iOS 16 Developer Beta 1 Hands-on: Meaningful improvements across the board
I have a lot of problems with iOS as an operating system, but I’m also a pretty big fan of my iPhone 13 Pro. While the software isn’t perfect, I like it overall, and Apple has been rolling out improvements to it over the years. There are a lot of features I really wish it had, but there are also some things it does do better than Android, and even more of those have been brought in with the release of iOS 16.
If you want to use iOS 16, you’ll have to wait for a few more months before it’s rolled out to iPhones, as this is currently the very first developer beta. iOS 16 is much more packed when compared to iOS 15, though, and it comes with new customizations, features, and changes that further enrich the operating system. Here’s everything we’ve been able to spot so far.
About this Hands-on: This article includes input from XDA’s Senior Editor Adam Conway.
Redesigned Lock Screen
Given that Apple opened its iOS-portion of the keynote talking about the lock screen, it’s a pretty big deal. It’s the first thing you see on your phone whenever you turn it on, and it’s the first place you see your phone’s notifications. It hasn’t really been changed on iPhones in years, but it’s pretty drastic. It’s a complete overhaul of your phone’s lock screen, and you can edit practically everything that’s shown.
My favorite wallpaper is the Astronomy wallpaper, as it zooms in over your home country and shows clouds overhead. You can add an air quality indicator, the sunrise/sunset times, another clock for another time in the world, and the status of your fitness rings. It also complements the same watch face on the Apple Watch on watchOS 9 (Dev Beta 1).
Apple will provide developers with a lock screen widget API, allowing them to build their own widgets that can be added. You won’t be limited to utilizing first-party ones only, and you can really personalize it to fit you as a result. You can also create multiple lock screens and quickly and easily swipe through them by pressing down.
What’s interesting too is that it appears Apple has taken a page out of Google’s book, as it’s very Material You inspired. The text on the lock screen will change based on the colors in your lock screen, and will even hide things like the time on your lock screen behind the subject of your photo to create a sense of depth.
One thing we’ve spotted though is that Apple has killed live wallpaper on the lock screen. It’s unclear if this is a feature that will return in the future and was just forgotten about, or if it’s gone for good. We’ll need to wait for future updates to see.
Notifications and Focus improvements
Notifications have been the bane of most people’s existence on iPhones for years. They’re just not well made, and there are a ton of issues with them. While they’re still not fixed (in my opinion, anyway), there have been some major changes that improve them from a usability perspective. They start from the bottom of the display now, so that they can be easily reached, and there are now also “live” notifications — called Live Activities — that can update over time.
As well, certain lock screens will be able to have Focus mode applied, though I don’t believe it’s active yet. Focus will also be better integrated into apps — even third-party ones. Users will be able to hide certain elements or filter content they don’t want to see inside an app when using a certain Focus mode.
Voice dictation is all the rage recently, and Apple implemented its own version for iPhones many years ago. I first experienced an actually good voice dictation on the Google Pixel 6 Pro, and it’s something that changed how I text. Apple’s own one isn’t quite as good as what I’ve found on the Pixel 6 Pro, but it’s good enough that it’s very likely that I’ll be using it quite a bit.
iOS 16 takes Dictation to the next level and allows users to type while speaking — an hybrid input, basically. Prior to that, users were limited to either kind of input at a time. Additionally, Dictation is now capable of inputting emojis and punctuating your input automatically.
iMessage: Unsend, edit, and mark as unread
iMessage is a pretty basic messaging service when compared to competitors, and it’s always faltered behind in terms of features. However, Apple added a few new quality of life changes and improvements that were much needed and have been available on competing platforms, such as Telegram, for years.
First and foremost, users that are on the latest version of iMessage can both edit or unsend messages sent via iMessage within 15 minutes of sending the message. These features don’t currently work when texting someone using an older version of the app, and iMessage will warn you that the changes you make or unsending a message may not come through for the other person.
Additionally, they can also mark a chat as unread to essentially bookmark it in order to come back to it later. Finally, Messages catches up with other Apple apps and introduces a trash bin. Those on iOS 16 can retrieve deleted messages within 30 days of binning them. As well, users can now use SharePlay through iMessage — not just FaceTime. This allows you to consume digital goods with others without being in an audio/video call.
Safari has added a massive social feature that will help make things a lot easier when planning something with friends. You can create a shared tab group that anyone can contribute to and navigate within so that you can plan things effectively. Above, I created a tab group titled “Vacation” and shared it with my colleague Aamir. I was able to add links to it that were relevant to a vacation in Dublin and share them with him on iMessage. When I made changes to the tab group, it was even reflected in iMessage with a notification at the top of our conversation saying that I had made changes. I could additionally see which tab Aamir was viewing live.
Tweaks to media controls
As spotted by /u/SkyGuy182 on Reddit, the media controls will now show an icon in the top right to tell you what device it’s currently playing on. You can see this in the above screenshots, where it will show it casting on both Apple TV, and over a Bluetooth speaker or headphones. Prior to iOS 16, it only showed a generic AirPlay icon.
Upgrades to Photos
As spotted by /u/alias3800 on Reddit, you can now copy and paste edits between pictures in the Photos app, so you can make the same adjustments to multiple photos quickly and easily. Additionally, you can lock the Hidden and Recently Deleted folders using Face ID or Touch ID.
In addition to that, users can now select elements in a photo and drag or copy them to a different app. This removes the background and other subjects — making it easy to come up with creative photo outputs. Lastly, the Photos app can now detect visually similar photos and mark them as duplicates to easily merge them.
As spotted by /u/SkyGuy182 on Reddit, you can now create groups of contacts on the device. Previously, the only way to do this was to do it on the iCloud website or on a Mac. The Contacts app can also detect duplicate cards and offer you the option to merge them.
Apple Music tweaks
We’ve been hoping for Spotify Connect on Apple Music for years now — and iOS 16 still fails to deliver this basic continuity feature. Nonetheless, Apple has introduced some minor changes to its streaming service. These include an option to favorite artists for more accurate recommendations, more rounded album art in lists, and a new Now Playing UI on the Lock Screen that utilizes the latest Live Activities API.
There’s a new Developer Mode toggle in Privacy settings that allows devs to launch their side-loaded apps for development purposes. The specifics of this mode remain unclear for the time being.
Wi-Fi password list
Apple FINALLY brings a highly requested feature from macOS to iOS. We can now view a list of saved networks, delete them, and view their passwords without needing a Mac. It only required the company over a dozen generations of this operating system to figure it out. But hey — better late than never.
Library Photo Sharing
Ever wish you could just have your phone automatically send group shots to the respective people after a meetup? Well, iOS 16 supports that. There are now new rules that allow you to specify who your photo library gets shared with. These rules could include close proximity and detecting your friends’ or family’s faces.
Quick Note launched last year in iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey. Apple introduces this feature on iOS with this year’s release. This allows you to create Quick Notes by sharing certain content with the Notes app. Prior to this implementation, users could only edit Quick Notes created on an iPad or Mac through their iPhones. Speaking of Notes, you can now lock yours using your device’s password — rather than creating a custom one just for this app.
More Apple Books themes
Apple Books gains a few new themes in iOS 16. This makes it easier for users in general (and specifically for the visually impaired) to find a combination of fonts, sizes, and background colors that match their reading preferences. The Books app also brings some design changes and moves the table of contents to a new button in the bottom corner.
Medication tracking is perfect for those who take a lot of pills and often feel overwhelmed by keeping track. This new feature allows you to create a list of the meds you take and set reminders for when to take them. It’ll additionally alert you if you shouldn’t be consuming one of them with alcohol, for example. And to make it easier to keep track of your loved ones’ medication, iOS 16 also allows you to share your list with the people you choose. This feature also extends onto watchOS 9.
Apple Maps additions
Apple Maps is lacking when compared to Google Maps. I always find myself needing the latter because depending on Apple just doesn’t do it. This release, unfortunately, still doesn’t support downloading areas for offline navigation. However, Maps on iOS 16 supports adding multiple stops when going to a certain destination. It also integrates transit cards in supported regions.
A more productive Mail
I personally use Apple Mail as my daily email client. However, I also acknowledge that it is not as feature-rich as I’d like a mail client to be. It still is basic in many ways — even on macOS. iOS 16, though, brings some new additions to it. It still won’t satisfy most Pro users, but it’s a step in the right direction.
These new changes include an option to unsend an email within 10 seconds, schedule emails for a later date and time, and a richer search field with auto-correct support for misspelled words. The feature I’ll be needing the most, though, would probably the attachment reminders that stop an email from going through if you’ve forgotten to include the mentioned document.
Live Text in videos
The Cupertino tech giant introduced Live Text in last year’s OS releases. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s an OCR tool that allows you to interact with text on images and identify plant and pet breeds. Live Texts expands to video on iOS 16, allowing us to interact with and translate text in video playback. The feature works offline and is most definitely a welcome one.
Redesigned Home app
iOS 16 shows some love for the Home app, too. The new app gives users easy access to multiple connected cameras at a time. It also introduces new, more modern wallpapers and a simplified UI. And thanks to Matter standard support, users will be able to communicate with compatible smart devices later this year.
Fitness for non-Watch owners
For years, if I wanted to compare my daily steps or distance walked stats with non-Apple Watch users, I had to depend on third-party services and give them access to my health data. Fortunately, iOS 16 supports the Fitness app even if you don’t have a watch paired with your iPhone. The smartphone already supports counting your steps, flights climbed, and distance — in addition to other metrics — on its own. These statistics have always been available in the Health app. Now, you can finally use the sharing feature of the Fitness app instead of taking screenshots or using third-party apps to compete with friends. Fitness Plus remains an Apple Watch exclusive nonetheless.
Safety Check for domestic abuse survivors
Many people are closely connected to abusers who keep track of their lives. Domestic abuse is a very serious and rampant social issue, and iOS 16 wants to help survivors cut off those trying to control or hurt them. The new Safety Check resets app permissions — this way, an app used for stalking, for example, would lose access to the victim’s location. It additionally displays which people have access to sensitive information, like your Find My live location. It’s a great way for a survivor to cut out someone digitally on the spot.
Handoff support in FaceTime
Apple is famous for its tight ecosystem, and iOS 16 further ties its products together. Those running this version and macOS Ventura can handoff a FaceTime call seamlessly between a Mac and an iPhone. This way you can start a call on one device and resume it on another.
New Memoji styles and stickers
With every annual release, Apple tends to include new Memoji customizations and stickers. iOS 16 is no different — it brings new hairstyle, headwear, and nose options. It also introduces new stickers that users can use across first- and third-party apps. These additions, while minor, further enrich the Memoji library — allowing users to express themselves through these cartoons.
Apple remembers Reminders
Reminders is one of my favorite Apple apps. It simply works and gets tasks done by helping you get your tasks done. iOS 16 further enriches this app. Don’t freak out — the company has managed to keep it as the simple app you know and love, while bring new additions that make it even handier and more customizable. iOS 16 introduces list pinning, shareable templates, format-able notes, shared list notifications, and more. These make collaborating with other people even more seamless.
More flexible measurement units
The region you choose affects your device in many ways. For example, the Apple News app doesn’t appear on the Home Screen if your device is set to a region where the service is unavailable. The region also affects measurement units, like those used for distance and weight. Apple has allowed users to change the default temperature unit for a long time, but distance and weight units followed the default used in the chosen region. iOS 16 thankfully allows you to customize that, so you can set your country as the US and use the metric system on a system level. It’s a small but very, very welcome change.
Camera support in Apple Translate
Just like Maps’ case, Apple Translate is nowhere as good as that of Google. Yes, it works system-wide and has a decent user interface (UI). However, it lacks language pair variety, and it’s simply not very reliable when it comes to translation accuracy. I’ve seen some lingual nightmares when trying to translate pairs that I speak fluently. It can’t be trusted much.
iOS 16 introduces a familiar transition feature — camera. This allows you to snap and translate what’s surrounding you effortlessly. It also works in the Photos apps for existing shots that include foreign text. Additionally, Apple mentions that it introduces support for Turkish, Thai, Vietnamese, Polish, Indonesian, and Dutch. It’s worth noting, though, that these languages are seemingly absent in Beta 1.
iOS 16 is a pretty major overhaul
In the customizability department, iOS 16 is one of the biggest updates to iOS in recent years. There’s a lot you can play around with, and it goes a long way to improving the notification system, which has been in a poor state for a long time. Of course, this likely isn’t all the features that Apple is going to add either. Small tweaks and changes will likely be spotted in future beta releases too, and we’ll be sure to keep an eye out for those when they do happen.
Despite not getting all of the features we had included in the iOS 16 wishlist, the additions Apple brought are very welcome ones. They make iOS more like Android in some good ways — while maintaining the distinct feel and look of the popular operating system. We now look forward for the future and how the company could further diversify this OS down the road. Happy WWDC!
What’s your favorite iOS 16 feature? Let us know in the comments section below.