IOS 10 REVIEW

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PROS
  • Deeper 3D Touch integration
  • Siri is finally open to devs
  • The Home app is great
  • Native apps can be deleted
CONS
  • Notifications still beaten by Android
  • Some 3D Touch actions aren’t obvious
  • iPad needs more bespoke features
KEY FEATURES
  • New iMessage app
  • Home app
  • Redesigned lockscreen
  • Better 3D Touch integration
  • Open Siri
  • Manufacturer: Apple
  • Review Price: free/subscription

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WHAT IS IOS 10?

Every year, Apple claims its iOS update is the biggest and best yet. With iOS 10, however, that claim actually rings true. This year’s tweaks to the iOS formula breathe new life into Apple’s own apps and make things ever so slightly more open.

But the headline features aren’t the real success here; it’s the smaller changes and shortcuts that although not obvious, are satisfying and genuinely useful.

You can download iOS 10 right now on the following devices: iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 5 and up, iPad mini 2 and up, iPad Air and up, iPad Pro 9.7 and 12.9 and iPod Touch 6th generation. It will come running on iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

IOS 10 – IMESSAGE

The headline-grabbing feature of iOS 10 is the updated iMessage app. Text messaging is pretty much dead, replaced by services such as iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Although Apple’s service has been steadily gaining ground, it’s always been a tad feature light compared to its rivals.

This changes in iOS 10. Actually, Apple has crammed so many features into its new chat app that it feels like it’s throwing everything at the ceiling in an effort to see what sticks.

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On the surface, the app looks very similar. Blue and white are the colours of choice, with contact photos sitting beside the message. Open up a thread, though, and the changes become apparent.

Alongside the text-input screen are a couple of new options: a camera icon, a heart and an App Store symbol. The latter is probably the most intriguing, and the one with the most scope for the future. It’s an App Store for iMessage, which lets you download “extras”. It’s great, if novel.

The GIF searcher is endless fun, while the Apple Music add-on lets you quickly send someone a snippet of a song. Obviously, time will see the range increase, and hopefully developers will find some clever ways to make use of it. Citymapper has already updated its app, as has IMDb.

The next icon across, which resembles a heart, is a little less interesting. It’s plucked straight from the Apple Watch, and feels out of place. You can send your “heartbeat” (which isn’t actually your heartbeat, since there’s no HRM in the iPhone) or draw out little images. They render back in real-time when opened by the receiver, which is cool – but I can’t imagine using it constantly. You can annotate images too, which is certainly more useful.

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So there are plenty of neat features to the iMessage update, but there’s also quite a lot that feels like MSN Messenger circa 2002. Someone’s birthday? You can send a screen-overtaking animation that blows confetti everywhere. You can also send a message that slams into the conversation and shakes the pages, or one that appears in invisible ink. I’m sure there will be folk who have an appreciation for such items, but I can’t say that they’ve stuck in my mind.

On the whole, the updated iMessage is great. It’s busy, yes, but given time, hopefully Apple will see fit to streamline it to include only the features that work. It’s a step in the right direction, though.

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IOS 10 – 3D TOUCH FINALLY MAKES SENSE

3D Touch was introduced to much hype with the iPhone 6S. It demoed well, but in day-to-day use it was limited. I tended to forget it was there, or it didn’t offer anything to make me use it.

This changes with iOS 10, where 3D Touch finally makes sense.

There are now 3D Touch actions dotted everywhere. The most useful is hard-pressing the “X” icon in the notifications tray to clear all. You can also 3D Touch the shortcuts in the updated Control Center to quickly alter the brightness of the torch, change the timer length and so on.

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The only real issue with these improvements is that they’re not obvious. If you’re not told about them, you probably won’t notice they’re there.

Widgets have seen a 3D Touch boost too. For example, in iOS 9 a hard press on the News icon would have merely thrown up text-based shortcuts; in iOS 10 it actually shows the latest news. I can check the morning news, and weather, without going into the app. This way of using widgets is, in my opinion, much cleaner than it is on Android.

IOS 10 – NEW LOCKSCREEN, CONTROL CENTER AND IMPROVED NOTIFICATIONS

Three aspects of iOS that I’d say needed the most work were the lockscreen, Control Center and notifications. And as if the developers at Apple had looked deep into my mind, each has received an update. However, the big question is whether the changes made are for the better?

For the most part, yes. This is a huge step-forward, one that manages to improve the overall user experience no end.

I’ll start with the new lockscreen, which is more a visual update than a functional one. The iconic “Slide to Unlock” option is no more; now you have to physically press the home button to unlock the phone. This is a result of many people, myself included, feeling that the Touch ID sensor was so fast that you blazed past your notifications whenever you opened the phone. It now takes a little longer to get into the phone, but it works a lot better.

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Apple has added “Raise to Wake”, which is easily one of the most user-friendly of iOS’s new features. The screen will burst into life whenever you pick up the phone.

The swipe-up gesture to quickly open the camera is gone. Now you swipe to the right; swiping to the left takes you to a new screen entirely. This is where all your “widgets” – useful tidbits of information pulled directly from apps – are located. Widgets aren’t new for iOS, but the implementation is certainly better here.

This can be attributed to the improved quality of the widgets themselves. Apple has updated all of them, from Activity that shows your daily targets, to the weather slide that displays the conditions over the coming week. Older third-party widgets now look a little weird, with a strange discoloured border. Hopefully, developers will update these too.

The spruced up Control Center is probably the biggest step forward in terms of design, especially considering it was fairly useless before.

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Access is still via a swipe up from the bottom of the screen, but it’s now split into three distinct panes. The first is familiar, with shortcuts and toggles, but it’s cleaner than before. This is because the music playback options have been moved to their own panel – a wise decision. There’s also a panel that ties into the new Home smart home controller app, which lets you quickly tune your connected tech without opening the app.

I’d still like to be able to add my own toggles, and the lack of a quick option to jump into Settings is bizarre, but the spread-out approach makes the Control Center much more functional.

Finally, there’s notifications. I have to switch between iOS and Android fairly frequently, and the biggest win for Google’s OS in my eyes is it’s far superior notifications system. Apple’s interpretation has always felt cluttered and aimed far more at the casual consumer rather than someone who has to deal with a constant stream of emails, messages and general alerts.

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Even in iOS 10, Apple doesn’t get close to Google’s implementation of notifications. Nevertheless, the improvements are welcome.

3D-Touching a message pops out a quick-reply box complete with the rest of the conversation, so you can knock out a reply from the lockscreen, while the “Clear All” option is a godsend to those who have a messy inbox.

IOS 10 – MUSIC, NEWS AND PHOTOS

In iOS 10, you can finally delete apps that Apple previously forced you to keep. Stocks, iBooks, the Apple Watch companion and pretty much anything aside from the phone dialler and clock can be removed from your homescreen.

I’d say it’s more hiding them, rather than actually deleting them, since they’ll be knocking around in the system files and can easily be added again through the App Store. But being able to eliminate apps that I never use from an already jammed homescreen is a huge bonus.

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In iOS 9, the two apps that I’d have considered deleting if I had the option were News and Apple Music. Both were infuriatingly slow, seriously limited and pretty ugly; but that’s all changed now.

Both News and Apple Music are faster, cleaner, and in the latter it’s much easier to see which songs you have downloaded, and quicker to find playlists that you actually want to listen to.

I’m on board with the new font scheme and the reliance on bold lettering, minimal text and high-resolution art, too. It’s what both these apps should have presented from the start.

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I love Google Photos. It’s easily the best photo cloud service around. And it appears that Apple agrees, since its latest Photos update plucks a number of the former’s coolest features.

Photos now automatically groups together similar faces and cleverly combines shots taken together into slideshow albums, complete with music. Both are nice additions, although some of the algorithms aren’t quite as accurate as those of Google. It struggles to differentiate between siblings, for example, and always adds in a few unrelated photos to albums. It’s am improvement, nonetheless.

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IOS 10 – HOME

While plenty of Apple’s apps have seen much-needed visual and functionality improvements in iOS 10, there’s a completely new app that’s worthy of a mention. Even though many folk will never open it.

It’s called Home, and it’s a godsend if you’ve started to invest in HomeKit-enabled smart home tech. Instead of having to jump between apps for your lights, thermostat, blinds and so on, you have a single app that aggregates it all together.

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It’s on the basic side, and for some of the deeper functionality you’ll still have to use other apps, but it’s fantastic for quickly seeing what’s on and off. You can set up scenes – for example, having your light turn on, blinds open and heating raised – and access this through spoken phrases to Siri.

If you have one of the latest Apple TVs in your home, it can be used as a hub for automation, enabling you to alter settings while you’re away. It’s a slick setup that seems to works without the need for any faff.

This app was desperately needed for HomeKit to really take off, and also to make it more user-friendly and enticing. Even though the execution is basic, I haven’t opened the dedicated Philips Hue app at all since updating to iOS 10.

IOS 10 – SIRI

A near certainty for every iOS release is an update to Siri, Apple’s voice assistant. This is the first year Siri comes to the Mac, but it’s also the first time I’m marginally excited by its iOS presence.

Apple has finally opened up the Siri API to developers, so they’ll be able to build in Siri’s smarts into apps. You’ll be able to order an Uber by asking for it, for example – the possibilities are pretty exciting.

Developers will obviously have to jump on board for this to work, but judging by their willingness to adapt to features such as 3D Touch and larger screen sizes, I’m sure they won’t take too much convincing.

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IOS 10 – PERFORMANCE AND BATTERY LIFE

Apple isn’t making huge claims about increased performance and battery life in iOS 10.

I’ve been using iOS 10 on a few devices, ranging from an iPad Mini 2 to an iPhone 6S and iPad Pro 9.7-inch. Things seem slightly faster overall on each of the devices, but this is most likely down to speedier animations. Battery life, too, is on par with iOS 9.

IOS 10 – OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER

Minor iPad improvements: As always, the iPad seems left behind when it comes to specific improvements in iOS 10. You get all the benefits of the update of an iPhone, but nothing specifically built for the bigger screen of the tablet.

Split-view hasn’t had the revamp it needs, the homescreen still feels unintuitive on a big screen, and it lacks anything to simulate the 3D Touch features. You can have two tabs open next to each other in Safari, which is one bonus.

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Apple Pay on the web: Apple Pay is comfortably the most efficient mobile payment solution I’ve used, and in iOS 10 it comes to the web. Supported sites will let you easily and securely pay with Apple Pay.

Updated keyboard: There’s a couple of neat tricks added to the pretty good iOS keyboard here. Type a word such as “fire” or “love” and the related emoji will pop up, while suggested passwords and log-in info will appear on relevant sites.

Slightly altered Mail apps: Apple’s Mail client isn’t the best, but there have been a couple of improvements here. Top of the pile is a new unsubscribe feature that pulls you off those annoying spam email lists with one-button press. There’s also some visual updates, with threaded messages now much easier to read.

SHOULD I DOWNLOAD IOS 10?

iOS 10 is great. It’s great because of the little things: the deeper 3D Touch integration, tweaks to the Control Center, modernised lockscreen and Raise to Wake functionality.

Apple has also finally brought some flair into its native apps, with Music and News dragged from useless space-fillers to usable apps. Hopefully, iOS 11 will see the updated design applied to all the other pre-installed apps.

Yet, iOS 10 isn’t going to convert anyone who hasn’t been an Apple fan before. It doesn’t rewrite the iOS formula, it doesn’t add greater customisation, and it doesn’t make it more open. What it does is to improve what’s already there.

This is the most exciting iOS update since the design overhaul that took place with iOS 7; I only wish that they’d been a bit more focus on the iPad.

VERDICT

Simply put, this is the best iOS update in years.

Tags: IOS 10