• February 1, 2023

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It’s beta season!

Well, to be fair, it’s always beta season if you’re testing Apple iOS. The company has maintained a healthy beta schedule for years. But, if you’ve been testing iOS 15 you might have started to feel a bit bored. Late stage betas are notoriously dull, mostly focused on bug fixes and preparation for the real star of the show, iOS 16.

And there’s a lot to get excited about! I’ve been on the developer beta for about a month now, this is what’s thrilling me so far about the latest from Cupertino.

1. Custom Lock Screens

This is the first thing you’ll notice and likely the first thing you’ll customize when you load iOS 16 Public Beta 1. Sure, we’ve been able to change wallpaper in the past, but customizable lock screens with widgets and different fonts are a totally new thing.

Long press on the lock screen to enter the gallery where you can create new screens. The first public beta (unlike previous developer betas) has everything enabled, including the option to shuffle automatically selected photos. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you have a large library of images. I will say, the People selection needs some work. Currently the settings doesn’t show you all the people identified in your photo library and even when it does it seems to choose really bad pics. Places, Pets, and Cities all seem to fare better with automatic photo selection.

Once you select an image, you can add widgets (they’re all for Apple apps at this point, though I imagine that will change in the future) and choose from different fonts. You can even assign a lock screen to a specific Focus.

2. Message Editing

This, I’m excited about. While typos can be amusing, they more often just end up creating more work as you try and explain what you meant to say. With iOS 16, you can long press a message you just sent and edit or unsend it entirely. Finally, you’ll no longer have to quick send starred messages immediately after sending a typo.

A couple of caveats, though. Only others that are on the iOS 16 beta will see your revised messages. Everyone else will get the entire thing sent again with your corrections. Also, this only works for recently sent messages. Messages remain editable and unsendable for about 20 minutes. After that, they’re locked in.

3. Photos

Photos has a whole host of new tricks, including a shared library that automatically curates photos taken when members of the library are together. But as cool as that is, it requires everyone to be using the iOS 16 beta so it’s not very useful yet.

More interesting is the new selective cut and paste feature! Select an image that has people, pets, or an object with clear foreground focus. Press the part of the image that you’d like to select. Photos automatically finds the perimeters of the selection and gives you the option to copy or share it directly. You’ll see an animated outline around the selection when it’s successful. You can also drag and drop it between apps (if you’re working in Stage Manager on the iPad). It doesn’t work for every photo but it works more consistently than I expected.

Especially for creative types, this will be one feature that gets a ton of use.

Bonus! Continuity Camera

If you’re also testing out the macOS Ventura beta, then you’re in luck. You’ve unlocked one of the coolest new features in this year’s round of software updates. Open any video conferencing app (Facetime, Zoom, etc.) where you can select the camera. Then select Continuity Camera. Your video feed will switch to your iPhone (that’s running iOS 16)! It’s super handy if you don’t have a high resolution camera or if you just want to take folx on a tour of your space. I’ve already used it in conference calls to show off some art that participants can see behind me but until now couldn’t see up close.

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All of these are great reasons to upgrade and play around with iOS 16 right now. But before you go to beta.apple.com and enroll your device, you should check to make sure that you’re willing to pay the price of entry.

Here are four reasons to hold off on jumping on the beta train.

1. CarPlay

Apple has a lot of plans for CarPlay in iOS 16 but many of them aren’t ready yet. In fact, CarPlay has consistently been unstable in the early stages of every iOS beta I’ve participated in. If you rely on CarPlay for navigation or entertainment, especially podcasts, since thats where work is being done, you might want to hold off for later builds.

Right now CarPlay is mostly functional, but it does have an unfortunate tendency to freeze up or fail when you try to use things like Maps (where multiple stops are being introduced to navigation routes) or Podcasts (that are eventually getting a new interface in a future beta release). If you need CarPlay to be stable, steer away from the beta until build 3 or 4.

2. Unsupported Apps

While developers have had their hands on the iOS 16 beta for the past month, that doesn’t mean they’ve released updates to all your favorite apps to support it. Expect apps to fail. Apps that you absolutely need to function. Part of beta testing is reporting these sorts of failures so that developers can figure out what needs tweaking prior to launch.

For instance, I still use Google’s keyboard instead of the standard Apple keyboard. While Apple’s keyboard does get some solid updates in iOS 16 in the form of capacitive feedback, Google’s keyboard is still better at accurately predicting what I want to type. However, I’ve found that iOS 16 occasionally refuses to let me use the keyboard. I can switch to it, but it doesn’t allow input.

A reboot fixes the issue so far but it’s things like that you’ll have to learn to live with while beta testing. You’re taking your stable, trusty device and making it less stable on purpose.

3. Battery Life

Do you enjoy getting a full day’s use out of your iPhone’s battery? Then don’t download iOS 16 Public Beta 1. First, whenever you install a new version of iOS, it indexes your device. This can considerably drain your battery for the first few days of a fresh install.

Second, iOS 16 is not optimized for battery life, at least, not yet. It’ll take a few rounds of beta testing for Apple to get the balance just right between performance and battery usage. There’s also the fact that iOS 16 is being developed with future devices in mind. While you might have a top of the line iPhone 13 Max, it’s only top of the line for a few more months. Apple is almost certainly testing iOS 16 on iPhone 14 hardware and running optimization algorithms on those, as of yet unrevealed devices.

Bonus? Mail

This isn’t necessarily a bug, per se, but Apple continues to tout how they’ve improved Mail with every iOS release. And it’s true! Mail has improved! You can schedule emails, snooze them for later, and even undo sent emails in iOS 16.

…which you’ve already been able to do for years with third-party mail apps like Spark.

Every time a new version of iOS or macOS drops, I try out Mail, hoping that it will finally have reached the high bar set by third-party apps. Alas, every year I come away disappointed. Mail remains a dull, uninspired app with marginal improvements that are just playing catch-up.

Plus, multiple inboxes are still barely supported, with the interaction UI changing depending on where the email is coming from. It’s deeply frustrating having to guess over and over again with each email which way you should swipe to delete, archive, or snooze (if all those options are even available).

Especially if you use multiple inboxes, there are better e-mail experiences for iOS out there (like the aforementioned Spark which has a lovely unified UI).

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