iOS 12 is being released today but we've been playing around with it for several months now. Here are our thoughts on the new version of Apple's iPhone and iPad operating system. 

Like other beta testers, we have the final version of iOS 12 now, but previously we used several pre-release versions.

Initially, we ran the beta on two devices, a 2017 iPhone 8 Plus and a 2016 iPad Pro 12.9. We were using an iPhone X as our main device so we didn't install it on there to start with.  However, because iOS 12 was fairly stable we put it on that as well a month or so ago and our faith has been rewarded with no real reliability issues. There was one version of the beta that kept on prompting users to update, but it was a bug that was soon ironed out. 

iOS 12 will run on an extensive list of iPhones and iPads; any iOS device released since 2013 should be fine. If you've got iOS 11 currently then you'll be able to run iOS 12. Check out: Can I get iOS 12 on my iPhone or iPad?

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Screen Time helps manage you and your offspring

Like the new Android P 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. 

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 coming to the iPad and Mac. 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 will be 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 (providing your Tile hasn't run out of battery!). 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 early verdict

Now we've moved on from the beta to the final version, we are able to report some nice performance improvements although it will be interesting to see if apps truly are faster when they're fully optimised for iOS 12. 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.