iOS 12 review: an update that will make your iPhone faster

iOS 12 is out today, and if you've bought an iPhone or iPad sometime in the last few years, you've probably got a popup on you phone asking you to go and install it now. But like every year, there's always the same question. Should I install the update or is it gonna slow down my phone? But iOS 12's a very different update for Apple, and instead of focusing on bright flashy features like a wholly new interface or redesigned apps or improved widgets, Apple's instead put an emphasis on making iOS work better instead of just look better.

For the first time I can remember with an iOS update my iPhone and iPad feel faster and more stable, not less. I've been using this public beta for a few months on my iPhone and a few days with Apple's finalized software, and my year old iPhone X just flies now. Apps are quicker to load, camera launches faster, and just most importantly that creeping sense of lag that tends to pop up when you install the new iOS update just isn't there. Changes are even more significant on my much older iPad Air which was barely functional in iOS 11. IOS 12 represents that Apple's thinking more about how we use our phones instead of just adding more ways to use them. Or to put it another way, instead of serving up more bright, fun, candy-like updates, this year Apple's serving up a big heaping pile of vegetables. Nowhere is that clearer than in Screen Time, probably the biggest addition to iOS 12. It's a new feature that lets you see how much you're using your phone and how much time you're spending in each app.

It'll also show you other details like how many notifications you've gotten, how many times you've picked up your phone in a day, and other more granular bits with how you use your phone. The thing is, Screen Time is a largely passive tool. Sure, Apple will be able to tell you how much time you're spending on Facebook or Twitter, but it's up to you to make the decision to decide if you're going to spend less time, or if you're going to use the offered tools that will let you impose time limits on how much time you spend in those apps. In a similar vein, Apple's trying to be better about notifications in the new update.

Notifications finally group themselves by app, and there's also the option to manually adjust each notification's setting as it comes in, making it easy to shut off annoying apps without having to dig through Apple's labyrinthy mess of menus. IOS 12 isn't only about performance improvements and managing your digital life better and more responsibly. There's also some fun stuff here too, like Apple's new MeMoji, which are custom Animoji, Apple's animated avatars that had introduced with the iPhone X. Like the Animoji, the Memoji will scan your face and, you know, move around like your face does for sending messages. You'll eventually be able to use them in FaceTime too. They're fun to play with, even if they're only going to be available in the iPhone X and the newly announced XS and XR.

There's also new effects for sending images with iMessage. It let's you add things like text, filters, music, stickers, and more. The iPad has also gotten a new gesture navigation system that looks suspiciously like the one Apple introduced on the iPhone X. That seems to indicate that Apple's working on some kind of bezeless iPad for the future, but we'll have to wait and see. Other parts of iOS aren't really going to make their impact known until developers have had some time to play around with it. One of the things Apple's pushing for really hard in the new update, is its new augmented reality AR Kit 2.

There's a lot of cool stuff it adds like multiple users working in augmented reality at the same time. But until we kind of experiences developers are gonna build with these tools, it's hard to say how it'll actually work. There's also the new series shortcuts which will let users and developers add their own custom interactions and macro sequences to Siri. It seems like a really powerful tool. You'll be able to set up your own custom Siri phrases and group actions together like automating your whole morning routine with a single phrase, but a lot of it's gonna depend on how developers use these tools to integrate their own apps and we'll have to really wait and see how useful it is in every day life before we make any final judgements. If iOS 12 was just a faster, more stable version of iOS 11, it probably would've been enough on its own.

The whole thing speaks to a much more mature attitude of Apple overall, making sure that the foundation is strong first before building up new features on top of it. Take, for example, what should have been one of the big standout features from this year's update, group FaceTime, which would have let you video chat with up to 32 people. Would that have been really great to have at launch? Yes, but the feature wasn't ready, and Apple recognized that and delayed it 'til later this fall, which is encouraging to see. Or, to go back to our original analogy, iOS 12 may not be the most exciting software update on the surface. It's a plate of broccoli, not some fresh, delicious pie or a stack of Oreos, but at the end of the day, like a plate of broccoli, it is good for you.

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