Apple released its first iOS 12 beta earlier this week, and so begins a long summer of waiting as we see Apple’s final release take shape. If it stays true to form, the company will likely release updated betas every other week with bug fixes and other refinements. As for new features, Apple is undoubtedly saving some surprises for its big iPhone event in September; each year, Apple holds a few things back from its beta software so as to not let slip any details surrounding the new iPhone models that will debut later in the year. For the most part, however, what you see in the iOS 12 beta is what the public will get come September when the final version of iOS 12 is released to the public.

There is precious little question that overall, iOS 12 is a boring update. It had to be. Apple’s current iOS 11 software is still in a state where it’s actually holding devices back from realizing their full potential. I wrote about it earlier this week, but in a nutshell: Apple’s latest iPhones are the most powerful smartphones on the planet, and yet new Android phones like the OnePlus 6 and Galaxy S9 are faster in real-world usage because of performance issues in iOS 11.

iOS 12 is still packed with plenty of new features though, so let’s chat about the best and most hotly anticipated one.

There are several new features in iOS 12 that I am excited about. For example, I can’t tell you how happy I’ll be when 1Password releases an update that takes advantage of the new password autofill API in iOS 12. Check out a video demo of it in action in this post — I can’t wait to never have to copy and paste another password on my iPhone.

Some new augmented reality features that will be enabled by ARKit 2 also look fantastic. Specifically, the multiuser capability that will allow different people to see the same virtual object from different vantage points is a game changer. The new Siri Shortcuts feature has endless possibilities, and it’s nothing short of incredible that iOS 12 won’t push a single older iOS device into obsolescence. It’s compatible with every device that can run iOS 11, and it will actually improve performance on older devices rather than slow them down. But if there’s one new iOS 12 feature that has iPhone users buzzing, it’s Apple’s revamped notifications.

In iOS 11, notifications are a nightmare. They cascade down a device’s lock screen in chronological order with no grouping whatsoever. When many notifications go unchecked and they build up, like when you’re sleeping at night, it’s easier just to ignore them than to scroll through them to see what you’ve missed. That basically renders them useless, and it’s a complaint iOS device users have had for years.

With the new iOS 12 release, Apple has addressed many of the complaints people have about iOS notifications. Not all of them, but many of them. Here are some bullet points from Apple’s website that detail the changes:

  • Grouped notifications: Message threads and notification topics are grouped together, so it’s easier to see what’s important with just a glance at your iPhone or iPad.
  • Instant Tuning: Control your notification settings the moment you receive an alert, without having to leave what you’re doing.
  • Deliver quietly: Within Instant Tuning, you can choose to have notifications delivered silently to Notification Center by default so you’re not interrupted by alerts.
  • Siri notification suggestions: Get suggestions based on how you interact with your notifications, such as which app notifications to deliver prominently and which ones to send to Notification Center.
  • Critical alerts: A new type of opt-in alert for important information, like reports from a healthcare provider, which you’ll receive even during Do Not Disturb.

Grouped notifications is the big one, since it finally puts an end to the madness. Notifications from the same app or from the same conversation are grouped together to cut down on the clutter. Instant Tuning is nice too, because it lets you silence notifications from a specific conversation or thread without having to go into the app itself or into the Settings app. I’ve been using iOS 12 since shortly after the first beta was released, and I definitely appreciate the changed Apple made to iOS notifications. But Android is still better.

Android’s notification system still has a number of big advantages over Apple’s new notifications in iOS 12. Notifications are more interactive and developers have the ability to enrich them in different ways. Persistent icons at the top of the screen let you know which apps have unread notifications at all times on Android devices, whereas the iPhone gives you no indication whatsoever that you have unchecked notifications when you’re on your home screen or using an app. Lock screen notifications even disappear if you unlock your phone once, so all those notifications are only accessible in the Notification Center.

Notification grouping is far smarter and more dynamic on Android, too. For example, multiple messages in the same conversation appear in a single notification, and you can even continue the conversation right from within the notification instead of having to pop open the conversation, as is the case in iOS. Here’s an image from Android Authority that shows this feature in action:

I also like that Android’s settings shortcuts are found at the top of the notification shade. Apple’s Control Center is a completely separate screen, and there’s really no reason for the separation. People don’t need massive shortcut buttons for things like opening the camera or adjusting screen brightness. Android does it right.

If Apple decided it was going to improve its notification system by copying some features from Android — which is the correct decision for Apple to have made, by the way — why not go all in? Android’s notification system has been better than the iOS system for years. Now, it’s still better even as Apple tries to catch up in iOS 12. Google and its Android vendor partners certainly don’t hold anything back when they copy Apple’s hardware and software designs, so why is Apple holding back with notifications? iOS 12 is definitely a big step in the right direction, but there’s still a steep hill to climb.

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