Enlarge / iOS 13 on an iPhone 11 Pro.
Samuel Axon


Last year, Apple set users’ expectations with iOS 12, saying it would be focused on improving performance and fixing bugs and stability issues instead of adding a bunch of new features. And while there were still plenty of bugs over the course of the iOS 12 cycle, performance was improved—particularly on older devices.

Apple hasn’t tempered expectations for iOS 13 this year, so users might be expecting a big leap forward. iOS 13 does bring a new look to the software that runs on iPhones, overhauls a few oft-criticized first-party applications, and puts additional emphasis on user privacy. Most of all, it adds new, powerful interactions for power users—some of which we thought we’d never see in Apple’s mobile software.

iOS 13 is successful at most of what it sets out to do, even though it leaves some things that users have wanted to see overhauled—like the home screen—relatively untouched.

The big story this year is about the iPad. Apple has spun off iOS 13 into a distinct version for iPads, called iPadOS. But that’s not part of the initial iOS 13 release—instead it’s coming several days later, alongside iOS 13.1. For that reason, we’re focusing entirely on the iPhone experience in this initial review, and we’ll address the iPad after iPadOS goes live.

Today, we’ll take a look at Dark Mode on the iPhone, assess Apple’s latest efforts on privacy and augmented reality, and examine the changes to the most overhauled apps, including Maps, Photos, and more. There’s frankly more in this update than we can get to in one article (even though several thousand words await you, dear reader), but we’ve been spending a lot of recent time with iOS 13 in order to thoroughly consider Apple’s most significant changes, like those to Reminders and Files, for example.

We’ll also consider what all these changes mean for the future direction of iOS, which is gradually evolving away from its original philosophy of user experience. There’s a lot to talk about, but let’s start as we always do: with device compatibility.

Table of Contents

Compatibility

Compatibility with older devices was a cornerstone of iOS 12 last year because Apple was trying to fight against consumer perception that it purposely and aggressively ends support for older phones in order to drive new phone purchases.

Truth be told, as was the case with iOS 11 and iOS 12, if you want a phone that will get several years of software support rather than just one or two, the iPhone is the way to go. That hasn’t changed with iOS 13.

iOS 13 drops support for the following iPhone models that were supported by iOS 12: the iPhone 5S, the iPhone 6, and the iPhone 6 Plus. It also ends support for the first iPad Air, the iPad mini 3, and the iPad mini 2. It now supports the somewhat recently released seventh generation iPod touch, but this release drops the sixth generation.

This is a pretty dramatic culling, though it comes a year after iOS 12 did not drop support for any devices at all that were already supported by iOS 11. You can essentially summarize iOS 13’s cuts as Apple declining to support all iOS devices that had only 1 GB of RAM.

Supported iPhone models

  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6S
  • iPhone 6S Plus
  • iPhone SE

Supported iPad models

iPads will soon technically run iPadOS, as distinct from iOS. Here’s which models are supported by this year’s software, though:

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro
  • 11-inch iPad Pro
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • iPad (6th generation)
  • iPad (5th generation)
  • iPad mini (5th generation)
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad Air 2

Support iPod models

iOS 13 supports the 7th generation iPod touch.

Devices used in the course of this review

We based most of this review, including the screenshots, on several weeks of using late iOS 13 beta releases and the iOS 13 GM release on an iPhone X, an iPhone XS, an iPhone 8, and over just the past couple days, an iPhone 11 Pro. All testing was done using the GM release of iOS 13, and we verified several things in the final public release after it went live yesterday. We also used an iPhone 6S and iPhone SE to test performance on the lowest-end supported iPhones. We did not test or use iOS 13 on an iPod touch.

Design: Dark Mode, Share Sheets, and more

There has not been a major change to the visual design of iOS since 2013, and in some places it shows. But iOS 13 brings the biggest overhaul on this front since iOS 7. Not all of that is about the new Dark Mode feature, but that’s what many users will see first.

When you first install iOS 13, you’re asked if you want to use Light Dark or Dark Mode. You’re not stuck with your choice, though, as you can change it in the Settings app at any time (or in the Control Center). You reach it in the Control Center the same way you get to Night Mode: you hold down your finger (either with 3D Touch or Haptic Touch, depending on the device you’re using) on the brightness slider to pop up additional options, then toggle from there. You can also assign this setting to a more prominent place in the Control Center if you’d prefer.

It’s easiest to talk about Dark Mode by actually going through some images, though, so let’s do that.

Almost no part of iOS remains untouched by Dark Mode. The only major app exception I found was Weather, which still displays a colored, full-screen image matching the current conditions and time of day.

Other than a few customization options noted in the gallery above, there are no changes in functionality here. Everything is where it used to be; Dark Mode is an aesthetic change. But if you’re in the habit of using your phone in bed late at night while your significant other sleeps next to you, or if you want accurate color and contrast without blinding yourself when walking outside at night, it’s a pleasant addition.

Apple has provided third-party app developers (and Web developers) with the means to automatically enable or disable their own dark modes based on the system-wide status. We’ll have to wait and see how many support it—if some don’t (we’re looking at you, Slack-on-the-Mac-for-the-past-year), you might find yourself suddenly awash in white light at undesirable moments as you switch between apps.

The new share sheet

The share sheet, that standardized pop-up menu that appears when you try to share something from an app or a web page in iOS, was functional in iOS 12, but Apple sought to improve it in a few ways with this release. As with Dark Mode, the best way to get it is to see it.

Many of the things you can do in the share sheet could be done before, but Apple has put options that used to be buried in the Settings app in the options menu here instead, for example. It arguably makes for a more organized share sheet experience, depending on your own personal workflow and habits, but it’s not a game changer by any means.

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Context menus and other design changes

Dark Mode is the big attraction, but iOS 13 performs other little nips and tucks across the system, plus a new card-based interface for many apps, and an overhaul of context menus across the OS.

The context menus are the most notable of these changes. Brought up by 3D/Haptic Touch, they offer new options and have a new look. They’re particularly robust inside of certain apps like Files or Music. Unfortunately, it’s hard to predict where they’ll work where they won’t. Sometimes, as in Reminders, you might try to bring one up and be surprised it won’t appear. There’s no effort to communicate to the user where this is possible and where it isn’t, so there’s a lot of trial and error involved.

Typefaces are formatted differently here and there. Some home screen icons have changed in subtle ways. Haptic Touch has been brought to older devices, and 3D Touch/Haptic Touch interactions have been expanded or modified across the OS—both in terms of how they look and in terms of what sorts of things you can do with them.

Unfortunately, the home screen is still the home screen. While Apple is bringing new functionality there on the iPad, it remains just a grid of icons and clunky folders on the iPhone—the same as it has been since 2007 (the folders bit was added later, of course).

I welcome many of the minor visual and UX changes across iOS 13, but I still feel that the home screen needs to be fundamentally rethought. It’s a horror story to reorganize icons, which still infuriatingly bounce around in frustrating ways when you’re in edit mode. Haptic/3D Touch context menus help with this a little, but it’s not enough. And while Android phones offer many options for putting useful live data on the home screen, Apple has continued to keep that isolated to other places for now. It needs to change, and unfortunately, it hasn’t yet done so in iOS 13.

One small-but-still-mighty change did end years of annoyance for me, though.

Seriously, one of the best changes in the history of iOS

When you adjust or mute the volume on an iOS device, a large, rectangular box appears in the center of the screen, blocking a not-insignificant portion of the viewport on an iPhone to tell you what’s changed. It never made any sense. Now, thankfully, it’s different.

Adjusting the volume produces only a small volume slider UI element at the top of the screen. It’s unobtrusive, but this still communicates what needs to be communicated. There’s a similarly low-profile indicator for when you flip the hardware switch to put your phone in silent mode.

It’s baffling that it has taken this long for this annoyance to go away. Many people watch videos or play games on their iPhones, but you actually had to pause a video or game to change the volume to avoid blocking the scene in certain apps. Not anymore. It’s small changes like this that make iOS 13 a worthy upgrade; I just don’t understand why it took so long to address this common complaint about iOS.

Major app updates

iOS 13 is partly about system-wide features and changes like Dark Mode and others, yes, but it’s also an opportunity for Apple to make major changes to whichever apps it deems to be in need of an overhaul.

Just about every app in iOS saw some changes in this release, and which ones matter most depends on who you are and what you’re trying to do. But these are a few of the apps that call for a closer look.

Photos

The past two iPhone unveiling events have been focused on cameras and photography above all else, so you won’t be surprised to know that the Photos and Camera app have a lot going on in iOS 13.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say that Photos saw the biggest overhaul of any app in iOS 13—and that’s after a similar case could have been made of iOS 12. Photography clearly remains Apple’s focus when it comes to the iPhone, so let’s explore the changes (and examine some small tweaks to the Camera app while we’re at it, too).

The Photos tab

The old method of scrolling through a giant photo roll then tapping into auto-generated events (usually based on location) is gone. Now, the Photos tab has four sub-tabs: Years, Months, Days, All Photos.

All Photos is kind of similar to the old top-level view, but it’s no longer organized into events or locations (it’s purely a chronological grid). Instead of scrolling then tapping to dive deeper, you can now pinch to zoom in and out, all the way from the single photo level to the just-about-everything level. It’s much easier to work with than the old design. It’s not that the old one was bad; this is just more efficient for almost all cases.

Pick years, months, or days, and pinching will transition you between the three of them. Days is sort of what it sounds like, though it groups two or three days together sometimes by some method that is not transparent to the user. This sorting option also flags sets of photos based on location, event, and so on. Months is a vertically scrollable visual list of galleries sorted by—you guessed it—a calendar month. Years is just like months but larger, and entirely sorted by the calendar—so one card for 2016, another for 2017, and so on.

In any of these views, zooming in all the way goes to a single photo, which will autoplay without audio if it’s a video. Also, there are -/+ controls so you can tap to zoom, Apple has utilized machine-learning to auto-crop thumbnails and decide which photos to highlight where, and duplicates or obvious shots of receipts or the like are automatically hidden in some places.

There are numerous other tiny tweaks, too, but those are the biggest changes. In practice, I can’t find anything to complain about here; most users will consider this new presentation superior to what we had in iOS 12.

Photo editing

The various tweaks you can make—stuff like exposure, vignette, black point, and so on—are now in one long, slidable bar beneath the photo viewport. And the magic auto-adjustment tool is the left-most option. That tool still works like it used to, but since there are visual representations of the state of each setting on the same bar that it sits on, it’s easier to see at a glance exactly what it did when you tapped it.

In fact, you can also move your finger along a slider to adjust just how big the automatic changes are. And of course, you can adjust all those granular things like you could before, but they’re easier to get to and easier to read. These sliders always had numbers attached to their values, but you could only see those numbers in some places.

As noted in the gallery below, there are new tools, and between their addition and expanded controls, you can improve the quality of your photos in all sorts of ways. For example, you can improve low-light photos after the fact for an effect not that different from the iPhone 11-exclusive Night Mode photo feature, like our own Aurich Lawson did.

Now it’s much easier to just glance and understand the full breadth of what’s affecting the photo’s appearance—and there are new options to tweak, too, like white balance.

The intensity slider didn’t just come to the automatic adjustment button, either. You can now use this tool with filters, making them less of a gimmick and more something you can actually fine-tune as part of your overall image editing process.

Not every change to photo editing is desirable, though. For example, there used to be a revert button in the photo rotation tool. While there are many more axis on which you can rotate a photo, the revert button appears to be gone. So as far as I could tell, you either need to undo your changes by canceling out of the editing tool and losing all your changes across all tools, or you have to manually slide everything back to where it was.

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Video editing

Whereas photo editing got expanded and updated with more granular controls, video editing got… controls to begin with. The same interface that photo editing offers is now available to video. You can edit all of the following aspects of your video now right in the Photos app:

  • Exposure
  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Contrast
  • Brightness
  • Black point
  • Saturation
  • Vibrance
  • Warmth
  • Tint
  • Sharpness
  • Definition
  • Noise reduction
  • Vignette

And all of those have sliders for degree selection just like with photo editing. Those tools are in addition to the video editor’s own automatic adjustment tool. You’ll also find the following filters, which can also be adjusted granularly:

  • Vivid
  • Vivid Warm
  • Vivid Cool
  • Dramatic
  • Dramatic Warm
  • Dramatic Cool
  • Mono
  • Silvertone
  • Noir

Finally, the photo editor’s expanded rotation and flipping tools are in full force here, too. The interface is exactly the same across the board.

Other than a reduced incentive for users to purchase third-party video editing apps, it’s hard to see any downside to these additions. The only thing missing is the ability to make these changes to just one segment of the video, rather than all of it at once.

Photos grab bag

As stated before, there are a bunch of other small changes throughout the Photos app. Here are a few worth mentioning:

  • The For You section will show photos of a contact if the contact data you have stored in the iPhone indicates that it’s their birthday
  • A smart album has been created for iOS screen recordings
  • Video edits are nondestructive now
  • Apple serves up different music during Memories playback depending on what you listen to on Apple Music
  • It’s easier and quicker to combine multiple search terms in the search field

The Camera app

The Camera app also gets a couple small tweaks in iOS 13, and they’re all related to Portrait Lighting.

As I’ve written many times before, I feel Portrait Lighting produces results too inconsistent to be worth the hassle. But if you’re into it anyway, you’ll be glad to know that you can now fine-tune the intensity of each Portrait Lighting effect.

Like other Portrait Lighting modes, High-Key Mono is a gimmick that often produces an image with distracting errors.
Enlarge / Like other Portrait Lighting modes, High-Key Mono is a gimmick that often produces an image with distracting errors.
Samuel Axon

There’s also a new Portrait Lighting mode called Key Light Mono. This is similar to Stage Light Mono, except it paints a white background instead of a black one behind the subjects.

Apple added tooth, hair, and skin segmentation to the Portrait Segmentation API, which means photo apps made by developers other than Apple have some new things to play with as well.

Maps

Few Apple product or service launches have gone more poorly in public perception than Apple Maps, which first launched in 2012 to a great deal of criticism.

The company has iterated over time, particularly with regards to map data and what the maps look like (which we’ll dig into momentarily). But iOS 13 brings new features and improvements, so this is a good time to revisit the topic of Maps in a way we don’t normally do with each iOS update.

Improved map data and visuals

The data itself is not exactly a part of iOS 13 (in that improvements have already been rolling out throughout the iOS 12 cycle), but it’s part of Apple’s story about Maps this year. Apple Maps has always played second fiddle to Google Maps. Part of this is because Google has been iterating on its Maps for many years longer than Apple has. But the other part is that Google owns its entire Maps stack, whereas Apple built its own Maps app out of a collection of third-party data that had a lot of issues. Over time, that arrangement proved difficult to efficiently update or improve upon.

More recently, Apple has embarked on the long and difficult process of trying to catch up with or in some cases surpass Google, by building out its own maps and reducing its use of third party data. Many of these changes have already been rolling out for more than a year in certain places. But they’re such a priority for Apple that the company has positioned them as a feature in iOS 13 to indicate that work will continue aggressively, or even accelerate, going forward.

So how has Apple done this? TechCrunch interviewed the company’s reps about this a little over a year ago and shed light on some aspects of it, but that discussion didn’t paint a full picture of what Apple is up to.

Consensus among those who’ve talked to Apple or analyzed its map data seems to be that the improvements stem from a complex amalgamation of grandfathered-in data from partners like TomTom, data collected from iPhones insomuch as privacy policies allow, Yelp place data, details translated algorithmically from Apple’s satellite imagery, LiDAR data from Apple’s own vehicles, and more, potentially including human-made elements based on analysis of photographic and satellite data from a variety of sources.

The result is a big improvement. It still has not achieved parity with Google Maps in terms of the data—not even close—but Apple Maps tries to make up for at least some of that with a smoother, more responsive interface and some more sleekly executed features than what Google Maps offers.

Coverage by the new-style maps is far from universal, but Apple is moving forward aggressively. In California, where I live, things are already looking a lot better. If that continues to expand to other places, Maps will look like less of a joke.

And Apple needs it to be a serious thing, because Maps isn’t just about driving directions; it’s the basis for so many services used by app developers. With Google’s privacy practices routinely in the spotlight, Apple executives likely see a weakness to exploit with their own, ostensibly more privacy-focused alternative.

I’m not going to say Apple Maps data and map accuracy or detail is better than Google Maps now, because it’s generally not. But it looks like the company is at least driving down the right roads, so to speak.

Look Around

The majority of the times I open up Google Maps instead of Apple Maps, it’s to use Street View, Google’s feature that lets you browse through street-level photographs of most populated places in the developed world. It’s not just a cool gimmick; it’s often really useful. And the fact that Apple Maps doesn’t have it is a problem—Google has set a very high standard here.

Enter Look Around, a new feature in iOS 13 that is, well, basically Street View.

Unfortunately, Look Around is not available where I’ve been testing in Los Angeles, so I wasn’t able to try it on my home turf. As I write this review, it’s not even available in Manhattan or really anywhere at all I could easily find besides San Francisco. There’s no top-level way to see where it’s available; you have to zoom in quite close to a street for the icon to appear. (Are you noticing a theme here, by the way? So many things in iOS 13 are cool, but hard to discover.)

So I digitally scrolled up the coast to the Bay Area, where the coverage is quite robust. And I like Look Around based on this limited introduction. There’s a smoothness and a clarity to it that Google Maps lacks; the quality of the images is significantly better. And between a subtle depth effect on all the images and nicely done transition animations, it feels much more like you’re walking down the street rather than just clicking through some fuzzy images.

There’s no guarantee this level of quality will be universal as Apple expands coverage to new locations, of course, so we’ll have to wait and see. And this visual focus doesn’t add to the utility; it just makes it nicer to look at and interact with Look Around.

That’s Apple Maps in a nutshell. It’s rarely as useful as Google Maps, but it’s almost always more pleasant and easy-to-use in the cases where it does manage anything close to functional parity.

In any case, Look Around is a very welcome feature. If San Francisco is representative of where most cities will be within six months to a year, then this is a big deal for Maps. It’s just difficult to judge it thoroughly until we see this functionality expand to many, many more places.

Collections and Favorites

Favorites have been around Apple Maps for a while, but Apple has changed how you interact with them and access them.

I have some minor UI quibbles, though. Once you’ve tapped a place like a restaurant to bring up more info, you have to scroll for a couple seconds to the bottom to get to the option to add it to your Favorites list. Previously, the Favorites button was right at the top, so this change is a little inconvenient in practice.

But in iOS 13, it is more convenient now to plot a route to or look up your Favorites. Previously, opening up the Maps app presented you with a search field, and below that you’d see a long list of recently viewed places. At the very bottom of that list, there was an option to tap to see your favorites. Now, Favorites appear in a side-scrolling list directly below the search field.

Below the Favorites and above the recent places list are your Collections, a new feature in Maps. Collections are exactly what they sound like—they’re a list of saved places that you can populate and name.

You can also share collections with others, which is probably the flagship feature here. You can send them via AirDrop, Messages, or Mail, and you can save them to Reminders or Notes. This is nice to have, but it seems like the sort of feature I would forget to use a lot. Your mileage may vary.

Other Maps improvements

Apple intended to add the ability to share your Maps directions’ ETA with others via Messages, but it hasn’t made it in this release. You can, however, see flight status inside the Maps app when you’re at the airport, and check real-time transit schedules in supported cities. At least, that’s according to Apple; I haven’t had an opportunity to test that feature. Additionally, Siri now gives directions that are a little more specific to your environment when speaking to you.

The flight status update stands out to me; I’ve found Apple’s airport Maps helpful when I travel, and it’s nice to see Apple doubling down on that feature.

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Reminders

You’ll notice Reminders has gotten a total overhaul the moment you open it up. The main view used to just show a vertically arranged array of items, each representing a list and containing that list’s reminders. In iOS 13, you’ll see four sorting options at the top: Today, Scheduled, All, and Flagged. (They lead to what you’d expect.) You’ll see lists below that.

You can now group or nest lists underneath each other, and you can share any list with someone else, like your co-workers, a roommate, your child, or your spouse. When you create a new list, you can pick from a number of glyphs to represent each list, and you can color those icons as you see fit.

The tasks themselves act more like you’d expect from a modern reminders or to-do app, too. As is the case with Todoist and many others, you can type “Saturday 8pm” while entering the reminder text, and the app will automatically interpret that and schedule it for that time with your confirmation.

Also possible with tasks in iOS 13: setting priority levels, defining subtasks, and including attachments and annotations like URLs or notes.

A lot of this would have been a bit of a hassle to do in the old interface, but Apple has added a new bar above the keyboard when you’re editing a task. It includes a clock icon that you can tap to set a time, a navigational arrow to set the task to activate at a specific location like your home or office, a button for assigning a flag, and a camera icon that will let you take a photo or attach one from Photos (or scan a document). You can only use images as far as file attachments go though.

Apple has brought Siri suggestions to Reminders—so the app might recommend a reminder to go to a meeting if you were texting with a coworker about scheduling it, for example. Oh, and you can set the app to remind you of something when you send a text message to a specific contact in Messages—it’s essentially good for “remind me to tell Sonali about the party.” Unfortunately, like many of iOS 13’s best features, this is pretty well buried where many users probably won’t find it.

All this amounts to a significant overhaul. The ability to type out times as you create reminders on its own is a big boon—it’s a habit I’ve developed using other apps, and it’s felt like a major omission in this app for a while.

But out of all the Apple apps included with iOS, Reminders still has some of the fiercest competition from third-party developers. Many third-party apps continue to be much more powerful for certain use cases. For now, Apple’s strategy with its own built-in apps seems to be focused on generalist use—or if you want to phrase it unfavorably (and I would say unfairly), the lowest common denominator. The new Reminders is meant to be broadly functional. And it is. But if you have more specialized needs, there’s probably another app out there that you’ll like more.

In other words, Reminders in iOS 13 is good enough for most people, but not the best for almost anyone. Given the vibrancy of the iPhone’s App Store, that doesn’t seem like a bad way to go with built-in app. Reminders is improved, but it’s still not the right choice for power users. It’s not really trying to be. And the company may hope that leaving the door open for specialized apps helps shield it from accusations that the App Store is anticompetitive.

Files

iOS 13 is a big deal for the Files app—especially with regards to how the app can interact with other apps like Safari, or with externally stored files.

So let’s get the big news out of the way first: you can now access files on a hard drive, USB drive, or SD card connected to your device through the Lightning port. Unless you’re working on an iPad Pro, you will most likely have to buy a dongle for this, of course. And there are limitations. NTFS drives won’t work; supported formats include HFS+, APFS, FAT, and ExFAT. But on the bright side, non-Apple-made applications can also access these drives when the user compels them to.

If you’re coming from Android or any desktop operating system, this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s new to iOS, and it’s way overdue. Another no-brainer that’s finally here: the ability to create folders in the root directory of your iCloud Drive. Previously, root folders were brought in from Files on the Mac, or were created by your apps, and you could create folders within those existing folders. But you couldn’t create a top-level folder right in iOS. Now you can.

Changes like these are ones many users have been wanting to see in iOS for years.

Other changes in Files include a new Downloads folder for devices you save from Safari or elsewhere (look for a little more about that in the Safari section), an improved inspector view, greatly expanded context menus, and smart search akin to what Photos got in iOS 12. That means you can, for example, type a supported file type as one argument for the search, then type text to search for that text in files of that type—all in the search bar.

Also, you can now zip or unzip files right in the Files app, the Document Scanner feature (from the Notes app) is available here, and there’s new support for SMB file servers.

Notes

Apple’s changes to Notes center on organization and collaboration. You can create subfolders, share those folders with your contacts, set restrictions on whether the people you share with can edit the contents of your notes and folders, and search or browse your notes in new ways.

The flashiest but maybe least useful of these is gallery view, pictured below.

The gallery view in Notes.
Enlarge / The gallery view in Notes.
Samuel Axon

The gallery view is only useful if you create visual notes from photos or drawings a lot. I don’t, but a lot of people seem to be given the popularity of App Store apps focused on that, so it’s there for you if you’re among the fans. Part of the point of this feature is to make browsing notes made with Apple Pencil on an iPad easier.

But as with many things in iOS 13, it’s not immediately obvious how to access it. You’re told it exists with a sort of “welcome to iOS 13” pop-up when you first open Notes after updating, but it’s not given prominent screen real estate. To reach it, you have to navigate to a folder, then scroll up like you would to reveal the search bar. The icon for gallery view is right under the bar.

Fitting in with a common theme in both iOS 12 and 13, Apple has used machine learning to improve search in Notes as well—specifically, typing in a search query will actually search inside of images and scanned items like receipts.

As was the case with Reminders, Notes succeeds at being a decent, general-use app. But again, there are more powerful or specialized options in the App Store.

Messages

I think it’s possible that other than Safari, Messages is my most used built-in iOS app. Like a lot of people, I barely make phone calls anymore, but my day is a constant stream of text messages, loaded with GIFs, stickers, photos, and emojis.

At the same time, many folks—especially young people—have turned mainly to third-party messaging apps in lieu of what Apple has provided. Until iOS 12, Apple wasn’t even trying to be competitive with those apps, in that it didn’t offer any of the popular new features other developers had invented or brought over from other platforms.

So iOS 13 continues iOS 12’s quest to fix that, and the result is something like the Reminders app: it’s robust enough to work for most people, but it’s deliberately conservative and broad.

While iOS 12 was about bringing some of those other apps’ features over, iOS 13 aims to make things more functional and useful while also adding a bunch of stuff for Memojis and Animojis.

On the utility side, we get more powerful and robust search. Tapping the search field now brings up a panel that displays contacts, links, and photos, and typing a query into the field will search all of those. We’re still missing what I’d most like to see, though: the ability to search an entire conversation history from inside that conversation, in addition to the top-level search Apple has built here. That would have been much more useful than searching the photos I’ve shared with people.

There are a few small tweaks to the details pane, the screen you get when you tap a contact’s name at the top of a Messages conversation, then tap the information button. The options at the top are the same, but whereas they used to be followed by an infinite-scrolling gallery of either images or attachments, there are now two distinct sections—photos and links—which are not infinite scroll, but which give you the option to tap for a full list.

These utility additions are nice, but I don’t see a ton of people using them a lot—or at least, I don’t plan to.

There is one feature I find useful though: the ability to choose an image and name to automatically share with contacts. When you load up Messages after installing iOS 13, you’ll be taken through a short wizard to pick a picture—it could be a photo, it could be a Memoji capture, it could be whatever else—and define your name. Those will then automatically be sent set as your name and photo for other users running iOS 13 on their devices that you communicate with, provided they don’t pick something for you themselves.

Memojis and Animojis

Memojis and Animojis are still popular, so Apple is still investing in them.

There are a bunch of new customization options for Memojis. There are more than 30 new hairstyles, 15 new hats, and numerous new accessories like glasses and braces. You can also add a plethora of piercings (eyebrow, nose, mouth, tongue, eyelid). And you can apply finely tuned and colored blush or eyeshadow.

Sticker apps have long been one of the more popular things in the iPhone app store, and Apple has expanded its own efforts on that front by automatically generating emoji-like static stickers out of your Memoji, which you can use in conversations whenever you want. Some of the customization and sticker options are pictured below.

Also pictured: Apple has added three new animojis for devices that have the TrueDepth display (iPhone X, XS, XS Max, XR, 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max)—a cow, an octopus, and a mouse. The octopus is particularly fun to play around with, based on serious Ars testing.

Apple also says that as of iOS 13, “all devices with an A9 chip or later support Memoji and Animoji sticker packs.”

You’ve probably already formed an opinion on Memojis or Animojis. Some people love ‘em, some people don’t care. If you’re in the former camp, these new options should be welcome. If you’re in the latter, you can keep on ignoring them!

(I think they’re a lot of fun, for what it’s worth.)

The keyboard

This isn’t exclusive to Messages, but this seems like as good a place to go over it as any: the system-wide keyboard now supports swipe typing without the need for a third-party download.

It’s called QuickPath, and you can switch between this method and the tapping way whenever you want. You don’t have to tap a button to switch keyboards, so you can even do it mid-sentence. Neither swipe nor tap typing is always better than the other in every situation, so taking a hybrid approach could really help make typing more efficient for those who are willing to develop a new skill. Supported languages include English, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, and Italian.

And on the subject of languages, dictation now automatically picks up which language you’re speaking on the fly.

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Safari

First up for Safari is the start page that you see when you open a new tab. It just displayed your favorite bookmarks in iOS 12, but now it shows those plus frequently and recently visited sites and Siri suggestions—for example, links your contacts may have sent you via Messages that you haven’t gone to yet.

The Siri suggestions I got, though, were just websites I’d already visited, and it wasn’t clear why they were being recommended. This is the case for Siri suggestions across the OS since iOS 12: they’re neat in theory, but I rarely if ever actually find them useful.

More useful, though, is the easier access to website view options, additional website view options, and per-site settings. There’s a new, small icon on the left side of the search bar opposite the reload button. Tapping it when you’re viewing a website brings up the options to change the text size on that site, show the Reader view, hide the toolbar, or request the desktop site.

There’s also a settings option you can tap to set rules for that site going forward, including forcing Safari to always load the desktop version or to automatically open the site in Reader mode. There are also choices between “ask,” deny,” and “allow” for camera, microphone, and location access.

Going to the Safari panel in the Settings app lets you define defaults for all of the above settings across all websites as well. Giving users this kind of control is a very good move, and it fits in with an overall philosophy in iOS 13 to give power users a little more of what they want.

The download manager

Speaking of power users, Safari now has a full-fledged, albeit simple, download manager. We already went over the expanded Files app earlier in this review—this dovetails right into that, because the files you download go directly to the automatically generated Downloads folder within Files. In other words, it works like the default behavior on Macs. It even downloads files in the background when you switch to another app.

Also just like Macs, the download manager is a button in the top-right corner of the browser. There’s not much you can do here; you can just clear your downloads history, or tap an icon by each file to go to its location in Files.

To download an image or other file from a website, you just use 3D Touch or Haptic Touch on the item, then tap “Download Linked File.”

This little change can have big consequences for how useful an iPhone is, so I see this as a win for users.

New tabs functionality

The other bucket of Safari changes in iOS 12 is all about managing tabs. Users can use 3D or Haptic Touch on the bookmarks button to reveal the option to bulk-bookmark tabs as a folder. Then, users can go to that folder in the bookmarks browser, and 3D or Haptic Touch on it to see the option to open all the tabs in that folder.

I’m thinking this was probably another thing Apple developed with iPadOS in mind then saw as potentially useful for iPhone users as well. In any case, it’s been a good add during our testing.
Between features like this in iOS and Project Catalyst in macOS, it’s interesting to see Apple treating the iPad as the launchpad for big features on its other platforms—though this multi-tab functionality was already offered in the macOS version of Safari, of course.
There’s one more tab-related feature of note: if you type the name of a website in Safari’s search field while you have a tab of that website open, you’ll see a suggestion to just go directly to that tab. So you can sort of use the Safari address bar as a Spotlight equivalent for your current browsing session.

Other Safari changes

Apple made it possible to choose between a Web page as a link, a PDF, or a Reader-view link when sharing that page in an email. Also, according to Apple, “your Safari history and open tabs that have synced with iCloud are now protected with end‑to‑end encryption.” Safari will warn you when you try to use a weak password when setting up an account on a website, too.

Mail

There’s not a ton going on with Mail in iOS 13. I almost relegated it to the grab bag part of this review. But since it’s likely one of the most important apps for a lot of people, we’ll quickly survey the additions and changes.

New features and additions to Mail include the ability to mute notifications from threads and to block messages from certain senders so they go straight to the trash. There’s now support for multiple flag colors when flagging emails, a tabbed view for messages and drafts, and scanning documents from the Mail interface to include in your emails, plus an updated photo selection tool.

Apple also expanded the email formatting options with a new formatting menu that offers most of the same options that an application like Pages has.  There’s a toolbar above the keyboard loaded with helpful options, and Apple has redesigned the compose view.

All these are great—especially the new formatting menu, which can stand in for the laborious and painful existing process of awkwardly tapping on text to bring up an easy-to-accidentally-dismiss hover menu.

It’s baffling, though, that we have a modern Mail app that still doesn’t support snoozing or scheduling emails—or the Inbox Zero, task-based philosophy of mail management in general. It’s a really popular way to deal with email now, and this is one of the only major email apps left that doesn’t do anything to make that viable.

There are plenty of third-party options for that in the App Store, of course, but this doesn’t seem like another case of Apple’s own apps aiming broad, like we discussed in the Reminders section. Inbox Zero isn’t a niche or specialty thing anymore, so this just seems like a glaring omission.

My other primary complaint about Mail is a visual/design one—and it’s a complaint that applies to many of Apple’s other apps, like Messages. When you’re viewing a folder or inbox, the current look of Mail puts a gigantic, hero-level font at the top that says, for example, “Inbox.” It’s pointlessly large and feels like a lot of wasted space. It’s particularly annoying for users on an iPhone SE or even an iPhone 8, given that they don’t have as much vertical screen real estate as they would with X- or 11-series iPhones. Yes, it goes away as you scroll, but I just don’t understand the point of it to begin with.

Siri

In addition to all the above-mentioned new instances of Siri making suggestions across various apps, Apple has addressed how Siri sounds. Improved neural text-to-speech has resulted in a much more natural-sounding voice.

You still wouldn’t confuse Siri for a real person, but there’s a night-and-day difference between iOS 12 Siri and iOS 13 Siri. Anyone who hears it will notice the gap.

There’s no real impact on functionality here, however. And Google and others continue to do similarly or even more remarkable work with software-generated voices. But that doesn’t matter to most people living in Apple’s ecosystem—it’s just a big leap forward, and that’s that.

Another big boon for users: Siri can now play audio content like music or podcasts from third-party applications. This is another one that was too long coming, but at least it’s here now. It’s made possible by a change to SiriKit, a framework used by developers to access Siri in their apps.

It’s not automatic, though. Developers have to support it in their apps. When I asked Siri to play a song in Spotify, it responded by saying Spotify doesn’t yet support that. It seems likely that situation will change, but it could take some time.

Siri can't do it if the app doesn't support it yet.
Enlarge / Siri can’t do it if the app doesn’t support it yet.
Samuel Axon

Apple has also added an Indian English voice for Siri. And the company originally intended to give Siri the ability to read Messages to you over AirPods, and for you to share audio to multiple pairs of AirPods for joint listening with a friend or family member. Unfortunately, both of those features seem to have been postponed to later this year.

Oh, and the Shortcuts app—which allows users to custom-make new Siri actions and map commands to them—is now built into iOS 13. You don’t have to download it separately anymore. Apple had a bunch of tweaks to Shortcuts planned for iOS 13, but a few of them are still pending for a future update.

Siri is still one of the least powerful mainstream voice assistants. But things are improving—just very slowly. If having the most cutting-edge personal digital assistant is what you’re all about, you might want to look instead at a Google Assistant or Alexa device. But Siri nonetheless does a good enough job most of the time when you need it (like when driving).

And of course, there’s Apple’s imperfect-but-still-better-than-competitors focus on privacy with Siri, which will be a worthwhile trade for the relative deficiencies for many users.

ARKit 3

Apple has continued to put a lot of emphasis on augmented reality. We’ve written extensively on it before, with a deep dive on ARKit 1 and 1.5, and a section on ARKit 2 in our iOS 12 review.

This year, Apple has introduced ARKit 3, which adds a number of new features for more realistic AR applications.

People occlusion is the most important one. 3D models placed in the augmented reality environment can pass in front of or behind human figures now, and your view will be blocked accordingly. This will make a big difference for realism in AR apps that are used in crowds or in multiplayer AR games.
Also remarkable, though, is the motion capture feature, which we saw demonstrated at WWDC in June. If you picture motion capture from the production of movies or video games when you hear that term, you’re not far off. The specifics of the technology are different, but ARKit 3 allows app developers to capture a skeleton in motion for a human figure using the cameras on an iPhone.
It’s not as precise as professional studio solutions, but it’s good enough to make some fun new apps possible—and in theory, it could even be used by indie video game developers to bridge the gap with triple-A productions.

It’s important to mention that Apple’s documentation says these new features are generally limited to Apple devices with the “A12/A12X Bionic chips, ANE, and TrueDepth Camera.” The page in question hasn’t been updated yet, but it’s safe to assume that the new, A13-equipped iPhone 11 and 11 Pro phones also support it.

Recent iPhones (iPhone X and later, but not the iPhone 8) can track faces and environments on the front and back cameras simultaneously, and the front-facing TrueDepth sensor array on those phones can now track up to three faces at once.

Apple has also made improvements to performance and functionality across the board with a plethora of smaller optimizations, like building world maps faster in shared AR experiences, using machine learning to speed up plane detection, and several other things.

It remains the case that the best theoretical applications of this technology would be deployed with glasses, not a phone or tablet, and that seems to be where Apple is building to. But there are already some neat apps on the App Store using the capabilities introduced in earlier versions of ARKit, and these improvements will open new doors for further exploration and innovation by developers.

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CarPlay

Unfortunately, we haven’t had the opportunity to test CarPlay in iOS 13 yet. But here’s what Apple says is on tap in this release:

  • The ability to view and operate different apps on your iPhone and CarPlay screen simultaneously
  • A light mode view
  • Redesigned Music and Calendar apps
  • A redesigned home screen
  • Improved intersection views in Apple Maps
  • Hey Siri support
  • Do Not Disturb to block notifications while driving
  • Miscellaneous changes intended to make CarPlay more flexible to meet automakers’ needs

Performance

Throughout the 12-year history of the iPhone, users have learned the hard way that upgrading to a new version of the OS can negatively impact performance if they’re using older devices. So caution and trepidation are natural when moving from iOS 12 to iOS 13 if you don’t have the latest, greatest Apple system-on-a-chip in your device.
As is the custom at Ars, contributor Andrew Cunningham tested the oldest supported devices with the new iOS release to see how they performed and potentially warn holders of those devices against upgrading if necessary.
It turns out though, that as was the case with iOS 12, performance isn’t a reason to hold back. He described his methodology thusly:

For this performance test, I did a fresh install of iOS on each device, signed it into a test iCloud account, and let the phones sit for a while to complete any indexing or other behind-the-scenes tasks. I then opened each app three times and averaged the results. In the past, this has been a fairly reliable indicator of how each phone will actually feel in day-to-day use. If opening an app and waiting for it to load on a fresh iOS install feels slow, that usually means that the rest of the phone (including waiting for the keyboard to pop up, waiting for pages to load, and other tasks) will feel slow too, especially as you download more stuff and connect more accounts.

Here are his results:

iPhone 6S performance
ApplicationiOS 12.4.1iOS 13.0 GMDifference (%)
Safari0.69 seconds0.95 seconds+37.7%
Camera1.09 seconds1.15 seconds+5.5%
Settings0.60 seconds0.61 seconds+1.6%
Mail0.75 seconds0.77 seconds+2.7%
Messages0.62 seconds0.67 seconds+8.06%
Calendar0.50 seconds0.59 seconds+18.0%
Maps1.29 seconds1.53 seconds+18.6%
Notes0.86 seconds0.80 seconds-7.0%
TV app1.84 seconds2.88 seconds+56.5%
Cold boot13.10 seconds12.98 seconds-0.9%
iPhone SE performance
ApplicationiOS 12.4.1iOS 13.0 GMDifference (%)
Safari0.67 seconds0.83 seconds+23.9%
Camera1.18 seconds1.02 seconds-13.6%
Settings0.61 seconds0.65 seconds+6.6%
Mail0.70 seconds0.93 seconds+32.9%
Messages0.60 seconds0.68 seconds+13.3%
Calendar0.56 seconds0.64 seconds+14.3%
Maps1.35 seconds1.38 seconds+2.2%
Notes0.92 seconds0.79 seconds-14.1%
TV app1.96 seconds2.58 seconds+31.6%
Cold boot14.01 seconds12.87 seconds-8.1%

At least for now, Apple seems to have learned its lessons from the days when running the oldest supported iPhone on the newest version of iOS was a hair-pulling exercise. Let’s hope that continues for all future releases.

Privacy

Apple’s outward emphasis on privacy continues with iOS 13, although the additions here are less prominent and smaller in scope than what we saw in iOS 12—well, except for Sign in with Apple.

But first, let’s appreciate the small stuff. Users may now choose whether to give location information to apps just once or in perpetuity. iOS 13 will also occasionally remind you when an app is accessing your location in some cases, so you can remember what you’ve already decided and determine whether you want to undo that decision by revoking permissions at any point in the future.
Apple has made changes that allow you to prevent third-party apps from using Wi-FI or Bluetooth to estimate your location without your permission, and you can even choose whether to geotag your photos or not when sharing them. Apps are no longer able to sneak a look at your Contacts notes, and you have to offer apps permission to access your Contacts at all. There is also end-to-end encryption of security camera footage with HomeKit Secure Video, and you can block certain apps from accessing your files or folders in Settings.
And for a feature that’s about privacy in a different sense, you can configure your phone to send unknown callers directly to voicemail without causing your phone to ring. Finally, Apple has continued to expand Safari’s anti-tracking features, angering the Web advertising industry but making things quite a bit more secure for users.

There’s nothing to criticize here at all, unless you’re an advertiser or app-maker whose livelihood depends on harvesting user data in ways users don’t want or anticipate. In which case: Tough luck, I guess. Cue the teensy-tiny violins.

Sign in with Apple

Apple is joining the ranks of Facebook, Google, and others in offering a single-sign on solution for apps and websites. Called Sign in with Apple, it’s being positioned as a privacy-friendly alternative to those offered by those two companies I just mentioned, given that those companies monetize user data in a way that Apple typically does not.

Using Sign in with Apple allows you to skip a lot of the hassle of entering detailed information to create new accounts, and Apple says it ensures that the app or website you’re signing up for doesn’t get anything more than the basics.

In fact, you can even hide your email. When you use the feature, you’re asked if you want to use your Apple ID-associated email address or autogenerate a single-use @apple.com one that forwards to your real email address. That would prevent the app or website from ever seeing your real address.

You might wonder why app developers—who sometimes make some of their money off collecting user data to share with advertisers and so on—would opt in to this. The answer is they won’t. Apple told developers that Sign in with Apple “will be required as an option for users in apps that support third-party sign-in.”

This requirement is already in place for new app submissions moving forward, but there’s a grace period going into 2020 for existing apps.

Not only that, but Apple will even require prominent placement of Sign in with Apple when it exists alongside other single sign-on services. Obviously, Apple’s leverage is lessened on the Web, but it applies to apps approved in the iPhone’s App Store.

There aren’t a ton of apps that support this yet, since the requirement is brand new, but there are a few. We tested it using the Kayak iPhone app and it worked as expected.

If Apple stays committed to privacy as the distinguishing feature here, this is a much more attractive option than Google or Facebook’s data-harvesting methods. And it’s not exclusive to iOS; it works on other platforms too. We’ll just have to see how widespread it becomes on the Web, where companies offering Web services don’t have a strong incentive to support it yet.

Apple Arcade

There’s a new tab in the App Store called Apple Arcade, and if it’s as well-received as initial reports suggest, it could be a harbinger of big changes for the app ecosystem. Apple Arcade is a $4.99 per month subscription service that gives users access to more than 100 games. Many of them are exclusive. Almost all are made by prestigious developers. And none have microtransactions, obnoxious timers, or abusive addiction mechanics.
Made by creators of previous popular premium iPhone apps like Really Bad ChessAlto’s Odyssey, Monument ValleyMini MetroCat Quest, and so many more, a case could be made that this game lineup is one of the best launch lineups any service has had, if you’re into premium mobile games at least. These are typically not games for what the industry deems “core gamers,” but they’re not frustrating free-to-play titles either. While their quality varies, they all fit into the mold set by hits like ThreesReignsOceanhorn, and others that are clearly native to mobile but focused on artistry and quality player experiences.

This curation model could give us a glimpse of what the future of the app ecosystem looks like. Discoverability has long been a huge problem for quality apps and games in the App Store, as the good stuff is often hard to find amidst the types of timer- and microtransaction-driven mobile titles a lot of people consider undesirable. Apple started to address this with an editorial initiative in a previous version of iOS, taking the emphasis off charts and placing it on human curation by making a feed of human-made selections and articles as the first thing you see when you open the App Store.

Arcade takes that curation to another level, and the games are good enough that it’s not hard to imagine that many people will simply rely on Arcade instead of buying premium apps in the App Store. I can imagine a world where a lot of parents will ban all in-app purchases for their children using iOS’s parental controls, but they’ll buy their children Arcade subscriptions—especially since that $4.99 per month includes family sharing.

If you’re a developer hawking exploitative apps and games on the App Store, you might have dark days ahead. Should Apple Arcade prove successful, it’s logical that Apple could proceed to offer a subscription service for non-game apps as well. It’s possible we’re seeing the first hints of a very different Apple app ecosystem to come.

Oh, and in a big boon for iOS gamers, Apple added support for the popular Xbox One and PlayStation 4 game controllers via Bluetooth.

iOS 13 grab bag

There are so many more things we could include. Here’s a smattering of interesting ones briefly summarized, but it’s still not everything:

  • There are numerous new gestures for text editing and navigation (it’s still a pain though, and many users will never know they’re there)
  • A new, powerful, system-wide voice control accessibility feature has been added
  • You can now use a Bluetooth mouse and mouse pointer across iOS via accessibility options
  • There are numerous other well-thought-out and greatly expanded accessibility features as well
  • Face ID is up to 30% faster thanks to software improvements
  • In the future, apps downloaded from the App Store should take up less space, which should also improve app launch times in some cases
  • In some places, you can now scroll through large documents by holding your finger down on the scrubber and moving it as if your finger were the cursor on a desktop PC
  • You can take top-to-bottom, full-page screenshots of websites in Safari—not just screenshots of what you can see in the viewport
  • Dictation is now supported in all search fields
  • Find My iPhone and Find My Friends have been consolidated into one improved app simply called “Find My”
  • Apple has optimized battery charging to top your phone off faster
  • The interface and tracking features in the Health app have seen some modest changes
  • Apple added a new, low-data mode that is similar to low power mode, but, well, for low data
  • You can now download, install, and manage custom fonts
  • There are new 3D Touch/Haptic Touch drilldown options in Control Center
  • Apple has introduced a large array of new, redesigned glyphs that developers can use in their apps
  • Certain podcasts in Apple’s Podcasts app now have searchable transcripts
  • The small, top-of-screen notification bubble first seen with the Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro is now used for several things across iOS
  • A new ellipsis-styled button appears across iOS apps as a universal way to see more options
  • Apple has tweaked and expanded rich-link previews across the system
  • The Apple Music app can now display lyrics in time with a song—or at least some songs
  • You can now add attachments to Calendar events
  • The Books app supports reading goals, a feature intended to help you commit to reading daily
  • You can force the App Store to allow downloads over 200 MB in the Settings app
  • You can set default languages on a per-app basis, as distinct from the system-wide language setting
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A more powerful and consistent OS

iOS 13 has a general focus on introducing new, more efficient ways for power users to get stuff done on their mobile devices—or at least on making methods that existed before more intuitive. This may be a bi-product of all the work being done on iPadOS: in some cases, Apple may have conceptualized a power user feature for iPadOS and thought, “well, might as well bring that to iPhones, too.”

The result is a more powerful and consistent mobile operating system.

That said, the iPhone was originally envisioned as a more focused user experience than a desktop computer. That focus was on simplicity and the ability for users to naturally intuit how the device would behave when they interacted with it with their fingers. Easy discoverability and easy access to core features were central ideas.

But I’m not sure whether Steve Jobs anticipated that the iPhone would ever become many millions of people’s primary or even sole computing device. That seismic shift from a desktop-first world to a mobile-first one has led to giant screens, giant prices, and giant feature sheets. The “core” features are no longer limited to a few key things; everything is now a core feature for someone.

So even as we praise iOS for adding all these power-user features that have long been requested, I do feel it’s worth recognizing that over time, that initial minimalistic vision has evaporated and something has been lost. Today, I don’t think you could hand an iPhone to a three-year-old or an adult who’s never used a computer before and see them intuitively figure out all of what they need to know about how to use it anymore.

I’m not saying this is an undesirable tradeoff. It makes sense, given how things have played out over the past 12 years. It’s just different, and if the past decade in technology has taught us anything, it’s that there’s value in reflecting on what was cast aside during the relentless march forward.

iOS 13 is a worthy upgrade. It opens new doors for users who want more out of their phones, and it’s indicative of an Apple that is doing something rather uncharacteristic—generously listening to and addressing user feedback.

That doesn’t mean you should upgrade right away though; the initial launch of iOS 12 saw a lot of significant issues that had to be fixed in subsequent updates, and that was a release focused on stability. The iOS 13 beta period has been rockier than that of iOS 12, so I expect the same here.

In fact, I’ve already encountered a few issues. I’ve experienced multiple app crashes when using pop-up context menus in Apple’s own apps, in one example. It makes sense to caution that while we didn’t encounter major issues in our time with iOS 13, something worse than some wonkiness here and there may well come to light soon. Hundreds of millions of people using iOS 13 may uncover something this small team couldn’t.

So you might want to wait for at least iOS 13.1. But whether you upgrade now or in a few days or weeks, your iPhone will get more powerful and useful—and that’s what most of us are looking for these days.

The good

  • A continued, unrivaled focused on privacy
  • Greatly expanded file management features
  • Dark mode looks and works great
  • Maps is quietly and slowly becoming something people might actually want to use
  • More power user-focused functionality across the operating system
  • The volume indicator no longer covers the entire screen
  • Apple is taking accessibility more seriously than ever
  • Apple Arcade could set the stage for a brighter future for a quality- and user-focused app ecosystem

The bad

  • Some of the features and improvements are going to be hard for most users to discover
  • We may be reaching a point where feature bloat is actually making the operating system a little overwhelming to use for some people
  • With so many new features, a number of bugs seem to have slipped through
  • Built-in, Apple-made apps like Reminders aim wide, so they won’t please users who have specialized needs
  • This update drops support for a few older devices

The ugly

  • Why is the home screen on iPhones still such a pain to manage after 12 years?
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