Apple announces a new software update coming to the iPhone every summer, and this year is no different.
As expected, at WWDC 2019, Apple took the wraps off iOS 13. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, described it as the "next big release for iOS". He said it will bring a number of improvements to the company's mobile operating system, including a dark mode.
We've downloaded the public beta - now in its second beta - to take it for an early spin and find out what's new, and to see how it looks and works in real life.
iOS 13: When will it be available?
The public beta is available now to try, alongside the developer preview which launched a little earlier. Those of you who are anxious to try all the new features now should test out the public beta, but not on your primary phone. There's always the possibility of bugs and app incompatibility with any early software release.
The official release for consumers isn't expected until this autumn, when Apple announces the next-generation iPhone models.
iOS 13: The biggest new features
The headlining new feature, and perhaps the most apparent visual change made to iOS since iOS 7, is the addition of a true, system-wide dark mode. It's completely black, and all of Apple’s first-party apps are supported. Even notifications and the dock get these new dark colours.
It's been a feature that many an Apple fan has longed for, for quite some time, and the implementation is great because it's not some weak attempt at being darker - like using grey or a navy blue. It's black. It's only black, and a little dark grey here and there to differentiate fields within the Settings app, the calendar and a few other preinstalled Apple apps.
One feature we really like though is how the wallpaper can be set to change with the dark theme. So if you head into Settings, select the theme to change automatically to a schedule or to be in time with sunset and sunrise, you can also choose one of the adaptive wallpapers to change with it. That means, once the sun goes down, your theme automatically goes dark, and the wallpaper goes dark too.
Eventually, third-party apps can support the new look as well, so developers of your favourite apps will be able to make use of the new theme changing within their own user interfaces.
Apple has merged its Find My Friends and Find My iPhone apps into a single app called Find My. All of Apple’s tracking tools are in one place, so you can locate both missing devices and loved ones using the same interface. The new app can also locate devices that are offline - by sending a secure Bluetooth beacon to other Apple devices, then relaying it back to Apple, and to you.
The interface is pretty simple to understand. The app is split into two tabs: People and Devices, and switching between them is as simple as tapping the relevant icon on the bottom of the screen. As you'd expect, the people tab shows you your friends and family, and where they are, whereas the devices tab shows individual devices belonging to you and your family.
Dig in a little further and you can activate features like, playing an alert on a lost device to try and find it nearby, or marking it as lost and locking it down remotely. You can even remotely erase the device to ensure no one who finds it can get access to any personal information.
It's all end-to-end encrypted, too.
Apple is updating its default keyboard with a new swiping function reminiscent of SwiftKey, Swype, Gboard, and others. Apple is calling this the “Quick Path” keyboard. It’s not a massively new feature, but it’s new to Apple, and also cool.
The way it works is really simple: just swipe between the letters you want to use to type a word, using a single thumb or finger. In theory, it enables much faster typing, at least once you get more accurate with it. If you've used it on third party keyboards before it won't feel all that new to you.
One thing we did notice on our pressure-sensitive XS Max screen was that we'd often launch the trackpad feature by accident, likely due to pressing the screen a little too hard before swiping. That means it is a little bit of a learning curve, relearning to not be so forceful when typing messages/emails.
Apple is revamping the Reminders app with a whole new look. It's a look that's quite consistent with all the other newly designed apps, featuring simple rounded rectangle fields and flat, colourful icons.
Gone is the skeuomorphic-like paper look, thank goodness. Apple has also added new Today, Scheduled, Flagged, and All filtering options. Apple’s is also integrating AI smarts into the app. You can type, and Reminders will auto- suggest when you’d like to be reminded. You can also tag contacts and be reminded when you open up their Messages thread.
So far, we've only been able to look at its surface level changes. Using the new family-based reminders required family members to also be running iOS 13 or Catalina, and using the new Reminders app.
Apple is also totally revamping Apple Maps, so it'll be rebuilt from the ground up. It looks more 3D-like and is loaded with detailed map data that'll make the service comparable to Google Street View. Apple said it used thousands of LIDAR-equipped cars to gather this data. The new maps will be available in select locations at launch, but it should roll out in the US in 2019 and globally in 2020.
We tried using the new 3D FlyOver feature, but currently it's pretty limited. It's not available in London or in New York. Even searching in San Francisco where the feature - called Look Around - is released wasn't 100 per cent reliable. We mainly just got a black screen, as though it was waiting for the data to load, but never did.
There are more useful additions in Maps now though, like the ability to share your ETA when using directions to navigate to a location. You can just tap the "Share ETA" label at the bottom of the navigation view, and it'll continuously share your live ETA until you get there.
Apple is retooling some things in iOS 13 to provide a greater focus on privacy. For instance, you'll be able to choose to give your location data to an app “just once". Apple is also launching a new “Sign in with Apple” feature, which is for logging into apps and services. You will be able to log into Face ID and create a new account for a service “without revealing any personal information".
Part of this will involve the ability to create new email addresses for apps that forward to your real email. The hope is that apps and services and sites with your login details won't have too much info on you and won't be able to spam your email with their offers.
A lot of these new measures feels very much like Android, in that - upon opening apps for the first time since updating to iOS 13 - many of them ask for permission to access Bluetooth and location functions again.
Messages is getting profile pictures and display names so you can share easily share your photo and name with other users. You’ll even be able to use your Memoji as a profile picture. Speaking of Memoji, Apple is also adding more options for personalising them. You'll also be able to use them as stickers, similar to the way Bitmoji works. These will work in apps like Mail and even third-party apps.
Once you've created your Memoji stickers, the show up on the side of the keyboard whenever you access the emoji keyboard. So regardless of which app you're typing in, you can select a custom Memoji sticker and add it to the chat. It's a little bit of a gimmick, as with anything like this, but it's fun regardless.
Another useful feature is the ability for Siri to read your messages to you through your AirPods or other H1 Chip-equipped earphones, like the Powerbeats Pro. Once activated, you'll get an audible notification in your AirPods saying something like "Message from Britta - Bad Siri."
It works pretty well, but we'd like to see this feature rolled out to third party apps, so that Siri can read messages from WhatsApp, Messenger and Telegram.
Apple made a new photo and video interface, so you can easily edit brilliance, highlights, shadows, contrast, saturation, white balance, sharpness, definition, vignette, and noise reduction. Videos are getting these tools for the first time, including the ability to rotate them on your device.
The Photos app is also getting a new interface and will use machine learning to remove duplicates and clutter, such as screenshots.
On first launch, it took a little while to get used to the new organisation, but it is in many ways simpler and better organised. You can find all your videos in one place, or all you selfies in another album.
More importantly though, the first page lets you sort photos, videos and images by period. So you can view a daily look at images, or switch to weekly, monthly or yearly.
Cycle tracking and Health
Both iOS 13 and WatchOS 6 are adding the ability to track menstrual cycles, which is perfect for female Apple Watch users. It's simple and free. And you can get Fertile Window predictions, too. This will all be available in the Health App in iOS, and will work without an Apple Watch.
As well as that much needed feature, Health has also had a bit of a visual revamp, bringing highlights of your progress right to the Summary screen. Here you can see a very intuitive look at how you're doing compared to your average, and how many workouts you've done compared to the previous couple of weeks.
Facetime attention correction
One interesting feature is FaceTime's ability to fix your gaze on the person you're calling. Using a compatible device's FaceID sensors, it can see where your attention is fixed, and then adjust your eyes digitally to make it look like you're looking straight at the other person.
Now, because it uses a combination of depth sensors and ARKit, you'll need an iPhone X-series phone or one of the newer iPad Pro models to make use of it. Other phones don't have the hardware required.
iOS 13: Other improvements
Apple updated many of its apps in iOS 13. Apple Mail, for instance, is getting desktop formatting, while Safari is getting per-website preferences, and Notes is getting a new gallery view. Apple is also improving iOS 13 so that things like Face ID will unlock 30 per cent faster and apps will launch twice as fast in iOS 13. These are just a few of the highlights Apple discussed.