If you want to drive yourself crazy, have someone tweak a setting or two on your phone. Nothing major, just remap a gesture or swap a homescreen icon. Only then will you appreciate how you take everything about your phone for granted.

This sums up my first day with the beta of iOS 10, which arrives this fall on hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads. For the antsy, there’s a public beta starting today, so you can start getting used to all the newness now. Swipe to unlock is dead, replaced by the far more awkward move of pressing the home button. I’m still not used to swiping right to left instead of up to reach the camera, which I do a zillion times daily. Swipe up to get to Control Center, and nothing is where it was in iOS 9. I spent my first hour unlearning things I’ve done for a decade.

There are lots of small changes in Apple’s mobile OS, and plenty of big ones, too. They aren’t as obviously, colorfully noticeable as iOS 7, which arrived in 2014 with new ideas about how software should look. But iOS 10 is more important, because it’s full of new ideas about how you’ll use your phone. It overhauls Messages, introduces a lockscreen that is more than a security checkpoint, and makes notifications and widgets something you’ll actually use. As a result, the iPhone finally feels like more than a beautifully decorated home for your favorite apps.

It feels like a single organism, shifting and changing to meet your needs.


The New Way

The beta is, I should note, buggy as hell. You don’t have time to read a detailed list of weird problems, so I’ll stick to the biggies. Every app I use freezes and crashes at random. Things improved with the recent second beta, but not much. When a notification pops up, the only way to dismiss it is to turn the phone three times, dance a jig, and pray to the many-faced god that one last upward swipe will do the trick. But my favorite bug is giving an icon a long-press to move or delete it, the hitting the home button to return to normal and seeing that icon keep wigglin’ like the crowd at Shakira concert. The upshot is you definitely don’t want to install this beta on your primary device.

When do you do install iOS 10, you’ll see the change the moment your phone turns back on, because you won’t have turn it back on. Raise to Wake brings the screen to life when you pick up your phone. It’s one of the best things about the new software, even if it is jumpy. If you fidget with your phone you’ll see the screen turn on and off constantly, but there’s something magical about taking my phone from my pocket and having the screen right there.

The widgets page on the lockscreen is incredibly useful.The widgets page on the lockscreen is incredibly useful.Apple

That’s a key feature, because the lockscreen is the biggest change in iOS 10. That press-to-unlock thing is designed to keep you on the lockscreen, because it’s where you’ll want to be. Notifications have more interactive power, so you can do the hard-press 3D Touch move to scan an entire thread in Messages, peek at your calendar, and do things without opening an app or even unlocking your phone. Notifications appear as cards. Tap one and it opens. Swipe it left to right, and everything you can do appears. 3D Touch the X button and delete everything at once. Swipe left to right and you’re dropped in the widget screen, hands-down my favorite thing about iOS 10.

To my mind, widgets are the best thing about Android. I rarely want to open an app; I just want to take a note, call a car, or view my calendar alongside my to-do list. iOS always hid its widgets in the notification tray, where no one cared about them. Now they appear in the 3D Touch menu for every app, and by themselves on a screen to the left of your primary home screen. They make in-and-out actions (What’s next on my calendar? Is it raining? Did the Yankees win?) a snap. Siri integration in iOS 10 is limited to just a few questions, but widgets are a place developers can really play. Right now, I’m stuck looking at the Stocks widget and 3D-touching my texts over and over, just to grasp the potential. (If Siri tells me “I don’t see an app for that” one more time, I’ll cry.) But give it time. Cool stuff is surely coming.

Slam It if You Mean It

Messages is another plaything for developers, but it’s gotten some love from Cupertino. And because it’s the most frequently used app on iOS, most people will consider it the biggest upgrade because it can do truly fun things. I’ll definitely overuse the full-screen effects and abuse the SLAM! and Invisible Ink animations until the novelty wears off. But I’ll be sending stickers and GIFs and wacky hand-drawn notes forever. Rich link previews (inline YouTube viewing!) and the Tapback emoji that let you answer without sending a message, make the app feel smarter than ever.

You can send much richer messages now, as long as the person on the other end has an iPhone too.You can send much richer messages now, as long as the person on the other end has an iPhone too.Apple

Messages is now a true platform for iPhone users, though it doesn’t play nicely with Android. If you’re an Android user, your iPhone-toting friends can’t send you awesome drawings and crazy on-screen fireworks. They can only send you text messages. Lame.

In another nice change, apps on iOS 10 are finally removable! The downside is, Apple packed the OS with more pre-installed apps. Oh sure, Home is a slick hub for all things Homekit that you’ll probably use someday but have no use for now. iCloud Drive is now a file-syncing system worth the buck a month you’ll pay for extra storage. (This is especially true if you’re using MacOS Sierra, which snatches every file on your desktop and makes them available everywhere.) But as usual, most of the best things about iOS are reserved for people who only use Apple products and only associate with people who do that, too. Apple Music looks entirely different and Maps …. well I don’t know because I use Google Maps like every other sane person.

Being able to remove Apple’s apps seems symbolic. The first wave of smartphone innovation was the apps themselves: the social networking, the photo taking, the ride sharing, the Candy Crushing. The next wave, starting now, lies in how we use them. They no longer exist in isolation, like neighbors who never speak. They’re part of a Megazord that you design for Siri, your lockscreen, and iMessages to interact with. Apps are features now, not universes.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Can we talk instead about the more hollow sound keyboard clicks make? Or the fact that someone at Apple decided Night Shift needs an entire row in the Control Center? I’m still getting used to those things, and to the smaller text box in Messages, and the comically giant typeface of the lockscreen music player. And at some point, they’ll become second nature. Because making new things feel utterly natural is what Apple does best.


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With iOS 10, Your iPhone’s Basically Just a Lockscreen Now