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Bring Yourself Recurring Joy with Apple’s New Lock Screen Photo Shuffle

When I think about how technology as a whole has improved my life and the lives of people around me, I tend to focus on things like the development of vaccines, the improvement of chemotherapy and other oncology treatments, and emergency tools like the Apple Watch’s fall detection and automated notifications of dangerous weather conditions.

If I instead ponder how technology has enhanced my happiness, the list is far shorter. I enjoy the quality of photography modern iPhones are capable of. I’m glad to have FaceTime, Zoom, and other videoconferencing tools to connect with family and friends. While Twitter and other social media are decidedly mixed bags, I’ve made new connections with people, and that was especially important for my mental well-being during the pandemic.

But what about pure joy? I’d have been hard-pressed to give you an answer to that until Apple let us add the Photos widget to the Home Screen in iOS 14 and iPadOS 15 and use Photo Shuffle as a Lock Screen wallpaper option in iOS 16. I have the Photos widget on my first Home Screen, and I created a custom Photo Shuffle for my Lock Screen as soon as I started using iOS 16. If only Apple could extend this sort of machine learning to the My Photos screensaver on the Apple TV.

My favorite thing each morning is to see what photo appears in the Photos widget on my Home Screen. That widget shows entries from the For You section in Photos. You might see an entry from Memories, the AI-generated oddball collections that might include “Exploring Pittsburgh over the years” or “On this date.”

But I most often see one of my Featured Photos, which I prefer. Featured Photos is a small, ephemeral album iOS assembles for me every day. Featured Photos nearly always contains 10 to 20 images of happy or interesting snapshots from my life, typically featuring my children.

Featured Photos, like Memories, relies on some kind of machine-learning algorithm that Apple doesn’t describe. But I think it’s far more successful than Memories, which sometimes shows me slideshows of weirdly disconnected or boring images. You can’t push photos into a Featured Photos stack, although you can remove them. With an image showing in the Featured Photos collection in For You, tap the ••• icon in the upper-right corner and tap Feature This Person Less or Remove from Featured Photos. The latter ensures you won’t see that photo in rotation anymore.

Both Memories and Featured Photos have the potential to induce sadness or grief, of course. All technology companies should have learned a lesson from Eric Meyer’s 2014 experience with Facebook, which rolled out a Year in Review feature that mindlessly showed him images of his six-year-old daughter Rebecca, who had died of brain cancer that year. Some smart companies brought Eric in to talk about the topic in the hope that his experience could help their products avoid this tragic error. (Rebecca’s life is commemorated with rebeccapurple, an official CSS4 color name.)

Apple seems to have figured out some way of avoiding this. My life isn’t full of death, disaster, and disagreement. But I have digitized nearly all photos I’ve taken over the last 40 of my mumblety-mumble years, including images of past romantic partners, broken or neglected friendships, and people I care about who have died. I rarely see anything from that data set, despite not having purged images from my Photos library that might, out of context, cause pain. The closest are photos of my mother with my kids that appear regularly, but not too frequently. She died in 2009. I find those images wistful, sweet, and a nice way to remember her in life.

I assume Apple’s machine-learning system relies on signals stored locally and synced across my photo libraries. It knows who I’ve identified in the People album; I don’t add people I want to forget. I assume Photos tracks how many times I view images and videos, and it knows which I’ve marked as favorites. And I occasionally do note that a photo should be removed from Featured Photos. Perhaps that’s enough.

iOS 16’s new Lock Screen Photo Shuffle feature has a different design that’s also random but much more focused. When setting up Photo Shuffle as your Lock Screen wallpaper, you can pick Shuffle Categories: People, Pets, Nature, and Cities. With People, you’re presented with a subset of your People album and can select the people you want to see regularly. I expect Apple structured these choices to further constrain the appearance of unwanted images, which are less likely to be tolerable on the Lock Screen. You can remove troublesome photos, too, though it’s a slog: in the Frequency options hidden behind the ••• icon, select Don’t Feature Photo to remove it from future shuffled photos.

Lock Screen Photo Shuffle setup

Although you can swipe through “all” the featured photos when customizing Photo Shuffle to start, it will add photos to the collection over time, so you may occasionally have to customize that Lock Screen again to remove an undesirable photo that the algorithm has chosen after your initial setup.

I set Photo Shuffle’s frequency to the ridiculous update schedule of On Lock. Every time my iPhone lights up with an incoming alert, I raise it to view, or I press the Standby button, I get a new image. Weeks into using it, I haven’t even begun to tire of the random presentation of photos of the people I love across decades of my life.

It turns out you can design a product to produce joy. Apple has chosen to hide the details of how it engineered this kind of delight, and that unpredictability might just be a key aspect of the pleasure of continuous rediscovery.

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Comments About Bring Yourself Recurring Joy with Apple’s New Lock Screen Photo Shuffle

Notable Replies

  1. OT, but I’d have even more joy if they applied this marvellous code to Music.app in order to assign album cover art properly.

  2. So that was pretty cool. But I can’t add it to my existing lock screen, I have to set a new one up all over again? I also can’t seem to change the category once I have it set up.

    Diane

  3. Where does one find the Featured Photos album? Under the For You section of Photos (iOS 16), I find a bunch of Memories that Apple has curated, and below that, the Shared with You gallery. But no sign of my Featured Photos.
    Is there an option hidden away somewhere that needs to be enabled?

  4. Thanks for this tip, Glenn!

  5. Diane,
    Thanks for posting!
    That option (Settings/Photos/Show Featured Content) was already turned on. Hence, my iPhone was displaying some Memories.

    After spending some time with Ms. Google, I found a ‘fix’:

    • turn off the Show Featured Content switch in Settings
    • force quit the Photos app
    • return to Settings, and re-enable Show Featured Content
    • launch Photos
    • open the For You page
    • with Photos open, connect iPhone to power and leave it overnight.

    When I checked the iPhone this am, the Featured Photos section had appeared!
    Apple’s selection of pictures that it thinks are worthy of being featured is a bit odd. Perhaps it will get updated overnight tonight, or on a schedule of Apple’s choosing…

    Another oddity I’ve found is a bug in the Shuffle Categories pane (used to manage what photos are displayed on the lock screen). It has 4 select buttons: People, Pets, Nature, and Cities. The People option lets one choose which people will be included. Alas, it only offers two (of the seven) people that the Photos app has found and named.

  6. You’re welcome! Mine was also on and I occasionally watch the “On This Day” slideshow that Apple offers me.

    I am only given the choice of “Nature”. I don’t have many people pix but I have probably equal amounts of my cats and nature. I think I will try your steps today to see if I get new choices. For the most part what they’ve selected in my Nature slideshow is fine but it’s only about 15 pix.

    Actually, I don’t have a “For you” section and I know I watched one a few weeks ago as it was on a trip I took a year prior. I wonder if the upgrade to iOS 16 wiped some of it out on mine.

    Diane

  7. These new photo capabilities in iOS are still a bit fuzzy (pun intended…).
    I’ve never seen an “On This Day” slideshow, even though I have many thousands of photos in the Camera Roll, going back many years.

    Quite odd that you are only given the choice of “Nature” in the Shuffle Categories selection box. I get People, Pets, Nature, and Cities. As mentioned before, the People option only offers two of the seven people that the Photos app has found and categorized. I’ve poked around a bit (designated some of the other people as Favorites, power-cycled the iPhone, force-quit Photos, created yet another custom lock screen, etc). So far, I’ve not been able to coerce iOS to show any of the other people in the lock screen rotation.

    However, Glenn’s article says “With People, you’re presented with a subset of your People album and can select the people you want to see regularly”. So perhaps my Photo Shuffle feature is working as designed, only showing a subset (2) of the 7 people in my People album.

    In any event, this enhancement to iOS16 does bring some joy to my iPhone experience – thanks to Glenn for publishing the article.

  8. I wish I could remember if I had other choices before. If I try to setup a new one, Nature is checked off under the deck of pix and on the bottom is gives me a choice of Featured or Manual

    If I select manual, I again am given Featured or Nature. Featured shows 23 pix and Nature shows 26. Except for the extra 3 I think they are all the same - all nature shots.

    The featured section in Photos has completely different ones and only one is Nature.

    I have over 7000 pix on the phone. I read posts that said it took days for that many to process. It’s like my processing never went through.

    Diane

  9. I followed all the steps and still have the same handful of pix. I’m not resetting the phone to see if that works, so I guess this is what I’ve got until Apple maybe changes things in another update!

    Diane

  10. Sometimes I get a couple of photos, like the algorithm gives up and says, “Meh, here you go.” And a few times I’ve gotten the same handful of photos. But not every time. I wonder if there’s background processing that’s stuck.

  11. This morning I removed a few pix I didn’t want to see. Maybe that will kick something off (but not yet). I even did a hard restart (which is kind of convoluted on the 13 Mini)

    Diane

  12. Glenn, I have avoided downloading IOS 16 on my IPhone 12 Mini. I have read so many complaints about the update. Is it safe to do it now?

  13. Gosh, I’ve been running it since summer on a test phone and since a few weeks before release on my day-to-day phone. I installed it on an iPad mini in beta and then upgraded to iPadOS 16.1. I may be out of the loop, but I haven’t heard widespread problems? I am not sure I am informed enough!

  14. I’ve experienced no particular problems with iOS 16, and we’re already several updates into the cycle, so if you’re looking to try the new Lock Screen capability, I see no reason to wait longer. Some people seem perturbed about the size of the clock, but others (including me) prefer it larger.

  15. I started with iOS 16 when it was first released, and I’m up to 16.1.1. No problems so far.
    And I’ll probably get started on the Lock Screen after the holiday weekend.

  16. One thing I wanted to ask - is this supposed to work in sync with iCloud? I don’t use iCloud for my photos and wonder if that could be my issue.

    Diane

  17. For me, it’s not the size of the clock, but the default thickness of the digits. I’ve picked the thinnest version given, but I would like a greater range of choices than the 8 allowed.

    Of course, this situation is much better than iPadOS where the same bold version of the font is used, but, because there are no Lock Screen choices available beyond changing the wallpaper, you are stuck with the default.

  18. It’s not inconceivable, though Apple usually says when something like that is required. What iPhone model are you using, and when did you upgrade to iOS 16? On Tonya’s third-generation iPhone SE, which has less processing power than my iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro, it took a lot longer—multiple days—to show any suggestions for Photo Shuffle. We haven’t previously ever used Memories or Featured Photos in Photos, so we didn’t notice any issues there.

    One thing to point out for everyone who’s just starting with these features. Don’t expect it to be predictable. It’s a black box algorithm, and apart from telling it not to use a particular photo, there’s no way to know why it selects some photos and not others. Plus, the selection changes over time, so even if you’ve looked at all the featured photos at one point, you may still see new photos showing up later.

  19. I don’t sync my photos to iCloud and it works from me. But I chose manually and checked off the images I wanted. I don’t store all my photos on my phone. I do offload from time to time via Preview app on mac,
    Still, I like this lock screen feature. And its easy to make another Lock Screen, use this feature. If you want to revert to previous Lock screen, just hold down on the Lock screen and you’ll see previous ones. I have about five… A Legacy with original Lock/Home, another for weather, another for work, and now one with the Photo Shuffle.

  20. I only thought so because many of the “it’s not working” pages that I found online mentioned iCloud syncing.

    I updated to 16 the end of October, about a month ago. I think I went from 15.7 to 16.1

    iPhone 13 Mini

    Did Tonya’s say it was processing? Again reading pages out there it sounds like some get stuck on “processing” for days but I never saw that.

    I’ve probably played the Memories thing a handful of times over the past year. They pop up on occasion, I never go looking for them.

    The Featured Photos on the tab in Photos are completely different than what’s offered in the lock screen section, and there are always only 10 there.

    Did you mean “black hole”? LOL!

    Diane

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