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iOS 12 is Apple’s most boring update in years, and I’m totally OK with that

Zach Epstein
June 5th, 2018 at 9:58 AM
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Apple holds a few different events each year, but there’s no question whatsoever when it comes to which two events are the company’s most important. The big one is obviously Apple’s iPhone event that takes place toward the end of the summer each year, during which new iPhone models and other new products are unveiled for the first time. And of course Apple’s WWDC keynote is the second big one, since the world gets its first taste of Apple’s next-generation software platforms that will power all of its hardware products come September.

I covered WWDC 2018 plenty on Monday, and I also covered iOS 12 since it was obviously the most important new release detailed during Apple’s keynote. I didn’t share any opinions of iOS 12 though, because I wanted to take some time to fully digest it first. Apple fans and Apple critics alike seemed decidedly unimpressed with iOS 12, and there was plenty of talk after the WWDC keynote suggesting people think it’s a boring update.

Is iOS 12 really as boring as people have been saying? Or is that just a knee-jerk reaction from people who didn’t take the time to fully digest everything Apple announced on Monday morning? I have now spent plenty of time combing through everything Apple announced on Monday, as well as all the new iOS 12 features Apple didn’t talk about on stage. I also installed iOS 12 on my own iPhone and spent some time playing with it. After all that, I can conclusively state the following: iOS 12 is by far Apple’s most boring software update in years. It might be Apple’s most boring iOS update ever.

Now let’s talk about why that’s a good thing.

It’s no secret that iOS 11 has been a complete mess for Apple. It’s not the travesty that whiny anti-Apple bloggers would have you believe, of course, but there’s no question that Apple made some big mistakes in iOS 11. It has had more security holes, annoying bugs, and performance issues than any version of iOS from recent history, and many of those problems still exist in iOS 11.3 and iOS 11.4 now, more than 8 months after the software’s initial release.

We learned many months ago that performance and overall user experience were going to be Apple’s main points of focus in iOS 12. In fact, insider reports stated that Apple decided to delay the addition of several big new features in iOS 12 and push them back to subsequent releases, or maybe even until next year’s iOS 13 update. This way, Apple’s various iOS engineering teams could focus on improving performance in iOS and on refining the user experience, rather than on integrating complex new features.

Of course, there are still some great new features that Apple has added to its iPhone and iPad lineups in iOS 12.

Like many other iOS device users, many of my favorite changes in iOS 12 relate to notifications. iPhone users have been complaining about Apple’s terrible notification system for years, but the company has been stubborn until now. iOS 12 doesn’t solve all of people’s problems with iOS notifications, but there’s no question that it addresses most of the biggest issues. Here are some bullet points from Apple’s website:

  • 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, and it’ll go a long way to helping people like me who used to wake up to find a seemingly endless list of chronological notifications on their lock screens. Instant Tuning is another new feature that will have a big impact on the user experience moving forward.

The new augmented reality features Apple showed off on stage during its WWDC 2018 keynote were also fantastic. A universal file format for 3D objects has far-reaching implications, and ARKit 2 introduces new features that will have a huge impact on the AR experience for end users.

For example, the new scene reflection feature will result in far more realistic AR, allowing virtual devices on the screen to actually reflect real-world objects around them. And the biggest thing for me is definitely the introduction of multiuser AR experiences. With this new feature of ARKit 2, developers can create AR experiences that allow multiple people to see the same virtual objects from different vantage points. It’s going to be incredible, and I can’t wait to see what developers cook up with the new AR tools available in iOS 12.

With all that having been said, new features still aren’t the star of the show in iOS 12. Bug fixes, stability updates, and performance improvements were clearly the main areas Apple chose to address in iOS 12. And you know what? I couldn’t be happier.

iOS 11 has been holding Apple’s devices back, preventing them from realizing their full potential. Think about how crazy it is that Apple’s latest iPhones absolutely wipe the floor with every Android device on the planet in terms of power, and yet recent Android phones like the Galaxy S9 and OnePlus 6 outperform Apple’s iPhone X in real-world speed tests. This is due to RAM management problems and other issues in iOS 11, but they should finally be addressed in iOS 12.

Now, let’s be careful to not overstate things with iOS 12. I’ve jokingly been referring to it as “iOS 11.5” with other people at BGR, but in reality it’s a very big update. There are plenty of new features in addition to all the things going on behind the scenes that help improve performance. It’s also fantastic that iOS 12 is going to breathe new life into older iOS devices like the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6, and even old iPad models like the iPad Air and iPad mini 2. Incredibly, there isn’t a single iOS device that will be made obsolete by iOS 12 — every single device compatible with iOS 11 will also be compatible with iOS 12. iOS devices new and old will see big improvements where performance is concerned.

But in terms of groundbreaking, innovative new features, iOS 12 is lacking. There’s no doubt about it. But seriously, there’s nothing wrong with that this year. Apple just released an iPhone that completely reimagines the smartphone experience, and the rest of Apple’s iPhone lineup will follow suit later this year. The iPad will also be reimagined in a few months when Apple introduces a new version with Face ID and no home button. Hardware is the focus now when it comes to big changes, so I’m perfectly happy with new software that focuses on evolution instead of revolution. Once the dust settles and everyone actually starts to use iOS 12 following its release this coming September, I think most people will agree with me.

Zach Epstein

Zach Epstein has worked in and around ICT for more than 15 years, first in marketing and business development with two private telcos, then as a writer and editor covering business news, consumer electronics and telecommunications. Zach’s work has been quoted by countless top news publications in the US and around the world. He was also recently named one of the world's top-10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes, as well as one of Inc. Magazine's top-30 Internet of Things experts.

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