iOS 13 public beta: The best things to try now that it's live
A grab bag of new stuff beyond Dark Mode (and also, Dark Mode).
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
How many more things can Apple add to a new version of iOS to make the iPhone better? This year's version, iOS 13, feels more like a big mix of features more than a cohesive revamp. In a year where Dark Mode is the most-touted part of iOS, you should know you're in for a lot of little things.
The iPad is another story: iPadOS is aiming to turn Apple's tablet into a better all-around computer. iPadOS has all of iOS 13's extras and more.
But I've tried out iOS 13 on a test iPhone XS, and so far it has a lot to explore. Many things feel small. Some feel like hidden gems.
Watch this: iOS 13 beta's best tricks to try
Dark Mode descends across iOS
Apple's across-iOS implementation of Dark Mode means that white becomes black, shaded greys are everywhere and at night it'll be far easier on the eye. It feels way overdue, and now that it's here, it's reminiscent of what's already on the Apple Watch, but carried into iOS.
It can be turned on and off quickly from the swipe-down Control Center by pressing in on the Screen Brightness tool. Or, in Settings, you can trigger it to automatically switch to Dark Mode at night, which is super. Or you can customize a schedule.
There are four Dark Mode-enabled wallpapers that subtly shift color schemes, too. Make sure to install one for maximum effect.
Apple's really trying to make the Photos app a living photo album, collecting memories and surfacing moments with machine learning. Google Photos goes for the same thing. The Photos app processes your photo library and needs about a day (or overnight while plugged in) to look interesting. It's good, but maybe not as wild as I expected.
New camera tools for video
I'm excited about how you can edit color and picture settings for recorded videos, flip orientation and crop videos or switch from landscape to portrait. It's already been a huge help after just a few days, and I can see myself using this a ton.
Cropping and tweaking videos is now so easy that I expect it will make me more likely to quickly share video snippets. Being able to more effortlessly focus on a detail or crop someone out will make a big difference... and I can do it fast, now.
The best features in iOS 13 and iPadOS public beta
Siri is supposed to be a whole lot more intuitive, and also sound much better. So far, I haven't been wowed by anything. Siri still has a lot of gaps in assistance. I need to give this a lot more time before I'm willing to judge anything, but by all means, give Siri a shot.
I don't mean to sound dismissive, but I just didn't feel that Siri seemed as surprising in my hands-on experience as what Apple was promising on-stage. I'm more interested in how Siri Shortcuts will become more deeply hooked into iOS and partner apps. I haven't power-used them like I should.
Some added collections for frequently-visited places could be useful. I'm more interested in the almost AR-like Street View-style Look Around mode, which right now only works in San Francisco. Will I use Maps more than Google Maps? Too early to tell.
I used Apple's built-in Reminders app to set garbage-removal alerts and make packing lists, but that was it. The revamped app promises a lot more to-do-list-style fine grain extras and "smart lists" that can prioritize accordingly. It all makes me feel, sometimes, that a basic pen and paper might be better (or maybe, fusing this with Notes, which I use all the time).
Memoji sticker packs are total Bitmoji
I honestly don't use Memoji or Animoji much anymore. They were a fun toy to play with when ARKit emerged. But stickers? I use those. Apple's auto-generated sticker packs are like Bitmoji. They turn avatars into a bunch of emotion stickers you can send friends: they include your brain exploding, throwing kisses and so on. I feel I'll be sending a lot of these.
Voice Control is total hands-free assistance
This Accessibility feature is designed for total hands-free operation of iOS 13, and has its own grammar to operate. It can do pretty much anything and is always listening. It's a wild feature to try out, but just be forewarned that it's designed for specific needs and may not be instantly intuitive, but it's a feature that could change people's lives. Turn it off to stop it from accidentally triggering voice commands.
Apple put a swipe-to-type feature in its embedded iOS 13 keyboard. That's hardly new, but just FYI, it's there. It's officially called "Quickpath Typing."
What you can't do
Two of the biggest upgrades -- Apple's Sign in With Apple tool that hopes to help with creating new accounts on other apps, and ARKit 3, which bends augmented reality into even more realistic dimensions -- can't be tried in iOS 13's public beta, because the apps that would take advantage of these tools haven't arrived yet.
Also, Apple's new Activity Trends feature in the Apple Watch Activity app won't arrive until fall, when WatchOS 6 is released (there's no public beta for Apple Watch).
Overall: So far, Dark Mode seems like the biggest change
The more interesting things in iOS this year are specifically in what's now called iPadOS, and it's there where you can see Apple striving to turn the iPad into more of a versatile computer. Read my impressions so far here.
On iOS 13, however, the iPhone seems like it'll be getting a bunch of tweaks and upgrades: Nothing wild and shocking, but many that could be useful. Your mileage may vary.