Apple rolled out the latest iteration of its mobile operating system on Monday, September 17th. Instead of focusing on appearance or features, the system's refinements are centred on improving performance and the user experience in addition to helpful updates to Siri, video messaging, and Carplay.
First unveiled at a keynote event on June 4th, iOS 12 is compatible with all Apple iPads and iPhones released since September 2013. Conveniently, that means that all devices that supported iOS 11 will also support iOS 12.
Contrary to previous updates, the new system also performs better on its oldest supported devices. Arstechnica tested iOS 12 on an older iPhone 5S and iPad Mini 2, both released at the end of 2013, and discovered that apps opened 7-25% faster on the new system than on iOS 11. This should please owners of aging devices.
On newer devices, Apple promises that the new system should launch apps up to 40% faster, bring up the keyboard up to 50% faster, and turn on the camera up to 70% faster.
Siri, Apple's voice assistant, is even more knowledgeable on the new system and can answer questions about famous people and food. Even more impressive, a new Shortcuts app allows users to activate automated tasks with a specific spoken phrase. Preloaded shortcuts include tasks like reviewing top headlines, sending a friend or partner your ETA, or asking when you need to leave by to arrive at a pre-programmed destination.
Usefully, automations provided by other third-party apps can also be "adopted" into Shortcuts and activated by Siri. The app also includes a library of actions that can be customised together by users and attached to a custom phrase of their choosing. Federico Viticci of MacStories.net calls this feature "the next big step in making Siri a more personal assistant that is unique to each user".
The new Screen Time features built into iOS 12 have been given a lot of attention since they were announced in June, and rightfully so. For the first time, iOS users can track total device usage, usage by app, and even the number of device pickups per hour. Limits on apps can be set by users as well, and parental controls can make these limits enforceable by requiring the Screen Time Passcode once a limit has been reached.
Notification controls have also been improved on iOS 12. Do Not Disturb has gained several new features, including a Bedtime feature that turns off almost all notifications after a certain hour of the day. Notifications on the lock screen are also now grouped together by app in a drawer-like interface, making it easier to manage all updates from a single app in one place. Notifications can also be made less intrusive using Deliver Quietly mode, which sends them to Notification Centre but not to the lock screen, or turned off completely by tapping on a suggestion from Siri when she notices that an app has not been used for a long time.
A few more gems
While Apple has been loudly touting their new augmented reality (AR) features for the last couple of years, and iOS 12 certainly offers some fun new AR toys like Memojis and the camera-based Measure app, everyday users will probably be most pleased by some of the lower-key changes in the update.
For example, Facetime users can finally make group video or audio calls to up to 32 people. CarPlay in iOS 12 finally supports more than just Apple Maps, letting users get best-in-class driving instructions from Waze or Google Maps. For users of the iPhone X, iPhone XS or XR models, Face ID now supports alternate faces or appearances, a feature long-in-coming since Touch ID supported multiple fingers from the start. Lastly, university students can now add their student ID cards to the Wallet app, allowing them to use their phones to pay for meals, snacks, and laundry machines.
Altogether, iOS 12 shows a renewed focus by Apple on things everyday users care about: speed, control, and ease of use. While a few may not notice the changes, even fewer should be displeased.