iOS 13 preview: Dark Mode, the death of 3D Touch, and finally clearing the clutter
The new operating system brings a ton of under-the-hood improvements that make iPhones feel even snappier, but also a lot of front-end features that change some of the core apps and bring us that ever-coveted Dark Mode. So, let's dive right in and explore those!
Dark Mode: looking good in black
You may wonder: what's this obsession with Dark Mode? Well, ever since Apple started equipping its iPhones with OLED displays, hardcore users have wished that there was an alternative to the blazing white background themes of iOS. The reason is, OLED screens have true deep blacks and it just looks really cool (and is super easy on the eyes) when they show black backdrops.
And Dark Mode does just what it says on the box. The iPhone's Settings and all of its core apps and UI elements switch to black or dark gray, where they were white and light gray before. Even the new wallpapers alternate between a light-ish and dark-ish look, depending on which mode you are in.
Dark Mode can either be activated permanently or can be set to automatically toggle itself with the day-night cycle. Kind of how Night Shift can activate itself after sunset.
As previously stated, Dark Mode currently affects the core iOS apps. It currently doesn't have an effect on 3rd party apps, but it is our understanding that developers will have to update their creations to support the new blacked out aesthetic.
More cursor control
One of the major gripes anyone has with writing long paragraphs of text on a mobile device is going back to make minor corrections. That clunky cursor is usually such a nuisance to control, especially if you need to mark text, copy, paste, or just correct a single letter in a word.
Apple's cursor control feature — activated either with 3D Touch on the keyboard or by holding the spacebar on non-3D Touch iPhones — kind of alleviated some of those pains. With iOS 13, Cupertino aims to further improve that experience.
So, the touchpad-like keyboard feature is still here. However, you can now simply drag the text cursor with your finger in a single motion, which is much more fluid, intuitive, and convenient to use. Just grab it and swipe it around text — no snapping to awkward locations, no getting stuck in weird places. The improvement is very welcome! It works the same way for text selections — you just grab the selector handle on either side of your chosen word and drag it wherever you wish, it works much better than before.
Can it be? Swipe keyboard!
One of the features that users have been missing on the iPhones for years was the ability to "swipe type". You just drag your finger across the keyboard, hitting all the letters of the word you are trying to type out and the system intelligently understands you and puts those words in the text. Magic, right?
Well, it's been around for ages — you could even download tons of 3rd party keyboards that do that on iOS. However, most users preferred to stick to the stock Apple keyboard since it feels so good to use (and it supports the aforementioned touchpad cursor control). Well, now these users will finally get to enjoy swipe typing as well.
What's the big deal? It's incredibly convenient to use when typing with just one hand. Especially on the extra large iPhones of today!
Putting the "me" in Memoji
Apple's Memoji — the customizable Animoji smiley — was meant to enable users to make a digital avatar of themselves. However, it felt a bit limited and sterile — the very few options we had barely have us enough to work with to make a convincing portrait of ourselves.
On iOS 13, we get tons more options to play with — more hairstyles, piecring options for most face parts, more facial hair choices, added accessories (AirPods included, of course), and more hats. You can actually spend a lot of time making a wacky Memoji and having fun with it.
Reminders and Notes: get organized with others!
The Reminders app is getting a much-needed update, which finally gives you a modern UI where you can see all your different pages of reminders. You can sort them by different color-coded lists, flag each task, and even share a specific to-do list with another person, so you can both add and check tasks that need to be completed.
The Notes app is also getting the sharing feature — you can now share a specific note or a whole folder of notes with other iOS users so you can all read and edit them. Great for teamwork scenarios and a needed addition if Apple wants its core apps to be taken seriously in this cloud-driven age.
Photos: making sense of that mess
Let's be honest, we probably never ever come back to review 90% of our photos. In today's world, it's so easy to take out your phone and take 10 same-ish shots of a random thing that's happening that our Photos apps have become cluttered messes where we barely find anything interesting.
Apple has updated the Photos app to help filter out the clutter, and get the good photos from your life. The app should remove screenshots and duplicate photos from your main gallery and will also come with a facelift that makes browsing easier.
Unfortunately, the feature to filter photos out doesn't seem to be in the beta yet, but the new look of the app is. There is a strip of new tabs, which say "Years", "Months", "Days", and "All Photos". Basically, they will help you zoom in and out of specific periods in your photo timeline. It's worth noting — this way of browsing photos is not new to iOS. However, it felt much less intuitive and very garbled with the way it has been handled so far. The way the new UI works is easier to follow visually and understand.
The video editor is now a lot more enhanced. Before, you could only trim a video, not much else. Now, you've got powerful tools to add filters in post, crop and rotate the video, and apply exposure and color corrections.
Is Siri real?
Apple's voice assistant has been sounding a bit robotic, especially compared to strong competitors like the Google Assistant. So, Cupertino has re-worked its algorithms and Siri now sounds much better. It still needs some polish, but the voice is a lot more convincing now and it will no longer be pointed and laughed at.
Find My Everything
The apps Find Friends and Find iPhone have been blended in one. The new app is called "Find My" and has two tabs inside to pick from — location sharing with friends and device finder. Each has gotten a slight facelift, but the UI is generally the same.
Siri Shortcuts that you can use
Siri Shortcuts was definitely an interesting addition to last year's iOS 12. It allows you to program actions that your iPhone would make automatically when certain events are met (e.g. arrive at home). A very... un-Appley feature for their smartphones, we dare say. What's even more not-Apple about is is how hard it was to wrap your mind around it and use it effectively. Really, the Siri Shortcuts app is very powerful, but learning how to do some of the stuff it's capable of will require a small amount of "programmer think". In other words — most of us are better off googling for the really good Shortcuts recipes.
iOS 13 will try to make Shortcuts a bit more usable by the layman. Inside the app, there is a new tab called "Automation". This tab lets you create very simple recipes very easily — just pick from a list of pre-selected conditions. "When phone is...", "When I open x app...", "When time is...", et cetera are your starting conditions. And in the next page, you pick an action the phone should take. A much simpler approach a-la Samsung Bixby, which is sadly also very limited. We hope Apple would add some more conditions and some more actions by the time iOS 13 hits its final stages.
Fake 3D Touch is getting better
As you probably have heard, Apple is preparing to kill off 3D Touch. Now, this may or may not be true (we are still holding out hope), but it doesn't change the fact that Cupertino keeps expanding its UI in order to offer 3D Touch functions to phones that don't have the hardware (iPhone XR as well as any iPhone SE or iPhone 6 left alive out there).
Across all core apps on our iPhone XR, iOS 13 Beta offers "Haptic touch". The simulated version of 3D Touch where you just tap and hold on an element and wait to feel a "pop". After that, the peek-and-pop menu, which was only accessible via 3D Touch in the past, comes out. Yeah... it doesn't feel as cool as actually pressing in the screen and having it respond. That said, it works just fine and the feedback, both visual and physical, is smooth and informative.
More to come
These are the major new features currently available to us. Of course, there's more to come with iOS 13 and we will no doubt see more features slowly roll out with future betas and ultimately the final release. Stay tuned!