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    September 15, 2016

    iOS 10 Review: Small steps make for a great leap

    iOS 10 Review: Small steps make for a great leap

    With iOS 10, is there any reason not to update? We dive in to suss out whether the latest batch of improvements to Apple’s OS feels like a leap forward.

    Each year iPhone users get the benefit of a refreshed software experience that makes each device feel somewhat faster and slimmer – and 2016 is no exception. With iOS 10, Apple has introduced its most radical overhaul of the operating system’s user interface since the release of iOS 7 back in 2013.

    If you own an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, you’ve likely already downloaded and installed the update if you’ve managed to survive the cull that left many devices wiped of personal information.

    Read: iOS 10 reportedly wipes some iPhones and iPads on installation

    While iOS 10 has been a largely open process since the advent of Apple’s open beta program, it’s still refreshing for the rest of us to get onboard with the latest version of the operating system which powers most of Apple’s mobile range.

    With our iPhone 6s in hand, it’s time to make our verdict – is Apple’s new update a worthy one? Let’s dive in and find out!

    We have liftoff

    The first thing you’ll most likely notice when picking up your iPhone is that it actually knows when you’re picking it up – presuming that you’re running an iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, SE, 7 or 7 Plus.

    If you’re often frustrated by Touch ID’s speediness and end up blowing straight past your notifications, this is a welcome improvement. Raise to Wake is a great benefit which provides users with a palatable heads up before they begin getting underway with tasks with their device. This sometimes takes a while to register – I found iOS requires at least a second or two’s notice to turn on.

    iOS 10 Review: Small steps make for a great leap

    Goodbye, Slide to Unlock

    The lock screen has had as much of a revamp; gone is slide to unlock – that classic feature which was the source of numerous patent headaches for Apple. Instead, the home button needs to first read a fingerprint (if Touch ID is supported) and then be pressed in to unlock a device.

    Swiping to the left reveals iOS’ new Widgets menu which have emerged from the dark, dank ceiling that was Notification Center. Widgets, as whole, feel far more mature; 3D touch brings much-needed context to the Google-inspired Card design, and naturally the ability to configure what information can be seen from one’s locked screen will only grow over time as developers create new widgets and apps accordingly.

    If there’s a bug bear here – and this is a personal one – it’s that the bloody clock is aligned to the right; a new design precedent for iOS as far as its user interface goes. It’s a change that most won’t take too much notice of, but it’s a startling reminder that there’s new blood on the scene. Swiping to the right to unlock the camera feels more intuitive as well, leaving less complication in swiping up.

    The 6 series, as it was meant to be

    I’m left with the feeling that iOS is the first version of Apple’s mobile operating system that actually makes proper use of the right-hand power button. Coming from the early days of the iPhone where the power button was located on top, the right-side button has often felt – to me at least – like a secondary button in comparison to the purpose of the Home button.

    iOS 8 and 9 compounded that issue, as often by pressing the Home button one would activate and unlock their iPhone in any case, and would only use the power button to lock their device. With iOS 10, I feel far more compelled to press the power button to preview notifications before I raise my phone off the ground; the fact that I can get additional context by swiping right and revealing card-style widgets is more attractive than having to hold my device to pull down the notification center.

    Welcome Home

    On the front, iOS 10 hasn’t fiddled with the home screen much until one swipes left and reveals the same Widgets found on the left-hand side. Pulling down on this page reveals only notifications, while on any other screen one can pull down and then interact between notifications and widgets. Gone is the visual dichotomy between iOS 9’s widgets and notification screen; where those were separated by a vertical line, the card style design of both widgets and notifications lends some visual synchronicity.

    Another blessing is the ability to receive contextual information through widgets that support 3D touch. While offerings are presently sparse, this will only pick up in time thanks to developer interest. Thankfully, widgets in iOS 10 feel less like timesavers and more like genuine additions; for instance, a quick heads up 5-day forecast on Weather is one of my favorite additions.

    There’s a noted zippiness and new visual effect when opening an app which is reminiscent of the introduction of parallax and zoom in iOS 7; apps give the sense that they’re folding out into an expanse when opening.

    iOS 10 Review: Small steps make for a great leap

    Notify us, please

    By far what leaves the most negative taste in my mouth is the fact that iOS still doesn’t bundle notifications; for instance, multiple WhatsApps in a single conversation appear as one message at a time and frequently eclipse each other. While I definitely wouldn’t want these to begin to take over my screen, I’m left to feel Apple could have taken inspiration from Android 6.0 Marshmallow and 7.0 Nougat‘s take on bundling unread items together.

    That being said, the ability to 3D Touch notifications and see conversations and items in context (in supported apps) is a great way to stay abreast while staying in focus; I’m left to feel that this minimizes the need for apps to run side-by-side; at least on a display as small as the standard iPhone 6s and 7.

    Assuming Control

    Control Center has benefitted from a makeover, too – we’re now greeted by a carousel of cards which flip in and out. This will be subjective, but I’ve always felt the Control Center Apple introduced aboard iOS 7 was a masterclass in using space effectively; iOS 10’s cards maximise space of the sake of maximising space. The large Now Playing card feels unsightly, while I’m personally not a fan of the different colours we’re provided with aboard the quick function panel that contains Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

    The ability to have a Home card will be a boon for the Smart Home and IoT market, yet it’s not something I feel general consumers will benefit greatly from just yet. While I have plenty of connected gadgets at home – such as an IP camera – none of them support HomeKit, leaving me out in the cold.

    Picture perfect

    I really don’t like Photos on iOS; there, I said it. I find the timeline a waste of linear space, while I often forget where and when to find editing functions – nevermind the capability to share to services I’ve configured (or forgotten to configure).

    Photos in iOS 10 doesn’t do a lot to fix that, but its improvements are welcome. Albums roll in two at a time, leaving a picture on top for context – something I used to rely on album titles for. Memories is a great way to relive a certain day or occasion and greatly reminds me of Sony’s take on creation with its Movie Creator app which used to be bundled on early Xperia devices.

    iMessaged the future, and I got a response

    Apple clearly sees huge room for growth in the instant messaging market. It’s allegedly readying its own take on Snapchat, and in iOS 10, Messages becomes the app it was destined to be.

    It almost feels like an odd evolution; with the provision of its own App Store, Messages feels like a platform that’s matured overnight. In a word, it’s fun – and that’s coming from a person who hates to use anything besides WhatsApp.

    3D Touch is the new key pillar of Messages, and is used through everything from features such as Invisible Ink all the way to context menus. The former is fun and inspiring – and feels like a genuine addition – while the latter feels like a forced way to remind consumers that the feature exists.

    Digital Touch is a tricky endeavour to get used to, and you’ll more than likely have to wait patiently as a friend tries it out for the first time. A word to the wise; don’t bother writing on anything other than the largest surface possible.

    Stickers,  effects, and big emoji are all there, and the addition of games makes this feel like Apple’s warning shot to Facebook Messenger. Whether it’ll actually take off feels like anyone’s guess at present.

    Siri got more talkative

    Finally, iOS 10 brings the ability for developers to integrate their app’s functionality with Siri. While this is the development we’ve waited years for, its official introduction feels quite muted.

    Sure, the ability to command Siri to relay a WhatsApp is great, but one either has to know the precise command to set the assistant to work, or fuddle through various responses.

    The biggest addition to Siri will be the option to have her command a smart home, which will be an exciting endeavor for anyone with a HomeKit peripheral. I can’t wait to get my hands on a connected lighting kit at some stage simply for the purpose of launching a full 1970s disco through voice command.

    iOS 10 Review: Small steps make for a great leap

    Apple News, Maps, Music, and the App Store

    Apple News might not be officially available in South Africa yet, but thankfully it’s received a sizeable tweak that actually makes it feel like a bespoke newsletter service rather than a colossal consortium of assorted stories that often fall together without precedent or theme.

    Discovery is greatly improved through a calculated offering that shows a beautiful mix of stories and imagery; a similar tactic to that used on the redesign Apple Music. If you’ve ever struggled to find an artist on the service before, now’s the time to board the hype train again.

    All three Apple Maps users will love iOS 10 for similar reasons; geography is cleaner, more intuitive, and offers friendlier feature integration such as a pull-up bar to save favourite spaces to a list.

    The most significant beneficiary of iOS 10’s overhaul is the App Store, which has been culled to a single vertical list of titles which expand horizontally. There’s none of the confusing bundle premise that ruined flow previously, leaving users to more easily discover single apps.

    iOS 10 is a boon to Apple’s services, which continue to blossom under the care of Tim Cook. The redesign executed here is a significant way to entice users back into the Apple service ecosystem, and promotes the discovery of third party content throughout not only the App Store, but News and Music as well.

    iOS 10 Review: Small steps make for a great leap

    Overall: Small steps make for a great leap

    iOS 10 is an update that stands strong on the strength of its parts, rather than standing together as whole. In fact, I’d argue that’s been the weakness of iOS up until now.

    Apple has previously been rigorous in asserting iOS’ standards; uniformity across the board has not only stymied the look and feel of services, but has cramped the ability of user discovery to grow in platforms as vital as Apple Music.

    iOS 10 lets its hair down a little, and lets developers in. This is most apparent from the ability of app developers to make use of Siri and 3D Touch-powered Widgets, but I’m left to feel iOS 10 has two crowning achievements.

    The first is the integration of 3D touch on supported models; for the first time, the technology actually feels significant. Furthermore, it’s actually fun to use; there’s no effort made in iOS 10 to impose the feature as a timesaver; in fact, it’s something which lends itself to both work and play throughout the system.

    The second achievement is refining Apple’s service offerings. CEO Tim Cook has made good on building Apple’s services into million-dollar offerings – Apple Music is a great case in point – and now iOS 10 has done the groundwork into building services into a visually appealing platform that users will get behind. Whether this will pay off remains to be seen, but I’m left with a strong (yet very inductive) feeling it will.

    iOS 10 is one of the most sizeable updates to Apple’s mobile operating system yet, and there isn’t any reason you should put off updating your iPhone. As far as ‘Vision: Next’ ideas go, iOS 10 is a great frontier for Apple’s mobile products.

    And at least you can delete the bloody Stocks app.

    Read: Three ways Android N has officially thundered past Apple‘s iOS

    Have your say!

    What are your thoughts on iOS 10? Are you enjoying the latest update to Apple’s mobile operating system, or have you been left disquieted? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

    Follow Bryan Smith on Twitter: @bryansmithSA

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