Apple’s iOS 10: the ‘mother of all iOS updates’

The big unveil during Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference today in San Francisco was iOS 10, the next generation of Apple’s mobile operating system for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Dubbing it the “biggest iOS release ever,” Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, outlined ten major enhancements to a number of core iOS applications and APIs, beginning with a significantly redesigned user experience. iOS 10 redesigns the Lock Screen, Notification Center, and Control Center user interfaces, providing much richer notifications and enhanced support for 3D Touch for more comprehensive interaction with notifications. For example, users will be able to stay in Message conversions now from the Lock Screen, rather than simply dashing off a quick reply, more effectively deal with calendar invitations, and more, all via 3D Touch gestures.
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iOS 10 will also support a new “Raise to Wake” feature that will activate the iPhone screen as soon as it’s lifted, allowing users to view their notifications on their lock screen before authenticating with Touch ID and potentially missing them. The Control Center has also seen a redesign with music options expanded and moved to their own second available page via a swipe gesture, and HomeKit options available on a third swipe screen. From the lock screen, pulling down now only provides access to Notification Center, while “widgets” such as today, calendar, weather and news appear on a screen found by swiping from the left side of the lock screen, and the camera is now accessed by swiping from the right. 3D Touch gestures from the Home screen have been further enhanced to provide more interaction with apps rather than simply providing a menu, allowing users to “peek” into apps to get more information, such as recent emails or calendar details, or even live video previews.

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As reported last month, Apple is releasing a Siri SDK as well, to allow developers to integrate their third-party apps into Siri. Issuing Siri commands to compatible third-party apps will provide responses directly in the Siri UI, and Federighi demonstrated several possible applications for Siri integration such as messaging, ride sharing, photo sharing, workouts, payments, and VoIP calling, noting the the new Siri API will also be CarKit compatible, allowing users to issue Siri commands to third-party apps while driving.

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Siri intelligence is also being brought to the keyboard, where Apple will be utilizing its deep learning technology to analyze sentences across a much wider context and provide appropriate QuickType responses. iOS 10 will also be able to detect common questions in apps like Messages, such as “Where are you?” and provide a QuickType response option to share a user’s location, or share contact information when it detects a user asking for a phone number or address.

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The iOS 10 Photos app will be adding support for “Places” to allow users to more easily see where all of their photos were taken in a map view — enhancing the limited support in iOS 9 which only allows users to view locations for a specific group of photos. Recognition of faces, objects, and scenes is also being added, allowing users to perform advanced searches and grouping of photos by “Topic” categories such as trips, people, events, and more. This will also be done automatically with a new “Memories” feature that can automatically build movies and slideshows from photos of a given trip or event, which can be quickly adjusted for length or mood and shared with other users. Most notably, unlike many other services that provide similar features, Federighi explained that all of this computation and analysis is done locally on user’s iOS devices, rather than relying on a cloud service.

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Maps will be getting a new design and support for third-party Maps extensions, allowing apps such as OpenTable and Uber to plug directly into the Maps app, so users will be able to request a ride or make a reservation without leaving the app. Maps will also be more proactive at suggesting routes based on a user’s normal routine, such as providing directions to work in the morning, and the app will be better at filtering places. Traffic will now be shown on route views, which will update more dynamically with auto-zooming and manual pan and zoom capabilities, and quick controls will be available during navigation to allow users to see route details and find points of interest such as food and gas stations, or conduct searches along their route. CarPlay support will be provided for all of the new Maps features, and turn-by-turn directions can now be made available in the front instrument cluster on supported vehicles.

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The most widely predicted update in iOS 10 was “sweeping changes” to the Music app, which will get a predicted facelift, shifting around tabs to put the user’s library more front and center while shifting Connect out of the way. The first screen will now be “Library” which will provide quick access to the user’s own playlists, artists, albums, songs, downloaded music and recently added items, while “For You” gets expanded to include new Discovery Mixes and curated playlists for each day of the week (based on the user’s listening habits), and includes the Connect section. “New” becomes “Browse,” a new Featured Shows section provides playback in the “Radio” section, and songs now provide lyric support on a more detailed “Now Playing” screen.

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News has also seen a similar redesign with the same aesthetic as the Music app, with sections such as Top Stories, Trending, and Sports, as well as custom topics that will automatically be created in the “For You” section relative to a user’s reading habits. As predicted, Apple announced that subscriptions will be coming to the News app, effectively replacing their role in the long-defunct Newsstand app. Breaking News notifications will also now be available on the Lock Screen as well. Apple made no mention of whether News is going to be expanded into additional countries.

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With iOS 10, Apple also seems to feel that HomeKit has matured to the point of becoming a flagship feature and deserving of its own app, Home. Federighi went over many of the existing features of HomeKit in the context of the new Home app, illustrating how it can be used to toggle accessories on and off and trigger scenes. Several new categories of HomeKit accessories will also be introduced in iOS 10 as well, including such things as doorbell cams and air conditioners, and interactive HomeKit notifications will allow users to perform tasks such as answering their doorbell right from the notification, viewing a live camera feed and interacting with the intercom or door lock. The Control Center will also get a third pane to provide quick control of HomeKit accessories.

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The Phone app will get its first major enhancement in years with iOS 10, adding the ability to transcribe Visual Voicemail messages to text right on the device, auto-identification of “spam” calls, and an extension API that will allow third-party VoIP apps to provide the same incoming call notifications as the native Phone app, rather than being relegated to simple Lock Screen notifications. Federighi also noted that Apple has been working with Cisco to extend this API into the enterprise, effectively allowing users to use their iPhone as both their cell phone and personal work extension.

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Saving the big reveal for the tail end of the presentation, Federighi also introduced major enhancements coming in the iOS 10 Messages app. While mostly cosmetic, links sent via Messages will now appear as rich links, similar to Facebook Messenger, including live video previews where possible. A live camera preview will be shown when attaching photos, and more recent photos are available in the attachment browser. Emoji predictions will be shown during typing, and Emoji is now displayed three times larger than before. A new feature will also highlight “emojifiable” words which can then be tapped upon to be automatically replaced with the appropriate emoji.

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A number of new effects have also been added to Messages, including bubble effects that will allow users to place emphasis on messages or hide text and photos with an “invisible ink” effect, and the Digital Touch feature from watchOS comes to the iPhone with the ability to take photos and enhance them with text before sending them out. Users can also send messages using on-screen handwriting, and full-screen effects can be applied to message backgrounds when sending a message. With a new “Tapbacks” feature, users will also be able to add feedback badges directly to received messages, such as a heart or thumbs-up.

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Apple is also creating a new App Store for iMessage, which will allow developers to create extensions specifically for use within the Messages app. At a basic level, this will allow for stickers to be added without resorting to system-wide replacement keyboards, and stickers can be added to message bubbles in much the same way as Tapbacks. Third-party iMessage app capabilities are expected to go somewhat further, however, and Federighi provided examples such as person-to-person mobile payment apps and even a group cart app for putting in a food order.

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Federighi also quickly listed several other iOS 10 enhancements, including conversation view in Mail, collaboration in the Notes app, Split View in Safari on iPad, and Live Photos editing, and other notable features shown on the presentation slide include per-conversation Read Receipts in iMessages, iCloud Drive Desktop and Documents folders, unlimited tabs in Safari, Markup in Messges, Apple Pay support in Safari, a new iPad Camera UI, a Bedtime Alarm, CarPlay app reordering, and more.

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The iOS 10 Developer Preview is available today to registered developers. A public beta is expected in July, with a wider release this fall.