Apple has described its coming iOS 10 update as the “biggest iOS release ever” with CEO Tim Cook going so far as to call it the “mother of all iOS updates” — and after a week of poring over the first iOS 10 beta, it’s clear they’re not wrong.
While it’s not as big of a visual design overhaul as iOS 7 was, it looks like iOS 10 is still going to take the mobile operating system in some very interesting new directions, retaining familiarity while not being afraid to shake things up a bit. With Touch ID and 3D Touch hardware interfaces now mature, the iOS 10 user experience has undergone some very interesting changes to leverage and focus on these features, and core apps such as Maps, Music, Photos, and Messages have received some significant new features and design overhauls.
In the first part of our iOS 10 Inside the betas series, we’ll take a slightly closer look at what the new operating system promises to offer in terms of the user experience redesign, while later parts will focus on the major changes that some of the core apps have gone through.
What most users will likely find to be the most noticeable change to the iOS 10 experience is a signficant visual and user interface redesign of the lock screen and ancillary core services such as Notification Center, the “Today” widgets, and the Control Center.
Notifications in iOS 10 will get a sigifnicant 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 — be it on the lock screen, in the Notification Center, or as banners and alerts at the top of the screen — they’re now shown with more of a “bubble” look, floating over the background user interface elements and eschewing at least some of the “flat” look of iOS 7. The new design is more in line with 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 current iOS versions presented a banner notification as a panel that slid in from the top of the screen, in iOS 10 the notification will appear as a floating bubble — it still slides in from the top, but with borders on all sides, it clearly appears more as an overlay than a flat component of the UI. It also appears that the same approach will be taken for “Alert” notifications, having them appear at the top of the screen and remain in place until acknowledged, rather than the middle-of-the-screen pop-up that current iOS versions use to interrupt the user and grab their attention. In other words, both “Banners” and “Alerts” will now share the same appearance, with the only difference being that the former will disappear after a few seconds, while the latter will persist on the screen until the user dismisses them or takes some action. Again, clearly a UI concept that’s been brought over from macOS.
One other interesting point that’s worth noting is that the entire user interface has a lot more motion associated with it. 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. While these interactions are limited to 3D Touch devices in the initial beta, Apple has promised to provide ways for non-3D Touch devices to play along as well.
While the Lock Screen in iOS 10 appears visually identical at first glance, Apple has actually reorganized it in a few interesting ways. As already mentioned earlier, notifications on the Lock Screen appear as distinct UI elements that hover over the background without any kind of translucency. Most likely as a result of this, the background is no longer 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 as is.
Most interestingly, however, the user interactions appear to be undergoing a more dramatic change. The venerable “Slide to Unlock” feature — a mainstay of getting into iPhones since the very first model came out in 2007 — is completely gone. Unlocking your iPhone is accomplished simply by pressing the Home button, which on Touch ID devices is generally all you need to do anyway. It’s an understandable change — considering every iPhone now being sold by Apple supports Touch ID, the Slide to Unlock gesture was becoming a redundant anachronism, and getting in the way of that gesture being put to possibly better uses.
In this case, the “better use” has been to split out the Notification Center and “Today” views. Swiping down from the top of the Lock Screen brings up the Notification Center, as expected, but there are no longer tabs for switching between “Today” and “Notifications.” Instead, the “Today” widgets are now found to the virtual left of the Lock Screen, with the widgets having been redesigned to match the bubble-like design of the notifications themselves.
Similarly, the Camera has been moved in a different direction. The small Camera button at the bottom of the Lock Screen is gone, and it’s now accessed by swiping to the right. This feels like a much simpler interaction than before, and avoids the fumbling of trying to bring up Control Center when you’re in a hurry to take a photo.
In addition to splitting it from the Today View and giving the notifications themselves a new look, Notification Center has also been somewhat simplified. iOS 9 introduced the ability to ungroup notifications, organizing them in completely chronological order rather than bundling them up into groupings on a per-app basis. It looks like iOS 10 takes this a step further by making this the only type of organization that will be available for your notifications. The Sort Order and Group By App options are gone in the iOS 10 notification settings, leaving users with purely chronological sorting and grouping.
Group headings are fixed as “Missed” (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 size increase, making the groupings more clearly visible, and the option to clear them much more accessible.
The Today View is now 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.
The design of the widgets on this screen matches the new notification style, although it appears that at least some third-party apps will need to get iOS 10 updates to fully fit in here. iOS 9 features such as News and Siri’s suggested apps and contacts have been converted into widgets that can be moved around or turned off completely, and several new widgets have also been added for the built-in apps, such as Maps Nearby, Maps Destinations, Maps Transit, Music, Notes, Mail, Photos Memories, Tips, and more. The process of adding, removing, and reordering widgets remains much the same as it did in iOS 9. Most widgets also 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.
Control Center has also received a new UI design treatment to match the new notification style, and now slides up more overlay-style and hovers over the background, rather than presenting itself as a screenwide panel. Much like notification banners, the Control Center panel also has a more natural motion feel to it, and can in fact be dragged up to the top of the screen so you can easily peek under it, and it bounces around 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 panels, removing much of the clutter from the main panel and expanding the height of the Control Center a bit to make it feel more spacious. The first panel includes all of the standard buttons from before, but adds a 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 also appears to be exclusively used for screen mirroring at this point, showing only Apple TV destinations and going directly into mirroring mode.
Music controls have been moved to a second Control Center panel which can be accessed by swiping over to the next screen to the right, providing playback controls and album artwork. AirPlay and Bluetooth audio destinations can be selected from a menu at the bottom of this screen.
A third Control Center panel also appears for users who have set up HomeKit, providing quick access to favorite accessories and scenes, which provides a handy alternative to Siri for quickly controlling home automation devices. For users without HomeKit, the third panel is simply hidden away as if it doesn’t exist.
Raise to Wake
While Touch ID is a great feature in terms of 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 while Apple SVP Craig Federighi touted the faster Touch ID sensor on the iPhone 6s as a bigger cause of this issue, unless you can read your notifiations really quickly, it’s going to be a problem on just about any iPhone that you’re used to unlocking with Touch ID rather than the top or side buttons.