iOS 10 full review

Which is better: iOS 9 or iOS 10? What are the differences between iOS 9 and iOS 10, and should I update to iOS 10?

iOS 10 finally available to download after almost three months of beta testing. Having been announced at WWDC 2016, the new OS for iPhone and iPad rewplaces the current software, iOS 9, via a free OTA (Over The Air) update.

But which is the better option for your needs? Should you update to iOS 10? What are the differences between iOS 9 and iOS 10 - what design changes have been made, what new features have been added, and which devices can run each of them?

In our iOS 9 vs iOS 10 comparison, we examine Apple's older and current mobile operating systems, and help you decide which one is right for you, and whether you should make the upgrade.

Read more: iOS 9 review | iOS 10 review | iOS 11 release date rumours

iOS 10 vs iOS 9: Design & interface

Looking side by side at iOS 9 and iOS 10 in general use, you may not be able to tell them apart - although this depends on which area of iOS you're looking at. Apple has redesigned the lock screen, the search/notification page reached by swiping from the left of the lock screen, and the Notification Centre. Other than these, it looks the same. Even then, the difference is more noticable on the iPad than on the iPhone - especially when looking at the lock screen and Notification Centre. 

In landscape orientation the lock screen has the time and date set to the left instead of justified centrally (which we think looks nicer), and Apple has added useful large-type battery charge information to this text block as well - it sits under the time, and after a moment is replaced by the date. (Charge is still listed at top-right, but having it in the main text makes it easier to see at a glance.)

iOS 9 vs iOS 10 comparison: Lock screen

You'll also note that the text cue > slide to unlock at the bottom has been replaced by Press Home to open, and indeed the way you wake up the device has changed. Pressing the Home button will automatically scan your fingerprint and unlock the device for you, while users with older, non-Touch ID-enabled iPhones and iPads will still have to type in the passcode after pressing the button.

The small camera icon previous sited at the bottom-right has got smaller still and now sits bottom-middle. This is intended to convey the fact that you don't need to swipe upwards from the camera icon to jump to the Camera app any more; you just swipe in from the righthand edge of the lock screen, the same movement that unlocks the iPhone or iPad in iOS 9.

In portrait orientation, the lock screen looks more familiar - the text is justified centrally once again - but the functional differences remain.

More obvious visual differences can be detected when we swipe in from the left of the lock or Home screens, summoning the screen that, for lack of official alternatives, we've grown to call Proactive. We used to have suggested contacts and apps on the Proactive screen, as well as shortcuts to Maps searches for nearby business of various kinds and summaries of recent News stories. Those things remain, but they are (in our opinion) much more attractively laid out, in two columns, and accompanied by an editable array of widgets, which have been moved from the swipe-down Notifications Centre.

iOS 9 vs iOS 10 comparison: Proactive screen

Notifications themselves continue to become more interactive with each generation of iOS. Apart from the change in shape, many incoming notifications can be 3D Touched, if you're using an iPhone 6s/6s Plus/7/7 Plus, to get a quick glance at the vital information. While that isn't necessarily new, 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 at all. It's a massive improvement from iOS 9, and is something we hope third-party developers integrate into their apps over time.

One change from iOS 9 to iOS 10 we're not a fan of is Apple removing the ability to sort notifications in the Notification Centre by notification, which would allow users to clear all notifications from a specific app with a single tap. In iOS 10, notifications are only sorted by the time that they were received, with no option to sort them via app. It's a small change, but will be a huge bug bear for those that have relied on that option for notification organisation in the past. 

iOS 10 vs iOS 9: Features

When we compare generations of iOS, the features section tends to be a walk-over: the newer version of the OS will get a bunch of new features (which in most cases you can ignore if you don't like them) and might - might - ditch a couple that Apple doesn't think have worked out. If it were just a case of comparing features, iOS 10 would win this comparison at a canter. Yet there are downsides to upgrading, which you'll find in other sections.

iOS 10 brings a raft of new features: well over a hundred, by Apple's count, although most of these are minor tweaks. In this section we'll talk about our seven highlights. (If you'd like a broader look at iOS 10's feature set, take a look at iOS 10 release date & new features.

1. Raise to Wake

This handy and largely self-explanatory feature (which currently works on the iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, 7, 7 Plus and SE only, sadly - it requires an iPhone with an M9 coprocessor at the very least) 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. Which makes particular sense given Apple's greater focus on lock-screen information and interactivity - you'll actually see the lock screen on your iPhone now, rather than blasting through to the unlocked home screen thanks to superfast second-gen Touch ID.

There's one other watchOS-esque feature in iOS 10 that we'd like to mention in passing: the ability to clear all notifications with one tap. It's a tiny but crucially convenient feature - our watches used to get utterly clogged up with uncleared notifications (particularly wicket notifications if England had been batting that day) until we discovered the old hard-press-to-clear-all trick within the Notification Centre.

2. Maps destinations

Maps in iOS 10 uses artificial intelligence and everything it knows about your habits to proactively suggest destinations it thinks you're likely to visit at a given time. We love this idea. Setting out on a car journey is almost always preceded by a fiddly period of postcode-searching and route-checking on the old satnav, and a bit of smart assistance would be much appreciated. It'll suggest destinations based on things like addresses you've copied from Safari, destinations you usually go (home, work, etc) and more in a neat and organised way. 

Also, Maps will automatically remember where you've parked, which is a lovely bit of lateral thinking, although we've deduced that this only works when your iPhone is connected to your in-car stereo system. Bad luck to those with old-school in-car entertainment systems! 

3. Messages

Messages gets a huge overhaul, and now features a wide range of visual - often animated - effects and gimmicks.

Now, we like only a small proportion of the effects (invisible ink, which scrambles messages and images you wish to render mysterious until the recipient swipes them with a finger, is one of the nice ones), but that's not quite the point. Most of this stuff is aimed at younger users, for one thing (particularly the emoji stuff - although we know plenty of older emoji addicts), and Apple's opening up of Messages to third-party apps means a wave of additional features should follow, catering for every possible taste.

iOS 9 vs iOS 10 comparison: Messages

For a better look at the kinds of apps, games and sticker packs you'll be able to use in iOS 10, take a look at our roundup: Best iMessage apps, games and stickers for iOS 10

4. Home

Apple's finally ready for the Internet of Things, and Home is the portal app that iPad and iPhone owners will use to control their array of HomeKit-enabled smart-home appliances.

The mere fact of having a universal HomeKit device controller app on iOS is something to celebrate, but it looks great and seems well thought out. We've mentioned elsewhere how much we like the execution of Scenes, an admittedly obvious but neatly designed feature that groups together settings for multiple appliances under a single button: "goodnight", for instance, might dim the lights, lower the thermostat, close the curtains, switch on security cameras or motion detectors and so on.

One thing users shouldn't expect is for Home to search and add every smart accessory in the house automatically, as Home requires the accessory to be HomeKit-enabled for it to be able to 'talk' to it. While many new accessories are HomeKit-enabled, most accessories bought/manufactured before 2016 probably won't be compatible, although it's worth checking with the manufacturer before buying a whole new smart home system.  

5. The ability to delete preinstalled apps

This is something we've looked at in far more detail elsewhere (How to remove, delete or hide any app on iPad or iPhone) but yep, iOS 10 will allow you to ditch Stocks and lots of other Apple-made apps if you don't want them clogging up your Home screen.

iOS 9 vs iOS 10 comparison: Delete preinstalled apps

However, it's not quite the concession you might think: the app isn't deleted as such, although associated user data is deleted, ties to the app from Siri and so on are severed, and the icon is removed. And we've still not seen how Apple is going to resolve the 'default app' arrangement if you delete an app like Maps or Mail and then tap on an address or mail link on a website. But it's a partial victory that we've been seeking for many years.

6. Advanced predictive typing suggestions

QuickType, the predictive-text system used by iOS's keyboard to offer words it thinks you're in the process of typing, is getting cleverer. It can now access location or contact information held elsewhere on the system and roll this in with the rest of its suggestions, responding, for example, to messages saying "Where are you?" or "What's Donald's email address?" with its best guess at the correct answer.

We don't use QuickType much - generally only when we're typing a word that's really long and our fingers get tired halfway through. (Oddly enough, the often annoying forced corrections of TextEdit have ended up a far more integrated aspect of our working routine.) But things like this could make it genuinely useful.

7. Third-party shenanigans: Siri, Messages apps

Apple went against type and talked extensively about 'openness' at the iOS 8 keynote in 2014, and iOS 10 continues the company's increasing coolness with the user or their third-party software developer friends customising the way iOS behaves.

Siri has been opened up to third-party development, which means you'll be able to ask non-Apple apps to do their thing - Uber was one that Apple highlighted in its keynote, with banking apps like Monzo allowing users to pay one another via the virtual assistant. And Messages and Maps will also allow developers to work within the system: iMessage apps could allow users to book takeaways and play games within message threads, and you'll be able to book a ride with Uber (and pay for the ride using Apple Pay) without leaving Maps.

Apple is always at its best when it sheds the straitjacket and allows third-party devs to (with careful supervision in order to safeguard security and privacy) mould the user experience. Apple's huge developer community is its greatest strength, and we're excited to see how many of our favourite apps are improved over the coming months.

8. Redesigned Emoji

While the introduction of new Emoji is always welcomed by iOS users, the latest update may not bring the same level as happiness and joy as usual. While Apple has added over 100 new emoji in iOS 10, including new variants of existing emoji, the company has also given the entire collection a visual overhaul. While this improves the look of certain emoji, the emoji in general look, in our opinion, slightly dated and akin to the emoticons used by MSN in the early 2000's. 

As well as this, Apple has changed the gun emoji in iOS 9 into a water pistol emoji in iOS 10. While again, this is a small update that many may not care about, for those that use it often, it's a pain. What's worse is that on Android (and older iOS devices) it'll still show up as a regular gun, which could cause some miscommunication between friends across different mobile operating systems. 

iOS 10 vs iOS 9: Compatible iPads & iPhones

We'll get to our verdict on iOS 9 and iOS 10 in a moment, but you may have already detected that we feel pretty well-disposed towards the new update and its new features and interface tweaks. It's in this section that we talk about the potential down sides.

iOS 10 is Apple's most demanding mobile OS yet. Some of you will discover that your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch isn't rated as iOS 10-compatible, and you'll have to either upgrade to a newer device or miss out. Potentially worse, however, is the situation faced by those who just squeeze on to the list of iOS 10-ready devices, make the update, experience noticeable slowdown and then find themselves unable to downgrade to the older OS. In the past Apple has sometimes been overgenerous in its compatibility lists, allowing updates by devices that aren't really up to it

Here's what you need to know. The following devices are officially rated as capable of running iOS 10:

  • iPad 4, iPad Air 1, iPad Air 2, iPad Pro 9.7-inch, iPad Pro 12.9-inch
  • 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
  • iPod touch (sixth generation)

But if you've got one of the older models in any of these fields - if you're on an iPad 4, iPad mini 2, or iPhone 5 or 5c - then we'd counsel caution. Give it a few weeks and see how others gauge the update, and wait until you've got confirmation from a trusted source - a friend, colleague or media pundit - who explicitly tells you they made the update on exactly the same model as you, and that it hasn't caused any loss of performance.

Read more: Can my iPhone, iPad or iPod touch get iOS 10?

iOS 9 vs iOS 10 comparison: Can my iPad or iPhone get iOS 10?

iOS 10 vs iOS 9: Macworld poll

Have we convinced you? Before we move on to our verdict, here's our poll.

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