June 26, 2024

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iOS 16 review: Personalization is unlocked

iOS 16 review: Personalization is unlocked

Zoom / Lock screen (custom) in iOS 16.

Samuel Axon

Over the past two years, Apple’s annual iOS updates have focused on one feature of an overhaul with smaller tweaks to everything else. Last year, the focus was the good focus. The year before that, it was the home screen.

This time it’s the lock screen. You can now change fonts, add widgets, customize the information displayed, and choose from a variety of backgrounds. Apple also integrated the lock screen more deeply with focus modes that were Embodied in iOS 15. And it laid the groundwork for something more than just notifications that third-party apps can show you before you unlock your phone.

Given the increasingly iterative nature of iOS versions today — with many key features arriving only months after the initial shipment date of a new, fully digitized version — we’re moving on to smaller initial reviews of iOS, with updates coming in additional articles over time. So today we will be looking at the main new feature of iOS 16, but we will touch on a couple of other major features and changes as well.

lock screen

While iOS 16 touches on most aspects of iPhone use in a few small ways, it’s pretty much a “lock screen update”. This makes sense: Apple makes a lot of noise about charging features that integrate hardware and software, and iPhone 14 ProThe new always-on display puts that focus on the lock screen.

But there is a lot more here for users of other iPhone models that lack this always-on feature. Follow-up focus last year on focus modes, and the previous year on Home screen customizationWell, this is the most important step Apple has made in terms of personalization with the iPhone, well, by and large ever.

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I know what you’re going to say: Aren’t all these features that have basically been a part of Android forever now?

Yes, you are right – mostly. In typical Apple style, there’s some boom here that Android doesn’t touch, but in terms of functionality, that’s mostly yesterday’s news for Android professionals. But what was already a win for Android users is largely a win for iOS users as well.

It’s easy to see the impact of the Apple Watch on this update — the new widgets act like complications, and the new Lock screen acts like a watch face. This sentence right there tells you everything you need to know about the new lock screen. Imagine the Apple Watch and all the customizations, features, and limitations that Watch Faces provide. Now make it all the size of the phone. Here’s the new iOS lock screen.

To start playing with these customizations, simply hold down your finger on the lock screen. This takes you to an interface with horizontally scrolling cards, each one representing one of your custom screens.

At the bottom there are three important buttons. You can tap Focus to change the focus mode that is triggered when this lock screen is active. You can click “Customize” to change your widgets, fonts, backgrounds, and more. And there is a “+” button to add a new custom lock screen to the row of cards.

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Starts with wallpapers

When you press the + button, a panel pops up to provide you with a variety of background possibilities. These options fall into a few buckets. There are color gradient backgrounds, where you choose a general color theme and select some simple gradient themes. (It actually looks nicer than it looks.)

There are combinations that are somewhat similar to Apple’s previous approach to iPhone wallpapers: pre-made patterns in a few different color options.

You can also create a background of emojis on a grid or in a pattern across the screen, and you can even choose which emojis you want to display. You can choose up to six emojis to include in the background, using Apple’s standard emoji selection interface.

My personal favorite bucket of wallpapers is the “Weather & Astronomy” category. These provide a little in the way of customization, but they are very elegant. The obvious theme here changes the background images to match the live weather conditions in your area – and the visuals mentioned look like those actually mapped to the Weather app.

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There are also dynamic wallpapers of the earth, moon and solar system. The Solar System shows the actual current relative positions of the planets as they orbit the Sun, while Planet Earth shows your position on a globe with a green dot, amid a lively updated cloud cover that reflects conditions around the world.

The Moon and Earth move at different angles as you switch from the always-on screen to the active lock screen and then swipe up to get to the Home screen. It’s a fun effect, and the moon background in particular looks great on OLED iPhone screens.

But as neat as they are, I imagine most people will choose to use backgrounds that use images from your library in the Photos app. Clicking on Photos gives you a choice between individual photos on your phone.

Using machine learning, the iPhone analyzes all the photos in your library so that you can make “featured” suggestions, which I’ve found mostly money. There are also subcategories for these featured suggestions, including People, Pets, Nature, and Cities. And of course, you can browse through the entire photo library and choose any picture you want.

There’s also “Photo Shuffle,” which is a “dynamic set of photos that shuffle as you use your iPhone throughout the day,” according to the tooltip. You can set the random frequency to change on tap, lock, hourly or daily. Again, it offers you featured images, and lets you choose which categories to include—but you can still manually select each image from your library.

This is as good a place as any to note that for photo backgrounds, Apple uses some nifty AI tricks to crop out key objects in the photo, like faces or buildings, and allows them to overlay parts of the time indicator, creating a neat effect. It’s shocking how well this works, actually. Unfortunately, it does not work when adding tools for less time. Except for this limitation, you can toggle this on and off as desired.

Once you choose your wallpaper, you are taken to the full lock screen customization view.