iOS 12 has been rolling out to compatible iPhones and iPads for a month now but nothing ever stands still and Apple has now finalised another update - iOS 12.1. The iOS 12.1 release date is today, Tuesday 30 September. 

The new iPad and iPhone update fixes a few issues and brings dual-SIM support to the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR in the form of eSIM. It was previously announced as being available for these handsets but it needed to be enabled via a software update.

So firstly we'll run through the updates coming in iOS 12.1 before moving onto the key features that are part of the major iOS 12.0 update that debuted last month. 

This year's major update to the iPhone and iPad mobile operating system was initially rumoured to be all about improvements to quality and performance, but Apple had a few surprises in store, too, as you'll read.

What's in iOS 12.1?

Group FaceTime and other FaceTime enhancements

After being delayed from the original iOS 12 release, group FaceTime is now a thing for between two and 32 participants (everything is end-to-end encyrpted). You can also add stickers and filters to calls and there's Messages integration so you can start a Group FaceTime from a group Messages chat, just as you can in other group chat apps that you might use. Dominant speakers are shown at the front on screen. 

New Emoji

There are more than 70 new emoji making their debut in 12.1 including characters with red hair, grey hair, curly hair and no hair. There are also more animals, sports and food, too. And yes, they'll be available on the Mac and Apple Watch as well in due course. 

Dual-SIM (eSIM) support

Finally switched on, you can now activate eSIM to work alongside your physical SIM on iPhone XS, XR and XS Max - we're gathering details here: What is an eSIM and what does it mean for your new iPhone XR, XS or XS Max?

Depth Control in Camera

You're able to now dynamically adjust the depth of fiend in the real-time preview as well as post-capture. It's available on the rear and front cameras. 

Which devices can run iOS 12?

iOS 12 runs on an extensive list of iPhones and iPads. But, essentially, it will support any iOS device released since 2013, including the new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and XR (it will be preinstalled on those new devices).

Apart from the new devices, which will launch with the software out-of-box, the following tablets and phones will be included in the rollout:

iPhone

  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone XS 
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone 6
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone SE
  • iPhone 5s

iPad

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro (second-gen)
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro (first-gen)
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • iPad (fifth-gen)
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad Air
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPad mini 3

Check out: Apple iPhone XS vs iPhone X: What's the difference?

What are the new iOS 12 features?

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Animoji and Memoji

Animoji are getting an update to support "Tongue Detection." Seriously. But the most interesting new thing is something called Memoji, which is what happens when you make an Animoji of yourself. It's different from Bitmoji and Samsung's AR emoji - but also similar. With the new Memoji builder, you can select your skin colour, hair, etc. You then pull up the camera in iMessage, and there's a star button you can tap to access effects. You can even do a live recording of the Animoji.

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Grouped FaceTime calls

Just like how grouped notifications have finally arrived, you can now do group FaceTime calls with up to 32 people. However, Apple said Group FaceTime has been removed from the initial iOS 12 release and will now debut in iOS 12.1.

Screen Time helps manage you and your offspring

Like the new Android Pie Dashboard, Screen Time enables you to quickly check out how much you use your phone and apps like Facebook (surely not EVERY day?!). You can see a weekly activity summary and set time limits for each app. You'll then be notified when, er, time is up. You can also set 'app allowances' for kids with Screen Time for Family. Kids using Fortnite too much?

You can now take proper action. Go easy on yourself to start with as we found we were managing to lock ourselves out of apps when we needed to use them for work. Yes, we know, a bit silly. Screen Time replaces the old Restrictions menu in Settings > General and it's clearly a much more user-friendly way to implement parental controls and so on. 

iOS 12 performance improvements

Apple says it is "doubling down on performance" with this update after criticism of the performance and stability of iOS 11. Apps should launch up to 40 per cent faster and although opening many apps seems snappy, some still lag; perhaps these just need optimising. Whatever, the jury's out here. 

Grouped notifications

This is not just a really good feature, it's a great feature; especially if you've got stacks of people on Facebook wishing you happy birthday or people are liking the same tweet. The bringing together of notifications from each app is welcome, as is the ability to control notification settings from the lock screen.

You can tap any notification group to expand it as well as hard press as before (if your phone supports 3D Touch) for more options, such as to Like or Reply if it's a Twitter notification. Swipe any notification and you'll get an option to Manage. From here you can change the notification settings for each app very easily - mute or turn off?

A new 'Do not disturb during bedtime' feature will hide notifications on a device's lock screen at night to stop you seeing them when you wake and check the time at 3am. However, we found this doesn't help as we always want to know whether we actually do have any notifications (Tip: turn your iPhone off for better sleep!).

Interface changes on the iPad

The iPad version of iOS 12 is, of course, broadly similar to the iPhone version. However, there are a couple of minor interface changes to bring it more in line with the Face ID iPhones; clearly designed to remove any confusion when moving between devices. 

You can now swipe down from the top right to get to the Control Center (and yes. top left for Notification Center like iPhone X, XR, XS amd XS Max). Apple introduced the iPad dock last year which was great but you had to swipe up further for the Control Center and it wasn't a great user experience. So that's now fixed. 

When you're looking at all your open apps you can also flick apps upwards to close them, again as on the Touch ID phones.

The iPad status bar now includes the date as well. We all know that Apple wants to position the iPad as a laptop replacement so this is a further little move in that direction. 

Size up with the Measure app

iOS 12 features a new ARKit-utilising measurement tool called Measure. And it's really good. It can measure and detect real-world objects and it works really well - indeed someone on Twitter used it to inform Subway that one of their sandwiches was, er, a little shorter than the cited six inches.

There are two tabs in the app - measure and level - and the app has a camera view, which lets you tap, drag a line, and measure.

The level bit of the app isn't new but used to be incorporated in the Compass app (the Compass app is now just the compass, without the level feature).

As part of iOS 12 Apple has improved ARKit with face tracking, 3D object detection, and sharing.

The For You tab in Photos

The Photos app features a new For You tab, similar to Apple Music. To be honest, this is isn't a great leap from the old app, but it incorporates the old Memories area plus shared albums. You can also now enter multiple search terms to more easily find photos, too. 

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News, Voice Memos and Stocks enhancements

Apple News now has a new Browse tab, as well as a new sidebar on the iPad. 

The Stocks app has been rebuilt and is now on the iPad complete with business news from the Apple News app. 

Voice Memos has also been rebuilt, and is now available on the iPad and Mac, too. And at last; you can now sync recordings via iCloud. Can you tell we've wanted that for a while?

Check out Siri Shortcuts

Now apps are able to have an "Add to Siri" button to create a Siri shortcut. So you can say, "Siri I lost my keys," which could then launch Tile, for example. This has the most potential to change how you use your iPhone but it depends on app support. Read more about Siri shortcuts

Siri can now handle routines. So, on your way home from work, you'll be able to automatically send a message to your partner, for example. 

Other enhancements

We don't know anybody who uses Apple Books, but there's now a beautiful new design and a Reading Now section so you can resume books where you left off. Be warned that changes made to the new Library won't sync with devices that aren't able to run iOS 12 or the also-new macOS 10.14 Mojave

CarPlay is getting third-party navigation support, meaning Google Maps and Waze will soon be accessible from CarPlay - pretty good news. You can now do group FaceTime calls with up to 32 people. We'll update this feature when we've managed to have one of these. Memoji are Animoji of yourself. It's different from Samsung's AR emoji; you can select your skin colour, hair and other features - like Animoji these are available for iPhone X only currently. 

Finally, software updates can now be installed automatically - you can turn this feature on and off in Settings > General > Software Update.

iOS 12 verdict

There's nothing truly spectacular in iOS 12, but there are several nice-to-haves. Screen Time brings a bit more clarity to those who want to restrict their devices - or those of their family - in some way. The efforts for better notification management are also very welcome. Siri Shortcuts have the potential to be very powerful and we're looking forward to playing with those over the coming days and weeks as more apps adopt them.