Gizmos

The Best (and Worst) Features of iOS 12

The latest update lacks flashy features, but the early reviews are positive.

The new Screen Time app on iOS 12, with various iOS icons in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Apple and Qi Heng/VCG via Getty Images.

iOS 12 finally became available for download on Monday, and the early reviews are glowing. As predicted in January and confirmed at WWDC in June, iOS 12 isn’t a huge about-face from previous versions of iOS. Apple’s focus was making the operating system faster, more efficient, and more secure. One of its few flashy features—group FaceTime calls that support up to 32 participants—won’t even ship until later this year.

But that’s OK. iOS 12 has a number of other qualities that justify its existence. Some feel iOS 12 is the operating system we should have gotten instead of last year’s bug-filled iOS 11 launch. Here’s what people are saying about iOS 12 so far.

It’s fast—even on old devices

In the past, updating your old iPhone or iPad to the newest version of iOS was a gamble. Yes, you’d get the newest features, but those features could also potentially slow down your device—an issue that came to the forefront with the iPhone battery debacle that surfaced last December. While a subpar battery can still impact performance, in general, iOS 12 is giving new life to devices such as the 5-year-old iPad Air.

MacStories:

“I can safely say that I’ve never tested a version of iOS as stable or performant as iOS 12. In fact, even the first beta of iOS 12 released in June felt more polished and responsive than the public version of iOS 11 at the time.”

The Wall Street Journal:

“The best thing about iOS 12 is how well it runs on older gadgets. Though not quite as fast as my newer devices, they are close.”

Ars Technica:

“I installed iOS 12 on my own aging iPad Air, which had become nigh unusable. … I was planning to buy a new iPad due to my iOS 11 performance woes, and now I have decided not to after all. Apple improved my iPad Air performance so much I was basically talked out of a sale.”

Notifications are more efficiently organized

In iOS 12’s Notification Center, Apple bundles notifications based on app, rather than chronologically. This makes it easier to parse a long list of notifications at a glance or to dismiss multiple notifications with a single swipe. Apple now also lets you customize which apps are important enough to show up on the lock screen. By swiping left on a notification and then tapping Manage, you can select Deliver Quietly so notifications from that particular app show up in Notification Center only. These and other small settings tweaks mean that iOS 12’s notifications are more streamlined and less bothersome.

Tom’s Guide:

“In iOS 12, those notifications are grouped together by app, so all those alerts that an HQ game is about to start are in one place, while score alerts from MLB’s At Bat app are in another. Tap the stacked up notifications, and you can deal with them one by one or dismiss them in one fell swoop. It sounds like a small change, but it makes notification much easier to manage and far less annoying.”

Digital Trends:

“Everything is neatly organized in stacks based on the type of notification or app. It dramatically improves the iOS experience, and allows us to look at each stack based on importance rather than having to sort through them all. … We can’t imagine going back to the way iOS used to handle notifications; it’s so much less work to sift through them now.”

The Verge:

“[The notification system is] overall much better than it was, but Apple still has a ways to go compared to Google’s easier-to-manage notifications in Android.”

Screen Time is helpful but has room for improvement

Our increasing smartphone use isn’t necessarily healthy, and smartphone operating system makers are finally doing something about it. With iOS 12, Apple’s solution is Screen Time, an app that shows you how often you use your phone and what you use it for. Screen Time includes an activity dashboard that displays how much time you spend on your device, which apps you use the most, and what time of day you most use your device, along with how many times you picked up your phone and how many notifications you’ve received. The app also includes controls for helping you manage or minimize those numbers; however, they’re easy to bypass and lack some customizability.

CNN Tech:

“Screen Time tells me I pick up my iPhone X a whopping 75 times a day. That shocked me almost as much as learning I look at the damned thing every six minutes.”

The Verge:

“Unless you’re using it in the password-protected parental control mode, the ‘barriers’ Screen Time puts in place are laughably easy to circumvent. When your daily time limit is reached, it’ll grey out the app and present you with a splash screen informing you that your time is up when you try to open it, but there’s also a button that will let you just keep extending that time right in front of you.”

Siri is actually getting smarter

Apple has augmented Siri’s knowledge bank with iOS 12, adding information about celebrities and food and the ability to search your photographs. But Apple’s also leveraging more machine learning so that the assistant can be more proactive. Siri’s Suggestions feature, which remembers your habitual digital activities and then makes app or playlist recommendations at the appropriate time, is one such example of this, while Siri Shortcuts offers users more manual control over Siri’s talents.

The Wall Street Journal:

“When I say ‘Hey Siri, I need coffee’ or tap the corresponding icon in the Shortcuts app, Siri searches for coffee shops nearby, shows me the closest few, then provides Google Maps navigation to whichever one I tap. If I say ‘Send this to Anna,’ it grabs the URL of whatever webpage I am looking at and texts it to my wife. These are the sorts of small things that can make your phone feel a lot more intuitive.”

iMore:

“Since I’ve been testing iOS 12, my Lock screen has offered to put my phone into Do Not Disturb when a Wallet pass, Open Table, and even simply iMessage indicated I might be having dinner or breakfast. It hasn’t offered to let me order my usual Philz Mint Mojito, because I don’t have the Shortcuts enabled version of that app—yet!—but it has offered me directions to Philz after I used Maps for walking directions.”

Tom’s Guide:

“At night, for example, I play my daughter lullabies off my iPhone right before bed, and Siri has started surfacing that playlist as a suggestion around the same time each night. Siri’s suggestion is still buried on the Siri Suggestions screen I only see when I swipe down from the home screen, but it’s a step toward making the assistant a more useful companion.”

The consensus seems to be that iOS 12 is a positive step for iOS. It fixes the flaws of iOS 11, and while it doesn’t add a ton of new features, the ones it does introduce are mostly polished and helpful.

iOS 12 is compatible with any device that currently supports iOS 11: iPhone 5s or iPhone SE or newer; iPad Mini 2 or newer; iPad Air or newer; and the sixth-generation iPod Touch. To download, first back up your device to iCloud, iTunes (on the desktop), or both, then head to Settings, General, and Software Update, if your phone didn’t alert you to a software update already.