With iOS 10, iPhone and iPad get a bigger, bolder, and more brilliant makeover — in more ways than one.
Rene Ritchie has been covering Apple and the personal technology industry for almost a decade. Editorial director for Mobile Nations, analyst for iMore, video and podcast host, you can follow him on Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter @reneritchie.
Update: Apple has just released iOS 10.1, an update that brings the long-awaited portrait mode to iPhone 7 Plus, fixes issues with reduced motion and iMessage effects, cleans up the iMessage app drawer, and more. I've updated the review below to reflect the major changes.
iOS 7 was a redesign, wiping away rich textures and putting physics-based interactions in their place. iOS 8 was a re-architecture, decoupling actions from apps and letting them extend into other interfaces and continue across devices. iOS 9 was a rewiring, setting up intelligence and proactivity, but in a way that respected privacy and security.
Now, iOS 10 takes all those things and pushes them forward. The design is getting cleaner and more consistent. The architecture is becoming more open and convenient. The wiring, much smarter and even more secure. It's taken time — and pain — getting the physics, extensibility, and intelligence to this point. Now Apple gets to — and has to — pay it all off.
That starts with new app integrations for Messages, Maps, and Siri. Messages has also become much more interactive, emotive, and filled with laser slamming sticker fun. There's a new, bigger, bolder, more brilliant interface for Music and News, and for the new Home app, which, finally, collects all your connected accessories in one place. There's also a new Control Center with multiple cards, including new ones for Now Playing and Home. There's a new widget space and Notification Center look, and 3D Touch is more prevalent and powerful. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are significantly amped-up on-device and obscured by differential privacy when sent to the cloud. That includes face and object recognition for Photos.
Some of the new interactions might cause confusion or become the subjects of strongly differing options. That's nothing new. Balancing an operating system that's meant to be both convenient and secure, accessible to the mainstream yet productive enough for power users, is a problem that only gets harder every year.
So, how well does Apple solve for that in iOS 10?
iOS 10 Video review
Song by Jonathan Mann, video by Mikah Sargent, concept by Serenity Caldwell.
iOS 10 evolution
iPhone OS 2
iPhone OS 3
Cut, copy, and paste
In app purchase
Push notifications (redux)
iBooks for iPhone
FaceTime over cellular
Shared Photo Streams
iOS in the Car
iWork for iCloud
Notification Center enhancements
Apple Pay enhancements
New Lock/Home experience
Quick look enhancements
Open GL ES 2.0
120fps Slow motion
Open GL ES 3.0
240fps Slow motion
Each new version of iOS expands upon, refines, and ultimately advances all the versions that have come before. For details on existing features, please see my previous reviews:
iOS 9 review
iOS 8 review
iOS 7 review
iOS 6 review
iOS 5 review
iOS 4 review
iPhone OS 3.0 review
iPhone OS 2.0 review
iOS 10 Compatibility
Apple didn't go so far as to exclude all 32-bit devices from iOS 10 compatibility, but they did drop several older models from the list, including all non-Retina display devices. Still, you can download and install iOS 10 on any iPhone or iPad going back to the fall of 2012.
iPhone 7 Plus
iPhone 6s Plus
iPhone 6 Plus
iPad Pro 9.7-inches
iPad Pro 12.9-inches
iPad Air 2
iPad mini 4
iPad mini 3
iPad mini 2
iPod touch 6
iOS 10 Lock screen
When Steve Jobs first showed off the Lock screen in 2007, it had wallpaper, the date and time, and let you "Slide to unlock" your iPhone. Over the years, Apple added notifications and Notification Center, Control Center, fast camera access, Siri, suggested apps, fast Apple Pay access, and more.
Already a system divided against itself — designed to keep your stuff safe from others but rapidly accessible to you — it began to get, if not overloaded, then certainly fussy.
With iOS 10, Apple is cleaning things up and making them simpler and more coherent. At least in theory...
How to use Lock Screen on iOS 10: The ultimate guide
Raise to wake (iPhone only)
You can now "raise to wake" your iPhone simply by picking it up. It's identical to the raise-to-wake feature Apple Watch launched with over a year ago, using the accelerometer to switch on the screen when you lift it into the normal viewing position. It works really well, especially to glance at the date or time or to check Lock screen notifications. It's so convenient, I wish Apple had implemented it years ago.
It was done now, though, to solve the "problem" of the second generation Touch ID sensor. It's so fast people would click the home button to glance at Lock screen notifications and end up blowing right past them and onto the Home screen.
Some re-habituated themselves to only wake up the phone with the power button or with a finger not registered with Touch ID. But not everyone.
You could argue that on a device with only two main buttons, it's inefficient for them both to be used to wake the device. You could also argue that, on a device that sleeps, the first act of any button should be to wake it.
Apple's solving that knot by cutting it — it's inefficient for any button to have to wake the device, so wake it immediately on raise. And once you get used to it, any device that doesn't do it seems broken.
If you hate the idea of raise to wake, you can disable it in Settings > Display & Brightness.
There's still one area where Apple Watch is ahead, though: You can also tap the screen to wake it. I wish that worked on iPhone as well. Tapping my iPhone as it sits on a table, so I can quickly glance at notifications without even having to raise it would be perfect.
Lock screen layout
The basic layout of the Lock screen has gotten simpler in iOS 10. The main Lock screen is still front and center, and you can still swipe down Notification Center from the top and swipe up Control Center from the bottom. Gone from the left, though, is Passcode, and in its place, Today view widgets. (Passcode now takes over the main screen when and if it has to). New to the right is fast camera access. (It was previously an icon, bottom right.)
Today view replaces the "minus one" Home screen, to the left of the main Home screen as well (previously occupied by Siri suggestions). It's also still accessible to the left of Notification Center. That makes getting to it much more convenient and consistent. Well, almost. If you go to the minus one Today view, then pull down Notification Center, then try to go left into Today view again, you can't. Allowing it would be a silly loop, but since people won't always remember how they got somewhere, consistency should beat logic.
Having fast camera access take up the full right swipe is much more reliable and robust. Grabbing a tiny icon was sometimes hit and miss. This new layout is touch and shoot.
Today view hasn't just taken over the "minus one" screen; it's been redesigned. Information density has gone down, but legibility has gone up. I'm still mixed on it. I think tighter corners and a little more density would have been a better compromise.
As it is, the aggressive corner radius combined with the background no longer dimming behind the widgets and notifications makes things distracting for me when I scroll. The wallpaper ends up creating a flicker or strobe effect, and I really wish it wouldn't.
You can customize which Today view widgets you want to see, just like before. Tap one, and you go to straight to its app. Tap on "Show More", though, and you get an expanded widget view. That includes animation and even live video, right in the widget, which is outstanding.
I'm not sure why both of those things aren't handled by 3D Touch, though, given how well peek and pop are handled through the rest of the system. As it is, I find myself pressing firmly all the time anyway, expecting something to happen and getting only the silent laughter of the widget in response.
Where widgets do use 3D Touch is on the Home screen. Press an app firmly and, if it has a widget, it'll pop right up atop the Home screen shortcuts. It fits beautifully with the overall theme of 3D Touch being a time saver — if you just need a little bit of data, there's no need to pop into the app – simply peek at the widget.
Notification Center and notification space has gotten a similar redesign. It's also become persistent. So, now, you can carry on a short conversation without having to bounce back and forth between what you're doing and what you're saying or jump to another app and then have to jump back.
I wish I could toss notifications away when I'm done, because their card-like shape and position on top of the screen makes you feel like you should be able to, but there's an X to close them or, like watchOS, you can swipe down to dismiss.
A longstanding pain point has also been addressed in iOS 10: You can 3D Touch the clear button to delete all notifications, just like Apple Watch.
How to use 3D Touch on iOS 10: The ultimate guide
Control Center has gotten one of the most significant redesigns in iOS 10. It too sacrifices density for legibility. In this case, though, the tradeoff takes some getting used to. Instead of a single card there are now three cards: one for control, one for now playing, and one for Home.
I'm still not settled on the new design. I love the new functionality, but I'm not yet sold on the implementation. Control Center's strength was that you could swipe it up from anywhere, do what you needed to do, then swipe it away. Now with three cards, there's often at least one additional swipe needed to get to where you want to go, maybe two. (For example, if you land in control but want home, or vice versa.
If Apple let the Control Center cards wrap around so that you could keep swiping either way and continue to cycle through the cards, it'd be perceptibly faster — and you wouldn't have to carry the cognitive load of remembering which card lived in which direction.
Also, because there are gaps between cards, switching between the cards looks slow. Notification Center, which lets you swipe between Today view and Notification view but does it in place, looks much faster, at least to my eyes.
The cards also introduce gesture collision. I can't count the number of times I've wanted to change brightness on the control card and ended up on the now playing card or wanted to change volume on the now playing card and ended up on control or home. The touch targets have gotten better over time and might get better still, but there's only so much space and so many gestures, and layering swipes is never going to be ideal.
The same goes for Control Center in the new results card in the Maps app. Swipe up hastily and you're just as likely to get one as the other, which means half the time it's not what you want. And touch interfaces need to be way, way less fussy than that.
On the positive side, the addition of 3D Touch shortcuts really expands the functionality. You still can't swap out the settings or change the tools, which would be nice, but you can get to specific and additional functions faster, like different intensities for the flashlight or common timer lengths. It's useful enough; I hope Apple builds it out further in the future.
Last year some insisted on calling 3D Touch a "gimmick". It was really an experiment. Flat, single column multitouch interfaces impose very real interface constraints. 3D Touch sought to literally add a trans-dimensional tunnel through them: press your way from one view or app into another.
Since 3D Touch isn't ubiquitous across devices, though, it can't be mandatory and so it's harder to make it a habit. That's why I'm not sure iOS 10 will change many hearts, even if the new functionality does make it even more attractive to try.
How to use Control Center on iOS 10: The ultimate guide
Press home to unlock
One of the biggest changes to the Lock screen in iOS 10 is how you open it — "Slide to unlock", a gesture that helped define the original iPhone experience, is gone.
In its place is "Press home to unlock" — or "Press home to open" if you've authenticated with Touch ID. You can actually put your finger on the sensor and not press down and see a wonderful little glyph-by-glyph animation of the lock indicator at the top of the screen opening and the words "unlocked" sliding into place.
That you touch to unlock and then press to open, instead of pressing to open and then keeping your finger in place to unlock, is a little confusing at first. If you don't nail the timing, get frustrated, and start pressing wildly, you can end up bouncing between passcode, Apple Pay, and even Siri screens. You can always switch on "rest finger to open" in Settings > General > Accessibility if you want or need to. If you give it a chance, though, once you do nail it, it makes a lot of sense.
Pressing home has always taken you home, and now it does just that from the Lock screen as well.
iOS 10 Siri
Since Siri was first introduced in 2011, developers and customers alike have been clamoring for a way to use Apple's natural language, sequential inference-driven virtual assistant to control all the apps on iPhone and iPad. Hey Siri, call me an Uber! Hey Siri, Skype Serenity! Hey Siri, send Lory $10 for dinner! It was nothing more than a beautiful dream — until now.
With iOS 10, Apple has introduced Siri apps. It's not a fully open API, at least not yet, but it will let six types of apps integrate with Siri in a fully fleshed out way:
Photo and video
CarPlay will also be getting Siri integration for VoIP and Messaging apps.
So, no, Siri won't be able to catch Pokémon for you, but the reason for the limitation, according to Apple, is a desire for quality over quantity. Apple wants to make really robust integrations that don't force you to speak in a certain way, construct sentences in a specific order, or constrain yourself to highly specific words. They want you to speak the way you naturally speak.
"Skype Georgia I'll be there in ten minutes."
"Message Georgia via Skype that I'll be there in ten minutes."
"Tell Georgia I'll be there in ten minutes with Skype."
To get that to work, Apple had to build out complex vocabularies — called domains — for each type of integration and cover every potential way of addressing them imaginable. Siri app integration also works with the idea of intents. Apps that fit in one of the applicable categories can describe a set of "intents", or things that they can do, and Siri takes care of the rest. So, developers neither have to re-invent the wheel nor introduce inconsistent implementations that make the system harder to use.
Because of the overhead, Apple was only able to get those six and CarPlay done and polished for iOS 10.0 but says more will be coming with future updates.
The best part? So long as you're using one of the six types of apps mentioned above, they'll reply to Siri with the same kind of information-rich cards as the built-in features enjoy. That means you can ask any question and issue any command right in the Siri interface, just like you're used to.
I didn't have access to Siri apps during the beta, so I couldn't test them for this review. I'll be doing that soon and updating this section accordingly. In the meantime, Apple provided some examples from developers who had early access to the functionality:
Pinterest: Find specific ideas you've saved: "Hey Siri, find women's fashion Pins on Pinterest."
Vogue Runway: Find collections from past runway debuts: "Hey Siri, ask Vogue Runway to show me photos of the Hermès 2016 collection."
Looklive: Find a "look" you've been crushing on: "Siri, show me photos of what Drake was wearing at the MTV Music Awards in Looklive."
Pikazo Pull up your favorite creations: "Hey Siri, show me a photo of my godson in the style of Monet on Pikazo."
The Roll: Find photos organized by artificial intelligence into keywords: "Hey Siri, show me my best photos of idyllic sunsets taken last summer using The Roll."
Square Cash Send money to a friend, to split the dinner bill or pay the rent: "Hey Siri, send Lauren $20 with Square Cash."
Monzo: Send payments you can authenticate with Touch ID: "Hey Siri, send Andy $10 for lunch."
WhatsApp Send messages to family and friends with the power of your voice: "Hey Siri, using WhatsApp, send a message to Georgia saying I'll be there in 15 minutes."
LinkedIn: Message to anyone in your network: "Hey Siri, send a LinkedIn message to Phil that says, 'Great meeting today.'"
As with the rest of iOS, Siri apps are private and secure. That means app developers get to handle the questions you ask, but they don't get your personal data or any other data along with it. Apple does all the parsing and passes the intents on to the apps.
It's a huge step forward for Siri, especially given the competition on the market. Apple already handles multi-region and multi-language as well, if not better than anyone. Siri also goes with you everywhere; it's not bound to a single multi-mic system in your house: Oh, damn, I'm going to be late getting home but that order's coming...! I better yell really loud!
You don't really notice how important that is until you leave your home, switch from phone to tablet, travel internationally, or simply speak without having to worry about putting the right word in the right place. Then it's everything.
If Apple can nail the integrations — if they work and they work well — then the combination of ubiquity, convenience, and extensibility will be killer.
iOS 10 QuickType
Data detection and prediction have both been taken to the next level in the updated QuickType keyboard. Apple's branding it as "Siri intelligence", the way they did Spotlight last year. I equate Siri with the personality-driven assistant, not the inference engine, so it doesn't quite jibe for me, but either way it works.
In order to be able to make better predictions, in wider contexts, over longer periods of time, Apple is using an aspect of neural networking called long short-term memory (LSTM). With it, everything from location, to calendar, to contact information, to the latest buzzwords are offered right up, so you can enter them without having to hunt them down and copy them out from other apps.
For prediction, it can figure out the difference when you're typing about a movie playing and your pets playing and provide the proper suggestions for each. For responses, if you're asked for a mutual friend's phone number, it can offer it right up. All told, the current implementation supports:
Point of interest lookup
The latter especially has been on a lot of wish lists.
In most cases it's sublime, but it's got one major drawback — just like with location sharing in the details screen, it's too easy to share where you are. Absent a confirmation dialog, you're always only one missed touch away from sending your location to someone you're trying to brush off, actively avoid, or are in some disagreement or distress with.
Location, and perhaps all personal information sharing, should require confirmation always. I hope Apple adds that option soon.
Where Apple continues to get it absolutely right is in keeping local information local and private. Anything that's from your device stays on your device. Anything from the cloud comes down and gets analyzed on your device. Apple's not harvesting any personal data in exchange for these conveniences.
Apple is striving to prove we don't need to make that exchange. And they're taking it a step further in iOS 10 as well. Using something called "differential privacy", Apple is adding a level of noise to any data it does want to pick up — like new words to add to the dictionary — and then filtering it out, so it's completely anonymous on the other end.
For example, if it wanted to know whether to suggest "Wars" or "Trek" more often as an auto-complete for "Star", Apple could use differential privacy to ensure no one ever found out which individual preferred which series, thus preventing family and friendship feuds.
When collecting the data, Apple could flip a virtual coin and then have a percentage of the people "lie" about their answer. That way it would be impossible to know if any individual told the truth or lied, and thus impossible to know what their real answer was. By collecting enough responses from enough people, and using statistical analysis to figure out how many lies there were, Apple could get really close to the proper answer, again, without ever knowing exactly which individuals answered which way.
Less noise could be added for areas of less popularity and frequency, more noise for areas with higher popularity and frequency, and the system could automatically opt-out anyone who was contributing too much data and overriding the privacy system.
In the same way, if millions of people started typing "shway" for "cool", Apple could quickly add it to autocomplete, without ever needing, or caring, to know whether you typed it or not.
How to use the QuickType keyboard in iOS 10: The ultimate guide
iOS 10 Photos
Photos was the app that really showed off the "wow" factor of multitouch on the original iPhone. Since then, it's had its ups and downs. Now, though, it feels like Apple is getting Photos for iPhone and iPad back on track. This year cracks "finally!" territory with the addition of Places — which feels like it's come and gone a few times over the years — and Faces, and introduces competition in the hyperbolic "artificial intelligence" and "machine learning" space with a much more advanced, object- and scene-filled search.
It's not just about finding what you want, though. Photos in iOS 10 is also about surfacing what you forgot you had. It does this through next-generation slide shows that pull from time and place for your viewing, and reminiscing, pleasure.
Advanced machine vision
Available on the Mac forever, Faces and Places helps you quickly find the locations and people that mean the most to you. Faces in specific uses "advanced machine vision" to scan your library and incoming photos and tries to figure out who's who. In keeping with Apple's stance on privacy, this is all done locally, right on your device, instead of being uploaded to some search engine or social server cloud, where the service is performed only in exchange for the data you provide.
Apple's gambling their significant lead in silicon — the chipsets inside the iPhone and iPad — will let them analyze and organize photos fast and well enough that we won't need or want to use online services anymore. And it's a big gamble.
Many people don't care about privacy. Unlike the cash you see coming out of your wallet or account, or the time you see clicking off the clock, data feels like it's free. We never have to look at the contents of our personal messages, emails, financial information, health data, and photos as leaving our control and being sucked up onto someone else's server. We just see free stuff with killer convenience, and the actual cost is abstracted away completely.
Still, Apple has to provide a compelling alternative in order to get a significant group of people to stop using the easy, powerful services of Google, Facebook, and Amazon, and use the on-device apps of iPhone and iPad instead.
In my tests so far, Faces has been okay but not outstanding. Lots of the same people have been split out into separate sets of photos, and I have to tap to merge them. And to label them. It's more work than I'd like. I feel like some of it should work better, for example, comparing Faces to profile pictures in contacts to guess who's who before I label them. I'm a writer, not a neural network or privacy architect, so I don't know the complexity, I just know how I want it to work.
Faces and Places are also surfaced right in the main photo view as well. Pick a photo, scroll down, and you see the people in it, the place it was taken, and related photo clusters. (See Memories, below.)
Apple isn't stopping with faces, either. Even without sucking up our data, they managed to figure out what rivers and mountains, coffee and steaks, cars and bicycles, and thousands of other objects look like, and Photos search can quickly pull them, and thousands of categories like them, out for you now as well.
This part has worked for me far better than Faces. Well enough that I haven't even considered switching to an online service since, even though I expect Google's especially would be better. A little less functionality for a lot more privacy is a price I'm not only willing but eager to pay.
I wanted to find a specific car I'd seen the other day, so I typed in "cars" and "Cupertino" — you can do hybrid searches, no problem — and it popped right up. That's indistinguishable from magic.
How to use Photos on iOS 10: The ultimate guide
Search lets you find what you're looking for. Memories hopes to show you what you've forgotten. Using the same time of machine vision, Memories clusters together events like trips, times like last weekend or year, and other major confluences of people, places, and themes, and then edits them into slideshow-style presentations, set to music, and intended to help you relive cherished moments.
Tap the new Memories tab at the bottom of the Photos app and you'll get a set of custom-generated shows, both for today and those generated in the past. You can play the Memory immediately or scroll down to see all the photos, as well as sections on the people and places contained within them. Related Memories are at the bottom, in case you want more from where they came.
When you play a Memory, it has to download any photos that aren't already on your iPhone or iPad from iCloud, which can take a while. Once it starts, it plays through, though you can pause it and edit the photos, as well as the duration from short to medium to long, and the mood. Each one comes with its own typeface for the titles and music.
You can also tap the edit button and separately tweak the titles, music, duration, and included photos. You can save the videos that delight you and expunge any photos that bring back any pain or embarrassment.
I seldom remember to go to the Memories tab in Photos, but I stumble upon them all the time in the related content section of photos — once you can scroll, I can't help but scroll! Almost every time I'm reminded of something that brings at least a small smile to my face. Sometimes, a massive smile.
I don't know if Memories will have any longevity, but photo and video pins lost in album and storage haystacks are very real problems of the digital age. Previously, Apple offered slideshows in iPhoto, and systematically made iMovie and Final Cut Pro more intuitive for quick video cuts. But the first wasn't smart enough and the second still not fast enough.
Memories is both smarter and faster; what remains to be seen is whether it clicks with customers or gets forgotten about just like the photos it's meant to surface.
How to use Memories in Photos for iOS 10
Crossing off another wish list item, Apple has added support for their markup extension to Photos. Previously, and vexingly, only available in Mail, markup lets you quickly and easily add text, callouts, and sketches and otherwise add visualizations — or vandalization — to your Photos.
It's a great way to add quick captions to personal photos, feedback to design comps, explanations to interface bug reports, or wackiness to any image you want to send or return.
How to use Markup in Photos for iOS 10
iOS 10 Camera
Yin to the Photos app's yang, Camera is Apple's simple, elegant capture app for pictures and video. In that regard, Camera hasn't changed much from last year, but there is one welcome change, some amazing under-the-hood improvements, and a few new features... for iPhone 7.
The camera switch button — A.K.A. the selfie switch — has moved from the top to the bottom and kicked the filters button up top to make room. Since I, and I suspect most people, take selfies more often than live filtered photos, it means the more common task is now easier to reach, even on the bigger phones.
In a welcome fix, launching the Camera doesn't kill audio anymore. So, you can pause on your run to take a photo without killing your podcast or playlist. Thanks, Apple.
On iPad, the Camera app redesign is even more extensive, with controls placed where they make more sense for the bigger screen. It's iPhone 7, though, that gets most of the new magic.
How to use Camera for iOS 10: The ultimate guide
Last fall Apple upgraded the iMac with 5K Retina display to DCI-P3, which is a cinematic standard for wide gamut color. It technically means more accurate, lifelike representation of magentas, reds, oranges, and the like. It effectively means photos POP more than ever before. Last spring Apple brought DCI-P3 to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and this fall, to iPhone 7.
Bigger news, though, is that Apple has added full support for DCI-P3 — and the next-generation standard, 2020 — to iOS. That means, on devices like iPhone 7 that support it, you can capture and display wide gamut images. Better still, Apple is managing that color across their entire product line, so what you shoot on iPhone 7 will look exactly as its supposed to on iPad Pro and iMac.
It's a step towards the magnificent future of deep, high-dynamic color, but an important one.
JPG, the photo format typically captured and stored by Apple products, is "lossy". It's designed to throw away data your eye doesn't really notice in order to save massive amounts of storage space. Higher end cameras, including DLSRs, can also capture RAW, which keeps as much data off the sensor as possible, at the cost of much higher file sizes.
With iOS 10, Apple is opening up RAW support to App Store apps. Just like with manual mode a couple of years ago, Apple's own Camera app is avoiding RAW in the name of simplicity. That's their vision for everyday photography. Other apps, and photographers who want much more control in post, will be all over it.
iPhone 7 Plus includes a dual-lens system, one 28mm wide-angle, one 56mm telephoto. Apple presents them as a single, fused, camera system, though, that allows for up to 2x optical and 10x digital zoom. The feature is controlled by a new zoom interface designed for easy one-handed use. Tap the 1x button and you jump to 2x. Hold it down and move your finger around, and you arc through the other magnifications until you hit 10.
Because it's designed to work as a single camera system, it's easy to get confused about which lens is being used at which time, and when they're being used simultaneously. For example, some people cover the telephoto lens, go to 2x, and don't understand why the camera preview isn't blocked by their finger.
The answer is the Camera app, and how it's abstracting away all the implementation details and presents a single, coherent interface. So, for example, if the light isn't good enough for the f/2.8 telephoto lens to render a great preview, you'll get a simulated preview off the f/1.4 wide-angle.
In other words, don't worry about or geek out over the mechanics — there's are App Store photography apps for that! — just take pictures and let the Camera app figure it out.
iOS 10.1 update: Portrait mode
When Apple showed off the iPhone 7 Plus, one of the big features they demonstrated was Portrait Mode. It used the two cameras to capture a both the subject and depth information about the scene, build a multi-layer depth map, then use a custom disk blur to simulate a depth-of-field, or bokeh, effect around the subject.
In beta for over a month following the launch of iPhone 7 Plus, it shipped to the public with iOS 10.1. I've been using it since the beta, and I'm really pleased with it. Though it's designed for portraits, as the names implies, and uses face detection as part of the process, the real world range is much wider.
It works great on pets, of course — my colleague, Serenity Caldwell, has dubbed it Pet-rait Mode — but also for nature photography, still life, product shots, food picks, and more. The only place where it has real trouble is highly reflective surfaces, which makes taking pictures of bottles, glasses, and — haha! — iPhone 7 in Jet Black difficult, since it'll mistake the reflections for areas that need blurring.
Apple has also made a lot of really smart choices with the software. For example, because Portrait Mode needs a lot of light to properly engage the f/2.8 telephoto lens, lower light portraits will be noisy. Instead of just leaving them noisy, Apple tweaked the software to make that noise reminiscent of old-style film grain.
The result is something almost better felt than seen. There's an emotional content to the Portrait Mode photographs that I've not experience on camera phones before.
The Camera app interface is great as well. Since getting a Portrait Mode shot requires specific distance and lighting, the app coaches you through the process. It'll tell you to get closer or further away, and when you need more light.
When you take the picture, you also get both the regular and the Portrait Mode version, just like you do with HDR, so you can pick the one your prefer. The Portrait Mode version is labeled "Depth Effect", though, which is an odd choice given Apple specifically called the feature "Portrait Mode". The latter is a better, more mainstream friendly choice, but I'd like to see it reflected in the photo labeling as well for consistency's sake.
Even though it's not what Portrait Mode was optimized for, I also like the product shots enough that I haven't shot with my Canon 5D Mark II since getting iOS 10.1. I do have to be more careful about light and angles, but I can now shoot anywhere, at any time, without lugging a DSLR with me.
And for people, pets, pictures of iPhones and coffee, and everything else, that's exactly what I wanted from Portrait Mode. About the only thing I'd love to see improved is the ability to use it in lower light one day.
Read our complete Portrait Mode review
iOS 10 Maps
Someone, somewhere in Apple's services division had the grand idea to redesign their core apps, including Maps, to be bigger, bolder, and brilliant. I liked it at first sight, but not at first use. There's a simple but profound reversal to the way Maps works that confused me for a while. I've become accustomed to it now, though. I still don't find it intuitive, but I'm slowly starting to think it's a better fit overall.
The previous version of Maps had become muscle memory for me, and I was used to tapping locations, getting popups right at the locations, and sliding between screens to get more generic or more specific information, depending on what I needed. Now, all of that has changed. You don't move between screens any more. Instead, you stay centered, and everything you need slides up to you in a brand new, all-containing card.
New Maps design
The centerpiece in the new Maps design is the card that slides up from the bottom of the screen. It holds everything, from search suggestions to nearby location information. And it manages to be both the best and most vexing part of the new Maps. The card has three states:
A tab at the very bottom that obstructs the map as little as possible.
A short, Control Center-like card that gives you the most pertinent options or information.
An almost full-screen view, complete with keyboard and nearby filters.
You can swipe it up or down between those states, most of the time without triggering Control Center from the bottom or Notification Center from the top. But not always. There are, after all, only so many gestures you can layer without getting collisions.
That's my biggest gripe about the gesture overloading iOS is beginning to adopt: It forces precision where, previously, the lack of need for precision was a competitive advantage.
The default state for the card is a search box and proactive suggestions. They include places you go to frequently, have been to recently, are on your calendar, or Apple's data detectors and machine learning algorithms otherwise think you'll find valuable.
Additional information, like traffic conditions and estimated time to destination, are also provided for your convenience.
If you want to find a place, simply type it into the search box. That used to be hit-and-miss in Maps, with little or no local prioritization, nearest neighbor, or search widening present. Now it's working well. Well enough, at least, that I can incorrectly spell the name of a Montreal bar while browsing San Francisco, and still get the correct local result. Cheers, Maps team!
Tapping into the search box will also bring up the nearby points of interest filters for your current location. If you want to see nearby points of interest for other locations, search first, get results, then clear the search box, tap into it, and you'll be good to filter.
Better still, there's now a sliding filter at the bottom as well. So, if you chose popular restaurants and want to narrow down the type of cuisine, you don't have to go back and tap the extra filter, you can simply dial it in.
Navigation gets a similar bigger, cleaner, and easier to follow design. The most welcome change, though, is that it will not only automatically zoom in and out to fit the scale of your current route, but let you pan around as well to see whatever it is you need to see.
There's also traffic en route and, when navigating, the card fills with arrival time, remaining time and distance, and can expand to show nearby points of interest for the route, including gas stations and restaurants, as well as options for an overview, detail view, and audio controls.
It's a much better, more usable interface while driving, especially for people who mount their iPhones on their dashboards in place of a built-in navigation system or Apple's CarPlay system
The biggest news for Maps this year, though, is apps. Just like Siri, apps can live right within the maps app. The value of app integration in Maps might not be obvious at first. Once you book a ride or reservation from within Maps, without having to jump around between apps, it becomes absolutely clear.
The human brain is horrible at context changes. Switch apps and, more often than not, you forget why. "Oh, new tweet from @settern? Let me just—whoa, I can't believe the New York times wrote this! Wait, what was I doing? Right, @settern... I'll just launch Tweebot again and—Wow, new Star Wars trailer...!"
If you stay where you are, though, and the functionality comes to you, then you never lose context. With Maps extensions, you can be traveling, see where you are, find a nearby restaurant, book a table, arrange for a car, pay for the ride, and never switch apps once. It's more efficient, more convenient, and just plain better.
Like with Siri apps, I'll have to wait until Maps extensions hit the App Store and I get a few days and weeks use out of them to see how they really perform. At that point, I'll update this section of the review.
I'm guessing it'll be a slam dunk, though. It's the same principal that made sharing and action extensions so powerful in the Share Sheet, and editing and effects extensions so convenient in the Photos app. It's as simple and profound as the transition from pull to push interface, and I want it everywhere.
iOS 10 Music
My Apple Music workflow remains incredibly simple: I ask Siri to play me whatever I want to listen to, whenever I want to listen to it, and then I spend a moment realizing the future is now. Then, when I don't know what I want to listen to, I tune into Beats 1 and occasionally poke around For You.
All this to say I have no business reviewing Apple Music as a service. I'll leave that for my colleague, Serenity Caldwell, and her follow-up Apple Music review.
Purely from the design-side, though, the Music app in iOS 10 is lightyears head of where it was before. It's simpler now and more coherent. It's still trying to do to much and cater to too many workflows, I think, but music is the one area where Apple enjoys an almost Microsoft Windows-level of legacy debt. So, baby steps.
The language is in the same bigger, bolder, more brilliant style as the rest of the services apps, and it fits Music well. Everything is easier to see and interact with. Even the "more" buttons, which were everywhere in the previous version, have been minimized as much as possible. On recent iPhones, 3D Touch picks up the task of bringing up all the options. And it's a much better fit.
In terms of organization, Library — your library, your music — is right up front now, and makes it easy to get to all your stuff. There are big, bold sections to make specific content easier to find, and a download tab so you always no what's available on your device, should you go offline.
When you find what you want and start to listen to it, now playing comes up using a card interface almost identical to the one in Maps. It suffers from the same gesture collisions as the Maps card as well — I often pull down notification center when I mean to pull down now playing.
It's cleaner, though, and introduces Apple's new buttons for like and dislike: a heart and a slashed out heart.
Built-in is lyrics, if available, which let you sing along with what you're listening to. It feels like Apple's been toying with lyrics — and our collective emotions along with them — for years, so hopefully they stick.
For You now houses the My New Music Mix, which includes personal song recommendations just "for you" and new daily playlists to help get you going. Connect has also been relegated here.
It feels like for Connect to have ever been successful, Apple would have to have hired hundreds of marketing assistants to literally walk behind artists posting on their behalf. Absent that, the old tab was a ghost town. The new section, a partially inhabited dwelling. In either case, it's hard to see Connect going much further, even in its update form.
Browse lets you see what's hot and happening in the Apple Music world, with top songs, featured albums and events, the new music for the week, and the current chart toppers.
Radio houses Beats 1, including what's live, upcoming shows, and featured shows. As well as all of the other, genre-specific radio stations.
It's hard to frame how much of an improvement the new Music app is. Last year I wrote that the then-new Music had been given an impossible job — to support new, modern use cases without being allowed to abandon the old ones. Now the new-new Music app does the impossible by balancing out those use cases in an almost elegant w