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Posts tagged with "iOS Reviews"

iOS and iPadOS 13: The MacStories Review

Following years of a judicious union between platforms, it’s time for iPad to embark on its own journey.

In looking back at major iOS releases from the recent past, it’s easy to see how building and positioning these annual updates has become a careful balancing act for Apple.

In last year’s iOS 12, we saw the company focus on improving performance, providing users with tools to understand their device usage habits, and adapting Workflow to the modern era of Siri and proactive suggestions. The strategy was largely successful: iOS 12 was regarded as Apple’s most reliable iOS release of late – a reputation that has resulted in a 90% adoption rate a year later; and the Shortcuts app – the highlight of last year from a user feature perspective – is becoming a built-in (and thus more powerful) app in iOS 13.

For all that Apple accomplished in iOS 12, however, some areas of the experience inevitably had to be put on the back-burner. Besides improvements to Reminders and Files, iOS 12 lacked a long-awaited dark mode (which was rolled out on macOS instead) as well as more substantial tweaks to the ever-evolving iOS 7 design language; chief among iOS 12’s absentee list, of course, was iPad. Even though Apple had trained users to expect major additions to the tablet platform on a biennial schedule (see iOS 9 and iOS 11), the lack of meaningful iPad features in iOS 12 spurred a contentious discussion when it became apparent that new iPad Pro hardware was so far ahead of its software, it legitimized asking whether investing in that hardware was even worth it.

The annual debate that surrounds which features make it into each major iOS release is symptomatic of a complicated truth: iOS isn’t just the operating system that runs on iPhones anymore, and these annual releases are more than a mere collection of updated apps. iOS is the platform for an ecosystem of devices – from our wrists and speakers to cars and TV sets – and its changes have repercussions that ripple far beyond an updated Reminders app or a new icon set.

This, of course, has been the case for a few years at this point, but the nature of iOS as an all-encompassing platform has never been as evident as it is today in iOS 13. For the first time since I started reviewing Apple’s annual iOS updates, it feels like the company is now keenly aware that a new iOS version has to cover an array of themes that can’t be pushed back for scheduling reasons. A single area of attention isn’t enough anymore – not for the Apple of 2019 as an economic, political, and social force, and not for iOS, the engine powering devices that aren’t just screens for apps, but bona fide lifestyle computers.

As a result, there’s something for everyone in iOS 13 and all the recurring themes of Tim Cook’s Apple are touched upon this time around. iOS 13 improves Face ID recognition and promises improvements to app download sizes and performance. Apple is sending strong signals on its commitment to privacy as a feature with a new sign-in framework for apps and enhancements to location tracking controls and HomeKit cameras. iOS’ design language is getting its biggest update in years with dark mode, new tools for developers to express colors and embed glyphs in their user interfaces, updated context menus, and redesigns aimed at facilitating one-handed interactions. We have notable improvements to built-in apps, including the rebuilt Reminders and Health, an overhauled Files app, and hundreds of quality-of-life tweaks that, in big and small ways, make iOS more capable and efficient.

No stone is left unturned in iOS 13 – and that includes iPad too.

The iPad experience has always been largely consistent with the iPhone – particularly since Apple unified core iOS interactions around a screen without a Home button – but also distinct from it. iOS 13 makes this distinction official by splitting itself in a second branch called iPadOS, which uses iOS as the foundation but is specifically optimized and designed for iPad.

It was clear when the new iPad Pro launched in late 2018 that it told only one part of a bigger story about the role of the tablet in Apple’s modern ecosystem. With iPadOS, Apple is ready to tell that full story: while the iPad has always been an extension of iOS, sharing key similarities with the iPhone hardware and software, it’s been evolving – arguably, a bit too slowly – into a different breed of computer that is fundamentally distinct from a phone.

We’ve been able to observe this divergence starting in iOS 9 with Split View multitasking and Apple Pencil, and the transition continued with iOS 11 and its drag and drop-infused environment. It was only natural (and well-deserved) for the iPad to begin advancing in a parallel direction to iOS – informed and inspired by it, but also capable of growing on its own and tackling problems that an iPhone doesn’t have to solve.

From this standpoint, there are two sides to iOS 13: on one hand, an underlying tide that raises all platforms, featuring a distillation of themes Apple comes back to on an annual basis; on the other, a fork in the road, opening a new path for the iPad’s next decade. And against this backdrop, a single question looms large:

Can Apple balance both?

Read more



    iOS 12: The MacStories Review

    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.

    Will the plan work?

    Read more



      iOS 11: The MacStories Review

      For the second time in three years, the iPad isn’t following in the iPhone’s footsteps. With iOS 11, the iPad is going in its own direction – this time, with no cliffhanger.

      iOS 9 marked a significant milestone for the iPad platform. In contrast with previous iPhone interface adaptations, iOS 9 did away with longstanding preconceptions and allowed the iPad to reach beyond the comfort of familiarity with the iPhone’s experience.

      Shedding the vestiges of intrinsic iPhone OS notions – namely, single-tasking through one app at a time – the combination of more capable hardware with features such as Split View and Picture in Picture inaugurated a new beginning for the iPad’s post-PC endeavors. iOS 9 reset the iPad’s expectations and potential, providing millions of disenchanted users with the modern, powerful PC replacement they’d been envisioning since 2010.

      But in many ways, iOS 9 wasn’t enough. The productivity enhancements that set the iPad on a new course felt, in hindsight, like first attempts at reviving its software and app ecosystem. Key aspects of iOS 9 were evidently unfinished, possibly hinting at future optimizations and fixes.

      That future didn’t arrive with last year’s iOS 10, which only added to the sense of wondering when the iPad’s next shoe would drop. Amidst consistently declining unit sales and following another bland (at least iPad-wise) mid-cycle update to iOS, the legacy of iOS 9 gradually shifted from a first step packed with promise to a bittersweet one-off effort to infuse new life into the iPad.

      With iOS 11, Apple’s iPad vision feels resolute again. Multitasking is blending with multitouch, giving drag and drop a new purpose; the Mac’s best features – from file management to the dock – have been rethought, simplified, and extended specifically for iOS. The iPad’s mission is to reimagine the very concept of a portable computer by empowering a new generation of users to do their best work wherever they are, whenever they want.

      If anything, iOS 9 was merely the iPad’s overture.

      The iPad, however, is only one part of the broader iOS story, which has been – and most likely always will be – characterized by the iPhone’s evolution and impact on our society.

      From that standpoint, not only did iOS 10 deliver with upgrades to core iPhone apps such as Photos, Messages, Music, and Maps – it showed how Apple was judiciously planting the seeds for technologies and human interface guidelines that are blossoming in iOS 11. The two-pronged approach of iOS 10 – updates to consumer apps along with the first signs of native iOS machine learning – resulted in an iPhone update that felt impactful without the need for a ground-up redesign.

      For the most part, iOS 11 follows the playbook of last year. The transition to a new design language is still in flux, with a progressive remodeling of iOS 7’s divisive aesthetic and the adoption of friendly UI elements that can guide users across the system. iOS 11’s most notable redesigns, including the App Store and Control Center, lay new foundations and fix what didn’t work before. Refinements – in some cases, reversals of ideas that didn’t pan out – are one of iOS 11’s overarching themes.

      iOS 11 also reaps the rewards of investments Apple made in iOS 10 and 2016’s iPhone line. From the upcoming wave of augmented reality apps to deeper computational photography and new responsibilities for iCloud, iOS 11 epitomizes – with remarkable accomplishments and a few missteps along the way – the focus and priorities of the modern Apple.

      But perhaps more importantly, unlike iOS 10, iOS 11 presents a cohesive narrative for both the iPad and iPhone. A story where, for the first time in years, the iPad is informing some of the design principles and features of the iPhone’s software. Even from different angles, and each with its own past struggles, both acts in iOS 11 end up asking the same question:

      Where does the modern computer go next?

      Read more



        iOS 10: The MacStories Review

        Sometimes, change is unexpected. More often than not, change sneaks in until it feels grand and inevitable. Gradually, and then suddenly. iOS users have lived through numerous tides of such changes over the past three years.

        iOS 7, introduced in 2013 as a profound redesign, was a statement from a company ready to let go of its best-selling OS’ legacy. It was time to move on. With iOS 8 a year later, Apple proved that it could open up to developers and trust them to extend core parts of iOS. In the process, a new programming language was born. And with last year’s iOS 9, Apple put the capstone on iOS 7’s design ethos with a typeface crafted in-house, and gave the iPad the attention it deserved.

        You wouldn’t have expected it from a device that barely accounted for 10% of the company’s revenues, but iOS 9 was, first and foremost, an iPad update. After years of neglect, Apple stood by its belief in the iPad as the future of computing and revitalized it with a good dose of multitasking. Gone was the long-held dogma of the iPad as a one-app-at-a-time deal; Slide Over and Split View – products of the patient work that went into size classes – brought a higher level of efficiency. Video, too, ended its tenure as a full-screen-only feature. Even external keyboards, once first-party accessories and then seemingly forgotten in the attic of the iPad’s broken promises, made a comeback.

        iOS 9 melded foundational, anticipated improvements with breakthrough feature additions. The obvious advent of Apple’s own typeface in contrast to radical iPad updates; the next logical step for web views and the surprising embrace of content-blocking Safari extensions. The message was clear: iOS is in constant evolution. It’s a machine sustained by change – however that may happen.

        It would have been reasonable to expect the tenth iteration of iOS to bring a dramatic refresh to the interface or a full Home screen makeover. It happened with another version 10 beforetwice. And considering last year’s iPad reboot, it would have been fair to imagine a continuation of that work in iOS 10, taking the iPad further than Split View.

        There’s very little of either in iOS 10, which is an iPhone release focused on people – consumers and their iPhone lifestyles; developers and a deeper trust bestowed on their apps. Like its predecessors, iOS 10 treads the line of surprising new features – some of which may appear unforeseen and reactionary – and improvements to existing functionalities.

        Even without a clean slate, and with a release cycle that may begin to split across platforms, iOS 10 packs deep changes and hundreds of subtle refinements. The final product is a major leap forward from iOS 9 – at least for iPhone users.

        At the same time, iOS 10 is more than a collection of new features. It’s the epitome of Apple’s approach to web services and AI, messaging as a platform, virtual assistants, and the connected home. And as a cornucopia of big themes rather than trivial app updates, iOS 10 shows another side of Apple’s strategy:

        Sometimes, change is necessary.

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          iOS 9: The MacStories Review, Created on iPad

          With iOS entering the last stage of its single-digit version history, it’s time to wonder if Apple wants to plant new seeds or sit back, maintain, and reap the fruits of the work done so far.

          Last year, I welcomed iOS 8 as a necessary evolution to enable basic communication between apps under the user’s control. With extensions based on a more powerful share sheet, document providers, widgets, and custom keyboards, I noted that iOS had begun to open up; slowing down wasn’t an option anymore.

          In hindsight, many of the announcements from last year’s WWDC were unambiguous indicators of a different Apple, aware of its position of power in the tech industry and willing to explore new horizons for its mobile operating system and what made it possible.

          Following the troubled launch of iOS 6 and subsequent rethinking of iOS 7, Apple found itself caught in the tension between a (larger) user base who appreciated iOS for its simplicity and another portion of users who had elected iPhones and iPads as their primary computers. Alongside this peculiar combination, the tech industry as a whole had seen the smartphone graduate from part of the digital hub to being the hub itself, with implications for the connected home, personal health monitoring, videogames, and other ecosystems built on top of the smartphone.

          WWDC 2014 marked the beginning of a massive undertaking to expand iOS beyond app icons. With Extensibility, HealthKit, HomeKit, Metal, and Swift, Tim Cook’s Apple drew a line in the sand in June 2014, introducing a new foundation where no preconception was sacred anymore.

          iOS’ newfound youth, however, came with its fair share of growing pains.

          While power users could – at last – employ apps as extensions available anywhere, the system was criticized for its unreliability, poor performance, sparse adoption, and general lack of discoverability for most users. The Health app – one of the future pillars of the company’s Watch initiative – went through a chaotic launch that caused apps to be pulled from the App Store and user data to be lost. The tabula rasa of iOS 7 and the hundreds of developer APIs in iOS 8 had resulted in an unprecedented number of bugs and glitches, leading many to call out Apple’s diminished attention to software quality. And that’s not to mention the fact that new features often made for hefty upgrades, which millions of customers couldn’t perform due to storage size issues.

          But change marches on, and iOS 8 was no exception. In spite of its problematic debut, iOS 8 managed to reinvent how I could work from my iPhone and iPad, allowing me – and many others – to eschew the physical limitations of desktop computers and embrace mobile, portable workflows that weren’t possible before. The past 12 months have seen Apple judiciously fix, optimize, and improve several of iOS 8’s initial missteps.

          Eight years1 into iOS, Apple is facing a tall task with the ninth version of its mobile OS. After the changes of iOS 7 and iOS 8 and a year before iOS 10, what role does iOS 9 play?

          In many cultures, the number “10” evokes a sense of growth and accomplishment, a complete circle that starts anew, both similar and different from what came before. In Apple’s case, the company has a sweet spot for the 10 numerology: Mac OS was reborn under the X banner, and it gained a second life once another 10 was in sight.

          What happens before a dramatic change is particularly interesting to observe. With the major milestone of iOS 10 on track for next year, what does iOS 9 say about Apple’s relationship with its mobile OS today?

          After two years of visual and functional changes, is iOS 9 a calm moment of introspection or a hazardous leap toward new technologies?

          Can it be both?

          eBook Version

          An eBook version of this review is available to Club MacStories members for free as part of their subscription. A Club MacStories membership costs $5/month or $50/year and it contains some great additional perks.

          You can subscribe here.

          (Note: If you only care about the eBook, you can subscribe and immediately turn off auto-renewal in your member profile. I’d love for you to try out Club MacStories for at least a month, though.)

          Download the EPUB files from your Club MacStories profile.

          Download the EPUB files from your Club MacStories profile.

          If you’re a Club MacStories member, you will find a .zip download in the Downloads section of your profile, which can be accessed at macstories.memberful.com. The .zip archive contains two EPUB files – one optimized for iBooks (with footnote popovers), the other for most EPUB readers.

          If you spot a typo or any other issue in the eBook, feel free to get in touch at club@macstories.net.

          Table of Contents

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          iOS 8 Changed How I Work on My iPhone and iPad

          When I reviewed iOS 7 last year, I took a different approach and tried to consider Apple’s redesigned OS from the perspective of someone who uses iPhones and iPads for work and personal tasks on a daily basis. I noted that a new structure enabled developers to make more powerful apps, and I concluded hoping that Apple would “consider revamping interoperability and communication between apps in the future”.

          With today’s release of iOS 8, Apple isn’t merely improving upon iOS 7 with minor app updates and feature additions. They’re also not backtracking on the design language launched last year, which has been refined and optimized with subtle tweaks, but not fundamentally changed since its debut in June 2013.

          Apple is reinventing iOS. The way apps communicate with each other and exchange functionality through extensions. How status awareness is being brought to iPhones, iPads, and Macs with Handoff and Continuity. Swift and TestFlight, giving developers new tools to build and test their apps. Custom keyboards and interactive notifications.

          There are hundreds of new features in iOS 8 and the ecosystem surrounding it that signal a far-reaching reimagination of what iOS apps should be capable of, the extent of user customization on an iPhone and iPad, or the amount of usage data that app developers can collect to craft better software.

          Seven years into iOS, a new beginning is afoot for Apple’s mobile OS, and, months from now, there will still be plenty to discuss. But, today, I want to elaborate on my experience with iOS 8 in a story that can be summed up with:

          iOS 8 has completely changed how I work on my iPhone and iPad.

          Read more


          Living with iOS 7

          iOS 7, released today, is a deep reimagination of Apple’s mobile platform: using familiarity and the need for a reset as catalysts, iOS 7 represents Apple’s attempt to make iOS ready for the future. iOS 7 is, effectively, the epitome of a large company that knows it’s time to get rid of cruft and inconsistencies to bring a new order to a platform that has grown exponentially in the past five years. For developers, iOS 7 brings powerful new tools that will allow for a new generation of more flexible, intelligent, and versatile apps. iOS 7 is not perfect: there are rough spots and some wrong assumptions, but it’s not flawed or, as many will argue in the next few weeks, a “mistake”. It would be extremely silly and shortsighted to judge iOS 7 by the look of its application icons or the gradients Apple has decided to use on some graphics. More than any other Apple product, iOS 7 isn’t just defined but how it looks: iOS 7’s new look is devoted to functionality – to how things work.

          It’s difficult for me to offer a comprehensive review of iOS 7 today, because I have only been able to test a fraction of the third-party apps I will use on a daily basis with my iPhone and iPad mini. Mirroring the concept of “design is how it works”, I would say that, for me, iOS isn’t just how Apple’s apps work on it – it’s increasingly become about how apps from third-party developers can take advantage of it.

          I have been running iOS 7 on my iPhone 5 since Apple released the first beta in June. I later installed the OS on my iPad mini, and have been working with an iOS 7-only setup ever since. As MacStories readers know, I primarily work from my iOS devices, which helped me get a good idea of how iOS 7 will change the way I write, take photos, respond to emails, listen to music and podcasts, and all the other things that I use iOS for.[1] Fortunately, I had the chance to test a good amount of third-party apps that solidified my thoughts on iOS 7 and the way it impacts my digital life and workflow.

          It was also hard to get ahold of fellow iOS 7 users in my town. While I imagine that it would be easier to come across a nerd running an iOS 7 beta at a bar in San Francisco, I didn’t have much luck in Viterbo, Italy. I tested new features like AirDrop – which allows you to share files and information locally with other iOS 7 devices – with my iPhone and iPad, and, in the past week, managed to convince my girlfriend to install iOS 7 on her iPhone.

          I needed to provide this context: my livelihood directly depends on iOS and how I can work from my iPhone and iPad without having to use my Mac. Therefore, if you’re looking for a list of new features and smaller details of iOS 7 (and there are many), bookmark this article. My “review” of iOS 7 will focus on my thoughts on the update, how it made my iPhone and iPad better devices, and what I believe iOS’ future will be going forward.
          Read more


          The iOS 6 Trilemma

          In some ways, iOS 6 is not a major update. And yet, in others, it’s possibly the biggest thing to happen to iOS since iPhone OS 1. Both of these assertions have far-reaching consequences for the users, third-party developers, and Apple itself.

          In June, soon after the official announcement and preview of iOS 6, I concluded my general overview of the software with four questions. Looking back at that article now, those questions are more relevant than ever.

          • “Will the App Store redesign also bring new curation and search features, as many developers asked?”
          • “We didn’t quite get the “silver” system theme that was rumored; Apple seems to be moving towards blue gradients as a standard UI element, but not everyone’s liking the change for toolbars and status bars. Will they reconsider or improve upon today’s beta in terms of looks come Fall 2012?”
          • “With a new iPhone likely to be released in October, will we see even more features being added to the OS to take advantage of the new device’s hardware?”
          • “Will Google release a standalone Maps application?”

          The answer to three of them is “no”. The last one – whether Google will release a standalone Maps application for iOS on the App Store – could be a “most certainly yes”, but we don’t know any more details.

          iOS 6 is a controversial release, in that through the following days we’ll likely witness several news outlets and independent bloggers declare Apple’s doom or absolute genius, depending on the Internet clique they choose to side with. I think that, in this case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle – a gray area that needs a calm and thorough consideration. At the same time, I also believe that the “controversial” nature of iOS 6 needs to be analyzed for its various facets and reasons of existence. Why did Apple choose these features for iOS 6? What does the user make of it?

          I have been testing iOS 6 for the past weeks, and I have (slowly) come to the conclusion that there’s no easy way to cover this update with a traditional review strategy. Instead, I have decided to take a look at the software from multiple perspectives, understanding the possible implications, downsides, and improvements for each one of them.

          While last year I would have answered to the question “Should I upgrade to iOS 5 right away” with a resounding “Yes”, this year I’m not so sure about the “right away” part. Read more