Apple's newest version of its mobile software iOS becomes available today for a public test drive. Is the beta for iOS 10 worth it? I've been using it for a long weekend, with a preloaded version on an read Apple's FAQ and sign up, but I recommend you do it on a secondary device.provided by Apple. As always, going with a beta OS is a bit of a risky journey on your everyday phone -- if you're curious,
iOS 10 does have a handful of things that make it worth trying. That being said, it feels largely familiar at first, or second, or third use. I'd say it's a pretty subtle set of updates: call it the Service Pack for iOS 9. And some things -- like the more advanced Siri that works with third-party apps -- can't even be tested yet because no apps exist that fold into it. So I came away feeling a little less than excited about iOS 10. But hey, as a free update, it has a lot to offer.
If you do decide to download iOS 10's public beta, here's what you should check out.
Raise to Wake: Yes, it's been on Android phones for years, but it's really nice to have on an iPhone. I pick up the 6S and my messages are there. No button-pressing. It also means, since I'm not pressing Touch ID, that I don't just zip past the on-screen notifications. I linger there a bit longer. Now, however, you have to press the Home button to get past the lock screen, which sometimes feels like one step too many (or I've become truly lazy).
Gentle wake-ups: Did you know that iOS 10 has a new bedtime and wakeup reminder system in the Clock app? It's pretty great. Similar to what Fitbit just added, it recommends a bedtime schedule to stick to. In the mornings, it'll wake you up with gentle, rising music. New tones are available: "Early Riser," "First Light," "Helios" and "Birdsong." My morning music test was a lot more comforting than the stock set of Apple alarms. I slept through a few minutes of music, but I still woke up on time.
Apple Music: The beta shows off Apple Music's touted new redesign. It's really just a fresh coat of paint, but it does make finding things seem a little simpler. Menus are cleaner. I still think there are too many features and alleys in the Apple Music labyrinth. Apple hasn't claimed the new Apple Music will be any more or less harsh to your iCloud Music library (mine has been mutated over time the more I've used Apple Music, as downloads have weirdly merged with my own files). So far, I've noticed it's easier to search for things.
Messages get funky: You've probably heard, but Messages can now do all sorts of wacky things. Open the app and try it with someone else who has iOS 10 beta. Invisible ink. Slamming. Super-large emoji. Balloons, lasers, stickers. You can type something and have the emoji-translating keyboard convert words for you. Scribbling on video clips, sending simulated heartbeats like Apple Watch: it's all there, but scattershot. I found it hard to locate where all the parts were. Messages will support third-party apps, but right now all you can play with are four sticker packs that just feel like more emoji.
Delete Stocks, or iTunes, or nearly anything: You can remove Apple's core nonremovable apps...or most of them. No, they're not really erased, but they do disappear from your phone. They can be restored via the App Store like a regular app. Be careful, because you might forget which apps you've removed! It's a welcome thing for Stocks and News (or Apple Watch if you don't want to buy one), but some apps still can't be removed: Health, Photos, Wallet. Or the App Store.
Photos gets Memories: All your photos in Apple's iCloud Photo Library are now scanned using machine learning to collect into moments, or are organized by faces and places like Google Photos. This worked with my photo library, splitting things up in various discoverable categories. It took a day to get everything scanned, but then I saw Memories such as "Best of the Year 2015," "United Kingdom 2014 Trip," "Best of Last 3 Months" and "Father's Day 2015." The only problem was, I couldn't play any of the Apple-generated memory videos that collate your bests into a musical montage like Google and Facebook already do. Maybe it's a bug.
3D Touch Notifications, app widgets and Control Center: If you have a 3D Touch iPhone 6S, there's more you can do now. Apps now have little widgets with extra info, and the control panel has new settings for things like flashlight or the camera. I'm not wild about the Control Center redesign, which shifts music playback to a second pane and doesn't add anything new to the first pane. Home appliances will appear in a third pane if you add things to Apple's Home app. But the extra use of 3D Touch could mean a lot less app opening down the road.
Yes, a Home app: Confused about Smart Home? Apple's new app is here, and it lets you connect HomeKit-ready appliances in one convenient place. Unfortunately, I have no HomeKit-ready appliances. And the app didn't start me off in a way that helped me understand what I needed to buy next. So I couldn't test it.
Predictive text: You can type something like "I'm free at," or "Where are you," or "What is Jane's phone number?" and iOS 10 will fill in the missing pieces for you. In theory. For me, it didn't work. I have no idea why. Maybe you'll be luckier.
Redesigned Maps: I actually tried driving using the new design, and the clean look made it easier to see on a dashboard. But the third-party apps that can hook into Maps aren't here yet.
Redesigned News app: I'd say the redesign here is so subtle you might not even notice it. And, you may or may not have even used Apple's News app in the first place. It's a fine news aggregator, but nothing great.
I'd say iOS 10's first beta on the iPhone adds up to some useful additions, but nothing that's hugely groundbreaking. And I started to find all the various sub-features and functions confusing to keep track of, or even to manage.
The biggest improvement it could bring still isn't here: third-party apps that can hook into these new, more open features like Messages, Siri and Maps. Whether apps will step up and make the most of it remains to be seen. There's more to come with iOS 10, of course: this is just the first dip in the pond. The full feature set is still not fully available to use.
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