On Monday of this week, Apple released the iOS 13 public beta, which, as its name suggests, is prerelease software that the general public can now download and test on their iPhones. The new software should do all of the things that an upgrade typically does for phones: It should make your iPhone, even an aging one, faster and more efficient. It will also add privacy and security enhancements.
But iOS 13 is also supposed to be transformative in a lot of ways. It will make your Photos app a pleasant destination, not a slog through a camera roll. It will let you use your Apple ID to sign into more apps and websites. And thanks to Dark Mode, it will make iOS look different.
We’re still a couple months away from seeing a version of iOS 13 that’s fully stable and ready for every iPhone out there, so this download isn’t something you should install if you’re not comfortable with some technical hiccups. Also, Apple strongly recommends (and we agree!) that you don’t install an iOS beta release on your daily iPhone. It’s always best to use a secondary iPhone or iPad if you’re keen on experimenting with the iOS 13 earlier than everyone else. And no matter what you do, you should first back up your phone or tablet to the cloud.
There’s also a cutoff point for iOS 13 in terms of your old gadgets. It will only run on iPhone 6S or later, including the fan favorite iPhone SE; all iPad Pros; the iPad Air 2 or a later version; and the iPad mini 4 (from 2015) or later.
Here’s what you can expect from iOS 13.
Come to the dark side, friend. Apple’s iOS 13 brings Dark Mode to the iPhone and iPad, putting the mobile devices on par with the Dark Mode introduced in macOS Mojave last year. iOS 13 Dark Mode is initially available in Apple’s own apps; once developers have time to implement it, you can expect Dark Mode to show up in more third-party apps as well.
Right now, apps like Messages, Mail, Calendar, Photos, Notes, and even Settings will have a gloriously dark background if you opt into the new color scheme. You can activate Dark Mode within iOS’s Display & Brightness settings. iPhones with OLED displays may experience a small battery boost from this, but otherwise Dark Mode is mostly an aesthetic choice—and a wonderful choice it is.
‘Quick Path’ Keyboard
Hellooooo, 2008! Apple is rolling out its own version of a swipe keyboard in iOS 13. It’s called Quick Path. Drag your finger along your iPhone’s virtual keyboard, leaving a wisp of a translucent tail in your wake, and form words without furiously finger-pecking at the keys. It’s fast. It’s fun. It’s long overdue.
Get ready to dive into the warm waters of the new Apple Photos app. Seriously, it’s my favorite update in iOS 13 so far, and brings the iPhone’s camera roll much closer to the experience we’ve all come to expect with Google Photos.
The same four tabs still exist at the bottom of the home screen—Photos, For You, Albums, and Search—but in iOS 13 there’s an additional layer above that with four new filtering options: Years, Months, Days, and All Photos. Tap on one of those and you see a selection of your “best” photos (as determined by Apple’s software) organized by the time period during which they were shot. As you scroll, you’ll notice that photo thumbnails are no longer the same, uniform size; certain shots, usually the most eye-catching ones, are enlarged and prioritized. Videos and Live Photos play in thumbnails.
Right now I’m watching a video snippet of my cat as a kitten in 2015, and a Boomerang of a scene from Comic-Con in 2018, all without having to tap on the image.
Finally, the All Photos tab is a handy shortcut to your entire camera roll. It replaces the old two-step method of having to tap on Albums and then Camera Roll.
As with Photos, Apple is still catching up to Google when it comes to maps. But Cupertino is introducing some really interesting features in the interim.
One of the best new features of iOS 13 is Look Around, a tab within Maps search results that lets you see a street-level view of your destination. It’s similar to Google Street View, except that Apple’s Look Around lets you zoom forward by tapping and long-pressing on the screen. Apartment hunting? Trying to find potential parking garages? Just want to get a feel for a neighborhood? Look Around will help you do that. It’s definitely not available for all map results yet, but Apple says it plans to have all of the US mapped by the end of this year.
iOS 13 contains a fair number of enhancements around voice control and voice dictation that have the potential to help those with certain physical disabilities get more out of their devices. You’ll be able to rely entirely on your voice to navigate an app, provided the app has been built with accessibility in mind. For example, you can say “Show numbers,” and small numbers will show up as labels on certain sections of the app. You can then use your voice to select a number rather than having to tap. Or you can say “Show grid,” and a grid view will let you call out commands based on the portion of the app you’re trying to trigger.
If you’re working on a project that involves long or complicated words, you can establish a custom word or phrase to ensure that’s the one that appears every time you dictate it with voice.
Lastly, a new feature in iOS 13 called Attention Awareness relies on the front-facing 3D camera on newer iPhones to determine when you’re no longer looking at the phone, like when you look away to talk to someone. The phone will stop interpreting your voice as dictation at that moment.
Privacy and Security
Overreaching app permissions are a pet peeve of mine. Fortunately, iOS 13 introduces more parameters around permissions, particularly those for location information.
When you first encounter permissions requests in a freshly-downloaded app, you’ll be able to grant it permission to use your location “Only Once.” After the fact, if you go into Settings > Privacy > and Location Services, then tap on an app, you’ll notice that apps now have an “Ask Next Time” option. Tracking features will be banned from kids apps in the App Store. And apps that request permission to view your Contacts will only be able to access a limited amount of contact data in iOS 13.
When you go to share a photo directly from the Camera Roll to social media, you can now tap “Options” at the top of the page and strip out location data from the photo.
Sign In with Apple, expected to launch in the fall, is Apple’s answer to Facebook Login and Google Sign-In. Just like those systems, it lets you log into apps and websites using your Apple ID instead of creating a new account by entering an email address and password. One nice touch: Apple’s sign-in feature allows you to use a randomly-generated, unique ID to log into an app so you don’t have to share the private email address associated with your Apple ID.
And, since smart home gadgets have in some instances been the stuff of privacy nightmares, Apple is attempting to make the smart home … smarter. But in a good way. It’s partnering with router makers like Eero and Linksys to make HomeKit-enabled routers, and it’s working with Logitech, Eufy, and Netatmo to make smart-home cameras that perform AI functions on the devices themselves and not in the cloud, so images of your living room don’t have to get beamed across the internet.
Apple is determined to turn the Apple Watch into an ever-present health sidekick, and it has done an excellent job of that so far. iOS 13 adds some more intriguing health features. One is “Trends,” a tab in the iPhone’s Activity app that will show you your progress toward your fitness goals (and other insights about your health) over time. The caveat with Trends is that you’ll need to have logged 365 days total of Apple Watch activities before your trends will show up.
In the minimalist Apple Health app on iPhone, a new “Highlights” section will put a few personalized data points front and center for you. As I’m writing this, the iOS 13 version of the Health app is telling me that I’m walking and running less than I normally would by 1 pm. (Maybe because I’m writing?)
Another upcoming new feature is a period-tracking app for Apple Watch called Cycle. (Some menstrual cycle apps have been criticized as little more than “souped-up rhythm methods”; Apple is careful to couch this feature in phrasing like, “View a prediction for when your fertile window is likely to begin.”) Technically, period-tracking existed in the Apple Health app on iPhone before, but now it will have an official home on the Apple Watch and send even more data to the Health app on your phone.
These are just some of the features you can expect to experience with iOS 13—there are also updates to key things like Messages, Siri, HomePod, AirPods, and CarPlay. But the ones listed above are all updates that, so far, seem more than just iterative.