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​iOS 10's new approach to apps: Don't open them at all

Commentary: The future of Apple's iOS approach moves to quick access everywhere. It may be a sign of iPhone and iPad experiences to come.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

My first impressions of iOS 10, seeing it up close, were of those smart notifications that now pop up whenever the phone is lifted. No button-pressing necessary. Sure, Android has done that already. But what I liked the most on iOS 10 was the 3D Touch part. Notifications become little mini-apps. Uber becomes a map. Sports scores emerge, and highlights.

Then I saw the Control Panel and its smart home settings. Then, a relocated area where widgets live. And in every single app, just by pressing down and not opening, a floating widget.

I hadn't even opened a single app yet.

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It seems like much of iOS 10, announced by Apple at its recent WWDC developer conference and coming this fall (with a public beta in July), is designed to have you avoid opening different apps as much as possible. Google's trying for a similar idea in its upcoming Android N software. Smarter assistant bot functions that can automatically call up services you need, or "Instant apps" that replace a web view with the relevant "slice" of the app -- without needing to ever download the whole program. But Apple's approach looks like it's coming via hook-ins to apps, versus living in the cloud.

Apps now lurk in all sorts of new places. Siri will be capable of hooking into third-party apps (not all of them, though).There are apps within apps too. Messages has an app center, which lets you add stickers, or payment widgets, and Maps has hooked-in app extensions. I don't know if I'd use any of these, because it depends on how well the apps I like even bothered to hook into it. Or, simply, I might choose another messaging or maps app.

But the new, smarter notifications and better widgets are things I'd use a lot. In fact, the easier method of adding widgets -- which can now be done by 3D Touch-peeking at apps, looking at their widgets and pinning them to the relocated widget home when you swipe right -- makes collecting them seem like the new thing to do on the iPhone. I could see myself picking up my phone and doing all the basic things without opening any apps.

This reminds me of Apple Watch, but on a phone screen. Quick glances, simple tools. Again, Android N seems like it's pursuing something similar. A future beyond the app grid, where everything is perhaps at a finger's touch from a central screen, instead of having to jump in and back out of apps. (Using the home button less and less? Maybe that means it really is going away in a future iPhone.)

A new expanded Control Panel is another indication of this. Swipe up, and now there's a Home control panel grid. HomeKit-ready appliances can be assigned positions, and controlled directly from that panel, including doing things like manual light dimming.

How many apps will get hooked in to Apple's new app-friendly extensions, though? Apple already has a growing world of platforms, and in those platforms the feature sets are expanding. The iPhone has 3D Touch (well, some of them do). The iPad Pro has the Pencil. Now, apps may have to decide whether to be looped into Siri, or have dynamic widgets, or Map and Message-ready features. Or, maybe, skip them.

I've already gotten into a habit of doing a handful of things by asking Siri because it's simply faster than looking for those tasks by hand (alarms, timers, appointments). How many more things will I do that now live just on my home screen, or control panel, or notifications? Maybe I won't open apps as much. Maybe I'll start paring down my endless grid of downloaded things I hoard in mystery folders.

Or maybe I'll just pile them away even more and not look at them anymore, while I just live on my pull-down home screens.

Come to think of it, that actually sounds pretty convenient.