Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
Between the launch of iOS 16, lock screen content company Glance's upcoming expansion in the US and updates to Google's Pixel phone widgets, it's clear the lock screen is about to change.
Why it matters
The lock screen is the first thing most people see when they pick up their phones. These updates suggest companies are trying to make better use of that space.
Apple's iOS 16 update officially launches in the fall and just arrived in public beta on Monday. Glance has not provided a timeline for its US debut.
What's the first thing you see on your phone each day? It's most likely your lock screen, filled with recent notifications and your lock screen wallpaper. Maybe that wallpaper is a photo of your pet, a picture of a beautiful sunset from a recent vacation or just a cool piece of artwork. That could all change very soon.
The lock screen has long been considered an intimate space reserved for personal photos, important notifications and tools like the flashlight. But companies are increasingly looking to do more with that valuable real estate, as evidenced by Apple's iOS 16 update and other changes reportedly coming to Android phones.
Apple's iOS 16 update, which launched in public beta on Monday, will bring more customization options and new widgets to the iPhone's lock screen when it arrives this fall. You'll be able to see more information quickly and apply stylistic effects to lock screen photos similar to the iPhone's Portrait Mode photography feature.
Glance, a Google-backed subsidiary of mobile ad tech company InMobi, also reiterated its plans to bring its lock screen platform to the US. And Google is reportedly planning to incorporate more bits of information into its own lock screen widget for Pixel phones.
Taken together, changes like these suggest we might not want to swipe past our lock screens so quickly in the future.
The iPhone's lock screen is getting a big revamp
One of the biggest features coming in iOS 16 is the new lock screen. Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, called it "the biggest update ever" when he introduced the update at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June. You'll be able to customize font styles and colors for the date and time in addition to giving your background photo a magazine cover-like aesthetic.
As I wrote previously, it's really the new widgets that will bring more utility to the iPhone's lock screen. The iPhone already lets you place widgets on your lock screen's secondary Today View screen, which you can access by swiping to the right.
But iOS 16 adds widgets to the main lock screen for showing bits of information at a glance, like the temperature, Activity Rings from the Apple Watch and upcoming calendar appointments. Android phones have offered this type of functionality for years, and it's nice to see the iPhone follow suit. You can even create multiple lock screens and cycle through them, much like Apple Watch faces.
Since you can add widgets from apps like Spotify, Google Maps and Outlook to the iPhone's Today View, I wouldn't be surprised to see widgets from third parties available for the new lock screen too. If you watch Apple's WWDC demo closely, you can even see an option for a Nike widget. That means developers may soon have another way to reach iPhone owners and prevent their apps from getting buried deep within a user's app library.
It's impossible to know how useful this new lock screen will be without spending a significant amount of time with iOS 16. But as I've written before, it sounds like iOS 16's new widgets will make your iPhone feel more similar to the Apple Watch, which seems like an upgrade. Like the Apple Watch, the new lock screen should make it easier to see crucial pieces of information without having to dig into apps or even unlock your phone.
Android phone owners may have new lock screen options soon
Glance, which offers entertainment and other digital content on the lock screens of certain Android devices in India and Southeast Asia, is in talks with wireless carriers to launch in the US over the next two months, according to TechCrunch. While the company hasn't revealed its US launch timing or other details, it did provide a glimpse at its US lock screen offering on Monday.
Glance's lock screen will appear in the form of what it calls "spaces," which are essentially curated lock screens designed to fit specific themes. A fitness-oriented lock screen, for example, would show statistics such as calories burned and exercise goals alongside a music player. A news "space" would show headlines and the weather, while a music version could surface live concerts. It reminds me of how the iPhone's new lock screen in iOS 16 can be tied to different "focuses," like work or personal mode.
The TechCrunch report about Glance's US arrival sparked concerns that advertisements would be coming to the lock screen, too. Glance's business page shows examples of advertisers that have used its platform to reach potential customers on the very first screen they see when picking up their phone. Intel, Zomato and Garnier are among the listed case studies.
But Rohan Choudhary, vice president and general manager of the Glance feed, told CNET the US version would be ad-free.
"We are very clear that in the US, we will not have ads on the lock screen at all," he said.
The company also published a press release on Monday saying it, "has no intentions to show ads on the lock screen surface." Still, Glance will have to prove that its lock screen offerings provide more value than the many widgets and other options that are already available to Android users. It will also have to strike the right balance of showing information that's useful without being too distracting.
The company says it plans to monetize its service through news subscriptions and commerce links from shopping platforms that are surfaced through Glance. But those picks will have to be useful and relevant, or they might end up feeling just as intrusive as ads. The company says it has a 60% retention rate and can be found on 400 million phones in the markets where it currently operates.
Google, meanwhile, has its own means of making the lock screen more helpful. The company's At a Glance feature for Pixel phones shows relevant information on the lock screen when applicable, just as the name implies. A recent report from 9to5Google suggests new tidbits may be visible in this widget soon. Ride sharing updates from apps like Lyft and Uber could be among the new alerts available in At a Glance, possibly making it even easier to see urgent notifications from the lock screen.
Regardless of the implementation, these expected changes prove the lock screen is in need of an update. As our phones have evolved into hubs for accessing information, controlling home appliances and ordering everything from a taxi to full grocery orders, the lock screen has taken on an important new role. Just showing timely alerts isn't enough.
Whether it's the new widgets in iOS 16, updates to the Pixel's At a Glance feature or lock screen "spaces" from Glance, the goal appears to be the same: to make our lock screens better at organizing the flurry of notifications and updates bombarding our phones each day. What remains to be seen is how successful these attempts will be.