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Review: Apple iOS 10

Despite those limitations, the deep level of control that Apple maintains over its hardware and software means that most people will get and install this update. The same can’t be said of Android. If you’re using an Android device, you may not get an update to Android 7.0 Nougat for months, if ever.

To get iOS 10, you have only to wait until your phone informs you that it’s ready to update. If you can’t wait, just open the Settings app, tap General, and then tap Software Update. Be sure to back up your phone and keep an AC adapter handy. Once it’s installed, take some time to get to know your new OS. Apple has a habit of peppering updates with secret features that go unnoticed.

I had no trouble installing iOS 10, but the release was not without hiccup. After your iPhone reboots, you’ll immediately notice some differences in iOS. Fonts, for example, are a little larger, bolder, and more readable than in previous versions. From the Lock Screen, you now swipe left to open the camera app, which is much easier than the bottom-corner swipe-up from previous versions. Swipe right and a new page of widgets is revealed.

Apple iOS 10

If you’re only familiar with Android, know that widgets on iOS are very different. Instead of existing as free-floating windows on the desktop as they do on Google-powered devices, widgets in iOS are small cards that live in a customizable, vertically oriented rail. The function is mostly the same: iOS widgets are shortcuts to app functionality, like placing calls, looking at the latest headlines, or seeing if it will rain today.

iOS 10 also brings a visual redesign to widgets, making them into large, individual cards with rounded corners. It’s a much improved experience. You can choose and arrange the widgets on this screen from an edit button at the bottom, but that’s it as far as customization goes. The size, appearance, and function of the widget are determined by the developer. You must also download the core app if you want the widget; these are not standalone features. The iOS 10 widget page can be found by swiping right from the main page, or from the notification panel; it’s always within easy reach.

If you use Touch ID to open your phone with a thumb or fingerprint you’ll notice another tweak: simply resting your digit over the scanner no longer works. You must also click the home button in order to be granted access. Having laid hands on the iPhone 7, I can say that this change is because the new phones no longer have physical home buttons and instead rely on the visceral boing of the Taptic Engine.

Though I am glad to see the best feature from the Apple Watch finally come to iPhone, it’s been a chore to adapt my muscle memory. Thankfully, you can change this from the Settings app. Open it, select Accessibility, and then Home Button to access this option.

Swipe up from the bottom and you see the new, enlarged and refined Control Center. You can use it to adjust the brightness and quickly toggle on and off certain features, such as airplane mode and Wi-Fi. There are also fast links to flashlight mode, the timer app, and the camera, all of which are especially handy when the phone is still locked. The big change is that you can no longer control songs from here. Instead, you swipe right to reveal a second card devoted solely to media control.

The redesign certainly unclutters the Control Center, but I was hoping for more cards and more control. I should note that more cards may be available if you have smart devices in your home; I do not. In Android Nougat, for instance, you can choose which shortcuts appear in its equivalent menu. The shortcuts are also more useful on Android, letting you browse and select between all the available Wi-Fi networks. I would love to see Apple bring this kind of functionality to iPhone.

Apple iOS 10

Notifications also have the new iOS 10 look, as individual cards with larger fonts that make them stand out much better. If you’re using a newer phone (that is, the iPhone 6, 6s and newer), you can use 3D Touch to hard-press notifications and get more options. This is a great feature, and a smart use of the underutilized 3D Touch. Unfortunately, those of us on older phones can only swipe left to dismiss or view the notification.

In Nougat, notifications are bundled together by the app that generated them. They can be expanded with a gesture or dismissed en masse. Apple instead groups the notifications by time of arrival, letting you dismiss them one day at a time. It’s an improvement, but I still prefer how Android handles notifications. I especially like that Android doesn’t require special technology to make the most of its notifications.

The most dramatic change in iOS 10 is in the Messages app. This has been the traditional home of SMS messages and missives sent via Apple’s exclusive iMessage service, both of which are relayed between Apple devices, are encrypted end-to-end, and only use your data connection. This app has long been able to send images, videos, and short audio recordings, but in iOS 10 it can do much more. It also includes a new marketplace for add-on apps and stickers, making it an ecosystem in its own right. Its capabilities have become so extended that, were it not made by Apple and preinstalled on iPhones, I would be reviewing it separately. In short, it’s massive.

Some of the interactive Message features from the Apple Watch also appear in iOS 10 in the form of Digital Touch. With it, you can use gestures to send animations like holding two fingers to send a beating heart or tapping to create colorful bursts of light. I don’t really care for the look of these, which appear as vague, wispy animations inside black squares. I also don’t care for the fact that they are sent as soon as you trigger them.

Every other new Messages feature requires that you tap the Send button first, giving you a chance to correct mistakes. This is made all the more frustrating because Digital Touch effects are created with gestures that I find difficult to make reliably. Case in point: I accidentally sent a large, pink, “heart break” animation to my partner of six years because I swiped incorrectly. This feature could destroy marriages.

From the Digital Touch menu, you can also write messages with your fingertip that appear as animations on the recipient’s phone. It’s the best executed Digital Touch feature, and I especially like that the message animations move at the same speed at which you drew them. You can even snap a video or still picture, and doodle all over it. It works well for still photos, but the video option needs some work. Instead of drawing over a completed video, you draw as the video records. It’s unintuitive, and I found in my testing that the final product jiggled like I had been poking my camera. Because I had been.

Apple iOS 10

You can still just tap Send on a message, or you can make an impact or a whisper, using variably sized bubbles that bounce and swell. Custom animations, like balloons, fireworks, and lasers, can be triggered to fill the entire screen. Invisible Ink hides an image until the recipient swipes it away, making for a big reveal. This last effect is wonderfully animated, as the silvery digital ink responds to your pokes and prods. Tapback lets you respond with one of six canned responses, such as a thumbs up. This is similar to Facebook’s response system.

Another important change is how you take photos within the app and attach them to messages. You can now quickly shoot and add photos from within the Messages app, which lets you fire off a barrage of selfies in seconds. iOS users can also mark up photos with text or draw directly on photos. It’s a little like Snapchat, but with a distinctively Apple look. My favorite tool lets you enlarge a section of a photo, drawing the recipient’s attention to one specific area without cropping the image.

Digital Touch and message delivery effects are big, tightly integrated changes to the iOS 10 Messages app, but there are bigger ones. Messages is now a platform for all kinds of third-party content. A new store and interface let you add stickers to spice up your messages, and app integrations mean you can do more without having to jump back and forth between apps. These are two distinct features, but they share the same space, which can be confusing. The cramped environs of the Messages app don’t do it any favours. But altogether it’s a big change for Apple.

I’ll talk about stickers first, because they are the more straightforward of the two features. Stickers are similar to emoji in that they are premade images you add to messages. Emoji, however, are unicode characters that are approved by a central authority and can only be adapted for different platforms. This is why emoji look different on iOS, Android, Twitter, and other platforms. Stickers have no such limitations, and appear the same everywhere.

Apple iOS 10

Stickers come in sets, basically palettes of images usually of the same theme or style. To add them, tap the icon immediately to the left of the text field. A new screen opens, showing all of the stickers and apps available for Messages. All of this happens in the space normally occupied by the keyboard, so it’s a tight fit. Apple should reconsider how to approach this new experience, perhaps introducing hidden trays you swipe to reveal.

You might be surprised to discover that some apps you already have include sticker packs that you can now add to messages. The game Dots and Co, for example, added stickers of the game’s main characters.

More sticker packs can be downloaded, for free or for money, through the store embedded in Messages. I am surprised, and a bit disappointed, that most sticker packs cost $1.99, including the Star Wars stickers available at launch. Facebook Messenger boasts an enormous number of stickers featuring distinctive artists and popular characters, and nearly all of them are free. The balance of Apple’s store might change as it matures, but for now it feels a bit pricey. Note that you can purchase sticker sets through the App Store, but finding them is hard.

When you add a sticker to a message, you can add text as if it were any other attachment. Many of the stickers available in the Messages store make an effort to interact with your text; like Donald Duck casually leaning against the edge of your message, stepping out of the text bubble and into the no-man’s land of white space between messages. It’s clear that Apple is emphasizing quality and uniqueness with these stickers.

Apple iOS 10

That kind of control has worked for the App Store, but I wonder how well it will work in the Messages store. Telegram, an app mainly known for its encrypted messaging, supports a vibrant sticker creating community. It has no centralized store, instead allowing anyone to create “bot” accounts that users can message to receive the sticker sets. If someone sends you a sticker you like, you can tap it to download the set. This has led me to dozens of sticker sets that would surely not exist on any other platform, including a dozen celebrating Angela Lansbury’s masterful performance on Murder She Wrote.

If someone uses Messages to send you a sticker you’ve never seen before, it’s sometimes accompanied by a link to the sticker set inside the Messages store. From here, you can download (or buy) the stickers. But the links don’t always appear. Apple needs to make sure this works consistently, since it’s near impossible to find a specific sticker inside the Messages store or the App Store, as I mentioned earlier.

To my complete shock, all of the elements I’ve listed—from beating hearts of Digital Touch to animal stickers—are cross platform. My beating hearts didn’t animate, but my friend did receive a still image of them on her Android phone.

In addition to stickers, third-party apps also have a place in the iOS 10 Messages app. These apps are intermixed with the stickers, and accompany many apps you might already have on your phone. When I updated to iOS 10, I discovered that Fandango has a Messages app that is installed along with the main iPhone app, similar to how Apple Watch apps work.

Not all Messages apps need to have an associated app on your home screen, however. Some exist entirely in Messages. These appear to be available in the regular App Store, too, but finding them is difficult. It would be useful if Apple added a Messages buy cipro online section to the App Store.

Apple iOS 10

For lack of a better way to describe it, Messages apps let you do stuff inside the Messages app. Take the Fandango app. When I open it in Messages, it uses the space at the bottom of the screen normally occupied by the keyboard to let me search for movies in the area. If I find one I like, I can send a link to the person I’m chatting with. If we decide we want to go, I can select a location, a show time, and buy the tickets all from within Messages. Other Messages apps such as Confide, let you encode your messages (perhaps overkill, considering that iMessage messages are already encrypted) or even play games. I got in a few rounds of chess with my cousin while testing and was pleased with the quality of the experience.

Taken as a whole, these mini-apps are a really smart way to expand the functionality of iMessage without muddling the experience, since users can choose which apps they add. Plus, there’s a whole new world for the army of independent iPhone developers to explore. My only complaint is the same as with stickers. The apps are so far difficult to find, access, and manage.

In iOS 10, Apple also expands the predictive text capabilities in Messages. It now supports multiple languages, so polyglots will no longer see red lines beneath half their utterances. It also takes emoji use to new and terrifying levels. As you type, predictive text suggests emoji equivalents to words, similar to the way Google’s Gboard keyboard does. After you finish typing, Messages scans the text after you open the emoji pane. Any word it thinks could be replaced by an emoji is highlighted. Tap, and the emoji is placed. Unfortunately, I found that this feature worked intermittently at best.

Predictive text also has more useful functions, beyond placing a pizza emoji in the proper place. If you type out “Max’s phone number is,” the autocomplete phrases include the phone number of every Max in your Contacts app. Start typing when you’re available, and free slots in your calendar are made available. It’s a really smart integration, but I wasn’t able to make it work to my satisfaction. Typing names pulled up the wrong contact card, and I was never given the option to select a time from my calendar. I hope this promising feature will improve with time.

It’s worth noting that Apple, not Facebook or WhatsApp or Google, is offering one of the most feature-rich messaging experiences that is encrypted end-to-end. That might not sound like a big deal to you, but it’s a huge deal to the major players in the industry. Consider that Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014 in order to get a piece of the messaging pie.

iOS 10 sees not only new features, but also a new look for several of Apple’s first-party apps. The News app, for example, sports a cleaner design with bigger, bolder text and airier spaces. While News may not be the most popular app, the changes here are indicative of a larger visual shift for Apple apps.

Apple iOS 10That same design is present in the new Home app, which lists all of your connected devices in large buttons that are easy to tap. You can also create different Scenes, which are collections of actions for different smart devices. Tapping Good Morning, for example, might turn on the coffee maker and the lights to the kitchen, while the rest of the house slumbers. It also now features automation options, too. As is always the case with smart devices, it all sounds good on paper. But HomeKit, as a platform, hasn’t seen widespread adoption yet. That’s too bad, although the security journalist in me is grateful. Its success continues to depend both on the number of devices released that support it and popular buy-in for the concept of home automation in general.

Apple’s Mail app sports some improvements as well, most notably an unsubscribe button. The app now scans the contents of messages and helps make unsubscribing from pesky emails a breeze. It’s a great feature, but I still prefer the look and utility of Google’s Inbox by Gmail.

The Photos app is subtly upgraded and now features a search tool to find faces and places. It also organizes photos of what it deems to be important events into Ken Burns-style videos, complete with accompanying music. While the videos are nice, I couldn’t get the search tool to do much more than find locations, presumably based on GPS data tagged to each image. The revamped Google Photos also adds creative tools for videos and albums, along with powerful (if frequently uneven) search tools similar to the ubiquitous Google Image Search on the Web. Apple seems to be trying to answer Google’s offering, but Google Photos offers more features. Plus, Google stores all of your images for free, forever (if you let it reduce their quality a bit).

Apple has announced plans to update iOS 10 after its launch to allow for dramatic depth-of-field effects possible with the dual-camera setup with the iPhone 7 Plus. While not really a telephoto lens, the new 7 Plus camera and software combo does deliver remarkable effects. Unfortunately, the rest of us won’t get to enjoy such features. iOS 10 lets you edit RAW image files, if that’s your thing. It may not appeal to large numbers of users, but by adding this ability Apple is showing its commitment to raising the profile of iOS and the iPhone as a photography platform.

The humble Clock app has also been redesigned, and now has a Sleep function. Tell it how many hours you want to snooze, and on which days you need a wake-up call, the app will both wake you at the appointed time and remind you when to go to bed. It even has special tones to help you rise refreshed, instead of terrified. I really like this new approach, partly because the wake tones really are pleasant but also because it eliminated the half dozen alarms I used to use to get up every day.

The Music App Is Much Improved
Apple iOS 10

Apple’s Music app, however, sees the most dramatic upgrade. It sports the same large-text and whitespace-heavy design as HomeKit, and is the best iteration of this much-maligned app. Your Library of music is now clearly divided into sections, with a customizable table of contents at the top. You can view your music by categories like Artists, Albums, Playlists, Songs, and locally stored music. Ever since Apple introduced streaming music with iTunes Match, you’ve been able to choose between seeing all of your available tunes or just the ones that can be listened to offline. It’s a feature that’s always been hidden and difficult to use, and Apple puts it at the forefront in iOS 10, finally.

Albums appear as squares showing off their art, and can be tapped to see their contents. New expandable menus let you add to playlist, play next, create a station, and so on. The same menu appears if you long-press on any individual track. You can also like or dislike a song or album. Apple uses your preferences to construct the For You section of recommendations. As a track plays, its name and playback controls appear at the bottom of the app (and inside the Control Center), so it’s never far from your finger.

A new Browse section shows off featured tracks, videos, and chart-topping songs, as well as curated playlists. This last feature seems to be aimed squarely at the Editors’ Choice winning Slacker Radio, which hangs its hat on human-curated music. The Radio section still features the bewildering Beats 1 24-hour streaming music experience, along with stations created from your preference and created by Apple. The new Search page shows off your recent searches—a simple tool that should have been available at launch—and clearly shows whether you’re searching your library of purchased and streaming songs, or the entirety of Apple’s music library.

I’ve enjoyed using the Apple Music service, but the app has been a pain since day one. The new version is an improvement, but confusion remains. Most of that, I believe, comes from the fundamentally confusing nature of Apple’s current music strategy, and the changing face of, well, music. At a time when digitally purchased, imported, and not-purchased-but-saved-locally-from-a-streaming-service tracks all commingle, the result can’t help but be a bit bewildering. We’ll be updating our review of Apple Music soon to reflect the changes that come in with iOS 10.

To some, one of the best features of iOS 10 is the ability to delete most of the preinstalled apps from Apple. Everything can go, excepting a few critical apps like the App Store, Camera, Clock, Health, Messages, Phone, Photos, Safari, Settings, and Wallet. Minimalists will rejoice. I know I savored finally deleting the Stocks app after eight years of ignoring it.

Apple iOS 10

Though Android devices are often synonymous with customization, bloatware is still a problem for the platform. Phones from Samsung and other major vendors are frequently packed with undeletable apps from both the manufacturer and the carrier. Some even include services that can be disabled, but not fully disentangled, from the device.

Even the Nexus phones, which are as close to Google’s Platonic view of what an Android smartphone should be, have several apps that cannot be removed.

I’m sure there are some people that would love to get rid of even more apps. Safari and Wallet could probably be allowed to go, in my opinion. But even if Apple isn’t willing to let go of these apps, it would be nice to have the option to hide them from view. My Ignore Me folder to which I relegate apps I never use has gotten smaller, but it still has a place on my phone.

I’ll also note briefly that an ongoing effort at Apple has been to increase the connectivity between iOS and desktops and laptops. One of the big features in iOS 10 and the as-yet unreleased macOS Sierra is a shared clipboard so you can cut text and images from one device and paste them on another. It’s a brilliant idea, but like a lot of these features, it requires new iPhones and Macs, meaning it’s very hard to test or even experience in day-to-day life. While it’s often (and unfairly!) ignored, Windows 10 has a phenomenal multi-platform approach that provides the same experience on every device, and thanks to the Display Dock, even lets you use a mobile device as you would a desktop.

An even more significant example is the excellent line of Microsoft Surface devices. I’ve used several different mobile devices while covering tradeshows, and the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is one of the best. Lightweight and sturdy, it brilliantly bridges the gap between laptop and tablet without losing any functionality. The iPad, iPad Pro, and MacBook Air lines are excellent on their own merits, but they are still separate devices with separate use cases. Apple has yet to provide a comparable cross-platform experience.
Apple iOS 10

Previously, Siri was limited to basic tasks such as placing calls, taking dictation for text messages, and retrieving facts from the Internet. It handled all these with aplomb, but, aside from placing Tweets on your behalf, it did little with other apps. In iOS 10, Siri works with a variety of apps, letting you carry out intricate activities with just your voice.

In my testing, I successfully sent a full dollar via Venmo to my friend Sarah. I summoned Siri with the Hey Siri command, and instructed the assistant to send a $1 to Sarah (three cents added as a surcharge). Siri obliged within seconds, asking my permission before the transaction completed. It was a totally seamless experience, and one that finally delivers on the fast and hands-free experience Apple promised with Siri.

The only trouble is that Venmo was the only app I was able to successfully use with Siri. I tried to summon a Lyft car, but Siri pointed out the app wasn’t installed. I tried to book a movie ticket, and was able to get nearby theaters and movie times, but purchasing the tickets eluded me.

Despite this improvement, Apple still has a long way to go with Siri. Your iPhone only responds to the Hey Siri trigger phrase while connected to a power source, whereas Google Now’s Ok Google works without hands or wires. And despite my initial distaste for Google Now voice operation, I find myself turning to it more often than to Siri.

While Siri is coming to macOS, I wonder if the voice assistant needs a new home. Amazon, for example, has done quite well by introducing its its Alexa assistant not as a software service but as the brains of the Amazon Echo home appliance. Google announced plans to follow suit with its Google Home. Now, if Apple were to put a fully functional Siri assistant in my Apple TV, it might become far more useful.

The 10th iteration of Mac OS was an enormous change for Apple’s desktop computers. So much so that it took over 15 years for the company to rebrand the operating system as macOS. On the surface, iOS 10 looks like a minor update, with lots of little tweaks across the board. But those visual and functional changes create a more cohesive experience, one in which you can stay focused and take more actions without leaving an app.

Nowhere is this more true than in Messages, where a deluge of functionality is now at your fingertips. Here, Apple has found a smart way to play to what has always been the real strength behind iPhone: providing a curated platform where talented developers can show off their work. The addition of apps to Messages delivers on the new bot-centric experience promised by Microsoft and Google, one where the commerce and creativity tools we’ve come to love are close at hand and work nearly seamlessly. Apple is the first to deliver this experience, and it is already proving its worth.

iOS 10 provides an excellent mobile experience, is available for free, and reaches nearly every iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch instantaneously. It thus is an Arabian Reseller Editors’ Choice winner.

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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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