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Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 10

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When Apple CEO Tim Cook and SVP Craig Federighi unveiled iOS 10 earlier this year, they billed it as the “mother of all iOS updates” and “the biggest iOS release ever.” While there’s room for some debate as to whether iOS 10 leaves as big a mark as much earlier versions which introduced features like iCloud or completely redesigned the user interface, there’s no doubt that iOS 10 packs in some pretty significant stuff, particularly when compared to other more recent iOS updates.

Although it’s not the complete design overhaul that iOS 7 was, iOS 10 does take the mobile operating system in some interesting new directions, adding some pretty significant UI changes while still retaining the familiarity of prior versions. Touch ID and 3D Touch have become mature enough hardware interfaces that Apple has been able to integrate them more tightly into the user experience, and Apple has taken some of the core apps like Maps, Music, Photos, and Messages, and given them some significant new features and design overhauls.

Downloading & Installing

As usual, iOS 10 is a free update for all supported iOS device models and is also the default version of iOS that will come installed on the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

The most straightforward way to install iOS 10 is as an over-the-air update — at some point you should see an update notification on your iPhone letting you know it’s available, but if you’re in a hurry, you can check for it manually by going into the iOS Settings app and choosing Software Update from the General section. To install the iOS 10 update over the air, your device will need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network and should be plugged into a power source or have at least 50 percent remaining battery life.

Alternatively, iOS 10 can still be installed via iTunes from your Mac or PC by plugging your device in to your computer and selecting the Check for Updates option found on the Device Summary page in iTunes. This will download the iOS 10 package to your Mac or PC and then install it onto your device automatically. In some cases, iTunes may have already discovered the update by itself, in which case you will see an Update button rather than a Check for Updates button.

The usual caveats and warnings apply here as with any iOS update: the installation may or may not preserve all of your existing data, and may even result in the wiping of your device’s data under certain conditions. It’s always a good idea to make a full backup of your device before beginning. You can back up to iCloud or iTunes, and in fact it doesn’t hurt to do both. Also, if you’ve synced media and apps onto your device via iTunes, make sure that all of this content is still in your iTunes library — these do not form part of the backups made by iTunes as Apple reasonably expects that you should be able to re-sync this information from your iTunes library following a full restore. You can check the status of backups on your computer before beginning by visiting the Devices section in your iTunes Preferences, or your iCloud backup by going into the iOS Settings app and selecting iCloud, Backup.

Supported Devices

Although iOS 9 surprisingly didn’t drop any device support, with everything that iOS 10 is now offering, it should be little surprise that older devices have dropped off the list. Specifically, for the 2011 iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, and the 2012 fifth-generation iPod touch, iOS 9.3 is the end of the road.

To install iOS 10, you’ll need at least an iPhone 5, fourth-generation iPad, iPad mini 2, or the sixth-generation iPod touch. Even then, some features (such as rich notifications) are only available on the newer 64-bit devices, such as the iPhone 5s, iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad mini 2, or later devices in each of these lineups.

Regional Differences

Most of the same regional limitations still apply in iOS 10 for features like Siri, Maps, and of course the iTunes Store, although Apple continues to expand worldwide support for these features behind the scenes. As usual, Apple has updated its Feature Availability Page for iOS 10, highlighting the countries with support for specific features.

There aren’t a lot of changes here, as iOS 10 doesn’t really add any new region-specific features, although availability of some services has expanded normally over the past year.

System-wide Changes

Right from the outset, the most noticeable change to the user experience in iOS 10 is a significant redesign of the Lock Screen, Notifications, Notification Center, Today Screen, and Control Center.

Notifications

Notifications in iOS 10 get a significant visual overhaul — the likes of which we haven’t seen since iOS 7 redesigned the entire user interface. Wherever notifications appear in the iOS 10 UI — on the Lock Screen, in the Notification Center, or as banners and alerts at the top of the screen — they’re now shown with a “bubble” look, floating over the background user interface elements and eschewing the more “flat” look introduced back in iOS 7. The new design seems more in line with what we’ve seen in macOS, showing that, at least in some cases, Apple doesn’t hesitate to borrow inspiration from iOS’ big brother.

Nowhere is this more prominent than where notification banners and alerts appear on the home screen or when working within apps. Where prior iOS versions displayed a banner notification as a panel that slid in from the top of the screen, iOS 10 notifications now appear as a floating bubble — they’ll still slide in from the top, but now display borders on all sides. Basically, they look more like an overlay than a flat component of the UI. This new design also extends to “Alert” style notifications; instead of appearing as a pop-up dialog box in the middle of the screen, “Alert” notifications now appear in the same style as “Banner” notifications, but simply remain in place until acknowledged. In other words, “Banners” and “Alerts” now share the same appearance, with the only difference being that Banners will disappear after a few seconds, while Alerts will persist on the screen until the user dismisses them or takes some action. This is another UI design that seems to have been inherited from macOS.

Another interesting point that’s worth noting is that the entire notification user interface has a lot more motion in it now. Notification Banners and Alerts not only drift down from the top of the screen in a slightly more natural way, but actually move up and down a bit if you slide your finger over them, and can expand into providing action buttons where appropriate. Further, users with devices capable of 3D Touch will also be able to engage in even richer interactions with notifications, such as opening up a Messages notification to carry on an entire conversation without having to actually open the Messages app. Users of non-3D Touch devices will be able to interact with notifications as well, by either pulling down on a Banner or Alert notification, or swiping from right to left on a Lock Screen notification and tapping the “View” button.

iOS 10 also expands the types of interactions that can be done with notifications. Rather than simple buttons, notifications can now include rich real-time content such as audio, photos, and videos, so you can preview a video call or see who is ringing your video doorbell right from your notification without having to open the associated app.

Lock Screen

Although at first glance the Lock Screen in iOS 10 appears almost identical to prior versions, Apple has actually made a few interesting changes. Most significantly, the venerable slide-to-unlock feature — a hallmark of the iPhone UI going back to the original model — has been eliminated in favor of simply using the home button to unlock the device. It’s a reasonable change — with the vast majority of iOS devices now supporting Touch ID, most users could just unlock their devices with the home button anyway, which meant the additional passcode screen to the left of the Lock Screen was basically wasted space that could be used for something else.

Which is exactly what Apple has done in iOS 10. Rather than revealing a passcode screen, swiping from left to right now provides direct access to the “Today” screen, which also features a whole new set of widgets with an entirely new design that more closely matches the new notification system as well. Swiping down from the top will still bring up the Notification Center, and the Camera is now accessed by swiping from right to left — a much simpler interaction than before, which avoids the common problem of missing the camera button and accidentally bringing up Control Center instead when you’re in a hurry to take a photo.

Notifications on the Lock Screen also now appear as distinct UI elements and hover over the background without any kind of translucency. Likely as a result of this, the background will no longer be blurred out when notifications are present — any notifications on the screen will completely block out that part of the background image, but the rest will remain visible.

Notification Center

In addition to separating it from the Today View and giving it a new look, the Notification Center has also been simplified a bit. iOS 9 introduced the option to organize notifications in chronological order rather than grouping them by app, and with iOS 10 this is now the only option. The Sort Order and Group By App options are gone in the iOS 10 notification settings, leaving users with only chronological sorting and grouping.

Group headings are also fixed as Recent (for today’s missed notifications), followed by Yesterday and prior weekdays in reverse chronological order. On the upside, the headings — and their corresponding “X” buttons to clear notifications — have had a nice size increase, making the groupings more clearly visible and the option to clear them much more accessible.

Today View

The Today View can now be found to the left of the Lock Screen or first panel of the Home Screen, essentially merging the iOS 9 search screen with the Today screen previously found as part of Notification Center. That said, it’s not completely gone from the Notification Center screen either — swiping left-to-right while the Notification Center is displayed will switch over to the Today View. In fact, this is the only way to bring up the Today View from within an app.

The design of the widgets on the Today screen matches the new notification style, although third-party apps will need to be updated for iOS 10 to fully fit in here. Everything’s basically been converted into widgets now, such as previously built-in iOS 9 features like News and Siri’s suggested apps and contacts, and several new widgets have also been added for the built-in apps, such as Activity, Phone Favorites, Maps Nearby, Maps Destinations, Maps Transit, Music, Notes, Mail, Photos, Tips, and more. Most widgets appear collapsed by default, letting you see more information at a glance, with a Show More/Less button displayed in the top right corner to expand and contract the widget to show more or less information. The process of adding, removing, and reordering widgets is the same as it was in iOS 9.

Control Center

Control Center also gets a new UI design to match the new notification style. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen presents a more overlay-style Control Center that hovers over the background, rather than presenting itself as a screen-wide panel. Like notification banners, the Control Center panel also has a more natural motion feel to it — it can be dragged up to the top of the screen so you can easily peek under it, and it bounces around a bit as you move it. It’s an interesting change that actually makes the entire iOS 10 experience feel more alive and natural.

Apple has also expanded the Control Center into multiple “cards,” removing some of the clutter from the main panel while expanding the height of the Control Center a bit to make it feel more spacious. The first panel includes all of the buttons from before, with a slightly more colorful presentation; enabled buttons show different colors — blue for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, orange for Airplane Mode, purple for Do Not Disturb, and red for orientation lock, for example. The AirPlay button on the main Control Center panel is also now labeled “AirPlay Mirroring” and is used exclusively for screen mirroring, showing only Apple TV destinations and going directly into mirroring mode when selected.

Music controls are now found in a second Control Center card accessible by swiping over to the next screen to the right. This panel displays playback controls and album artwork, and AirPlay and Bluetooth audio destinations can be selected from a menu at the bottom of this screen. The Control Center also makes better use of the screen in landscape mode on the iPad and iPhone Plus models — for example, possible audio destinations are shown as a list on the right in the Music control panel.

If you’ve set up HomeKit, you’ll also see a third Control Center card that provides quick access to favorite accessories and scenes. This is a handy alternative to Siri for quickly controlling home automation devices, and like the rest of Control Center, it’s even available from the Lock Screen by default.

Raise to Wake

While Touch ID is a great feature for quickly unlocking an iPhone, sometimes it’s TOO quick — missing lock screen notifications is an issue that we’ve had since Touch ID first debuted, and it’s only made worse by how fast Touch ID now works on more recent iPhone models. Apple’s addressed this in iOS 10 with a motion-based “Raise to Wake” feature. A concept borrowed from the Apple Watch, the motion sensor on iPhone 6s or later models will light up the lock screen as soon as appropriate motion is detected, such as bringing the iPhone from a flat position on a table up to a normal viewing position.

3D Touch

With 3D Touch now becoming a more common feature, iOS 10 includes enhanced support for 3D Touch devices. The feature now goes beyond just providing shortcut menus and “peek-and-pop” type app interactions, allowing you to take new quick actions on apps, bring up interactive app widgets right on the home screen, quickly clear all notifications in Notification Center, and access quick actions in the Control Center.

Sadly, users without 3D Touch capable devices are going to be left out of most of these interactive features. Apple has provided a swipe-and-tap workaround for rich notifications, but the other interactive features all require 3D Touch.

Removal of Stock Apps

Under the heading of things that will make thousands of users scream Finally!, iOS 10 now allows almost all of the “stock” apps to be removed from the device. You’ll no longer need to creating an obscure folder just to hide away all of those apps you never use — now you can just take them right off your device.

While it’s still unclear whether the apps are deleted completely or merely hidden, it doesn’t really matter what’s happening under the hood as the result is the same: removing a built-in app will make it disappear entirely, not only from the home screen but from anywhere else it’s referenced on the device, and remove all of the app’s data. To get an app back after you’ve removed it, you’ll need to redownload it from the App Store, where Apple has now published the stock apps.

Just about every built-in app can be removed now, so it’s probably easier to list the ones that can’t be removed — you’ll still be stuck with Settings, Camera, Photos, Wallet, Phone, Safari, Messages, Clock, Activity, Find My iPhone, and Health.

 

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