iOS 12, the next version of iOS - the operating system that runs on all iPhones and iPads - will hit Apple devices in the autumn of 2018, and we saw a preview of it at WWDC 2018 on 4 June. (For all the announcements, read our WWDC live blog.)

But what does it offer in terms of performance, interface changes and new features? When will it be released to the public? How does it compare to iOS 11? And which iPads and iPhones can run it? We cover all the launch details in this article.

Release date

iOS updates roll out initially in a beta, or pre-release testing version. The official version follows after.

The first iOS 12 developer preview was made available after the WWDC keynote and the second appeared on 19 June, but as the name suggests these are for registered developers only. Members of the public had to wait until 25 June, when the public beta was made available for download. (Here's how to install the iOS 12 beta.)

The final public launch of iOS 12 will happen in the autumn - probably in September.

Performance

Apple grouped the changes and new features of iOS 12 into 14 categories - it's a major update. We'll work our way through these as best we can, starting with performance.

It was predicted beforehand that Apple would focus on performance and stability in this update, and that's exactly what has happened. (We also heard that this would mean a lack of other substantive updates, but that doesn't appear to have happened.)

Craig Federighi said Apple is "doubling down on performance", in order to make iPads and iPhones faster and more responsive. This is particularly true of older devices, he said.

The iPhone 6 Plus, for instance, sees substantial speed boosts with the iOS 12 update. Apps load up to 40% faster; the keyboard comes up 50% faster. Sliding to take a photo is up to 70% faster, he said.

Smaller but still significant gains can be seen with newer devices too: Federighi referred to the sharesheet appearing twice as fast and apps loading twice as fast too. We look forward to testing this out, but it sounds great in theory.

The performance gains are all about optimising the system when under load, Apple said. iOS 12 ramps up performance immediately when it's needed, then ramps it down when not needed to preserve battery life.

Augmented reality

As part of the iOS 12 update, Apple is launching ARKit 2. Augmented reality is a major component of the new OS.

First of all, Apple announced a new file format for augmented reality, called USDZ.

This means developers and designers can create an AR 'experience' in this format, then send it via Mail, load it to websites, share it across a system and so on. You can view it immediately - "like AR quick look", Federighi said.

There will be native USDZ support in Adobe Creative Cloud, covering apps such as Photoshop.

Apple demonstrated the clever measurement tools made possible by ARKit 2. With a new app called Measure you can view a real-world object using your iPhone's camera, tap two points on a table, for example, and see a measurement for its length and width. More impressively, you can view a rectangular object such as a photo and the system will automatically recognise the shape and give you measurements.

AR content will now appear in the News app - you'll be able to tap to zoom in, manipulate the object in 3D and so on. And lots of websites will start to display AR content too: such as the Fender website offering configuration options then letting you see your guitar in the real world, at real size.

iOS 12 release date & new features: ARKit 2

Finally, ARKit will allow shared experiences. In AR games, for example, two players on separate iPads will be able to separately observe the gameplay from their viewpoint (and a third, neutral observer will be able to views things separately too).

Maps

Apple didn't reveal that it was going to completely overhaul its Maps app during the WWDC keynote, that revelation came later on in an interview (we have all the details here: New version of Apple Maps coming in iOS 12).

Apple has decided that the best way to improve Maps is to stop relying on third-parties and gather all the data itself. To do so it's had its own vans out gatheing images, it will also be gathering annonymous data from iPhones, and using a team of human editors, to make sure that its Maps are always completely up-to-date.

Apparently the problem with Apple Maps at the moment is it takes Apple too long to make changes, because of all the third-party involvement. This way the changes can happen immediately - so if a new road opens it can appear on Maps quickly.

Maps will also look better - although this isn't a visual overhaul, apparently. Users will see more detailed images as Apple will be using the data gathered from the vans in conjuction with satelite images.

Apple emphasised that all the data will be collected anonymously.

Photos

Search in Photos is being updated for iOS 12. You can search for cards, dog, flowers... there are already smart object searches in iOS 11 but it seems there will be far more categories in iOS 12.

More ambitiously, iOS 12 thinks about photo searches before you do, offering search suggestions: places you've taken photos, events, categories such as hiking. Photos indexes millions of events, and you can use this to find photos you took at that event.

It also tries to predict what photos you'd like to share. It pre-ticks photos that it thinks you'll want to share, and people to share them with. Ingeniously, their phone then searches for photos at the same event, and suggests sending them back.

Finally, there's a new tab in Photos: For You. This shows featured photos, 'On This Day', Effects Suggestions, shared album activity and more.

Siri

Siri gets a new feature called Shortcuts. These are (potentially multi-step) voice-triggered actions tailored to individual apps.

Any app can add Shortcuts. It just displays an 'Add to Siri' icon, and this allows you to create a voice shortcut for a specific feature of that app. Examples include "Help me relax" triggering a meditation app, and "Order my usual groceries".

Siri in iOS 12 will contextually suggest shortcuts in the lock screen: if you order a coffee every morning, it will suggest triggering an action in the Starbucks app, say. Or it will suggest "Turn on Do Not Disturb" when you're at a cinema, or remind you to call your grandmother on her birthday.

You can create your own shortcuts with Shortcuts app - a shortcut for "surf time", for instance, might get the weather and an ETA to the beach, set up a reminder to put on sunscreen and so on. Here's how to make a Siri shortcut.

News

Some quicker updates, now, as Apple announces changes to a number of its default apps. First of all, News.

News has had a redesign to make it more suitable for iPad use. It gets a new Browse tab, which Apple says makes it easier to jump to favourites. And there's a new sidebar.

Stocks

This may be of limited general interest, but those who use Stocks regularly will be pleased to hear the two updates for this app.

Firstly, that Apple News is coming to Stocks. Business news headlines will appear within the app, allowing you to click and see the full article without leaving Stocks.

This will make the most sense on the larger screen of an iPad, which is the second update: Stocks is coming to iPad at last! In this format you'll be able to view your stocks on the left, and financial news on the right.

Voice memos

This too has been redesigned to be easier to use. And it's also coming to iPad!

iBooks

iBooks gets a new design, and a new name: Apple Books.

There's a new feature called Reading Now, which lets you pick up where you left off. And a new store that Apple says is easier for browsing.

CarPlay

Now supports third-party navigation apps. Quite a big deal!

Do Not Disturb

There's a wide range of new features in iOS 12 designed to limit distractions, focus on the things that are important to you, and generally improve the balance between your iOS devices and the rest of your life.

There's a new feature called Do Not Disturb During Bedtime. With this activated, you won't see all notifications during the preset Bedtime hours, even if you can turn on your device's screen. In the morning you can tap when you want to see them.

iOS 12 release date & new features: Do Not Disturb During Bedtime

And there are more updates for Do Not Disturb. You can set an ending for a DND: when you leave somewhere, or at a specified time. This could be handy for playtime with the kids, or when attending a wedding or important meeting.

Notifications

Notifications will allow more control over how many you receive: Apple refers to this as 'instant tuning' from the lock screen. Press into a notification and you'll be able to decide whether to turn off notifications from that source entirely, or simply tune the circumstances under which it notifies you.

Siri will also suggest turning off notifications you're no longer using, and we now (as long requested!) get grouped notifications. They will be grouped by app, by topic, by thread. You can tap into a grouped notification, look at the group in more detail, then 'triage' the whole group with a single swipe.

iOS 12 release date & new features: Grouped notifications

Usage monitoring, limits and allowances

iOS 12 provides screentime reports: a weekly activity summary that tells you how much you used your iPhone or iPad during day and night, and how much time in each app. It also tells you which apps send the most notifications. All this information could be handy in letting you decide how to adjust your usage.

If you want to get more prescriptive, it's possible to set app limits. You'll get a "helpful" (probably deeply annoying, albeit useful) notification saying time is almost up, and then a lockout screen after that. (Although it will be possible to negotiate an extension!)

iOS 12 release date & new features: Screentime

You will presumably not allow extensions when creating app usage allowances for your kids, and stipulating downtime. Parental controls are generally improved in iOS 12, enabling you to set app limits by categories, or set apps that they can always get at - the Phone app, most obviously, or education apps.

Here's how to limit app usage with Screen Time.

Messages

The biggest changes to Messages revolve around Animoji. There are four new Animoji: a ghost, a koala, a tiger and a T-Rex. And for all the Animoji, you'll now be able to stick your tongue out and have the animation reflect that (iOS 11 couldn't recognise tongues).

iOS 12 release date & new features: T-Rex Animoji

At the end of the Animoji drawer you'll now see a plus sign, and this for creating your own images. These are called Memoji, personalised Animoji of yourself (or whoever you like, really). Apple showed off a huge range of personalisation options.

iOS 12 release date & new features: Memoji

There are also some new fun camera effects in Messages - as before you can take a photo from within the app but now you can add your Memoji, stickers etc. Here's how to use camera filters in Messages.

FaceTime

One main change here, but it's a biggie: group FaceTime, with up to 32 participants.

The interface is weird and is going to take some getting used to, but it's quite clever too: it automatically resizes to make a participant's box larger when they're speaking. Here's how to make a group FaceTime call.

Which iPads & iPhones can run iOS 12?

All the devices that could run iOS 11 can also run iOS 12. That means:

  • iPad Pro (10.5), iPad Pro (12.9, 2017)
  • iPad 2017, iPad 2018
  • iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, iPad mini 4
  • iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X
  • iPod touch (sixth generation)

You can read more about this subject in our dedicated article about iPhone and iPad iOS compatibility.

iOS 12 release date & new features: Which iPads & iPhones can run iOS 12?

iOS 13

That's all the news about iOS 12, but believe it or not there are already rumours circulating about the iOS 13 update for summer and autumn 2019.

Reports indicate that a number of planned features have been pushed back from the iOS 12 update to iOS 13 so that (as outlined above) the firm can implement the widespread stability improvements and bug fixes that it believes are the priority this time round.

On Twitter, Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman has discussed some of the expected features of what he calls 'Yukon', the codename for the 2019 update. He says Files will get a revamp, and there will tabs in apps, two screens of the same app side by side, and updates related to the Apple Pencil.

Most intriguingly, Gurman points to a redesign of the home screen, focused on the iPad. This ties in with an earlier prediction by Axios that "a refresh of the home screen" had been pushed back to 2019.

Apple will of course have long-term plans in place - the iOS team won't sit down with a blank sheet of paper the day after iOS 12 ships - but it's unusual for us to have this much information so far ahead of a launch.