iOS 10 reviewed: There’s no reason not to update | Apple Mac Training UK

iOS 10 reviewed: There’s no reason not to update

Enlarge / iOS 10 is here.
Andrew Cunningham

By nature, iOS is not a permissive operating system. Apple started from a position of not trusting third-party software developers, fearing those outsiders could screw up the company’s platform (a completely reasonable position to take, incidentally). Every new version of iOS since the second one has been very cautious and deliberate about what new capabilities are given to third-party apps.

iOS 10 offers a lot of new stuff for users, including several redesigned apps, a new design for notifications, an improved Control Center, and more. But it’s also got a lot of under-the-hood changes for developers in the vein of iOS 8: it opens up notifications, the UI for making and receiving voice and video calls, the Maps app, and Siri, and it re-imagines Messages as a sort of platform-unto-itself complete with its own branch of the App Store.

We’ll be running down the highlights for both users and developers, and we’ll also be looking at how iOS 10 runs on a wide variety of hardware. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s dive right in.

Table of Contents

Compatibility and feature fragmentation

iOS 10 cuts five iThings from the support list. Anything with an Apple A5 or A5X in it—the iPad 2, iPhone 4S, iPad Mini, fifth-generation iPod Touch, and third-generation iPad—are all gone, and given how those devices performed with iOS 8 and iOS 9 it was probably time. They were slow and often missing features, and the oldest of them has been receiving updates for five years. That’s an eternity in the smartphone and tablet biz.

The iOS 10 support list includes all of the following devices:

  • The iPhone 5, 5C, 5S, 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, and SE
  • The iPad 4, iPad Air, and iPad Air 2
  • The iPad Mini 2, 3, and 4
  • Both 9.7 and 12.9-inch iPad Pros
  • The sixth-generation iPod Touch

This is a pretty big deal for developers who choose to target iOS 10 exclusively. For the first time in two years, the baseline hardware capabilities are increasing, and they’re increasing quite a bit. The iPhone 5 has between two and three times the CPU and GPU power and double the RAM of the iPhone 4S. This isn’t just about speed, either—developers can finally stop worrying about cramped 3.5-inch screens, and non-Retina displays are a thing of the past. Every single one of these devices supports Siri and can communicate using AirDrop and Handoff.

The support list reduces the iOS lineup’s feature fragmentation—the stuff newer iThings can do that older ones can’t. This is an attempt at a comprehensive rundown, and it includes features that were introduced in earlier versions of iOS as well as hardware-enabled features like Apple Pay and 3D Touch. This also focuses entirely on current devices that are being upgraded from iOS 9 to iOS 10; we’ll focus on new iPhone 7 features in our review of those devices.

Missing iPad features

  • Split View multitasking requires an iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, or iPad Pro
  • Slide Over and Picture-In-Picture multitasking requires an iPad Air or Air 2, an iPad Mini 2, 3, or 4, or an iPad Pro
  • The True Tone display feature is only supported on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • The Health app is available only on iPhones and iPods

Missing iPhone and iPod features

  • Raise to Wake requires an iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, or SE
  • 3D Touch requires an iPhone 6S or 6S Plus
  • Step- and distance-tracking without external hardware requires an iPhone 5S or newer, or a sixth-generation iPod Touch; tracking and elevation without external hardware requires an iPhone 6 or newer or a sixth-generation iPod Touch
  • Burst photos, slow-mo video, and related features require an iPhone 5S or newer or a sixth-generation iPod Touch
  • Voicemail transcription requires an iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, or SE

Features missing from both

  • Low Power Mode is only supported on iPhones
  • Support for Apple Pay mobile payments, in-app payments, and Apple Pay on the web requires an iPhone 6 or newer. The iPad Air 2, Mini 3, Mini 4, and Pro only support in-app payments and Apple Pay on the web. The iPhone 5, 5C, and 5S can support Apple Pay in a roundabout way via the Apple Watch
  • Safari Content Blockers, Night Shift mode, and the Memories, Related, People, and Scene features in the Photos app require 64-bit hardware. This includes the iPhone 5S or newer, the iPad Air or Air 2, the iPad Mini 2, 3, or 4, any iPad Pro, or the sixth-generation iPod Touch
  • TouchID-related features require an iPhone 5S or newer, an iPad Air 2 or iPad Mini 3 or newer, or an iPad Pro
  • OpenGL ES 3.0, the Metal graphics API, and 64-bit ARMv8 apps aren’t supported on the iPhone 5 or 5C or the fourth-generation iPad

Unlike previous years, a lot of the stuff that older iPhones and iPads are missing is related to specific hardware components—TouchID, NFC, newer cameras and sensors—rather than raw performance. Using iOS 9 on an iPhone 4S meant living without things like Continuity, Siri suggestions, and Apple Watch support, all of which Apple was pushing as integral to its ecosystem’s future. iOS 10 running on an iPhone 5 or 5C supports all of this stuff at a bare minimum.

Installation: Free space and Setup Creep

Like any other iOS update, you can grab iOS 10 either as an over-the-air update or through iTunes. The latter is the best option if your device doesn’t have enough free space to download and install the update itself, which is about 1.8GB in size depending on the specific device you’re installing it on.

If you compare iOS 9’s storage to iOS 10’s, you may find that your phone suddenly reports not just that it has more space available, but that it actually gains some capacity as well. This isn’t totally unheard of from an operating system upgrade—Snow Leopard saved its users a significant amount of disk space, too—but if it sounds too good to be true it’s because it is too good to be true.

Apple tells us that it has actually changed how storage is reported in iOS 10. iOS 9 and older versions reported storage in “base 2,” where one gigabyte is equal to 1024 megabytes, one megabyte is equal to 1024 kilobytes, and one kilobyte is equal to 1024 bytes. iOS 10 uses “base 10,” in which one gigabyte equals 1000 megabytes (and so on), and that small difference adds up as you add more gigabytes.

This tension between base 2 and base 10 has existed in computing for a long time—it’s why when you buy a 1TB hard drive, your computer only actually says it has 931 GB of space available. Hard drives, laptops, and even phones are sold using base 10 (and fine print about base 10), but many operating systems (including Windows and, until now, iOS) report free space using base 2. Sometimes you’ll see “GiB” written instead of GB to signify that you’re explicitly talking about base 2, but often “GB” is used interchangeably for either.

OS X made the switch from base 2 reporting to base 10 reporting back in Snow Leopard. For whatever reason, iOS has stuck to base 2 for the seven years since. Switching neither saves nor consumes space in and of itself—you just have to take account of the difference before you go comparing the amount of space iOS 9 and iOS 10 actually use on the same hardware.

Below, I’ve provided the amount of available storage in base 2 as reported by iOS 9. That number is then converted to base 10 by multiplying it by 1,073,741,824 (the number of bytes in a base 2 gigabyte) and then dividing it by 1,000,000,000 (the number of bytes in a base 10 gigabyte). We can compare that number, more or less, to the amount of available storage in base 10 as reported by iOS 10.

Device Space available (iOS 9.3.5, base 2) Space available (iOS 9.3.5, base 10) Space available (iOS 10.0.1, base 10) Difference (base 10)
32GB iPhone 5 27.2GB 28.45GB 27.8GB -650MB
64GB iPhone 5S 54.4GB 58.41GB 58.15GB -260MB
64GB iPhone SE 54.5GB 58.52GB 57.92GB -600MB
32GB iPod Touch 6 25.6GB 27.49GB 27.28GB -210MB
64GB iPhone 6 54.4GB 58.41GB 58.2GB -210MB
16GB iPhone 6 Plus 10.5GB 11.27GB 10.59GB -680GB
128GB iPhone 6S 112GB 120.26GB 120.47GB +210MB
16GB iPad Mini 2 10.7GB 11.49GB 11.27GB -220MB
64GB iPad Air 2 54.4GB 58.41GB 58.38GB -30MB

Once you convert the numbers to reflect the way iOS 10 reports storage capacity, what looked like an increase in available space is revealed to be a slight decrease. Usually it’s somewhere between 200 and 700 megabytes, a drop in the bucket on a 64GB-and-up phone or tablet but a more significant fraction of a 16GB device’s precious free space.

Let’s also talk about the iOS setup wizard, which has become increasingly ridiculous as Apple has piled more and more features into its devices. Here’s are all the pages you need to tap through if you’re setting up a new iPhone 6S with two-factor authentication and always-on Hey Siri support (while skipping Apple Pay).

This particular path through the Choose Your Own Adventure book that is the iOS setup wizard walks you through thirty-four screens that require some kind of user interaction. This will differ based on what you choose to set up, and older devices with fewer hardware-enabled features like Hey Siri and Display Zoom won’t have quite as much to do. On the flip side, the iPhone 7 adds another screen where you choose the level of haptic feedback you get from the new solid-state Home button. Surely some of this can be condensed.

For example, a lot of those confirmation screens about sharing data with Apple and app developers could be condensed to a single screen with bubbles or checkboxes, much as it is in Android’s setup wizard. The Display Zoom feature, introduced to ease 4-inch iPhone users into their new big-screened world, should definitely live on in the Settings but shouldn’t need to be a top-level option anymore. Any steps that could be taken to combat Setup Creep in future updates would be great.

The new lock screen and “raise to wake”

“Slide to unlock” has been a fixture of the iOS lock screen for as long as iOS has been a thing, but no longer. Now that the majority of iDevices include TouchID, Apple has tweaked things to reflect the fact that most of its users rarely, if ever, actually run into the “slide to unlock” prompt anymore. (Apple’s slide-to-unlock patent was also recently invalidated, though the timing there could just be a coincidence.)

Sliding your finger across the lock screen now does a couple of different things. Slide from left to right and you’ll see your widgets and the Spotlight search field (collectively referred to as the “Today View”). Slide from right to left to activate the camera. Spotlight aside, this is all stuff you could access from the lock screen before, but shuffling things around arguably makes it all easier to access. In particular, the motion to launch the camera is more reliable and less finicky than the “slide up from the lower-right corner” motion used in iOS 9 and older versions. And, as before, you can control the amount of information that’s visible from the lock screen via the “TouchID & Passcode” screen in the Settings app.

The biggest difference isn’t necessarily what you can do from there lock screen, but rather in how it works. iOS 10 introduces what is essentially a second stage in the unlocking process for devices with TouchID, a step between a fully locked phone and a fully unlocked one. Let’s walk through it.

Wake up your phone or tablet (the automatic “Raise to Wake” feature only works on the iPhone 7, 6S, and SE) and you’ll still see the time, date, and a list of notifications you’ve received since the last time you looked. The way you unlock your device from there depends on whether you have TouchID.

If you have an iPhone and you wake the screen without pressing the Home button (pressing the power button instead, for instance, or using Raise to Wake), resting your finger on the TouchID button unlocks the iPhone but doesn’t actually dismiss the lock screen. You can see a small “unlocked” badge appear at the top of the screen to denote that your fingerprint had been accepted. On an iPhone, if you wake the phone by pressing down on the Home button in the first place, you’ll automatically be taken to your home screen; if you’re using an iPad, this “pre-unlock unlocking” feature is the default behavior even if you press the Home button to wake your tablet up.

Once your device has been unlocked, you can tap the Home button again to bring up the Home screen, or you can continue to use features from the now-unlocked lock screen. The difference between a “locked” and “unlocked” home screen is that the phone has access to all your data when unlocked, including notifications and widgets that are normally hidden when the phone is locked. You can also see the full photo library if you swipe over to the camera, and you can use the new richer notifications to reply to notifications from Messages and other apps.

Apple added a toggle for this behavior to the Settings during the beta process for people who prefer the old behavior. From the Accessibility settings, select Home Button, and then toggle Rest Finger to Open to make TouchID work like it did in iOS 9.

If you don’t have TouchID or just aren’t using it, you now need to tap the Home button to bring up the passcode screen. There doesn’t appear to be a way to do the same kind of pre-unlock unlocking that TouchID devices can do, and there’s no way to revert to “slide to unlock” if you happen to prefer that behavior.

It takes time to get used to the way the lock screen now works after years of sliding to unlock, especially if you don’t or can’t use TouchID—that muscle memory is deeply ingrained at this point. But all of these tweaks are an interesting way to address complaints that the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus’ version of TouchID is actually too fast, and that it makes the lock screen vestigial or less convenient to use. And while it’s not set up this way by default, you could conceivably use it to enhance your privacy, hiding notifications and widgets when your phone is truly “locked” but displaying them once the phone has been unlocked.

Getting rid of the space needed for swiping does free Apple up to use that screen space for other things, though. The media playback controls in the iOS lock screen, for example, can use that reclaimed strip of screen space to provide larger controls with more padding that are easier to hit, which is convenient if you’re trying to jab at them in a hurry.

Faster animations, better “back” button, a smarter keyboard, and Spotlight

Once you’ve unlocked your device, you’ll find a mostly-familiar interface with some subtle tweaks that make navigating the user interface quicker and more pleasant.

First off, the animations that happen when you launch apps and when you go back to the home screen have been shortened by a significant amount. On slower iOS hardware, this might not actually speed up launch times, but it’s great for newer devices where it takes longer to complete the animation than it does to load whatever app you’re launching. And even when apps don’t launch any quicker, faster animations still create the impression of speed, which is just as important.

The “back” button from iOS 9 has also been changed for the better. When you jump from one app to another—from Tweetbot to Safari or Chrome, let’s say—iOS puts a small “back” button in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. The button only takes you back to the app you were in before, and it says that clearly, avoiding the ambiguity you get from Android’s omnipresent back button.

But when the back button appeared in iOS 9, it also covered up the cellular and Wi-Fi connection status indicators. This could be annoying if you were on an underground train or in some other area where your signal could drop out. In iOS 10, the back button has been condensed. Instead of saying “Back to Tweetbot” with a small back arrow, it now just says “Tweetbot” with a more explicitly button-ish back arrow. The cellular and Wi-Fi status indicators (sans the name of your cellular provider, which I’m sure the logo-happy telephone companies just love) are present and accounted for. The forward button in the upper-right corner that lets you open Universal Links in Safari instead of the app they’re linked to remains unchanged, but it crops up so rarely that it’s not a big deal for it to momentarily hide the battery indicator.

Typing on Apple’s software keyboard is the same in iOS 10 as it was in iOS 9, but it has gotten a bit smarter. The keyboard will now auto-suggest emoji when you’re typing in words, and if you’ve got multiple languages available, typing suggestions from all those languages will appear in the suggestions bar.

Typing in phrases like “Ron’s e-mail address is” or “I’m available at” will now pull information from your Contacts and Calendar apps to suggest numbers and times, building on the contextually aware “Intelligence” stuff from iOS 9. But as in iOS 9, phrasing is important, and the tool doesn’t always understand the way human beings talk. Saying “I’m available at” or “I’m free at” pulls up some calendar times, for instance, but “I can meet at” doesn’t. You might train yourself over time to use phrases that you know will work, or you might use iOS 10 blissfully unaware that these suggestions are even available.

And while we’re on the topic of the keyboard, we should also note that Apple has tweaked various sound effects throughout iOS, including the locking sound and the quiet clicking of the keyboard. If I had to characterize the new sound effects as a whole, I’d say that they’re generally softer and less harsh. Of course, if you just have your mute switch flipped on the whole time, you won’t notice them anyway.

Spotlight works essentially the same way it did in iOS 9, complete with the short list of suggested apps that comes up before you start typing. The only real difference is that Apple has added yet another way to get to Spotlight: swiping down on the home screen, swiping from left to right to bring up the Today View, or pulling down the Notification Center all give you a system-wide Spotlight search field now. At least it’s not hard to find.

Today View and widgets

iOS 7 introduced the “Today View” in the Notification Center. It gave you context-sensitive information about your day and the next day based on data pulled from your calendar and some other sources.

iOS 8 added widgets that you could use to customize the Today View, giving you quick access to snippets of information from various apps. While users could add and remove most widgets and organize them as they pleased, there were certain parts of the UI (including the date and the context-sensitive info pulled from your calendar and a few other apps) that couldn’t be moved or changed.

iOS 9 didn’t change much about widgets or the Today View, but it did introduce some conceptually similar elements elsewhere. An “Intelligence” screen located to the left of the home screen blended context-sensitive app, location, and contact suggestions with the standard Spotlight search bar. It could help you find restaurants near you or suggest opening music or podcast apps when it detected that headphones were plugged in. When I use Spotlight in iOS or macOS, I’m probably using it as an app launcher 75 or 80 percent of the time—I appreciated the list of recent apps, but I got next to no use out of the Apple News-sourced articles and recent contact suggestions. And even more so than the Today View, this screen wasn’t customizable. You saw what Apple’s algorithms decided you should see.

In iOS 10, Apple has disassembled the components that comprise the Today and Intelligence screens, put those parts into a bucket, and given the bucket to you. The Today View and Intelligence screens are both gone. In their place (literally—the same screen is accessible via the Notification Center and to the left of the home screen) is a new Today view you can populate with widgets and customize however you want.

Old Today View and Intelligence mainstays like the weather, transit information, upcoming appointments, and app and location suggestions have all been given their own individual widgets that can be added, removed, and rearranged as you wish. You can recreate the iOS 9-era version of the Today View or build something entirely different, but either way it’s now up to you.

Widgets get a rounder, lighter design to mirror the new notification design, and they actually look a tiny bit like traditional app windows—title bars floating above content. Third-party widgets that work in iOS 8 and 9 should continue to work here, but Apple distinguishes them from new updated-to-target-iOS-10 widgets by using a subtly darker shade for their translucent backgrounds. The darker shade matches the translucent background color used for the Today View in iOS 9, which should prevent visibility problems in older apps with widgets that haven’t been updated.

Overall the move toward greater customizability serves the Today View well—you don’t really lose any functionality, and you can move some things around that haven’t been movable since they were introduced in 2013. The one potential frustration for some current users is that the Today View is the exact same screen as the Siri suggestions screen, and any changes you make in one place will be reflected in the other. If you actually used those two different screens to do two different kinds of things, you’ll need to rearrange your widgets until you have one screen that does everything you need.

Richer notifications

Like its widgets, iOS 10’s notification design has been tweaked to look more like a bubble or small window rather than stretching all the way across the width of the screen, something that’s especially appreciated on an iPad where incoming notifications can currently block off a big swath of the screen. The trade-off is that on the iPhone the notification bubbles take up a lot more vertical space, but in many cases the extra notification features are worth the trade-off.

Notifications have been tweaked to make it so that you can spend more time in them—you can see and do more in an iOS 10 notification without having to jump out into another app, though this works best on newer or larger phones.

On the majority of iDevices, if you 3D Touch or pull down a notification from Messages, you’ll see a surprisingly full-featured mini version of the app. It supports iMessage apps, read receipts, and indicators that the person on the other end of the conversation is typing. The same feature lets you view snippets of your calendar when you open up a calendar invite or listen to a voicemail without diving into the Phone app.

On the iPhone 5 and 5C, possibly because of the phone’s age and relatively weak hardware, pulling down on a notification gets you a version of the same small inline response box you got in iOS 9. You can access the expanded versions of the apps by going into the Notification Center, swiping left over the notification like you would if you wanted to clear it, and tapping a button (it’s “reply” for notifications from Messages, though this may vary depending on the app that generated the notification).

3D Touch phones get a couple of features that older phones don’t get. Instead of tapping a notification to hop all the way into an app, users can 3D Touch individual notifications on the lock screen to open up those mini-apps (your phone will have to be in the unlocked state we mentioned earlier, though). And if they go to the Notification Center, hit the X button in the upper-right corner, and then 3D Touch the Clear button and hit Clear All Notifications, they can get rid of all the old notifications at once instead of doing it a day at a time.

Apple is providing developers with a new “Notification Content” extension that will let them define their own custom UI for similarly rich notifications beyond the basic message replies and quick button-based reactions they can currently use. These can do everything from presenting custom buttons and branding to playing audio and video inline, and along with the CallKit API they’ll go a long way toward making notifications from messaging apps like Slack or WhatsApp feel as capable and flexible as the built-in Messages app already is.

This is all pretty great, but as with any new feature there are some kinks to work out. The notifications generated by the Messages app can have all kinds of weird rendering problems—frequently either the expanded notification doesn’t take up all the available space, or the content of the window doesn’t expand to fill the entire window. And as in iOS 9, older hardware tends to struggle just a little when you’re pulling notifications down. There’s frequently just a beat of hesitation as you wait for the content to render, though it’s not a problem on anything newer than an iPhone 6.

Control Center

The Control Center was one of iOS 7’s best features, but it’s been awhile since Apple did a whole lot to it aside from minor design tweaks and the odd button addition. iOS 10 changes the Control Center into a bubble with a multi-panel design and some more splashes of color.

The first page looks mostly like the current Control Center, minus the music playback controls. You can still change screen brightness; toggle Airplane Mode, wireless, Do Not Disturb, the rotation lock, or Night shift (on devices that support it); control AirPlay and AirDrop settings; and hit shortcuts for the flashlight, timer, calculator, and camera. On 3D Touch-capable iPhones, that row of buttons across the bottom of the screen picks up a Quick Action menu like the one you get on apps. Setting quick timers and choosing different intensity levels for the LED flashlight are the most interesting additions, though you can also copy the calculator’s last calculation to the clipboard and jump into a few different camera modes.

Swipe from right to left and you’ll find a second page devoted entirely to media playback. You’ll see playback and volume controls along with album or podcast art or a video thumbnail as provided by the app, and if you’re watching video you’ll get the name of the app that’s handling playback.

Most interestingly, there’s an entire drop down menu (on iPhones) or separate box (on iPads) for controlling where video and sound is going—your device’s headphones or internal speaker plus all AirPlay and paired Bluetooth headphones and speakers in range. Given how important wireless audio just became to the iPhone’s future, the ability to hop quickly between different wired and wireless headphones and speakers will be useful.

The third page of the Control Center will only be available up if you’ve configured some HomeKit devices in the Home app. When you set up the Home app, you can set individual smart devices and groups of smart devices (“scenes”) as Favorites. You can toggle back and forth between your favorited accessories and scenes and toggle them from the Control Center. Up to eight scenes and up to nine accessories can be displayed in the Control Center at once. You won’t be able to scroll through them within the Control Center if you add too many and your phone won’t tell you when the Control Center is full, so you’ll have to keep track yourself.

All Home settings, including the stuff in the Control Center, gets synced between all iOS 10 devices signed into your iCloud account. Setting things up on your iPhone will also configure them on your iPad and vice versa.

Making 3D Touch feel more necessary

3D Touch does a bunch more things in iOS 10 than it did in iOS 9, and it starts with notifications. More of Apple’s first-party apps have 3D Touch Quick Action shortcut menus that you can pull up by pressing down on their home screen icons, and apps that already had shortcut menus can do more things. The Control Center icons for the flashlight, timer, calculator, and camera all get their own 3D Touch shortcut menus. These are all logical extensions of the way the feature was already being used.

The most interesting of the new stuff is the ability to pull up widgets when you access Quick Actions. These are exactly the same widgets you normally see in the notification center, and they give you the same information and options: create a quick note, see your next couple of calendar appointments, and so on. Some apps (Activity is one) just display a widget in lieu of a Quick Actions menu.

Apps don’t appear to get this for “free”—at least, existing apps that support both 3D Touch shortcuts and widgets don’t display those widgets when 3D Touched—but Apple tells us that apps that support both widgets and 3D Touch should support it automatically once they’re built to target iOS 10. It’s a neat way to reuse a few basic iOS building blocks that people are already familiar with.

All of that said, I still find the line between 3D Touches and long presses to be arbitrary and ill-defined in places, especially given that most iOS 10 hardware doesn’t support 3D Touch in the first place. Things like the Control Center shortcuts and all of the notification features seem like they’d work fine with a long press, and there are actions like saving a photo or opening a link in a new tab that are still a little harder to do on an iPhone 6S or iPhone 7 because the phone occasionally reads long presses as 3D Touches.

I don’t think this is likely to happen, but I wish 3D Touch was used as a quicker alternative to a long press rather than an entirely different kind of interaction. iOS 10 does a good job of making 3D Touch more desirable, baking it into the OS in all kinds of little places. But the fact that the feature is available exclusively on the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus (and presumably the next-generation iPhones but not on other new products that have been introduced since, including the iPad Pros or the iPhone SE) rankles.

iPad-centric changes

iOS 9 was a bigger release for the iPad than it was for the iPhone, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the iPad feels like it’s riding shotgun to the phone again in iOS 10. If you were hoping for a rethought multitasking interface or wider support for that iPad multi-user mode Apple is currently trying out in classrooms, you’ll be disappointed. iOS 10 makes only minor iPad-exclusive additions.

A couple of changes fall into the “fit and finish” category—for instance, the iOS setup wizard will finally display properly in landscape mode, something that in iOS 9 made it pretty weird to take an iPad Pro out of the box, hook it up to a Smart Keyboard, and attempt to set it up. And a couple more apps support Split View mode that didn’t before, including the App Store.

Another major addition falls into the “welcome-but-quirky” category. Safari will let you display two browser tabs side-by-side rather than making you rely on another browser like Chrome or a hack like Sidefari, but this is completely separate from the rest of the Split View and Slide Over features.

To enable it, start from a full-screen Safari app on an iPad that supports Split View—an iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, or either iPad Pro. Long press a tab as though you’re going to drag it to reposition it in your list of tabs, but drag it to the right edge of the screen instead. When the Safari window visibly scoots over to make room for the new tab, let go, and you’ll be looking at two Safari windows side by side. You can open new tabs and navigate around in either one, much like you’d be able to in regular Split View mode.

But the side-by-side Safari mode is decidedly not the same thing as Split View mode. Though it looks vaguely similar, it works very differently: you can’t swipe down to open some other app, nor can you adjust the split between the left and right sides of the screen. In fact, you can still use Slide Over and Split View to bring up another app—if you do that, all your Safari tabs from both windows will be merged back into one window until you close the secondary app again.

I’ve been asking for the ability to load Safari windows (and other apps, for that matter) side by side for a while now, so I don’t want to complain too much. Apple’s solution is better than nothing. But if the logical conclusion of iOS 9 and the iPad Pro is a tablet that can do more of what a Mac can do, then this feels like a band-aid. Eventually, we should be able to open two instances of the same app next to each other. In the meantime, we have this.

Major iPad-centric additions are mostly absent from iOS 10. The multitasking switcher from iOS 9 is not revisited. iPads are still single-user computers for anyone outside a classroom. You still can’t set different autocorrect settings for virtual and physical keyboards, something Android added support for relatively recently. You benefit from most of the OS-wide changes but many of them are decidedly iPhone-centric.

Rumors from over the summer claim that Apple is currently working on a more iPad-centric software update with special focus on expanding the utility of the Apple Pencil, though whether that will come as an update to iOS 10 or as part of iOS 11 isn’t known. The earliest we can probably expect it will be iOS 10.2 in the late winter/early spring or iOS 10.3 in the late spring/early summer, if history is any guide (and assuming that the iOS 10.1 update we get in a month or two will mainly fix bugs and enable the mixed-depth-of-field features for the iPhone 7 Plus).

Settings shuffling

Apple always does some shuffling of the Settings app in every new version of iOS. While the search field introduced in iOS 9 makes this easier, you should still probably be aware of what has been moved around.

First, the “suggested apps” feature that would try to offer you relevant apps based on your location seems to have been totally removed. Truth be told, this is one of those features that I only ever used by accident, so I won’t be missing it much.

If you’re looking for the screen timeout settings or want to control the “raise to wake” feature on an iPhone 6S or 7, all of that is now done in the “Display & Brightness” section. The auto-lock settings used to be jumbled into General with a whole lot of other stuff, but ultimately it makes more sense here.

Speaking of things that have been pulled out of the General pile, Siri’s new API means the personal assistant is now apparently important enough to move out to the top level of the app, sandwiched in between “Sounds” and “TouchID & Passcode.” The Siri settings still let you change its speaking voice and configure the hands-free “Hey Siri” feature, but it’s also where you can go to grant or revoke third-party permissions for the Siri API.

When you go to connect to an unsecured Wi-Fi network in iOS 10 (a public one, hopefully—please do not run a home Wi-Fi network without password protection!), the operating system will now warn you that your connection is insecure. Even if you ignore it and go on about your business, at least Apple is trying to save you from yourself.

And finally, the HomeKit setting has been removed, not because HomeKit is going the way of Suggested Apps but because the new Home app handles all of that heavy lifting now.

Apps: Messages

Of all iOS 10’s built-in apps, the one that is the most radically transformed is Messages. In fact, a clean install of iOS 10 places the Messages in the dock instead of the mail app, highlighting e-mail’s general lack of coolness in the age of Slack and WhatsApp. Sorry, e-mail.

Over the years, Messages hasn’t strayed far from its roots in the old Mac OS X iChat app, a low-to-no-frills communication app that eventually merged into/was replaced by Messages many years later. But iOS 10 remakes it in the mold of newer, busier apps like Facebook Messenger, and the app picks up a whole lot of new visual frills alongside its new features.

Before you even start digging into the new extras, you’ll notice that the Messages app has been substantially redesigned. Instead of just displaying your contact’s name, it now shows you their picture. In a group text thread, these circles stack on top of each other. Tap the stack and swipe left and right to see the names and pictures for everyone in the conversation.

Next, you’ll probably notice all the extra buttons and arrows all over the place. Hit the arrow to the left of the text entry field and three more buttons will slide over: one for the camera, one for drawing little pictures Apple Watch-style, and one for the iMessage App Store. If you turn the phone into landscape mode, you’ll also notice that doing this automatically lets you sketch or write out small pictures and messages and send them along. Weirdly, this also seems to mean that there’s no longer a landscape orientation mode for the Messages app on the iPhone. Messages makes more sense in portrait mode anyway (and landscape still works fine on an iPad—the scribble mode is hidden behind a key on the keyboard), but it seems odd to just completely remove it.

The new photo picker you see when you tap the camera button is a great idea. It gives you a small camera viewfinder window inline without even making you leave the Messages app—just tap it to take a picture. Or, alternatively, you can start swiping from right to left to start scrolling through your camera roll until you find the picture you want to send. Swipe left to right to get to buttons for the full-size Camera and Photos apps.

The photo drawing stuff hidden behind the heart button all seems gimmicky—or, at least, the friends I’ve texted with have all sent a flurry of weird drawings at first and then stopped using it. You can draw in the little black square with the colors provided, or you can perform different gestures to send your recipient fireballs, kissy lips, and beating or broken hearts. Hit the camera button, and you can also record a short video with these same drawing and visual effects overlaid on it.

You can manipulate the iMessage bubbles themselves, too. As you’re typing, 3D Touch or long press the blue “send” arrow to the right of the text field. This lets you send messages with one of four different effects (all of which are temporary; they happen once the first time the message is read but don’t stick around after): “Slam,” “Loud,” “Gentle,” and “Invisible Ink.” Tap the Screen tab at the top of this page and you’ll also see Messages’ new full-screen effects, which you can page through and select by swiping left and right: “Balloons,” “Confetti,” “Lasers,” “Fireworks,” and “Shooting star.”

Other things change without any action on the part of the user. Links now automatically expand when you send them, much as Facebook or Slack does. Your recipients will now see a clean thumbnail with a bit of preview content rather than a big messy blue link. And when you send between one and three emoji by themselves—not as part of a text message, not as part of a longer string of emoji—they’re automatically blown up larger to make them easier to see.

Finally, there are “reactions,” a list of half a dozen canned responses you can apply to any message you’ve sent or received by long-pressing the message you want to react to.

And then we get to iMessage apps. These are, as the name implies, little mini-apps that can be opened up in the keyboard area without actually leaving Messages to find an image or jump into an app. The iMessage App Store, accessible by tapping that App Store button to the left of the text field, is a little branch of the main App Store (sort of like the Apple Watch). iMessage apps can either ship as standalone iMessage-only apps or as extensions to standard iOS apps—the main App Store now has an indicator to tell you when standard apps include iMessage apps as extensions, again much like the Apple Watch.

Managing iMessage apps is a lot like managing widgets. By default, when you download a new one it isn’t enabled, which helps reduce clutter. There are going to be plenty of standard apps that come with iMessage apps that you don’t care about, so they don’t need to be cluttering up your space. Go to the “manage” tab of the store to toggle these apps on and off (or change this behavior, if you just want all of your apps to show up all the time). And remember that you can’t use installed iMessage apps unless you enable them, even if someone sends you a message generated by that app.

Once you have all the apps you want installed and enabled, you switch between them either by swiping left and right or by tapping the little grid icon in the lower-left corner (which, incidentally, is also how you access the store). There are only two apps installed by default: a basic Giphy search engine (again, shades of Facebook and Slack) and a Music app that lets you share songs you’ve recently played in the Music app. Tap the up arrow in the lower-right corner of the screen to make the iMessage app expand temporarily to take up the entire screen—it doesn’t boot you from the Messages app, but it does make it easier to manage lists with lots of scrolling.

So far I’ve run into two basic kinds of iMessage apps: sticker packs, which you use to react to and dress up messages that you and other people send, and social and/or commerce apps like Yelp or Fandango or OpenTable that you use mostly for making plans with friends and loved ones. Certainly this isn’t all we’ll see, but it does account for a lot of what I’m seeing.

When you use an iMessage app to send something to someone who doesn’t have the app installed, one of two things happens. For stickers, the person on the other end sees the exact same sticker in the exact same position as you do, and there’s a link under the message that shows which app the sticker came from in case the recipient wants to install it herself.

When you send over a link to richer content from an app like Yelp, the recipient will get a static image that mimics the message bubble that the iMessage app would actually generate (it’s subtle, but you can see obvious signs of JPG compression if you look closely). Tapping that message will take the recipient right to the app in the iMessage App Store, at which point they can install it and enable it if they want to get the full experience.

There are a couple of other things to note with Messages. Mac users running Sierra will find that they can view many of the iMessage effects sent by iOS users, but Messages for macOS can’t send most of this stuff. They’ll see links generated by iMessage apps as regular old Web links that open in a browser. And people on Android phones or older versions of iOS will see most messages generated by iMessage apps as either standard links or standalone images depending on what you’re sending.

Most of the changes in Messages could reasonably be described as “juvenile,” insofar as they’re a departure from the Messages app’s heretofore straightforward just-the-basics design. But they reflect the kinds of features that are showing up in competing messaging apps, and these are things users of those apps are actually using. Once any given group of people—whether that’s a group of friends in Facebook Messenger or a group of coworkers in Slack–discover the goofy little things that their messaging clients will let them do, they’ll start using those features. Apple has done a pretty good job giving Messages some goofy little things to do, and hopefully more “serious” iMessage apps will make actually getting things done a bit easier, too.

Music

Apple needed to launch Apple Music to catch up with where the rest of the industry was going—subscription-based, a la carte streaming—but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The iOS Music app, now doing double-duty as both a player for longtime Apple customers’ local music libraries and a near-infinite catalog of streaming media, got more cluttered and confused. There were accusations that its uploading-and-matching algorithm was downloading the wrong versions of songs while deleting the original. It was, in short, not ideal.

iOS 10 substantially redesigns the Music app, hiding cruft like Connect below the fold and making it very, very easy and obvious to tell which music is stored locally on your phone and which is coming from Apple Music. Playback and discovery have also been tweaked in useful ways, and the entire app is bigger, brighter, more colorful. Music is generally easier to read and interact with even if information density takes a small step backward.

The first tab is now your Library, where all the music you’ve bought from Apple or uploaded from iTunes is kept. If you want evidence that Apple is listening to feedback from people with large local music libraries, this local library tab was last in the iOS 9 Music app rather than first. Seems like a clear statement.

Where the old Music app required multiple taps to toggle between viewing songs alphabetically, by artist, by genre, or so on, the iOS 10 app makes all of those sorting mechanisms big old pink text buttons right at the top of the app. Hit the Edit button to add, remove, and sort those headings to your liking (unless you want to sort albums by year, in which case you’re still out of luck). The iOS 10 version of this tab does fit much less information on screen at once than the iOS 9 version did, but it’s an improvement. Scrolling is easy, constant tapping is annoying.

The For You tab is likewise bigger, bolder, and less dense, but again this is an overall improvement. Recently played songs are right there at the top for when you’ve found an earworm that you absolutely need to hear 10 times a day, and if you want to tailor the For You screen just tap the user profile icon in the upper-right corner. The rest of the app is a mix of vertical and horizontal scrolling depending on what you’re in the mood for. All of this feels more logically sorted than the endless horizontal scroll of the iOS 9 version of the For You tab, even if you’re seeing a lot of the same music.

If you want to hear a curated playlist, scroll down to Playlists, then scroll sideways through different playlists for different genres and moods. Scroll down more to see albums, artist spotlight playlists, and new releases, all of which can be horizontally scrolled through until you find something you want. Scroll down even more to see the vestigial remains of the Connect functionality, or don’t. You don’t bury something like Connect because it’s being too useful and successful.

The Browse tab is a broader, non-personalized version of the same kind of browsing, more useful for identifying and keeping up with new music than with stuff you already know you’ll like. The Radio tab is reorganized, but content-wise it’s the same as before—a mix of streaming stations and Beats One combined with the radio stations you’ve created based on individual artists and songs. Additionally, Search is its own tab instead of being tucked away in the upper-right corner of the app. The ability to see recent searches is new, the trending searches and the ability to distinguish between Apple Music and local music is the same.

Finally, let’s talk about playback. A persistent strip showing you the currently playing song and basic playback controls is always at the bottom of the app, but tap to expand it and you’ll see a much different-looking full-size player. Album art is smaller, making the playback slider easier to see and to tap. The app’s background no longer attempts to match a color on the album cover, a cool effect that could be hard on the eyes if your albums were forever going from light to dark and back again. The song information, playback controls, and volume slider are all noticeably larger. And you now simply scroll down to see the “what’s next” list of upcoming songs, rather than tapping a small separate button.

The old music app hid functions like sharing songs, adding them to playlists, and creating radio stations behind two buttons in the lower-left and -right corners of the screen, but in iOS 10 it all gets joined together into one big menu. Marking “love” on a song to help tailor Apple Music to your tastes is no longer available at the top And the AirPlay icon works the same way as before, it’s just a larger button moved to the bottom of the screen that looks like a mini radio tower rather than a rectangle with a triangle shoved into it.

On the iPad, all of these work pretty much the same way, but the Now Playing screen pops up on the right side of the screen rather than taking up the whole thing. When viewed in Split View mode with the screen split down the middle, the Now Playing screen goes back to taking up the entire screen.

Both the iTunes and Music apps have a well-earned reputation for rearranging deck chairs, moving stuff around and hoping that “different” will be perceived as “better.” Is the new Music app just more of the same? Possibly; the people who complain the most about Music are much heavier users with much larger local libraries than I have. But to my mind it seems less cluttered and easier to navigate, and it makes it easier to find different kinds of music without mixing new stuff and personalized recommendations together. It’s also an app that benefits from less information density—the iOS 9 version of the app could seem too busy and cluttered, and the iOS 10 version has more room to breathe.

Home

The new native Home app is just one piece of the HomeKit puzzle—you also need to plan out, purchase, and install appropriate HomeKit compatible accessories. I’ll be exploring that process more in a separate article in the next couple of weeks, but for now we can cover the basics of how the Home app works.

Home is essentially just a wrapper for the HomeKit functionality that Siri was already handling in previous versions of iOS, a GUI for people who want to control their smart accessories without yelling into their devices. It makes it relatively easy to designate multiple houses with multiple smart accessories in each of them, to put different accessories into distinct groups (or “Scenes”) so you can automate the control of many devices at once, and to add new accessories to your HomeKit home without having to download a bunch of different apps.

HomeKit lets you split your house into different rooms, and each of those rooms can contain multiple accessories and scenes. Scenes can be as simple as “turn these lightbulbs on” and as complex as “lock the door, lower the blinds, turn out the lights, and set the thermostat to 80 degrees.” HomeKit in iOS 10 supports for air conditioners, air purifiers, humidifiers, cameras, and doorbells in addition to previously supported accessories like fans, garage doors, lights, locks, outlets, security systems, motion sensors, thermostats, and window shades. Anything you set up is synced among your iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches via iCloud, and any accessory or scene you mark as “favorite” will show up in the Control Center on all your devices. Sharing control with other members of your household is also accomplished via iCloud accounts, so you’ll want to make sure that everyone who needs one has one.

If you need to be able to control your smart devices while you’re away from your home network, there’s an additional wrinkle. To serve as a secure entry point to the rest of your network, you’ll either need a fourth-generation Apple TV on your network and signed into your iCloud account, or an iPad signed in, on your network, and running iOS 10 that has been set up to work as a HomeKit hub. The former is more reliable since it’s always going to be plugged in, but the iPad system is probably a more convenient option for most people as long as its battery doesn’t die while you’re out (the iPad’s incredibly long battery life at idle should keep this from being much of a problem).

You’ve been able to get apps like Matthias Hochgatterer’s Home app to provide a GUI for HomeKit for some time now, but the native Home app is an important step forward for Apple’s heretofore low-key HomeKit initiative. If the company wants to rally enough accessory makers to its banner to actually bring order to the hopelessly fragmented security-flaw-ridden garbage-y Internet of Things ecosystem, it just needs to keep adding support for new accessories and making this app better.

Maps

I’ve stuck with Google Maps over the years because it was better than Apple Maps for a long time—transit directions only arrived in iOS 9, after all—but I’m actually a really big fan of Apple Maps’ redesign in iOS 10. There are two reasons for this: the actual design of the Maps app itself, and the deep app integrations that iOS 10 offers to third-party developers.

You navigate through your app almost entirely through a sort of card at the bottom of the screen that can slide up and down to show you more information or get out of your way so you can see the map. It’s designed really smartly—basic information about top routes or search results is always visible, but no matter where you are you can always swipe up to reveal more route option or search results. As you zoom around the map, the app will continually update the weather for the location you’re looking at in the lower-right corner, which is another nice touch.

As in iOS 9, the app can pull in suggestions from Yelp if you’re in a new place and you just need to find the nearest coffee or sandwich. If you’re driving, once you switch into turn-by-turn navigation mode the app becomes almost GPS-like—buttons and text both get larger and easier to interact with, and it’s a simple swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see route details, toggle audio, and other options. When we take long trips we leave our phones mounted GPS-style in a bracket that’s stuck to the windshield, and this UI is both easy for the driver to read and simple for the passenger to interact with (this drawer of extra options also automatically hides itself if you don’t interact with it for a moment if you’re actively navigating anywhere).

Once you’re en route, the app will also offer to help you find food, gas, and coffee along your route without making you cancel your route and put in a new one. And if you’re walking or taking transit instead of driving, a slightly modified version of the same UI easily allows you to swipe back and forth through the different directions.

Where things really get interesting is when you select the new “ride” option, which is listed alongside the standard drive/walk/transit trifecta. This allows third-party ride sharing apps to integrate seamlessly with Maps, offering you rides and price estimates without ever having to jump into the actual app for the ride sharing service. That app developer could also elect to create custom notifications for their app that shows a live preview of where a driver is right from the notification itself without having to open the Maps app or the ride sharing app.

Lyft already has an update out that works with SiriKit and the new Maps and notifications APIs—Chris Lambert, the Chief Technology Officer at Lyft, said that Apple had approached the company early in iOS 10’s development process to get feedback and make sure that the new APIs did everything they needed to facilitate easy ride sharing. Some of the APIs are also similar enough that work done to implement one can also help you implement the others.

“One of the great things in particular with SiriKit and Maps is that they’re both implemented as pretty similar extensions,” Lambert told Ars, “where the work we have to do on the Lyft side to bridge the application with iOS 10 was the same for both SiriKit and Maps. There are obviously some different UI things that we had to implement for those different use cases, but the extension that we had to build was actually common between the two.”

Other, similar extensions can enable more functionality in maps, too. For example, OpenTable provided me with a beta of its iOS 10 app that I could use to book a table without actually jumping into the OpenTable app. When OpenTable reservations are available, a button pops up right next to the “directions” button just like a native part of the app.

These kinds of integrations show how careful Apple is about opening its platform. It does not, for example, allow Google Maps to get its hooks into iOS and set itself as the default map app. Apple then turns around and offers third parties the ability to get their own services integrated into the first-party Maps app, incentivizing users to either keep using Maps or start using Maps because it works so much better with everything else.

I’ve still got Google Maps installed on my phone for now, but this Apple Maps redesign is seriously tempting. If you haven’t taken a look at Apple Maps in a couple of years, it may be a good time to revisit it.

Photos

The front-and-center, your-parents-will-love-this feature in Photos is Memories, which as pitched is a way to make you actually look at the photos you take while you’re on vacation or traveling or whatever.

The app will offer to cut together short movies, and it will also show small groups of photos based on locations and dates (I typically keep Location Services disabled for Photos, so the app didn’t have as much to offer me as it might for people who don’t mind having that info attached to their pictures).

The same behind-the-scenes tech that is putting together the Memories tab can be found in a couple of other places, too. If you tap on the little arrow next to the date in Album view or hit the Details button when you’re looking at an individual photo, the app will try to show you more specific groups of related photos.

Based on my pictures and videos, the app offered to make me a “best of the last 3 months” video, a period of time which just happened to encompass two major work trips, the 4th of July, an extensive and unexpectedly emotional goodbye to New York City, and an emotional-and-not-always-in-a-pleasant-way move into a new house. Up until about the halfway point, the sequence of pictures the app had chosen had almost made me a believer, and then toward the end it started showing me stat blocks I had snapped from the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Monster Manual and the spell was broken. If the app can’t separate photos taken for the purposes of mundane documentation from photos of people and things, the videos won’t work super well.

There were also multiple different presets that cut the video and crop the pictures differently and set it to different music, which was fun to play around with for a few minutes even though it showed the same photos and videos in the same sequence every time. Pictures of our cat sleeping definitely work better under the “gentle” or “chill” setting than the “epic” setting.

I’ll probably never really use the video mode, but the opportunity to scroll through picture highlights is actually sort of neat. Memories presents your photos as a mosaic of images of all different sizes—tap on them to view the full photo, or hit Show All to see if the “summary” view skipped one of your favorite shots.

The search function is also unexpectedly cool. Apple has a database of as many as 4,432 distinct things that it tries to search for in your photos, and while it’s rarely perfect at detecting anything it can be helpful when you’ve got 2,000 pictures up in iCloud and you’re trying to find a particular one.

There’s a lot of overlap between many of those search terms, presumably so that people won’t be punished for typing the “wrong” term. There’s a lot of overlap between “restaurant” and “bar” and “taproom” but I’d rather have overlap than not be able to find something because I was looking for it wrong.

The rest of the Photos app, including all the image editing options, are pretty much the same as they are in iOS 9. Apple did add a button for the same Markup tools that you can use for images in an e-mail, though—go to edit a picture and then tap the circle with three dots and you’ll have access to the built-in Markup tool as well as any photo editing extensions you have installed and enabled.

Mail

I’ve always been a stalwart user of the iOS Mail app—I’ve tried other clients as they’ve come out, but I prefer to handle all my mobile e-mail from the same app (making Google’s Gmail/Inbox and Microsoft’s Outlook apps less-than-desirable). Besides, the best third-party e-mail apps are either getting bought by Google or shut down and Apple doesn’t let those clients do everything that the first-party client can do anyway. It’s easier just to stick with something safe.

Mail in iOS 10 doesn’t get any Messages-sized overhaul but it does make a handful of tweaks, some of which are immediately useful and others that might one day be useful if Apple can address some irritating corner cases.

On the “useful” end of the spectrum: the Mailboxes view now shows all the folders in a given mailbox at the top level of the app rather than making you dig through separate screens when you have multiple accounts set up; tapping the name of each account expands or collapses the list if you prefer a cleaner view or just don’t want to scroll through all the folders in every one of your accounts.

Also useful is the new quick filter, the circular icon with three lines in it that you can see in the lower-left corner of the screen. It’s a quick toggle for a few common filters that you could already use at the top level of the app. By default, you can quickly filter out all but your unread messages. Tap the “filtered by” label at the bottom of the screen to filter e-mails that have been flagged, those that are addressed to you directly, those on which you have been CC’d, and to toggle sorting by attachments and sender VIP status.

The Mail app offers a new threaded view that mirrors the one in Mail.app for macOS. Instead of poking through one message at a time, you can scroll up and down to see all messages in a thread (including your replies).

As much as I like the move to a threaded view in theory, in practice I ran into a few problems over the beta period that have persisted into the final release. The first was with how the app handles quoted messages included in replies. The app tries to collapse quoted messages automatically, allowing you to click a button to expand the quotes if you want but otherwise hiding them from view. The main problem is that it doesn’t always hide the quotes, and that all or part of old e-mail threads are sometimes included with each new message. (There is, of course, no help for those hopeless souls who choose to reply inline, but that’s not Apple’s fault.)

Based on my limited data, I can say that quotes from my Gmail messages were more reliably collapsed than quotes from the Office 365 Exchange server that Ars uses. And the behavior appears to differ based on the e-mail client on the sender’s end and how it handles quotes—some quotes from Exchange messages were collapsed properly, and others weren’t. Based on some brief chats with co-workers and my own testing I’m inclined to blame Outlook for Mac as the main problem, but Mail may struggle with messages sent from other clients as well.

This is all annoying enough that I’ll probably end up turning off threading in the settings unless Apple or the developers of third-party e-mail clients can tweak the behavior as the betas continue to roll out. Otherwise it can consume way more time than it saves.

The other problem I had was that all messages in a thread aren’t loaded up automatically when you open that thread. Messages load as you scroll, which even on a fast Wi-Fi network introduces some lag (and some scrolling confusion, since you’re not sure how long a given message will be until it’s loaded).

This makes some sense as a bandwidth-saving measure—you won’t necessarily want to reload every single message in a thread just to see the most recent reply. But some kind of option to automatically download and display all messages in a thread while the phone is on Wi-Fi could help improve the app’s responsiveness.

News

News gets a minor visual update in iOS 10. It’s generally giving you the same content, but with bigger, bolder headlines, more colors, and somewhat more prominent branding for individual publications.

The biggest new feature is probably the new notifications option, which lets you get news alerts for “editors’ picks” and “top stories” and also alerts from a limited number of major publications. As of this writing, in the US that list includes CNN, The Washington Post, Fox News, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, Yahoo Sports, The Verge, Vox, SB Nation, Complex, and The Economist. I wish you could sign up for notifications from whatever publications and topics you wanted, but that list covers a wide range of general-interest publications.

I’ll admit that I’m not a heavy News user—the last time I probably opened it is when I was setting it up for our iOS 9 coverage—so there may be other little tweaks and flourishes that I’m missing. But many feeds in the News app are slow to refresh their content, so I’ll probably be sticking to Twitter (and different publications’ official Twitter accounts) as my primary means of keeping up on world news.

Collaborative Notes

The main change in Notes is a real-time collaboration option. Hit the button at the top of the screen and enter some Apple IDs to invite others to view and edit the note with you. You can send anyone you’ve invited a link via one of many different apps or services, including Mail, Messages, AirDrop, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

This feature, more rudimentary than the equivalent collaborative editing in Google Docs or Microsoft Word or Apple’s own Pages, seems designed to replace a certain kind of casual Google Docs usage. Sometimes you just want a basic scratchpad you can share with one or two other people while you’re trying to plan things—a place where you can dump links and notes without doing a bunch of fancy formatting. You’re still going to want Google Docs or even Pages for anything much more complicated than that, because compared to both of them Notes is missing a lot of features.

Documents refresh when a new save is detected on the server, but you don’t see real-time changes. Apple offers no interface for leaving comments, you can’t view a document’s revision history, there’s no way to let someone view a note without also granting them editing privileges, and you can’t set a separate password on any of the stuff you share. But sharing things in Notes does seem like a decent way for small groups of Apple-centric users to handle simple shared notes and tasks.

Clock and “bedtime”

The Clock app gets a nifty new white-on-black design and an analog-style stopwatch to go with the digital one, but the biggest new addition is a sort of rudimentary sleep tracking feature.

“Bedtime” borrows its general look and feel from the Activity app you get when you hook up an Apple Watch. It’s based entirely on timing—you tell it when you want to wake up, how much sleep you want in a given night, when you want to be reminded to go to bed, and what sound you want to wake up to, and that’s pretty much all it does. Its data gets dumped into the Health app, where it can be accessed by other HealthKit-compatible apps.

The lock screen alert that shows up when you alarm goes off has a new little touch, too: you can now shut the alarm off entirely instead of merely snoozing it. A dangerous button, to be sure.

Under the hood: SiriKit, the Siri API

Apple is providing developers with a Siri API in iOS 10, though admittedly it’s pretty limited in terms of what apps can use it and what those apps can use it for.

SiriKit provides developers of certain kinds of apps access to Siri while still holding them at arm’s length with clearly defined rules and limitations. Third parties can use Siri in six different kinds of apps, though those applications encompass a wide range of common and popular App Store offerings: audio and video calling apps, messaging apps, payment apps, apps that allow searching through photo libraries, workout apps, and ride sharing apps.

That covers a lot of ground, but there’s a lot that’s missing: music and video apps like Spotify and Netflix, mapping apps like Google Maps, and third-party to-do list apps don’t fall under any of these umbrellas. That’s possibly because they conflict too directly in some cases with Apple apps and services like Apple Maps and Apple Music (Apple Maps in particular is becoming more deeply integrated into the OS with every new update, as we’ve already seen). Hopefully Siri will become more useful to a wider variety of apps later on, much as Apple has done with the extensions system it introduced in iOS 8. But for now the first-party apps are definitely still in a privileged position.

The backend for Siri handles the speech-to-text translation, and Apple provides its default Siri UI for responses and confirmation messages (though developers are free to customize their own). Developers can define custom vocabulary for their apps to improve Siri’s ability to understand what you’re asking for or to interpret names of contacts from within your app. For those of you more interested in the technical underpinnings of SiriKit, we’ve got an explainer here and Apple’s developer documentation is here.

Based on Apple’s description of the API, I was worried that it would be difficult to get Siri to understand simple phrases. But Siri was surprisingly good at asking follow-up questions when I gave it a natural but ambiguous command like “book a car” or “make a reservation.” Before booking a car, for instance, Siri asked me to confirm that Lyft was the app I wanted to use. And Siri first asked me when I wanted to make a reservation before giving me a list of nearby results from OpenTable. If you don’t want apps to return results, you can revoke their SiriKit access in Siri’s settings.

It’s possible that Apple is starting so small with SiriKit specifically to avoid this sort of confusion. If there are three dozen apps on your phone that are all wired up to respond to different words and phrases, the odds for collisions, confusion, lag, and plain-old misunderstandings become greater. Limiting the kinds of apps that can take advantage of Siri also limits the number of apps that will be competing for its attention, making smoother interactions like the ones described above easier to have.

Based on the developers we’ve spoken with, it doesn’t sound like it’s too hard to add SiriKit support to existing apps, and at least a few developers seem to be using it in creative ways.

“[Apple] made the interface for SiriKit really easy to work with,” said Jonathan Boone, CTO of Looklive. “The only challenge was every time you migrate to a new SDK there’s always little hurdles you have to jump over, but we were doing that anyway.”

Looklive is a fashion app that tracks down and helps you purchase clothes that actors, musicians, and other celebrities are wearing—asking Siri what Kanye West or Mark Ruffalo was wearing at a certain date or event will search through Looklive’s database of photos for you. It’s an interesting application of the photo search function, and it suggests that we may see a greater diversity of apps for SiriKit than the short list of capabilities would suggest.

Chris Lambert at Lyft also told us that the Lyft app had been rewritten entirely in Swift around a year ago, which made adding support for multiple new APIs more feasible.

“The developer productivity gains that we saw with Swift are one of the things that allowed us to get Maps, Siri, and the new notifications all out the door,” Lambert said.

CallKit

The CallKit API isn’t as far-reaching a change as SiriKit, but it’s going to be a huge deal for business and consumer VOIP apps.

Think about how it works when you get a phone call or FaceTime call in iOS 9. Your phone can go off even if it’s sleeping in your pocket, you can elect to answer right from the lock screen, you have full integration with the Contacts app including the Recents and Favorites tabs, and the OS-wide Do Not Disturb settings keep them from bothering you when you’re busy. And if you’re on one call and another comes in, you have the option to screen it or put your current call on hold while you take care of it.

CallKit, in brief, opens that up to all voice and video chatting apps. You have native hooks into all those iOS features, and calls coming from an app should be indistinguishable from those coming through the FaceTime app or the iPhone’s native phone dialer.

We spoke with Sagi Dudai, VP of Mobile Development at Vonage, about some of the specific problems that CallKit would sold for VOIP users.

“Think about our customer, a business customer on a business call. He uses Vonage Essentials as his main business number, and then a native call comes in. What happens in iOS 9 is that the VOIP call would be put on hold,” Dudai told Ars. “The native call kind of took precedence and became the active call… That is solved in iOS 10.”

Dudai explained that even calls from multiple sources can all be handled natively and seamlessly as long as they all support CallKit. This should be good not only for phones, but also for people who use iPads or even iPod Touches extensively and would like them to be capable of phone-like things.

As of this writing, we haven’t been able to test any CallKit apps firsthand, but we’ll keep an eye on new ones as they’re released.

Universal Clipboard

Like macOS Sierra, iOS 10 supports the “universal clipboard” features that lets you copy text on your phone or tablet and paste it on your Mac or vice versa. As long as all the devices are signed into the same iCloud account, it should work automatically—all iDevices that will run iOS 10 ought to be able to use universal clipboard, but not all the Macs that run Sierra are able to. If it doesn’t support the other Continuity features (Airdrop, Handoff, etc.) it won’t support the universal clipboard.

After using the feature to copy and paste text between multiple devices, here’s how we think it works:

  • Text or some other item is copied on one Mac or iDevice. The device then advertises over Bluetooth that it has something in its clipboard, the same as it would do if it had content available via Handoff. Unlike Handoff, though, there’s no visual indicator on other Macs or iDevices that there’s anything that’s ready to copy.
  • Hit paste on another device. There’s a pause that accompanies the action—nearly unnoticeable for a snippet of text or a link, long enough to prompt a little progress bar popup on the Mac for larger images or big chunks of text—during which Device #2 requests the contents of Device #1’s clipboard, and Device #1 sends it over.
  • It’s not obvious how the devices resolve which data was copied the most recently so as to avoid pasting old stuff, but it doesn’t appear to be a problem. The software is either smart enough to either use the most recent copy operation, or devices discard the contents of their clipboards when they see a fresh Bluetooth advertisement from another device.
  • Though both of your devices need to be signed into the same iCloud account to trust each other, your data never appears to touch Apple’s servers—like Handoff, all communication is local. This means that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have to be enabled on both devices and both devices need to be within range of each other for copying and pasting to work, but you won’t necessarily need an active Internet connection if you don’t have one.

For whatever reason, if you don’t want universal clipboard to work, you can head into the settings app and disable Handoff. As best as we can tell, there’s no way to keep Handoff but not the universal clipboard.

Performance and battery life

If you’re looking specifically for information about how iOS 10 runs on the slowest supported hardware, the 5 and 5C, I’ve got more information about those phones in particular over here. For the main review, I’ll be keeping it more general.

As happy as I am about Apple’s commitment to software support—four or five years of updates doesn’t sound like much, but it’s at least twice as long as you get from pretty much anyone else—the old iPad 2 and iPhone 4S hardware really struggled with iOS 8 and iOS 9. And from Apple’s perspective, when you’re working with a rapidly-aging dual-core processor from a much different era of smartphone chip design and 512MB of RAM, there’s not much you can do to improve responsiveness while still providing new features.

iOS 10 moves the baseline performance level way up, and as a result I don’t think there’s any iDevice on the support list that I wouldn’t install iOS 10 on (at least not for performance reasons). I’ve used the GM build and many of the betas on something like a dozen different iPhones and iPads, and overall performance and stability have been comparable to iOS 9.

That goes for battery life, too, which in our standard Wi-Fi browsing test is usually about the same for iOS 9 and iOS 10. Some devices budge up a little or down a little, but none of them are significantly worse.

In just about every major iOS release, Apple manages to ship a new version of Safari with better JavaScript performance than before. iOS 10 is no exception—JavaScript performance in our standard benchmarks improves by between 10 and 20 percent across the board, from the lowly iPhone 5 all the way up to the iPhone 6S.

Grab bag: Removing default apps

iOS 10 lets you to get rid of most of Apple’s first-party apps, totally removing them from the Home screen rather than making you hide them away in some inconspicuously labeled folder on your second or third page of apps.

“Deleting” a first-party app breaks all of its associations, which can cause problems since iOS still doesn’t allow third-party apps to fill in those gaps. Delete the built-in Mail app, for instance, and tapping an e-mail address will prompt you to reinstall the app rather than letting you use a third-party alternative. First-party apps can be re-added via the App Store.

Removing first-party apps doesn’t actually free up space, and Apple isn’t actually updating its first-party apps through the App Store like Google does with the Play Store. The ability to “delete” these apps is mostly cosmetic—a concession to people who complain about the ever-growing number of icons that get dumped on their home screens with each successive update.

RAW camera support

Apple’s camera app won’t itself support shooting unprocessed RAW images, but a new API in iOS 10 will at least allow third-party camera makers to offer it as a feature.

It will, however, be limited to newer devices. The quick rule of thumb is that if your iThing has a 12MP camera on the back, it can shoot in RAW—the iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, SE, 7, and 7 Plus all make that list, as does the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Older cameras aren’t given the option for whatever reason.

Shooting RAW images with your phone won’t all of a sudden make them DSLR quality. But if you tend to do a lot of post-processing or if you’re trying to save a poor-but-crucial shot, it can be helpful to have a version of the picture that comes with all the information the sensor captured. It makes it easier to adjust color, contrast, white balance, and lighting without losing too much detail or making other parts of the picture look weird.

Adobe has already sent us a version of the Lightroom iOS app with RAW support enabled, and toggling between DNG and JPG shooting is quick and seamless. Other camera apps will surely let you play with a wide range of DSLR-esque settings.

Apple’s first-party camera app itself is almost completely unchanged. The buttons for toggling between the front and rear cameras and turning on filters have been transposed. And if you’re using an iPhone 7 Plus, you have a special zoom button that can be used to toggle between the standard and telephoto cameras and to handle digital zoom (along with the standard pinch-to-zoom gesture). Otherwise, no changes.

Tweaked emoji designs

Emoji in iOS 10.

Emoji in iOS 10.
Andrew Cunningham

Apple hasn’t added new Unicode 9 emoji to iOS 10, but Emojipedia has a full list of all the new ones you’ll be able to make using different combinations of characters.

Also of note: all the emoji in iOS 10 have been subtly but thoroughly redesigned. Emoji are typically more detailed than they were before, and human characters look considerably more human. The collection of yellow smiley faces has also finally lost its iOS 6-era glassy sheen—the emoji aren’t flat like Google’s, but they are more matte than before. The pistol emoji also turns into a squirt gun, going against the representation that every other company has more-or-less rallied around.

For a full iOS 9-to-iOS 10 emoji changelog, check here. If you hate emoji and don’t think anyone should be talking about them or using them, go here.

A significant update with no major downsides

iOS 9 reserved its best stuff for the iPad, but iOS 10 is all about improving Apple’s more popular iDevices. Most of the features are about giving you more ways to get the stuff you want more quickly. Why open another app when you can just do everything in Messages or Maps or directly from a notification? Plus, now you can just yell at Siri to do it for you.

I have only a handful of major complaints, and they’re mostly about the stuff that isn’t included rather than the stuff that is. It’s too bad, for instance, that Apple didn’t find the time to even tweak the iPad’s scrolling-heavy, occasionally-awkward multitasking interface. SiriKit will surely open up more over time, but for now the long-awaited API is useful for just a handful of apps.

All in all, though, iOS 10 is a good update with a lot to offer and there’s really no reason not to install it on any hardware that can run it. It doesn’t murder your battery, it doesn’t hurt performance too badly. It takes up more storage space, but that’s been a fact of life for every iOS update for years now. I’ve been running it on my actual production iPhone and iPad for the last month and a half, and the GM build seems stable. App updates are already rolling out. There really isn’t much of a downside.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Infinite Loop – Ars Technica