There comes a time in the lifecycle of a product which I jokingly like to call the “floodgate”. It is when the pearly gates open, when the public can finally enter a new realm of unity with their parent company, and find new features galore. Oh, the dream of every and any testing enthusiast, provided they like Apple. Whether you’re a hard-core programmer, someone that likes risk and adventure and might tinker a bit on the hardware side, or just in general have above-average technical knowledge, these gates are yours to enter. If you are the type who enjoys stability, reliable functions, non-crashing apps, don’t you worry. Your time comes in September.
iOS 10 and Watch OS 3 are significant updates, and yet both are nearly opposite in version number. The “10” in iOS’ version probably carries a lot of weight for Apple. Next year comes the big 10 for the iPhone, so it’s crucial that there’s a big software push before the “hardware” comes next year. This is probably a safe and clear strategy for them.
Since this is a public beta, things will change over time. This comprehensive overview is meant to showcase some of the lesser and more well-known features of both iOS 10 and Watch OS 3, and also demonstrate the ways in which interaction has changed on both. If you want to test, I recommend doing so on a non-primary device, especially early on in the cycle, where we are at present.
How do I grab it?
To get the public release, simply head to Apple’s beta site and download the configuration profile, after signing in. If you are new to the program, you might have to wait – but once the profile is installed, it will show up under Software Updates in Settings.
A big red warning about Watch OS downgrades
Apple Watch owners face a tough problem when they test out upcoming releases. While some might prefer to have a secondary watch just for testing which could perhaps be hooked up to another iPhone, I feel as though this does not provide a real-world use case testing environment for the watch, something which is crucial as it is a device which is worn and checked all day, perhaps even more than a phone.
However, if running Watch OS 3, please note that downgrading is not possible without taking your Watch in to a store and having it serviced. This is rather unfortunate because Watch OS 3 would not work with iOS 9, as they require matching versions. Although, Watch OS 2.x based devices will work with iOS 10 betas. So you can stay safe if you don’t touch your watch. But why would you do that when you have taptic time?
A quick no-nonsense rundown of major features, grouped by category and device
Since this is not a full review which places any judgment on features, the goal is to provide a no-nonsense list of features and upcoming changes. Here’s a list of each of them, categorized by device and type.
- Taptic time: Allows you to choose between three modes of taps, which are digits, Morse code, and terse. Each taps time differently. With digits, each 10-minute mark is indicated by a long vibration, and every minute or hour thereafter by a gentle tap. Terse will have the watch long-tap for the 5-hour marks, and short-tap for each after. This is based on the quarter hour as the minute unit. You tap the watch’s screen twice to experience the feature, while three taps will repeat the minute mark. This is especially useful if you don’t want your watch to speak but still wish to know the time. Other third-parties had this feature in apps, so Apple is taking it as a part of their features.
- A new “auto-speak” VoiceOver action on the main watchface, allowing you to have specific complications read out when you first wake up the device.
- A new “speak seconds” feature within VoiceOver settings, which provides announcements of seconds on the watchface even if it does not include it. This creates more consistency with what is spoken between faces, if set to always or never. The other two options are Speak only if displayed, always, and never.
- The term “ping iPhone” is now finally pronounced right. Yay for this one.
- New wheelchair capabilities when the toggle is set to on within the Health app. If is in enabled, the watch will no longer track movement but instead uses pushes. The Accessibility settings includes a section for learning more about this functionality. “Time to stand” will also become “time to roll,” and other health prompts are optimized for wheelchair use.
- You’ll notice speech engine improvements. In general, there’s less time when long chunks of text are spoken and you scroll away. This was awful in Watch OS 2.x, in 3 it interrupts quicker.
Activity and health changes
Some of this directly ties into the iPhone section of highlights here, as the health app itself is going through another major revamp. As you may recall, in iOS 9.x, it went through a redesign as well, where activity information became part of health. In iOS 10 and Watch OS 3, these two are integrated together to provide a seamless overview of activity; the only difference being the way in which both present data to you.
- A second page in the Activity app allows for the sharing of activity rings with friends. Configuration of friends is done on the iPhone, so you will have to set this up before the feature works. Sharing activity requires that both people have an Apple Watch – sharing to non-watch users brings up an error. This is different than the share button at the top of activity pages. The Sharing tab provides realtime activity information so that you can stay motivated alongside friends. If you’d rather not have friends know of your activity and you theirs, you can just send them the picture of your rings like before.
- A new “Breathe” reminder pops up every few hours, similar to the “time to stand” ones. Breathe also has an app (more below), but the settings allow you to adjust the time between reminders and how long each session is, as well as the amount of breaths you take per minute. This data is dumped into the “mindfulness” category of the Health app, where you can track your meditation/breathe sessions accordingly. Unlike stand/move/exercise, breathe does not show up as an activity ring – so it is not tracked by goals.
- Progress updates now provide all activity information, rather than just focusing on “one goal” that you should try to meet. It tells you how you are doing and how close you are to each, so that you may focus better on your health as a whole.
Breathe is a simple app on the watch which allows you to turn the digital crown to your desired amount of relaxation time. After configuring your settings, you pres start. Visually, an animation is shown – but rapidly increasing vibrations indicate when you should begin inhaling, and they stop as you breathe out. This allows you to focus just on your wrist and breathe to a pattern of vibrations, which does help with focus.
- You can breathe for up to 5 minutes, which is enough time to help with calmness.
- The last breathe session’s date and time is displayed on the app, so you are aware of how much you breathed for relaxation the time before.
Complications, faces, and the removal of glances
In Watch OS 2 and below, watch faces allowed different information to be displayed, and you could delete or add the ones you wanted. To change a face, you firmly pressed the display and chose one of them from the resulting faces list, or customized them. This changes with OS 3 a bit.
- To switch faces, simply swipe left or right (with two fingers if using VoiceOver.) This is relatively quick, almost like flipping through pages on a home screen.
- With this system, the faces are what hold key information. After customizing a face, you can just swipe among them and see different complications with different information. This gets rid of the glances view, and developers are encouraged more than ever to write good complications for faces.
- Customizing the watchfaces can now be done through the Watch app on the iPhone, as they are placed front and center with even a face gallery tab, where you can add additional ones. You can edit complications and customize the face here as well, which makes it a lot quicker to create meaningful ones tailored to situational cases.
Since there is no more “settings” glance, things had to be shaken up for the new paradigm to work well. A control center, accessible with a swipe down for VoiceOver users, allows you to access the exact interface as the settings glance. It includes a new “lock” toggle switch, so you can now lock your watch even if it is on your wrist.
When the Apple watch was introduced, the so-called “side button” was used to open a view of all friends, which could be grouped into categories in Watch OS 2. This is now gone, to be replaced with a new dock. The dock houses apps, similar to the dock on an iPhone – although it also saves you from scrolling through a giant home screen of 50 different ones. This is a great change for those who wish to focus on having easy to access apps.
- A “now playing” and “heart rate” app replace the two glances which served this purpose.
- Up to ten apps can be in your dock.
- At every boot, these apps are re-loaded into memory, allowing for faster opening times as they are stored in a suspended state. This also means still minimal battery life impact.
- Your most recent apps will also populate here, allowing you to use the dock as an app switcher.
The watch could always have a practical use in an emergency situation, as it is on-person and if done right, could provide a safe way for someone to call emergency services without being detected as doing so. Provided the person can spare 6 seconds to hold down the power button, a “calling” screen pops up which will start dialing emergency services right away, taking into account the number it would use when doing so.
- After your call, the app will ask you if you wish to notify emergency contacts with your location. You set these contacts in the watch app, under general> Emergency SOS.
- To those worried if you can turn off the 6-second rule, the good news is that the settings also allow you to do so. In this situation, you can still access emergency SOS from the power-off screen.
Home kit control
This goes along with the iOS 10 feature changes: The home app is present on the watch when it is also present on the device it is paired to. If you remove it from your phone, it will also be removed from the watch.
The watch version is a bit simple: It allows you to toggle switches or change temperatures. However, it does the job well, providing a quick overview of all rooms in a home that can be controlled.
Messaging behavior and changes
- Previously, when a reply came in, it was required to press “reply”, then either scroll to a pre-defined message, or a dictate button which would then initiate voice dictation. Now, Emoji, Digital touch, and dictation are conveniently placed within the reply screen — allowing you to choose your method of reply first.
- Handwriting is huge, and new to the watch. It allows you to reply to texts by scribbling, and the watch will translate it to real-time replies.
- A new “smart replies” option in the “default replies” setting of the Watch app will allow you to control predictive text.
These are changes which I did not want to place into a category, because they are random and perhaps would waste having their own sections. Let’s dive in.
- “Background app refresh” finally comes to the watch. While turning it off probably will not impact battery much, it could be helpful if you think an app is taking a lot of juice. You can turn off apps individually here.
- The “power reserve mode” has been removed. The Emergency SOS button now replaces it, so please don’t rely on muscle memory here.
- The workout app and settings contain a new “auto pause” option, which will automatically stop a workout if you are not moving.
- “enable screenshots” allows the pressing of both the side and crown to quickly capture screenshots. These are then saved to your iPhone’s camera roll.
The iPhone and iOS
We have finally come to the exciting part of this review, for some anyway. iOS 10 brings with it a major overhaul of functionality, and it shows just how much the entire platform has matured in the last ten years. For some, it’s a sign that the smartphone has permeated into our lives, through features such as messaging apps and an emoji-centric prediction engine. For others, it shows that Apple’s stance on many things has shifted, as they have now opened up Siri to developers and allow for the removal of applications. This one is going to be a long list, so get ready – there are probably hundreds of features if we were to drill to the minor ones as well. However, it’s not a complete list, so do not under any circumstance consider this a final review, as these will no doubt be extended as more changes are added.
Finally, we see 3D touch having more of a use-case, for those devices that are fortunate enough to use the technology. This means that most of iOS’ users will not benefit from them, however it will become more integrated and useful as time passes. We see the first steps of this in 10.
- 3-D touching some icons in control center brings up additional actions. The timer lets you set specifics through 3D touch, flash light allows for adjusting of intensity, and even the camera lets you jump right into taking a picture quicker.
- 3D touching some apps, such as Activity, show a widget of information that you can quickly glance at. This essentially allows for information at a glance.
- To expand notifications, you can use 3D touch for quick app actions. Unfortunately, older iPhones will require an extra swipe – or in the case of VoiceOver, flick down with a quick action – to invoke a “More” option. More on this later.
Accessibility has taken a more serious turn with iOS 10. Many designs and elements come from the Mac OS side of town, and some will allow users to ditch third-party apps for their solutions.
- In Accessibility settings, a new option called Magnifier allows for the phone’s camera to magnify what is around. Once turned on, pressing the home button three times will bring up the magnifier app, or if you have other accessibility items, a menu will pop up asking you which to use. The magnifier app allows for adjustments to zoom level, contrast, and even allows for auto-focus and brightness modes.
- Display accomodations provide for a unified place containing all display accessibility. Reduce whitepoint, colour inversion, and colour filters are here.
- Under “Home button,” a new “Rest finger to unlock” feature (iPhone 5S+) reverts lock screen behavior to how it was in iOS 9 and below. What behavior, you ask? Read on to find out!
- VoiceOver now has a pronunciation dictionary. It allows for even advanced word additions, such as case detection.
- VoiceOver settings include a new verbosity category. For now, the only option here is “emoji suffix”, which will say the word “emoji” after every encountered emoji.
- Redesigned speech settings, both system-wide and in VO. In each dialect, there are now multiple voices to choose.
- New voices include Fred, Victoria from Mac OS, along with some of the other Nuance Vocalizer ones, such as Susan, Allison, Ava, Urik for Russian, etc. No additional languages are included, though multiple voices will now exist for some of them.
- The new audio settings within VoiceOver allow for the adjustment of various audio behaviors, including “audio ducking” – so it no longer has to be in the rotor, should you find it an inconvenience. Here, an option to not enable the speakerphone when you remove iPhone from your ear is also provided.
- New Lock sound for VoiceOver, rather than saying “screen locked.” This is less Obtrusive than hearing speech, although it is only a flat, high-toned sound.
- Moving apps with VoiceOver is vastly improved. To do so, you can:
- Swipe down with one finger from any app and choose “Arrange apps”, or simply double tap and hold an app to enter arranging mode.
- Next, either double-tap with two fingers (the “magic gesture”), or swipe down to hear “move (app’s name goes here)”.
- Once done, choose the location of your app, such as next to a folder or another app. Do not press the two-finger double-tap gesture, as it will cancel the move at this point. Instead, flick down to hear 3 possibilities: Move (app name you are moving) before (app name currently in focus), after, or “create folder with (two app names go here.) This allows for quickly moving apps: You have three distinct positions that make app moving a breeze.
- TTY options allow the hard of hearing to use software TTY. solutions. These will integrate into the phone app, allowing software-based TTY translation.
- Photos are now tagged with VoiceOver, and try to use device-stored intelligence to determine what’s in the picture. For example, similar to Facebook, a picture might describe objects in them when you view them in the photos app. This is basic, but super useful – it was able to identify a dog as a collie canine, for example.
The activity app is redesigned also, allowing for the tracking of workouts (previously this was more hidden under each date), as well as a sharing tab where you add friends you wish to share progress with.
- Main activity app now shows total calories burnt, and a basic snapshot of health for the day. (active/resting cal, etc). Provided you have devices to track these, this could become helpful.
Bedtime with your clock app
A new tab in the clock app (which now has 5 total) includes a great feature. With bedtime, you are guided through a wizard-style experience for telling it when you sleep, and when you wish to wake up.
- Choose from 6 different music tracks. These are relaxing and meant to gradually help your body wake up.
- Sleep activity gets dumped into the Health app, and the app will track your sleep over the night. Whether this integrates with Watch is unclear, however it does show a graph, similar to the activity app.
- You can set a scheduled reminder 15, 30, 45, or 60 minutes before your set bedtime.
It’s clear that Apple is taking a dive at focusing on Health, especially when non-health apps get health-related features.
The Control center, with music playback and news?
The Control center has a new redesign, though the options themselves have not changed. You will still see the familiar view, with 2 pages at the bottom this time. The second will contain album and playback information for music, which was previously just part of the main interface.
More interestingly, if you have home-kit devices configured, a third page will also be present, which will contain a simple list of every device in your home, along with controls to them.
Health app, redesigned
The Health app no longer focuses on averages that you have done, but rather on goals and how well you are meeting them. This puts your data up front and center, rather than graphs which only show you how you have done over time (or if you’ve walked less, how you are spiraling down.) A goal-centric approach focuses more on the present moment as well, allowing you to see snapshots of each day’s health records.
- The app now has four tabs at the bottom: Today, Health Data, Sources, and Medical ID.
- “Today” replaces dashboard, allows you to browse day by day, though jumping between months quickly is not supported.
- Health Data still contains groups – it gets rid of the “show all data” behavior in iOS 9.
- Medical ID now allows for organ donor status to be set, and even an option to sign up to be one right from the app.
A new Home app, which is not your home screen
When I first saw that there exists a new “Home” app, I was instantly brought back to the app switcher, where the item which is spoken as “running” used to be “home.” Now you can hear the word twice in the list, if you’re so inclined!
- Allows for configuring home-kit capable switches, thermostats, lights. This includes pairing and wi-fi set up.
- You can specify “favourites” for accessories you control frequently.
- An automation tab allows you to use an Apple TV or iPad at home to control behaviors based on triggers. This will require iOS 10 on the used device.
- Sliders and other switches allow for control of accessories. You can configure rooms in your house under the “Homes” tab.
Lock screen changes
Just as the dust settles around Apple’s patent wars with other companies, the lock screen behavior changes. Gone is the iconic unlock slider, and gone are the days of a camera button on the bottom corner.
- The lock screen now only shows text to “press home to unlock” – or, if you have placed your finger on the home button while the lock screen is active, it will become “press home to open.” The key is to unlock your phone directly by pressing and holding your finger on the home button – this behavior will still work. However, if you just press home and lift your finger, you will have to press home again to unlock. This rids the common issue of losing notifications after unlocking is too fast.
- For VoiceOver users, notifications on the lock screen are now grouped by headings per notification. You can simply change your rotor to “headings” and flick down to quickly see a glance of which apps have pestered you.
- There are now 3 “pages” on the lock screen. Page 1, if you swipe left, brings up the classic “today view” complete with news, Siri suggestions, and more. If you have unlocked, other personal info might also be shown, but if you are still locked, it limits privacy.
- Swipe right to access the camera.
The redesigns to mail are not that drastic, they are there for convenience. Folders are no longer levels deep in the app – you can go back to the list of mailboxes and expand or collapse all folders in that mailbox, rather than entering it and browsing through only its folders.
A new threaded view for messages places all of the conversation as though it were one long message. This adds a new rotor option: Message. When it is selected, swiping down with VoiceOver will move you to the next message in the mail document. You can turn off threading, but not the behavior, or having them be organized in one giant e-mail message rather than individual ones in a conversation list within the subject. This might change, as sometimes in-line message replies are not detected by the app — so you have to scroll through older messages with greater than signs. In other cases, a button allows you to expand the older messages. In my experience, this is hit or miss, though with Gmail it recognized that the quoted thread messages should be hidden most of the time.
One of my favourite features is a new “filter by” button, just before compose. It allows you to filter messages by mailbox, whether it was sent to you, unread, or other criteria. You can add and remove as many filters as you wish. Many mail clients have had this, so it’s good to see Apple’s also finally getting this in the iOS line.
Maps was first updated in a major way back in iOS 7. We know how much of a disaster this was, leading to people being in deserts and strange places. This was rectified in iOS 8 or so, but Apple Maps has struggled to keep up with rival platforms.
- Maps now suggests locations based on what you have frequented or what is popular nearby.
- You can now choose to avoid toll roads.
- redesigned interface. The main screen contains cards for information – by default, this is just a list of places you have visited in the past. The weather in degrees, a settings button, and a “my location” are the three only other options, along with the search box which lets you find a specific place.
- Cards can be expanded half screen or full screen through a rotor and a “card grabber” elements. On screen, you can visually swipe cards to expand them to either half or full screen. A close button will close a card. For example, when getting directions, the card containing the routes you can take becomes half-sized after you are shown active steps you will be taking. This makes the Maps app very dynamic as you can have multiple cards of the interface up at one time.
The messages app has received some significant changes. Gone is the familiar “one text box” interface that it used to be. It is now replaced with three tabs at the bottom for replying: Attach Media, Digital Touch, Messaging apps, and the text field. This places the text field on the bottom right part of the screen.
- Messaging apps: Complete with a store, here you can use third-party extensions which will hook into messages. These could include something simple as the music app’s “now-playing” app, which sends your current track to the thread you are in, to something more complex such as an Uber app that would automatically split the ride if you use its messaging app with your friend. Really, the posibilities are endless, and it’s meant to foster collaboration between people.
- Digital touch allows you to send sketches or stickers to friends. It is useful if you wish to send an art-form, and VoiceOver will report how many strokes there are to the sketch. If sending this to a user of iOS 9 or below, this will result in the sketch being converted to an image they can see as well.
- Emoji prediction expands emotion by suggesting emojis. This works reliably, and the categories for emojis has also increased. When seeing predictions, For example, they might even appear after you say the word “hi” – with a suggestion of a waving hand.
- Holding the send button down allows you to choose a “tone” of conversation, such as gentle, loud, invisble ink, and more.
These are, again, those one or two minor changes which would be pointless to place in their own category – having them in one list of a few misc changes is easier.
- The notes app now allows for collaboration. You will be able to edit notes with other iCloud Notes users, allowing for realtime work on checklists and such.
- Deleting default, native apps. I can’t emphasize how big this is. You can now remove Apple’s own stock apps, such as Weather, Stocks, even Facetime and the iTunes Store. (Though thankfully, not the App Store!) Once removed, the apps will take up space, but are no longer linked into the operating system. Telling Siri to facetime audio your friend will not work if you do not have the facetime app there, for example. If you remove the Music app, Siri will just tell you that she cannot find it and you should reinstall it. Essentially, it’s more worth pointing out the apps that can’t be removed: Messages, settings, iTunes Store, Phone, Health, Activity (if you have it after owning a fitness device,) Photos, camera, Clock, and Wallet. Yet you can remove Contacts and Reminders.
- Because of this change, Mail, Calendar, and Contacts are now in their own individual settings. You can remove the mail app, for example, but the accounts you had for syncing mail will still be there – once you re-install the mail app, all you have to do is flip the “mail” switch to on under the accounts section of mail settings. This is useful if you have many mail attachments you can’t easily clear.
- Storage is increased: 13.1 GB on a 16 6 instead of 12.5. On a 64-GB SE, storage went from 55.2 GB to 59.2. On 128-GB devices, the change goes from 113 to 121. It is unclear as to why this is – did Apple switch from using 1000 as the unit for a byte to using 1024? Nobody knows.
- Random, but true: Russian, Spanish, and Italian Siri languages now have dedicated Siri voices. In addition, Irish and South African are other dialects you can use for English.
- Doorbells are now part of home kit.
- Continuity and handoff get new leases on life with iOS 10. With an Apple Watch or an iPhone and a mac capable of continuity, you can unlock your computer easily. It is also used for the universal clipboard, which will utilize wi-fi and Bluetooth to send the contents of your clipboard to another one of your devices. In theory, no internet required.
Conclusions and the road ahead
5000 words later, I still have not covered everything in iOS 10. What we have today is a slow build-up to the general release, expected to happen in early September. Some of these features might not work as you expect today, especially with VoiceOver. A prime example is the “Messaging effects” – it doesn’t mean that Apple will never fix it and have it be read, but this will come in a later beta. I place a warning once more here: be sure to backup your device on iTunes, not iCloud, should you wish to venture out and try this early pre-release.
There is a lot to look forward to with the way Apple’s platforms are converging. iOS 10 appears to be as major of a release as 7 was, and through testing, it will also be a lot more ready when the new iPhone comes out. With feedback, anything is possible.