforcement to make sure they are adhering to their own Screen Time rules.
Screen Time requires personal restraint, because otherwise it’s easy to continue your old habits.
We also wish App Limits weren’t separated by categories — like Social Media, Entertainment, Productivity, and more. Rather than bundling apps together, it’d be nice to choose individual apps in case we don’t want a break from one of the apps attached to that category.
The “Downtime” feature, which allows you to schedule a window of time where notifications are disabled, is a little more customizable as there’s an “Always Allowed” setting where you can choose apps. The idea here is to make sure work-related apps don’t disturb you when you’re at home, for example, and it works well enough. Like all of these Screen Time features, though, Downtime requires personal restraint, because otherwise it’s easy to continue your old habits.
Screen Time is certainly a great initiative from Apple to implement into its smartphones, and even Google is doing the same in the upcoming version of Android. We don’t these tools are going to change smartphone addiction — at least not any time soon — but at least there are now some methods people can use to curb habits.
Siri keeps you on track
Siri is finally a little more useful in iOS 12. With Siri Shortcuts, the voice assistant is capable of much more via quick actions that can all be assigned through the new Shortcuts app. Since the feature is still in beta, there isn’t much you can do at the moment other than customize voice commands to trigger a specific action. For instance, by telling Siri our home address (or whatever phrase you want), we can have the Lyft app launch immediately.
Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends
But one of our favorite improvements to Siri is Siri Suggestions. Since we already use the Spotlight Search tool on a daily basis to access certain apps, suggestions conveniently show up underneath and they’re genuinely helpful. If we’re having a conversation with a friend via text and either haven’t responded or tend to text them more often than others, Siri suggests to send a message. When we missed a phone call from a family member, we received a suggestion to make a call back. These buttons are one click actions, so it doesn’t require much effort to follow through on Siri’s suggestions, which is handy.
Even though Siri’s ability to transcribe hasn’t gotten any better in iOS 12, we’re happy to see it’s able to make itself useful in some way.
A few redesigned apps
In iOS 12, Apple introduced Measure — an app that utilizes ARKit to measure objects and spaces in the real world with the phone’s camera. While the app still recommends to use a tape measure or measuring stick for precise measurements, we found it to be quite accurate if you need a rough estimate. It’s one of those apps you’ll only use for specific instances, though.
We installed the beta on an iPhone 6S and an iPhone 7 Plus, and performance is fluid and fast.
The Photos app also received a few upgrades. With a new “For You” tab, photos are all organized based on highlights — whether it was a concert in Philadelphia or a trip to Spain, the tab neatly places them into albums to look through. With a much more refined search, we were able to look up specific venues or places to easily to find photos.
A few other apps got some love in this update. The Stocks app, which most people probably uninstall, now has Apple News built in, and the Voice Memo app has been revamped to look more contemporary. You can check out our full impressions on most of the apps that received a redesign here.
Less notification fatigue
One of the biggest changes in iOS 12 is in the Notification Center, specifically with notifications. Notifications are a necessity when it comes to staying on top of important alerts, but it has always been a little cluttered on iOS. It’s why Apple is stealing a feature from Android. Grouped notifications are here, and they dramatically improve the iOS experience for the better.
Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends
Now when you receive multiple notifications from Twitter, for example, the notifications sit bundled together in one bubble. Tap on it to expand them all, which also allows you to then interact with them individually. It may sound small, but now when you visit your Notification Center, you won’t just see an endless stream of notifications just from one app. It’s much more manageable and easier to choose which stack of notifications we want to look at first depending on importance.
If you don’t want specific apps grouped together, you can choose to turn it off in your Settings, but we love grouped notifications enough that we never want to go back.
Do Not Disturb during bedtime isn’t effective, yet
When Do Not Disturb was first introduced, there weren’t any customization options other than the ability to toggle it on and off. With iOS 12, it’s now possible to set specific time frames for it to automatically kick in and turn off without having to worry about doing it manually.
The one feature we were most excited to try was Do Not Disturb during bedtime mode, which prevents notifications from popping up on the lock screen during scheduled times. When it’s turned on, a notification sits on your lockscreen letting you know it’s on, and that all notifications and calls will be silenced.
Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends
We’re disappointed to learn that it’s far too easy to see notifications by simply swiping up on the lockscreen. Like Screen Time, the feature isn’t strict enough to help us kick the habit of waking up in the middle of the night and checking notifications, as we found ourselves subconsciously swiping up. Apple should have required you to input a passcode.
Again, trying to make sure you adhere to Do Not Disturb will take some personal willpower. It’s going to take a little while until we condition ourselves to not find some way to check our notifications in the middle of the night. When bedtime Do Not Disturb ends, we do like the “good morning” greeting that pops up on the lock screen along with the weather for the day.
Injecting more fun into iMessage and FaceTime
Following the abundance of iMessage features Apple released with iOS 10, we were bummed that iOS 11 failed to include any fun features. Thankfully, iOS 12 redeems itself with new a few new capabilities. Not only can you create a Memoji of yourself through a quick and simple process, but you can also use them as stickers within the camera app on iMessage. Granted, you still need an iPhone X.
One minor tweak we have yet to get used to is the Photos app, which is now located in the app drawer in iMessage. Rather than having to send photos through iMessage by tapping on the camera button and then on your photo album, iOS 12 makes it easier to access through one step.
Another feature that has taken far too long for Apple to add is group FaceTime, which lets you video chat with up to 32 people in one session. You can also make the video chats more fun by adding the same stickers, emojis and Memojis to them as well. While we have yet to try the new FaceTime feature, we’ll be sure to update this story when we do.
Like with almost every iOS update, iOS 12 offers a more seamless user experience on the iPhone and iPad. Whether it’s staying more organized with grouped notifications or Siri Shortcuts, the update makes it easier to get simple things done by allowing the device to adapt to your behavior overtime, thanks to machine learning.
While its biggest initiative — Screen Time — offers a variety of different ways to help decrease our smartphone dependency, it’s requires the user to participate fully. Understandable, though we think Apple could be a little stricter with restrictions.
We’re happy with iOS 12, because it made us think “finally” for a lot of features introduced, such as group Facetime and grouped notifications. These changes may seem small, but they greatly impact the everyday experience. We think it’s worth downloading the beta if you’re on an iPhone X, but suggest waiting until the final version is released in the Fall for those on an older device like the iPhone 7 Plus or older.
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