iOS 12 full review

Apple unveiled four big operating system updates at WWDC on 4 June 2018, and the biggest of all was iOS 12, the new OS for iPhone and iPad. (Read more in our iOS 12 preview.)

iOS 12 will be released to the public on 17 September, and beta testing versions have been available for months. But is it any good, and - given how difficult it will be to go back to iOS 11 - should iPhone and iPad owners make the upgrade?

In this article we compare the interface, features, performance and ease of use of iOS 11 and 12, to help you decide if upgrading is the right decision for you.

Performance

Let's start with the headline upgrade: speed. iPads and iPhones on iOS 12 should run faster and more responsively than the same devices on iOS 11 and below, because processor performance is ramped up when it's needed then ramped down afterwards to preserve battery life.

This is particularly true of older devices, Apple says: on the iPhone 6 Plus, for instance, apps load up to 40% faster in iOS 12, the keyboard comes up 50% faster and sliding to take a photo is up to 70% faster. And even in newer devices you should see the share sheet appearing twice as fast and apps loading twice as fast too.

Bear in mind that these are Apple's figures, but it sounds great in theory. It wouldn't be fair to judge iOS 12 performance based on unfinished beta software, but we will say that the 12th public beta of iOS 12 is so stable, reliable and smooth that we've happily recommended it to less tech-savvy friends, and that makes us optimistic about the final release.

(Also take a look at How to speed up a slow iPhone for more tips.)

Augmented reality

If you're into AR, the iOS 12 update is for you.

Thanks to a new file format, called USDZ, developers and designers will be able to create AR experiences and share them easily. The News app will start featuring AR content, and Apple expects lots of websites to follow suit - the Fender website offering configuration options then letting you see your guitar in the real world, for example.

And the updated ARKit 2 offers clever measurement tools made possible by ARKit 2. 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. This is all made possible by a new app called Measure which we've found fun and useful, albeit not perfectly accurate - if you need precise numbers, get out the tape measure.

Finally, ARKit will allow shared experiences. In AR games, for example, multiple players and observers on separate iPads will be able to observe the gameplay from their respective viewpoints.

iOS 12 vs iOS 11: Augmented reality

Photos

Photos gets smarter in iOS 12.

iOS 11 Photos is already able to handle object searches to a limited extent - you can search for cat or dog, for instance, although the latter turns up one photo of my toddler wearing a spotty jumper - but in iOS 12 there are more categories and hopefully a higher success rate.

At time of writing our iOS 12 beta-running iPhone is offering:

  • Babies (all correct)
  • Cars (all correct, although many are way in the background, somewhat limiting its usefulness)
  • Playgrounds (contains quite a few mistakes)
  • Forests (all correct)
  • Aquariums (all correct)
  • Sport (a weirdly mixed-up group, and also contains some mistakes)
  • Stadiums (all correct)
  • Lakes (technically all wrong - they're pictures of a river estuary! But still a good effort)

So it's clearly more ambitious, but as of the 12th beta the reliability still isn't perfect.

Your iPhone will also be proactive about suggesting people you should share your photos with, if you've attended a concert with them, for example. And if they're on iOS 12 too, their iPhone will know to search for photos at the same event, and suggest sending them back.

Siri

Siri in iOS 11 is okay - Apple's voice assistant is behind rivals such as Alexa, but always improving - but a new feature in iOS 12 may win over some converts to its capabilities.

Siri shortcuts are custom voice-triggered actions. In some cases these will be created by third-party apps, whose developers will add an 'Add to Siri' icon which then creates a shortcut for a specific feature; in others the shortcut will be suggested by iOS itself when it thinks you need to turn on Do Not Disturb or ring your grandma, for instance. But it gets more powerful when you build your own shortcuts, which can include multiple steps and even multiple apps. Here's how to make a Siri shortcut.

iOS 12 vs iOS 11: Siri shortcuts

Digital wellbeing

By which we mean the raft of new tools and features in iOS 12 that are designed to combat device addiction (particularly for kids), improve work/life balance and reduce information overload.

Do Not Disturb, for instance, was already a handy mode in iOS 11 for shielding you from distracting notifications; a sub-mode called Do Not Disturb While Driving could even activate automatically when it thought you were in a car, although this was easily fooled by bus and train rides. iOS 12 takes this all further, adding another submode called Do Not Disturb During Bedtime and the ability to set endings for DND by time or location.

Notifications, which most of us have found overwhelming at one time, are in iOS 12 grouped together by app, topic and thread, and therefore easier to edit or clear en masse. And it's easier to adjust your notification settings - press into a notification and you can decide whether to turn them off from that source entirely, or simply tune the circumstances under which it notifies you. Siri will make suggestions about notifications to turn off because you're not using them.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, a new feature called Screen Time allows you to monitor your device usage by app, app category, time of day or night and much more, and to set limits on your (or your child's) use of particular apps or types of content.

iOS 12 vs iOS 11: Screen Time

Animoji

Animoji are animated emoji that match your own facial expressions. They were brought in with the iPhone X and are dependent on its sophisticated front-facing sensor array.

If you've got an iPhone X, upgrading to iOS 12 will seem like a no-brainer, because it features a major step forward for Animoji. Rather than being tied to the pre-defined set of Animoji, iOS 12 lets you create your own, called Memoji.

(The iPhone XS, XS Max and XR will also be able to use Memoji, but these devices will come with iOS 12 preinstalled - you won't get a choice about upgrading.)

iOS 12 vs iOS 11: Memoji

Of course, you can still use the premade Animoji, and these are now bolstered by the addition of four newbies: tiger, koala, ghost and T-Rex.

FaceTime

iOS 12 adds a long-requested features to FaceTime: group video calls. You'll be able to video chat with up to 31 other people at the same time.

It's an exciting and fun new option (and slightly shocking it's taken this time to arrive, really) but be warned that the group chat interface seems to us like a bit of a dog's dinner: user tiles move around and change in size when users speak, and the whole thing is a bit ugly and confusing. Hopefully this is something we'll get used to, or Apple will tweak the interface.

We should stress that we haven't tried out group FaceTime yet, because Apple yanked it from the beta programme early on and says it won't reappear until later this autumn. But we're excited to give it a go.

iOS 12 vs iOS 11: Group FaceTime

Miscellaneous Apple app updates

These are less thrilling than the above changes, but Apple also announced smaller tweaks and changes to a number of its own apps in iOS 12.

News, Stocks, Voice Memos and iBooks all get redesigns (and the latter a name change, to Apple Books). Stocks now includes headlines from the News app, and is available on iPad. And CarPlay now supports third-party navigation apps.

Compatible devices

iOS 11 and 12 are compatible with exactly the same set of iPads and iPhones:

  • 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)

(The iPhone XS, XS Max and XR will all come with iOS 12 preinstalled.)

This isn't the first time Apple has kept the same list of devices from one version of iOS to the next: iOS 9, for instance, supported all iOS 8-compatible iPhones and iPads. But we're normally sceptical about whether older devices can actually cope with the greater processor demands presented by new software.

This time, however, might be different. Apple's emphasis on iOS 12's performance improvements over iOS 11 suggest that older iDevices could actually see a speed boost by upgrading, although we'd like to see the for ourselves.

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

Release date/availability

iOS 11 is available now; if you check for software updates on a compatible device, you'll currently be offered iOS 11.4.1.

iOS 12 will be released on 17 Sept 2018. But it's possible to test out the public beta version (or the developer beta, if you're a developer!) before then. Here's how to install the iOS 12 beta.

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