iOS 16 & iPadOS 16 preview: Should you upgrade this fall?

At its annual WWDC developers conference in June, Apple announced a slew of new software updates that’ll come to its devices this fall. Two of those updates include iOS 16 and iPadOS 16, and we just got a sneak peak.

The new updates for iPhone and iPad users are a bit more dramatic than years past, particularly in two areas: the lock screen and multitasking. There’s a grab-bag of new features on top of that, and it seems that there will be a little something for everybody. We’ve been testing iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 for a few weeks, ever since the first round of developer-only betas were made available. A public beta is available now for those who want to test the software early, but we have to disclose that it’s not a good idea running beta software on your phone or tablet since you can run into debilitating bugs often.

That’s, of course, why the internet has crazy people like us! According to our experience using these early previews of iOS 16 and iPadOS 16, here are the features you’ll want to know about when the software starts rolling out.

How to try iOS 16 — and which devices are supported

You can enroll in the public beta for iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 by visiting Apple’s Beta Software Program and signing up. We’d recommend running the beta on a secondary device if you can, and at the very least backing up your data before you try the new software.

The iPhones that will get iOS 16 this fall include:

The iPads getting iPadOS 16 include:

Max Buondonno/CNN

The very first thing you’ll notice about iOS 16 is the lock screen, which has received what’s probably its most monumental upgrade ever. Apple has updated it with custom fonts, various widgets, new photo effects, and more. It’s an overhaul like we’ve never seen before for the lock screen which has essentially stayed the same since “Swipe to unlock” was retired in 2016 with iOS 10.

There’s a lot you can do with the new lock screen to make it feel more personal. You can customize the clock’s font and color, change what information is displayed above it, and even drop a few widgets beneath it for information at a glance. Over on Android, features like this have existed for a while (notably with the introduction of Android 12 last year), but it’s nice to see Apple play a little catch-up.

Wallpapers have gotten a facelift with new depth effects that can automatically separate a subject from its background and overlap with the clock, adding a cool aesthetic that many Apple Watch owners will be familiar with. As you can imagine, the feature works best with portrait photos, but Apple’s AI is good at working with pictures that don’t have special depth data as well.

There’s also a suite of new Apple wallpapers to check out, from one that shows you live weather to a collection that’s totally interstellar. This is definitely the part of iOS 16 that’s most fun to play with.

Max Buondonno/CNN

In addition, Apple has moved notifications to the bottom of the display to make them easier to reach. In the future, a new feature called Live Activities will roll out which will give you real-time information on current events such as workouts, sports, food delivery apps, and even ride-sharing services. We weren’t able to test this as it’s not currently live in the iOS 16 beta, but it seems like a nice feature to have for when you want the ease of glancing at something instead of unlocking your phone, opening an app, and instantly getting sidetracked by something else.

Rounding things off, Apple gives you the ability to set up multiple different lock screens and swap between them. You can also assign specific lock screens to different Focus modes, so your lock screen can dynamically change based on which Focus setting is enabled.

Unfortunately, none of these features will be coming to the iPad’s lock screen in iPadOS 16, but at least you still get the bolder font and a couple of new wallpapers to help keep it somewhat in line with the iPhone.

Max Buondonno/CNN

On the flip side, both iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 will benefit from three new features in one of the most-used apps in the world: Messages.

To start, Apple is shaking up how much control you have once a message is sent. With iOS 16, you can edit messages in case you mistyped something and even recall sent messages if you change your mind. The second new feature involves already deleted messages which, in iOS 16, can be recovered from a recently deleted folder. The third new feature lets you mark conversation threads as unread, allowing you to keep better track of conversations you want to respond to.

Apple is also integrating SharePlay in Messages which will be particularly useful on iPadOS 16, as you’ll be able to not only enjoy your favorite movies and music with friends but also collaborate in apps like Pages and Keynote to aid in productivity.

Max Buondonno/CNN

If your family primarily uses Apple devices, you’ll want to check out iCloud Photo Library.

Coming to all of Apple’s software updates including iOS 16 and iPadOS 16, iCloud Photo Library will allow you to create a photo folder that can automatically populate with pictures and videos of your family, locations you’ve all visited on vacation, and give full editing controls to each member. Up to six people can have access to the folder.

In our opinion, this will be one of the most popular features that Apple will roll out this year.

Max Buondonno/CNN

In iOS 16, Apple is going big with the Home app with a complete redesign of the interface, making it easier to manage all of your smart home appliances.

But that’s not all. It’s also designed a new architecture for the app that’s built to support Matter. If you’re unfamiliar, Matter is a new smart home standard that many companies including Apple, Google, and Amazon have vowed to support in their devices moving forward. This means that you won’t have to worry about whether a smart light bulb or thermostat works with HomeKit, Google Nest, or Alexa — it’ll just work, across all of the platforms.

It’s worth noting that it looks like only iOS 16 will get support for controlling Matter devices as the same redesigned architecture for the Home app isn’t coming to iPadOS.

Focus modes, Live Text, and typing are better than ever

Max Buondonno/CNN

Focus modes will be getting upgraded in iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 with support for showing certain content in apps like Safari, Calendar, Mail, and Messages depending on which Focus profile is active on your device. In iOS 16, custom lock screens can be added to your Focus so you can get an even more personalized experience.

Live Text — Apple’s machine learning-powered feature that lets you select text from images and your camera viewfinder — is also being updated with support for copying text in videos, conversion currencies in real-time, and even translating text to a different language, all without having to open a separate app.

Speaking of text, typing in iOS 16 is getting a few major improvements. You’ll get the ability to simultaneously use Dictation and the keyboard to write a message (in case you don’t know how to spell something or want to edit what you’re saying), use emojis while dictating by saying things like “Happy face emoji,” and you can enable haptic feedback for keyboard presses. The latter is a feature we’ve fallen in love with thanks to the high quality of Apple’s Taptic Engine.

Max Buondonno/CNN

While the iPhone will be sticking with its current multitasking system (which just means an app switcher and nothing more), the iPad will further its evolution from a blown-up iPhone to a simplified version of the Mac with iPadOS 16.

In the update, Apple is including Stage Manager, a feature pulled directly from the latest version of the Mac’s operating system, macOS Ventura. The feature organizes all of the apps you have open and presents them as floating windows. You can flip through each set of windows by tapping their corresponding icons on the left.

The iPad is also getting much better external display support. Instead of simply mirroring your device’s screen on another display, iPadOS 16 will extend the display so you have more room to run apps. According to Apple, you’ll be able to run up to four apps simultaneously on each display when a monitor is connected. This feature feels like a long-time coming, and it’s certainly a welcome addition.

To help make multitasking easier, Apple is building in a new feature called Virtual Memory Swap which can automatically allocate more memory to apps that need it, which helps to keep them running in the background when you move on to something else. There’s also a Display Zoom which can increase the pixel density of your iPad’s screen to show more content, as well as new Reference Modes for things like professional color grading.

All of these features come with one big disclaimer: they’re exclusive to M1-powered iPads. This means that if you don’t own an iPad Pro from 2021 or the latest iPad Air, you’ll be left with the same multitasking features as iPadOS 15 and an experience that will feel like a bigger version of iOS 16. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially since Apple says it needs the extra power of the M1 chip to make all of these features work as smoothly as they want. Still, those without one of the latest and greatest iPads will certainly be missing out.

Max Buondonno/CNN

As usual, there’s a slew of other improvements across various apps in iOS and iPadOS, so here’s a quick rundown of some of the biggest highlights.

  • Maps is getting a big upgrade with the ability to add multiple stops along your route, add transit cards to Wallet and use them seamlessly in the Maps app, and view a wider range of three-dimensional immersive maps.
  • In Mail, Apple is adding the ability to schedule emails, set reminders to send or reply to emails, and get follow-up suggestions if you’ve forgotten to respond. There’s also an overhauled search experience.
  • The Wallet app is getting expanded support for new types of keys and identification cards, as well as support for showing your government ID securely to apps that require it. Apple Pay Later is also being added, a new feature that will let you pay for things via four monthly installments over six weeks with zero interest or additional fees.
  • The Fitness app will now be available to all iPhone users in iOS 16, as opposed to remaining exclusive to Apple Watch users. This will allow you to track certain basic workouts using your iPhone’s built-in sensors and keep track of your progress.
  • Safari now supports Shared Tab Groups in SharePlay so you and your friends can browse the same sites together.
  • Passkeys support will be included in iOS 16 and iPadOS 16, allowing you to securely log into any site you want using Face ID or Touch ID. This will eliminate the need to remember your password and make your digital life much more private to hackers.
  • Live Captions, a feature made popular by Google Pixel smartphones, is coming in iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 which will provide live transcripts of any content playing on your device.
  • The Weather app gets a big update with the ability to view more information on local forecasts, air quality, wind speeds, precipitation, and more from right within the app. Also, after all of these years, it’s finally coming to the iPad.

Max Buondonno/CNN

Apple’s iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 are pretty substantial updates, with a long list of new features and meaningful improvements to many different apps. Of course, we’ll need to dive deeper into these updates to get a good feel for how they’ll work once released, but all signs point to this year being another solid year for iPhone and iPad users.

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