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Apple iOS 10 Review: The biggest iOS update, ever

Apple says its iOS 10 is the biggest update so far, but is it really that good? Let’s find out.

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Almost three years ago Apple had rolled out a major overhaul to its iOS operating system. Designed by none other than Apple’s design chief John Ive, the iOS 7 brought in a whole new experience for iOS users, from flattened app icons, modern look and feel to altogether a new experience, something we have seen Google chasing in its recent Android updates. While iOS 7 was criticized for being childishly colorful and slower, Apple did go ahead with the new design. The last two updates, iOS 8 and iOS 9, built upon iOS 7 with minor tweaks, improvements and new features but at the same time keeping the overall look and feel more or less the same. Cut to 2016, Apple has rolled out the iOS 10 update for its compatible iOS devices. Like iOS 7, Apple’s iOS 10 brings in major changes in the iOS, or in Apple CEO Tim Cook’s words it is the “mother of all releases”.

With iOS 10, Apple has taken a giant step forward by opening its ecosystem to third party developers. Already, the likes of WhatsApp and Truecaller have joined the boat, and more are likely to come in the near future. For Apple, iOS 10 may be the biggest update so far, but is it really that good? Let’s find out. I have been running iOS 10 preview versions including the recently rolled out penultimate Gold Master update for quite some time on my iPhone 6. If you ask me about my very first impressions, yes it does look different, perhaps not a lot, but enough from the older iOS 8 and iOS 9 versions. From opening the OS to third party developers to small things like more interactive notification cards and more customizable widgets, iOS 10 seems more of a matured approach from Apple, which perhaps now understands the importance of opening up its ecosystem. Read on.

Press the home button

No matter how much you shed tears on this, swipe to unlock has gone, and gone for good. Now, to unlock the smartphone you have to “Press home to unlock”, which essentially means you rely on the fingerprint scanner or passcode. One that that has irked a lot of people, including me, is requirement to tap on the home button to reach the passcode screen or the unlocked screen. This is regardless you have clicked on the side lock/unlock button. In a way, the unlock button looks redundant. Though you can customize it by going to Settings> Accessibility > Home button and toggle on the Rest finger to Open feature. This will allow you to unlock the phone by clicking the side unlock/lock button, and resting finger on the home button rather pressing it. But this will only work on devices with Touch ID.

Does it make a very big difference in terms of interacting with the phone? Yes, initially, but it’s mostly because of the unfamiliarity. It takes a bit of time to get adjusted to this set up, but if you have been using Touch ID for unlocking the smartphone, it won’t take that much of time. Perhaps, it’s Apple’s way to welcome old users with a message that a lot has changed inside. But, I am sure a lot of people will miss the ‘swipe to unlock’ just for the sheer convenience it was. ALSO READ: How to unlock iPhone screen on iOS 10 without clicking the home button

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Swiping from right to left on the lock screen also launches the camera app. This is perhaps a very neat addition for iOS users, as it helps quickly take photos from the lock screen. Earlier, one needed to swipe up to go to the camera app. Perhaps, the new UI makes it linear and easier to use, especially for one-handed use. Swiping right on the lock screen takes you to widgets, which show you a detailed information from apps like Calendar, Weather, Music, third party apps like Trello and IMDB, and even add Travel Times to your saved locations on Google Maps. Users can always edit and customize these widgets. Right now iOS 10 widgets don’t really look intuitive as on Android, and is quite untidy if you ask me. It is still better than skewed widgets we were served in previous updates, but then again not really remarkable.

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But it’s not all that bad. I really like the card-cum-bubble style panels for widgets as well as the notification messages, which are now bigger and include more information for the first glance view. It is much easier to read the previews, and much easier to take actions on them. When you swipe down on the screen, the notification cards look much neater. Swipe on any notification card to view the information in 3D Touch-style preview. The format reminds me of the recent Instagram update, which brought in a long-press preview of the images. After you have unlocked the smartphone, you will see the app icons to appear to relatively large. Though the overall experience of browsing apps hasn’t changed.

Revamped Control Center

The Control Center looks pretty much same but with subtle changes. If you have activated any feature view Control Center it changes the icon color to blue, making it easier to spot which one is on or off. Along with usual brightness control, you now directly access the Night Shift feature from the Control Center. The feature can be adjusted with a few taps, though for more tweaks you need to go to Setting. One noticeable change is relocation of Music from the Control Center. It is no longer crammed in the same space, instead you need to swipe left to access the tracks. Though some may find it one step more to access the Music controls. Here’s an interesting tidbit, when you summon the Control Center while opening a new app, the center camouflages its color with the background app color before adjusting to the normal.

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It is all about iMessage, really

The revamped iMessage is the biggest star of the iOS 10 update. Apple has added tons of new features in its messaging apps, making it way much more fun than the old one. I really wish iMessage was launched on Android so I could use the same features with friends who are not on iOS. But then it is iOS exclusive, and you have to turn to Messenger or WhatsApp to communicate with your non-iOS friends. READ: Here’s why Apple iMessage is not coming to Android anytime soon

When you launch iMessage to chat with anyone, the first thing you will notice introduction of new icons, a heart sign and App Store along with a shrunk type box. Let’s talk about the redesigned panel for sharing photos and videos. When you tap on the camera icon, you can see the recent photos right there along with a dedicated section for camera to click and send photos from the keyboard section. Swiping right on the compact gallery, you have the option to access the photo gallery. Also, when you send photos or videos to your contacts, you can tap on Mark Up options to add scribbles or text overlays, similar to what you have on Instagram Stories or Snapchat. And then comes the most interesting part. You can send custom doodles to your friends. To access the doodles, tap on the heart icon, and choose from the type of doodles you want to send. You can send handwritten messages or you can use different gestures to send full screen effects like fireworks, lasers or kisses.

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Apple has also made it easier to send images and GIFs in Message. Just tap on the App Store icon, scroll left or simply tap on the four dots appearing on the left hand bottom, and tap on the icon for looking up images. This is very similar to Google’s Gboard keyboard app, which allows users to send GIFs and images directly from the keyboard.

The new iMessage also comes with its own App Store, which makes a huge difference. It now looks akin to Facebook Messenger, which has evolved as a standalone platform. With Apple opening up the ecosystem for the third party developers, now iMessage has tons of dedicated apps as well as extension of already available apps for iOS. The iMessage App Store is looks very similar to Apple’s main App Store with different categories of apps. The resemblance is not at all a bad thing considering it helps gets iOS users started with the store pretty easily. The iMessage App Store has covered almost all possible categories, including cute stickers, games to productivity and entertainment focused apps. A lot of apps are paid on the App Store with prices starting as low as Rs 10 and goes up to Rs 250. I have talked about the new iMessage App Store in length here.

iMessage outshines all other new features that iOS 10 has to offer. It looks more purposeful than earlier. It’s still not a Facebook Messenger killer but yes it has shown the potential to be one.

Photos with artificial intelligence

Apple has also made big improvements to the Photos gallery. It is more organized and smarter, and perhaps seems at par with what you get with the Google Photos app. The app automatically organizes groups based on location or people. Also, like Google Photos you can search by keywords, like clouds. Not just that, Apple is using an advanced machine learning technology to group photos and videos in a new section called Memories. While you can check out photos and videos in the section, you can also jazz it up by adding custom music themes to create a video that has all the photos stitched together. This is very similar to Facebook’s algorithm wherein it clubs photos taken on a particular day, and also lets you create custom videos. The new layout looks much cleaner and makes it easier to browse your gallery.

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Redesigned Apple Music

Apple has overhauled its Music app. In line with overall iOS 10 look and feel, the app now has a much cleaner interface. I really didn’t like the big texts as it really doesn’t make any difference to be very honest. Apple has made it easier for users to access their library with easier categories sections, playlists, artists, albums, songs and downloaded music. You can further customize this by adding new categories like videos, genres and composers among others. Apple has also included lyrics support for some songs.

I don’t use Apple Music very often mainly because it doesn’t have a lot of India-centric content. Despite the overhaul and new interface, I still don’t think I would be preferring the Apple Music any time sooner. For me, Saavn is still the app to go for music streaming as it has an impressive Hindi songs catalog and a decent one for English.

More apps tap into Siri

Apple had extensively talked about opening Siri to third-party developers. This essentially means you can ask Siri to do tasks on third party apps. The number of compatible third party apps isn’t very big. WhatsApp has just today released its updated app for iOS 10. I did try it out, and found it pretty okayish. You can ask Siri to send WhatsApp messages to your contacts. You can also ask it to make a WhatsApp call. Other third party apps like Slack, WeChat and Uber are in line to launch their updated apps for iOS 10. Right now Slack and Uber haven’t rolled out the update. That said, I think opening Siri is a masterstroke on the part of Apple. It makes the digital voice assistant more useful for iOS users than just asking for weather information or setting alarms.

As far as the third party apps go, WhatsApp is a fine example how the deep the integration could possibly be. Besides Siri support, WhatsApp has richer integration and optimized features for iOS 10. For an example, your WhatsApp calls appear in your regular call list as WhatsApp Audio. Calls appear full screen like regular calls. For more read : WhatsApp updated with iOS 10 features, here’s everything you need to know

I believe the WhatsApp integration is something which people will appreciate. Even though iMessage has improved, a lot of us are still and perhaps will continue to use WhatsApp for interacting with friends. I am very curious to check out how Uber and Slack work with Siri on iOS 10.

More power to developers

One of the big themes of iOS 10 is how much Apple has opened it to third-party developers. Truecaller, for instance, is using Apple’s CallKit Extension API, the now identify and display whether the call is from a reputable business or if it has been reported as spam. The app itself looks much richer and easier to use.

Another third party app that is looking to leverage Apple’s opened ecosystem is Adobe. The company has just introduced an new version of Lightroom for iOS with support for DNG file format, allowing users to take and edit RAW photos. But this also means more space constraint on iPhones. If you are using lower storage variants, perhaps you should keep an eye the storage.

Other small things

There are some minor tweaks which you may have or have not noticed. The dialer UI has changed a bit. The set of contacts that you have set as favorites don’t have the star icon, instead they just have a dial icon below the contact name. When you tap on any contact, you see a different layout. Like the Control Center, Apple has made it easier to find out the contact is available on which medium. Say one is available for message, call and email. Those icons will appear blue, while the video (FaceTime) will appear as faded grey.

The keyboard sound, has changed, but it’s pretty annoying. The Clock app has improved, and has new soothing alarms. There’s a new bedtime feature, which lets you set wake up time along with hours of sleep you need, comes with the option to set a reminder to hit the bed. The bedtime feature also serves up an analysis of your sleep, giving you data from your wake alarm and any other sleep trackers or data you add to HealthKit. Bedtime also calculate hours in bed by analyzing your motion and device usage.

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A constant process of refinement

As I had said in the beginning, Apple doesn’t regularly bring such a major design overhaul to its operating systems. The latest, iOS 10, is indeed a big change the way iOS users have been interacting with their iPhones or iPads. Despite being quite different from recent iOS versions, iOS 10 strikes a balance between familiarity and new improvements. It goes without saying that iOS 10 is one of the most intuitive mobile operating systems out there. Overall experience is pretty smooth and quite fun as well. With Apple opening the ecosystem to third-party developers, the experience, I believe, is only going to get better.

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  • Published Date: September 14, 2016 4:46 PM IST
  • Updated Date: September 14, 2016 6:18 PM IST