iOS 10 review: Why you should update your iPhone or iPad (for free) right now

Welcome to our review of iOS 10, the newest version of Apple's mobile operating system for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. (If you'd prefer to read about last year's update, here's our iOS 9 review. Or you can read about next year's update here: iOS 11 release date rumours.)

In our iOS 10 review we examine the many new features in iOS 10, the interface changes, the technicalities and system requirements of updating and the pros and cons of making the jump. We're here to help you decide whether to upgrade to iOS 10 on your iPad or iPhone, whether you're on iOS 9 or an earlier OS.

If this review convinces you of iOS 10's merits, here's how to install iOS 10 and (in case it doesn't work out), here's how to downgrade from iOS 10 and reinstall iOS 9.

See also: iOS 10 new features | iOS 9 vs iOS 10 comparison | iOS 10 tips

iOS 10 review: Design

There hasn't been a system-wide visual redesign like there was in iOS 7 - I don't imagine we'll get anything as radical as that again for years - but there are still some significant design changes in iOS 10. Apple has focused its efforts in this department on the lock screen, the search/notification page reached by swiping from the left of the lock screen, and the Notification Centre.

iOS 10 review: Interface

There's also a new feature that means you'll see these screens more often, so we should probably talk about it here rather than in the new features section. It's called Raise To Wake, and means that, like the Apple Watch, an iOS 10-equipped iPhone will light up its screen and show you the lock screen when you lift it up. No more blasting through to the unlocked home screen thanks to superfast second-gen Touch ID.

This feature doesn't apply to iPads, though.

The lock and notification screens have been redesigned and expanded in scope. A lot of these changes are focused on 3D Touch, which is a bit of a pain for those of us running iOS 10 on older iPhones, or iPads of any vintage, but it's clear that Apple is following a strategy of drip-feeding the feature more and more throughout the system. By the time iOS 10 comes out, there will be two generations of iPhone with 3D Touch, and it seems likely that a 3D Touch-equipped iPad will emerge at some point.

Notifications continue to become more interactive with each generation of iOS. Most of them can be 3D Touched to get a quick glance at the vital information; and iOS 10 enables live updates within the notifications themselves, so you can open an iMessage notification, then carry on a conversation there and then, with live replies appearing as they're received, without having to open the Messages app.

There is also the inclusion of widgets working in a larger format, allowing them to be a lot more useful for different types of apps.

One last change to the lock screen that we really like: to open the Camera app from here, all you need to do is swipe in from the right. It's a natural evolution from the old system, which placed an always-accessible (but small) camera icon on the lock screen, but a lot less fiddly.

iOS 10 review: Podcast discussion

iOS 10 review: Features

Apple outlined 10 key features that have been changed, added or redesigned - and we look at them in detail in our separate article The 10 best features of iOS 10 - but in this review we'd like to focus on slightly fewer… while mentioning a couple that Apple didn't.

Messages

This got the most stage time - which is fair enough, given that (as Apple pointed out) it's the most-used app on iOS.

Most of the changes are visual and relatively superficial, however. And lots of them involve emoji. Emoji are now displayed at three times the size in Messages, and will be suggested (where appropriate) by QuickType's predictive text. And if you're partway through typing a message and tap the icon to open the emoji keyboard, iOS will scan the text for any word that has an emoji equivalent, and turn them orangey-gold; you can just tap the ones you want to be 'emojified' (sorry) or see the various options if there are more than one that apply to that word.

iOS 10 review: Messages emoji

There are lots of other visual effects you can apply to your messages, and again, most of them are a bit silly. But one we rather like is 'Invisible ink', which scrambled the text or image in your iMessage until the recipient swipes across it - nice for delivering pleasant surprises. And hopefully not for dumping people. 

iOS 10 review: Messages effects

There is also the ability to enable or disable read receipts, where you'll be able to change it per contact or group. As another feature, you can now also send low quality images through the Messages app.

Recently, Apple also replaced a few old emojis, such as the revolver pistol with a water gun and updated a lot of their previous emojis. We like this change and hope to see more included in the future.

Read more: How to use Messages in iOS 10 | Complete guide to emoji on iPhone and iPad

Deleting preinstalled apps

Apple didn't mention this in the keynote speech, presumably because it represents something of a climb-down in response to long-term consistent complaints from users. But it's big news that Apple is finally letting us remove Stocks, Tips and various other preinstalled apps from our iPads and iPhones.

Technically only the user data is deleted, while the app remains hidden on your device, taking up (a small amount of) space. But it's still a biggie. We explain how it all works in a separate article: How to delete or hide any app on an iPad or iPhone.

iOS 10 review: Deleting preinstalled apps

Phone app

The Phone app has received some love in iOS 10. You've now got the ability to have voicemail transcriptions, directly from Apple's very own phone app. The new feature converts speech into text, without you having to intervene.

We should point out that at time of writing (4 October), nobody in the Macworld offices has been able to get voicemail transcription to even appear, let along work; we're not sure at this point if it just hasn't been implemented yet, or if it's tied to certain mobile providers only. We've been told by a Twitter follower that the feature is US-only, so the only way to get it is to change your region setting, but Apple hasn't confirmed this officially.

Music

The Apple Music app has received an update, where it has had a visual redesign and now has lyrics. You'll also be pleased to know that you can continue listening to your music whilst taking Live Photos. We like the additions to the Music app, but feel that Apple could still add more to the app.

Lots more on that here: Complete guide to the Music app in iOS 10.

Siri

Siri is now available to third-party developers, meaning you can use Siri in non-Apple apps. This change really opens up the platform and allows a greater number of apps to be controlled by voice.

We like the approach by Apple in being more open-source.

Read more: Siri troubleshooting: How to fix the most common Siri problems

Images

RAW images can now be taken on iOS devices, with Apple announcing the support for the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE or 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and newer devices. The feature is great for those who want full resolution images from their iPhones and iPads.

The size of these images will be big, but nevertheless, the feature is a great inclusion by Apple. Note: RAW images will only be available on the rear-facing camera, where you won't be able to use image stabilisation either. Speaking of which, Live Photos now have image stabilisation.

The Photos app in iOS 10 has also received an update, with the inclusion of artificial intelligence. Apple announced that the Photos app will be able to draw together photos and videos by place, people and time where it will automatically create a highlight reel.

Home

This is a brand-new app: a hub from which you can control all of your HomeKit-compatible smart-home appliances.

If you open up Home, you'll see all your HomeKit-compatible accessories, no matter which company makes them, and you can easily control them all from one hub. Many of these will have 3D Touch shortcuts: you can force-tap and slide on a dimmer app, for instance, to adjust light levels.

There's a nice feature called Scenes, which collects frequently used settings for various devices under a single button - so you could press the 'Good night' button to turn down the lights, turn down the thermostat, lock the door and so on.

QuickType

We mentioned predictive emojis in the Messages section, but QuickType is getting cleverer in other ways too. If someone asks for a friend's contact details and iOS thinks it knows what they're talking about, it will scrape the relevant phone number or whatever from Contacts and offer it as a suggestion; if someone asks where you are it will offer your precise location.

QuickType will support the use of more than one language at once, too, although it's not clear at this point whether it will work out on the fly that you user both English and French, say, or if you'll need to select the languages you're familiar with in Settings somewhere.

iOS keyboard

The default iOS keyboard has undergone a few changes in the beta versions, with Apple reverting changes made in the first betas, to the latest ones. As it stands, the iOS keyboard sounds have changed, with the space, return and backspace keys having a slightly different sound from the default keys.

This change could be seen by some as positive, but others are missing the old, stock sounds.

Unlocking

As a minor, but legacy feature many will see a change in, is the way you unlock your iPhone or iPad. Slide to Unlock feature has been axed and replaced with Press Home to unlock. This broadly makes sense, because the swipe had become an inefficient extra movement: most of us who are able to install iOS 10 have got Touch ID, so we would put a fingertip on the Home button in any case. Now that is used to unlock the device.

If you'd prefer to simply rest your fingertip on the Home button to unlock the device instead of having to actually press the button, you can set this up in the Accessibility settings. We explain how here: How to unlock iOS 10 iPhone or iPad without pressing Home button.

iOS 10 review: Bugs

As with any major software update, there have been bugs, glitches and teething problems. We look at these in more detail in our iOS 10 troubleshooting tips article, but the majority have now been fixed - certainly the most serious ones, which caused devices in the early days to become (temporarily) unusable.

iOS 10 review: Compatible devices

After iOS 9 was rated as compatible with all of the same devices that could run iOS 8, Apple's been fairly strict on device compatibility this year. The iPad 2 and 3, the iPad mini 1, the iPhone 4s and the 5th-get iPod touch have all dropped off the list.

Which means the following iPads, iPhones and iPod touch models can run iOS 10:

  • iPad 4, iPad Air 1, iPad Air 2, iPad Pro (9.7in and 12.9in models)
  • iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, iPad mini 4
  • iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE
  • 6th-gen iPod touch

Plus, of course, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus come with iOS 10 pre-installed.

Read more: Which iPads and iPhones can run iOS 10?

iOS 10 review: Release date and how to get it now

iOS 10 is available now, having launched to the public on 13 September. Here's how to install iOS 10. And if you change your mind, here's how to downgrade iOS 10 and go back to iOS 9. (At time of writing - 4 October - Apple is still signing iOS 9.3.5, so this should still work. But time is running out!)

OUR VERDICT

We're thoroughly enjoying iOS 10 and its new features.

Raise To Wake is a charming idea. The ability to at least hide preinstalled apps is long overdue, and much appreciated. The changes in Messages would be easy to mock but a) they're aimed at a user base considerably younger than your humble reviewer, b) are entirely optional and c) are actually a lot of fun anyway. And there are so many smart, useful changes throughout the rest of the OS that we simply couldn't cover them all here.

Some aspects of the OS will improve as Apple works through the major launch bugs; and the widespread opening up of 1st-party functions to 3rd-party development - Siri and Messages, notably - will live or die depending on the enthusiasm and innovation of Apple's software partners… but they've never failed the company before.

For the time being, then, we will say this is a highly promising update, with a raft of enjoyable and/or useful new features. Our advice for anyone with a relatively recent iPhone or iPad would be to make the update now. It's a free update, and at time of writing (4 October), Apple is still signing iOS 9.3.5 - so it's possible to go back if you're unhappy with it.

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