Federico is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of MacStories, where he writes about Apple with a focus on apps, developers, and iOS productivity. He founded MacStories in April 2009 and has been writing about Apple since. Federico is also the co-host of AppStories, a weekly podcast exploring the world of apps.
I’ve been testing iOS on old devices for six years, and I’ve never seen a release that has actually improved performance on old devices. At best, updates like iOS 6, iOS 9, and iOS 10 didn’t make things much worse; at worst, updates like iOS 7 and iOS 8 made old devices feel like old devices. Anyone using an older device can safely upgrade to iOS 12 without worrying about speed, and that’s a big deal. You’ll notice an improvement most of the time, even on newer devices (my iPad Air 2, which had started to feel its age running iOS 11, feels great with iOS 12).
As I noted in my review, I was hoping someone would run actual measurements for different system features on older devices running multiple versions of iOS. Cunningham did exactly that, going all the way back to iOS 10 on the iPhone 5S.
I previously covered HomeCam, a HomeKit utility by indie developer Aaron Pearce, as a superior way to watch live video streams from multiple HomeKit cameras. In addition to a clean design and straightforward approach (your cameras are displayed in a grid), what set HomeCam apart was the ability to view information from other HomeKit accessories located in the same room of a camera and control nearby lights without leaving the camera UI. Compared to Apple's approach to opening cameras in the clunky Home app, HomeCam is a nimble, must-have utility for anyone who owns multiple HomeKit cameras and wants to tune into their video feeds quickly. With the release of iOS 12, HomeCam is gaining one of the most impressive and useful implementations of Siri shortcuts I've seen on the platform yet.
Apple describes the XS as sporting “dual 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras”. This will be obvious to most of you, but in case it’s not, they’re not just dual rear-facing lenses, they’re dual rear-facing cameras. The wide-angle and telephoto lenses each have their own sensors. As a user you don’t have to know this, and should never notice it. The iPhone XS telephoto camera is the same as in the iPhone X — same lens, same sensor.
But the iPhone XS wide-angle camera has a new lens, which I believe to be superior to last year’s, and an amazing new sensor which is remarkably better than last year’s. And last year’s was very good.
Anytime an iPhone review gets too technical about camera details and photography lexicon, I tend to gloss over it and move on. I'm not a camera expert and I usually don't care about the nitty-gritty. But John Gruber's analysis of the iPhone XS' camera stack, A12 SoC, and seemingly unadvertised improved sensor is one of the most interesting camera-focused iPhone reviews I've read in years. I don't want to spoil it – move past the photos at the beginning and keep reading.
Among the actions that didn't make the transition from Workflow to the new Shortcuts app for iOS 12, built-in support for triggering IFTTT applets (formerly known as "recipes") is perhaps the most annoying one. With just a few taps, Workflow's old 'Trigger IFTTT Applet' action allowed you to assemble workflows that combined the power of iOS integrations with IFTTT's hundreds of supported services. The IFTTT action acted as a bridge between Workflow and services that didn't offer native support for the app, such as Google Sheets, Spotify, and several smart home devices.
Fortunately, there's still a way to integrate the just-released Shortcuts app with IFTTT. The method I'm going to describe below involves a bit more manual setup because it's not as nicely integrated with Shortcuts as the old action might have been. In return however, you'll unlock the ability to enable IFTTT triggers using Siri on your iOS devices, Apple Watch, and HomePod – something that was never possible with Workflow's original IFTTT support. Let's take a look.
If you're absolutely new to the Shortcuts app and never played with Workflow before, this is where I'd start. The guide goes into great detail about what shortcuts are, how you can organize them, and what types of input are supported in Shortcuts. There's also an Advanced section where – and I never thought I'd see this – Apple explains x-callback-url and web APIs. Some of these sections have been adapted from the old Workflow documentation, but it's a fantastic resource regardless. And once you're done reading through Apple's materials, I'll be waiting here.
Overcast, Marco Arment's popular podcast client for iPhone and iPad, received a major update today to version 5. While I've long praised Apple's work on their built-in Podcasts app for iOS – particularly since getting three HomePods and leveraging Podcasts' support for AirPlay 2 – I also recognize the appeal of Overcast's advanced features and powerful audio effects. Sprinkled throughout Overcast's release history are design details and enhancements big and small that make it a sophisticated, versatile client for podcast aficionados who don't want to settle for a stock app. From this standpoint, despite welcome improvements to Podcasts in iOS 12, changes in Overcast 5 make it an even more attractive option that has caused me second-guess my decision to embrace Apple's native app.
After years of unabated visual and functional changes, iOS 12 is Apple's opportunity to regroup and reassess the foundation before the next big step – with one notable exception.
We left last year's iOS 11 update with a palpable tension between two platforms.
On one hand, following a year of minor changes to the iPad and a hardware refresh that came in later than some expected, Apple once again devoted plenty of attention to reimagining the tablet's role in the world of modern computing. iPad updates in iOS 11, despite having their fair share of critics, largely did not disappoint. On the other hand, the iPhone – by and large still Apple's crown jewel – had to play second fiddle to a platform that was more in need of a strong, coherent message. And so despite blessing the iPhone with the same features of its larger multitouch cousin (at least most of them), Apple seemed content ceding the smartphone's spotlight to the iPad. There was a healthy array of new functionalities for both, but iOS 11's "Monumental leap for iPad" tagline pretty much told the whole story.
iOS 12, available today for the same range of devices that supported iOS 11, feels like a reaction to changes that have occurred around Apple and consumer technology over the past year.
While iOS 11 may go down in Apple software history as the touchstone of the iPad's maturity, it will also be remembered as one of the company's most taxing releases for its users. You don't have to look far into the iOS 11 cycle for headlines lamenting its poor stability on older hardware, plethora of design inconsistencies (which were noted time and time again), and general sense of sluggishness – issues that may have contributed to a slower adoption rate than 2016's iOS 10.
There were debacles in Apple's PR and marketing approach as well: performance problems with battery and power management were handled poorly during a key time of the year, culminating with a year-long discounted battery replacement program and a somewhat rushed battery-related addition to iOS' Settings. Then, of course, there was the much derided iPhone X ad clearly showing one of the many reported iOS bugs on TV, which had to be fixed with an updated commercial before the actual software was fixed. No matter how you slice it, it's been a rough few months for Apple in the realm of public perception of its software.
At the same time, toward the beginning of 2018, technology observers witnessed the rise of Time Well Spent – an organization and, perhaps more broadly, a public movement demanding that tech companies prioritize enabling healthier relationships with mobile devices. The principles underlying Time Well Spent, from battling smartphone addiction and notification overload to including superior parental controls in mobile OSes, may have originated as a natural consequence of breakneck technological progress; as some argue, they may also be a byproduct of global socioeconomic and political events. Time Well Spent's ideas found fertile soil in Silicon Valley: earlier this year, Facebook made key changes to its news feed to improve how users spend time on the social network; Apple made a rare commitment to better parental features in a future version of iOS; Google went all out and turned digital well-being into a suite of system features for Android.
It's important to understand the context in which iOS 12 is launching today, for events of the past year may have directly shaped Apple's vision for this update.
With iOS 12, Apple wants to rectify iOS' performance woes, proving to their customers that iOS updates should never induce digital regret. Perhaps more notably though, iOS 12 doesn't have a single consumer feature that encapsulates this release – like Messages might have been for iOS 10 or the iPad for iOS 11. Instead, iOS 12 is a constellation of enhancements revolving around the overarching theme of time. Apple in 2018 needs more time for whatever the next big step of iOS may be; they want iOS users to understand how much time they're spending on their devices; and they want to help users spend less time managing certain system features. Also, funnily enough, saving time is at the core (and in the very name) of iOS 12's most exciting new feature: Shortcuts.
iOS 12 isn't Apple's Snow Leopard release: its system changes and updated apps wouldn't justify a "No New Features" slide. However, for the first time in years, it feels as if the company is happy to let its foot off the gas a little and listen to users more.
PCalc, James Thomson's advanced calculator for iPhone and iPad, has been updated this week to version 3.8. I've been testing PCalc 3.8 for the past couple of months on my devices running iOS 12, and it features one of the best implementations of Siri shortcuts I've seen from a third-party developer yet. Even more than the app's excellent widget, shortcuts have enabled me to integrate PCalc features into different aspects of my daily workflow, including conversations with Siri via my HomePods.