Photo by Apple
At WWDC, Apple today announced iOS 12, which, like every-other release of macOS, focuses on refinement over radical new features, with an emphasis on speed, better time management, Siri improvements, and sprucing up long-ignored Apple apps. And augmented reality, although there seems to be more talk than action in this space so far.
The Need for Speed
The first way Apple hopes to improve your experience is by making your iOS devices faster. Apple claims that iOS 12 will be faster than iOS 11—a lot faster. The company is touting 40% faster app launches, 50% faster keyboard display, and 70% faster Camera access, plus up to 100% faster app launches and share sheet display while under heavy CPU load. Apple says this speed boost shouldn’t impact battery life since iOS 12 ramps up CPU performance instantly when needed and drops it as soon as it’s not.
These speed boosts will occur on every device iOS 12 supports, which is happily every device which iOS 11 supports—all the way back to the iPhone 5s and the original iPad Air. In fact, Apple suggested that these older devices may benefit the most from the speed improvements. Apple claims that iOS 12 will have the largest supported base ever for an Apple operating system release.
Take Back Your Time
Apple seems painfully aware of how the iPhone has reshaped society and is ever so slightly regretful.
To that end, Apple is enhancing two existing iOS features and rolling out a new one to help you use your iPhone less.
Do Not Disturb Improvements
First up, Do Not Disturb (DND) is getting some upgrades. You can now set an automatic end to DND by time or location: press the DND button in Control Center and you can set when or where to automatically leave DND mode. Now you don’t have to remember to turn it off.
DND can already keep your phone from buzzing and lighting up when you’re trying to rest, but Apple is taking it to the next level with Do Not Disturb During Bedtime, which also dims the display and hides all notifications until you wake up. When you do check your iPhone in the morning, it will slowly introduce notifications to you instead of bombarding you first thing.
iOS 12 will introduce two ways to make notifications less obnoxious:
- Notification Grouping: Notification grouping collects related notifications from the same app into “stacks” that you can tap to expand or dismiss with a swipe.
- Instant Tuning: In iOS 12, you can press a notification on the Lock screen to stop receiving notifications from that app, or to quietly send them to Notification Center without bothering you when the phone is locked. Siri may also make suggestions for adjusting them based on your usage.
The new Screen Time feature helps you track and control how often you and your children use your iOS devices, much like the existing Moment app but with more capabilities. You can see exactly how long you’ve been using your devices, which apps you’ve spent time in, set timed daily limits for apps, and set time away from the screen. You can also do this for your children’s devices via Family Sharing.
The most ambitious new feature of iOS 12 is Siri Shortcuts, accompanied by the new Shortcuts app. Apple did a weak job of explaining Shortcuts, so let me clear it up for you: it’s the official integration of the Workflow automation app that we’ve been anticipating since Apple purchased it last year (see “What Apple’s Purchase of Workflow Means for Automation,” 27 March 2017). It turns out that the title of my Workflow review—“Workflow Is the Next Step for iOS Automation” (21 December 2014)—was on the nose.
Siri Shortcuts will tie into hundreds of apps for you to create automated routines, which you activate on screen or with Siri. Plus, Siri will learn your daily habits and suggest certain shortcuts when they are relevant.
Here are some examples of stuff you can do with Siri Shortcuts:
- Locate your keys with Tile
- Order a favorite beverage
- Text a friend with a premade message
Apple spent quite a bit of the keynote talking about and showing off the capabilities of the new ARKit 2 framework. As before, augmented reality demos well, but hasn’t made a splash among mainstream apps used by most users yet. It’s obvious that Apple is laying the groundwork for something much bigger—perhaps digital glasses or an augmented Apple Car display. In any case, Apple is very excited about AR, despite it not really rocking the App Store yet. Here’s what’s new in AR in iOS 12:
- Shared Experiences: ARKit 2 will allow for “shared experiences”—think multiplayer games where everyone’s device can project shared virtual objects as an overlay on the real world. Apple demonstrated this capability with an upcoming Lego game and a demo app that fired virtual bullets at realistic virtual wooden blocks—on a table that actually exists. It was impressive, but wasn’t a very good example of augmented reality, since nearly everything that was interesting was in the virtual aspect of the game; the original Lego model just sat there.
- AR File Format: Apple announced the new USDZ file format for augmented-reality content. Adobe is an early partner, and Creative Cloud apps like Photoshop will be able to export USDZ. The USDZ standard will enable publishers to embed augmented reality in apps and Web sites more easily. As an example, Apple’s Craig Federighi demonstrated creating a customized guitar, and projecting it as an AR object so you could see how it would look at full size, and how it might look alongside surrounding objects.
For now, the most useful implementation of ARKit will be Apple’s new Measure app, which will ship with iOS 12. The app is—as you can guess—a virtual measuring tape. Measure will help you measure real-world objects with your iPhone and can even measure select objects, like photos, automatically.
Many other various and sundry changes are coming to iOS 12:
- Animoji: iPhone X users can look forward to ghost, koala, tiger, and Tyrannosaurus animojis. iOS 12 will also introduce memojis, which are animojis you can customize to match your appearance. Also, animojis will be able to detect the movement of your tongue and animate that on screen. No, that’s not a joke.
- Apple Books: iBooks has been redubbed Apple Books and has been given a fresh new design.
- Apple News: The News app will receive a design refresh, including a new sidebar on the iPad.
- Battery: The 7-day battery usage information in Settings > Battery will now show battery usage over the past 10 days instead.
- Camera Effects: The Camera app will gain Snapchat-esque effects you can apply to images, such as turning your face into an animoji, inserting emojis and stickers in the image, and applying various fun filters. You’ll be able to use these in other apps like Messages.
- CarPlay: With iOS 12, CarPlay will support third-party navigation apps, like Google Maps and Waze. Adam Engst was just complaining about the lack of this capability in iOS 11 while on his trip to the UK, where Apple’s Maps app wasn’t working acceptably, but Google Maps couldn’t be displayed on the rental car’s screen via CarPlay.
- FaceTime: FaceTime will finally let you have calls with more than two people. In fact, it will support up to 32 of your friends and relatives! You’ll also be able to use the aforementioned Camera effects while chatting with FaceTime.
- Password Generation: Not only can iOS 12 save and manage your Web and app passwords, but it’ll also be able to suggest new passwords and automatically save them.
- Photos: The Photos app boasts improved search, though we are curious if it will be as good as the search in Google Photos. A new For You tab reveals photos from your library, and—here’s a great feature—prompts you to collaborate with recognized friends to share photos from an event so you both get a complete set.
- Safari: The Safari Web browser gets some bold new privacy protections. Share buttons and comment boxes are now prevented from tracking you without permission, and advertisers can no longer track your device’s unique characteristics. Facebook, Google, and Web advertisers may not be happy about that, but nearly all users will appreciate it.
- Stocks: Remember the Stocks app? Apple has redesigned it, and it will integrate articles from Apple News.
- Two-Factor Authentication: If you need a one-time SMS code to log into a Web site, iOS 12 can automatically detect that and suggest it to you with AutoFill so you don’t have to switch between two apps.
- Voice Memos: The Voice Memos app is getting a big overhaul with support for both iPad and iCloud. macOS 10.14 Mojave will have Voice Memos as well, and recordings will sync between the two via iCloud, so it will be far more useful than it ever has been.
- Wallet: Apple demonstrated iOS 12 supporting contactless student ID cards at schools and universities that are partnering with them.
As welcome as many of these features are, none are game-changing. But that’s fine—we’d rather see the company instead focus on performance and refinement. There’s surely much more to discover over the summer as I work on updating Take Control of iOS 11.