Technology usually sells itself on utility. You want to listen to music? Here’s an app for that. You want to get healthier? Here’s a smartwatch and a slew of apps to make that happen. iOS 12 is the opposite. Instead of allowing you to do more, it actually aims to help you do less. That might sound nuts, but there’s increasing concern over tech addiction and the negative impacts of being logged on at all times. New features like Screen Time and updated classics like Do Not Disturb strive to create healthy boundaries with your iPhone. It feels a bit Zen and is very much a reaction to our times. You won’t see a lot of visual changes in iOS 12, but between Screen Time and the quietly revolutionary Siri Shortcuts, it’s the biggest change to iOS in years.

What Is iOS 12?

I’ve found it useful to think of the different versions of iOS not as a list of updates, but rather as representing new takes on larger themes. iOS 7, for instance, revamped the visual language for the platform. The most recent release, iOS 11, focused on making the iPad Pro a real workhorse rather than merely an expensive gadget. If iOS 12 were to have a thesis statement, it would be about control.

That said, there are many fun and frivolous inclusions in iOS 12, too. Memoji, Animoji, and a bevy of other gimmicks cement the importance of the Messages ecosystem. The Apple Books app has finally been refreshed, and Apple claims the new OS is so lickity-split fast that your keyboard will pop up 50 percent faster (my word!). But that is all icing. After making us spend a decade with candy-colored visuals and endless dopamine-squirt inducing notifications, Apple now intends to help us put down our phones.

There is a logic to this. The World Health Organization has recently recognized video game addiction as a distinct condition. It is not an accident that my first time encountering a slot machine felt so familiar because it was effectively Candy Crush with money involved. Smartphone usage has progressed from the surprising to the enjoyable, to the compulsive. App developers have figured out how to keep us staring at screens, so it’s up to Apple to intervene, lest we burn out and chuck our iPhones out the window en masse.

Tech addiction isn’t the only human evil Apple hopes to combat. New security features discourage you from reusing your passwords and encourage you to use complex, unique passwords wherever possible. To ease the friction of two-factor authentication, Apple now places the one-time-use passcodes you receive via SMS as autofill options in apps. Siri Shortcuts let customers use their devices in ways that Apple and develops haven’t thought of—an unprecedented degree of freedom from the keepers of Apple’s walled garden. The powers available in the Shortcuts app, which I discuss below, safely hand the reins to iOS users, letting them create new ways to interact with their iPhones and iPads.

All this may seem counterintuitive. Every moment someone uses an app is an opportunity to make a buck. But Apple, and others, seem to be playing the long game. In the short term, this lets the fruit-fueled company react to an issue of the moment. But what would happen if the anxiety of screen addiction, spurred higher by a chaotic news cycle, reached such a point that people actually rejected the idea of high-end smartphones all together? Personally, I’ve been unable to stop myself from seeking the dopamine squirts from my smartphone, and I can’t be the only one.

At the risk of brutalizing a dead horse, I still deeply dislike the interactions introduced with iOS 11. Swipe up to get to your task manager, swipe down from the top to reveal the lock screen/notification center (which I still hate). Swipe down slightly differently to reveal the Control Center. It’s a mess, and one that I am still tripping over. Perhaps this has more to do with my slow, inevitable transformation into a stodgy, hate-filled technology journalist, trapped in the past and dripping with disdain for anything even slightly different than what I am used to. But it still feels very inelegant and un-Apple, even a year after these changes were introduced.

How to Get iOS 12

By the time you read this, there’s a good chance you already have iOS 12 installed on your iPhone or are currently downloading it. iPhone and iPad users tend to update pretty quickly. What’s more, Apple has a good track record for supporting devices for several generations. According to Apple, iOS 12 will run on everything from the iPhone X down to the iPhone 5s, from the iPad mini 2 to the 12.9 inch iPad Pro. iPod touch users, however, have just one option, the sixth-generation device. The new iPhone XS, XS Max, and also support the latest version of iOS, naturally.

If you’re a fan of updating manually, you start the process by opening the Settings app, tapping General, and then tapping Software Update. Speaking purely anecdotally, my install of iOS 12 downloaded and installed remarkably quickly compared to past major updates. Read our story for details how to get iOS 12.

If you’re not a fan of manually updating iOS, you’re in luck. A new feature in iOS 12 is the option to automatically download and install iOS updates. You can enable this feature from the iOS 12 onboarding screen, or later if you like. Apple assures its customers that they will receive a notification before updates are installed.

How Does iOS 12 Compare With Android?

First of all, there’s a strong argument to be made for not comparing Android and iOS. You can’t, after all, decide to give Android a spin on your iPhone. You can, however, decide to buy a completely different phone, perhaps based on your opinion of the operating system. With that in mind, I do make comparisons between the two, but only to illustrate different approaches to the task of making a modern smartphone work.

iOS has a very rigid and regular design, with all your apps appearing in a grid. You can move apps around, but not off the grid. All the app icons are the same size and shape. In Android, there’s a wide variety of sizes and shapes for app icons and you control what apps appear on the home screen(s), while a full list of installed apps is a swipe away. One caveat is that not all Android app icons look the same, and they may vary depending on the version of the OS. Both iOS and Android feature notifications at the top of the screen, but Apple has gone all-out with different panels that appear by swiping to the right, up, and down.

Recently, Google has revamped its material design to include bolder, rounded text and large white cards with rounded edges. If you’ve used Google Maps recently, that’s the look that’s taking over Android. Of course, if you don’t like the look of Android, you can install a new Home App and change the look and feel of your phone entirely. Apple, for its part, has stuck with the design language that has served it well for the past few years, using its trademark font over blurred, transparent panels. The Apple App Store had a major visual refresh last year, and that white-space-heavy design is now appearing in the Books app, as well as News and Stocks.

Some things just aren’t comparable, however. The iOS App Store continues to be a monumental force, but Google has nearly closed the gap. As a media retailer, iTunes still appears to be the top dog compared with Google Play Movies and the recently re-branded YouTube Music. But streaming video options like Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, and, yes, YouTube have taken the spotlight from traditional media purchasing models.

In the realm of security, Apple has always quietly portrayed itself as untouchable and unbreakable, ahead of the competition, but that’s changing. Google, has made impressive strides not just in policing its own app store, but in extending malware protection to people installing apps from third-party marketplaces. Google’s security team is no longer talking about what they are doing to hold the line or improve. Instead, they are looking ahead to new smartphone use cases that require an ultra-secure foundation, such as controlling medical devices. Call it hubris, or call it a sea change. But it’s worth remembering that Apple’s so-called walled-garden approach has worked to bring not just security but the impression of security for over a decade.

And then there’s fragmentation. Because Apple controls both the hardware and software, it can tailor the experience to best effect. Even that feels like it’s changing, however. Instead of just one device, Apple now supports five different sizes and specs of iPhones, three different iPads, and one iPod. Google, on the other hand, has tried to position the sheer bulk of devices running Android as a feature, not a bug. It’s about individuality and choice, you see. Sometimes that simplicity means you won’t receive the latest version of the OS however. According to Google’s own stats, the Android 8.0-8.1 is only running on 5.7 percent of devices. Android 6.0—nearly three years old—still commands 25.5 percent of users, and Android 7.0-7.1 covers 31 percent. iOS 12 adoption rates, by contrast, hit 10 percent in 48 hours, and some pundits were saying that represented a worrying low rate for Apple’s OS.

To my mind, the choice between Apple and Android long ago exited the realm of the objective and is now an entirely subjective choice. Which device you buy will depend as much on what you bought before as it will on what you want to buy in the future, either because of cost, prestige, friends and family, or ethics.

Apple iOS 12

You’re Using Your iPhone Too Much…

Apple tackles the problem of screen addiction with a collection of tools, most of which find their home in the Settings app under the Screen Time heading. Here, you see a list of options and a color-coded chart displaying what you used your iPhone for, and for how long. Tap the chart, and you can set limits on your most-used apps (more on this later) and see some (possibly) shocking statistics.

The most surprising stats aren’t at the top, but way down at the bottom. Here you’ll find charts for how often you pick up your phone and how often and frequently you receive notifications. The latter is particularly helpful when you’re using the new features to limit the frequency of your notifications, but sadly, you can’t take those actions from this list. The number of pickups, however, is a truly embarrassing figure. How often do we pull out and unlock our phones—at even the most inappropriate moments—stare at the home screen for a few moments and then put it away? Too many. If there’s anything that will spur you to change your phone habits, it’s this sad metric.Apple iOS 12

All these charts are, for the most part, trapped in the Settings app. You can, however, add a widget to the right-swipe panel. This is a highly simplified readout of how much time you’ve looked at your screen today and how that compares with your overall average.

Note that you can clear your usage data when you can no longer bear to look at it. If you’re really not interested in this feature at all, a big button at the bottom of the Screen Time page in Settings lets you shut it all down.

For families, or people with several iOS devices, there’s an option to share usage data across devices. This shows you how much time you’re wasting on all your screens, on every screen. If you’re serious about cutting down time staring at a screen, you should turn this option on immediately.

…So Stop Using Your iPhone

Screen Time isn’t just charts; it also lets you take action, and this is the big change in iOS 12. Downtime is a new mode that, once enabled, will lock you out of most of your apps between the hours you designate. You receive warnings as your Downtime approaches, and then your apps will be replaced by a white screen with the Screen Time hourglass icon. Back on the home screen, all your apps will be grayed out and an hourglass icon placed next to their names. Only the core functions of the iPhone—calls, clock, and so on—are available. The desktop looks downright uninviting, which is the point.Apple iOS 12

Apple’s approach is bold and slickly designed. However, I’m intrigued by Google’s approach in its forthcoming Android 9 release. On that platform, your whole screen goes black-and-white at set times. This is a very strong visual deterrent to using your phone that still leaves apps accessible.

You can, of course, opt to override iOS’s Downtime settings. If you want to put more roadblocks between you and your device, you can opt to set a PIN to override Downtime. That’s also handy if you’re a parent trying to enforce restrictions on a child’s device.

If Downtime is too restrictive (or not restrictive enough) App Limits let you get granular. You tap Add Limit and then select from a list of broad iPhone app categories, from Games to Education to Health and Fitness. You then set a time limit for how long you want to use those apps, and can even break down different times for different days. You may, for example, budget more time for Games on the weekend than during the workweek. When you approach your time budget, the app is locked in the same manner as when Downtime is active.

Need some more time? You can snooze your App Limit by 15 minutes or an entire day. These, like other opt-outs to Screen Time features make the entire exercise feel more helpful and less authoritarian.Apple iOS 12

Careful readers will notice that App Limits and Downtime are very broad. Neither lets you nominate specific apps to limit. Instead, Apple lets you whitelist critical apps in the Always Allowed panel. Like it says on the tin, these are apps that will always be accessible, regardless of App Limits or Downtime settings. By default, the Phone, Messages, and FaceTime apps are always available. You can remove all of those except the Phone app. Your iPhone will always remain a phone.

I like the opt-in nature of the Always Allow feature, and I think it shows how much thought Apple put into all of Screen Time. However, I wish it could be a little more granular. For example, I am guilty of wasting time texting at all hours of the day. I need some limits, but not having to tap through screens could be a hindrance in a high-stress situation. I’d like Apple to offer more granular options for Messages, specifically. Perhaps allowing basic SMS, but restricting the ability to access the growing raft of additional apps and features within Messages.

For more on Apple’s anti-addiction feature, you can read our story on How to Use Screen Time in Apple’s iOS 12.

Parental Control With Screen Time in iOS 12

The Content and Privacy settings take Screen Time well into the realm of Parental Control. To access these features, you must create a PIN code. Once you do this, you can limit the activities, settings, and content that’s allowed on the device. Alternatively, you can simply require that your Content and Privacy PIN be entered before restricted items are accessed.

Apple iOS 12The breadth of what Content and Privacy controls cover is shocking. For instance, you can restrict apps from being used or downloaded, and in-app purchases from being made. You can dictate which Privacy settings can be changed. You can limit what kinds of movies, music, and web content are accessible. You can even limit changes to the device’s passcode and whether background apps can run. These are the kind of deep controls that Apple almost never makes accessible to users and definitely doesn’t let third-party parental control software access.

I am especially impressed with how Apple handles blocking adult content in the browser. The least strict enforcement allows all websites, while the most restrictive only allows access to the specific websites you nominate. A middle ground blocks most adult content and allows for black- or white-listing. In my testing, I found that Apple automatically blocked Pornhub. When I attempted to add it as an exception, I was prompted to enter my Content and Privacy PIN.

For the rest of its content blocking, Apple relies heavily on its existing ratings systems. For podcasts and music in the iTunes store, that’s fine. The company is very assiduous about correctly identifying explicit content on these platforms. For Movies and TV Shows, however, it uses the MPAA ratings. These can seem a bit murky and arbitrary. Violence tends to get a lower rating than sexual content, for example.

Parental control apps are big business, and it will be interesting to see how companies that provide such offerings will adapt to an environment where Apple takes care of content restrictions.

Siri Shortcuts Blow My Mind

Faced with the onslaught of voice assistants and the great-sounding but otherwise rather blah HomePod smart speaker, Apple had a lot of ground to make up with Siri. In iOS 12, it gets a number of tweaks and improvements, but by far the most significant change is Siri Shortcuts.

If you search for Siri Shortcuts, you’ll be taken to a screen in the Settings menu. Here I was presented with a list of possible shortcuts is populated as you take actions. For example: During the course of testing the beta I needed to search for “Pornhub.” After I did so, that search became an option in the shortcuts menu. This makes sense on paper, since it doesn’t overwhelm users with too many options, but I didn’t find it particularly useful.

But here’s the catch: that’s not the real Siri Shortcuts.

For that, you’ll have to navigate to the App Store and download a separate app, aptly called Shortcuts. The fact that Apple isn’t bundling this app suggests the company isn’t convinced most people will use it. They’re not wrong. But this unassuming little app is perhaps the single most revolutionary change to iOS in its ten-year history.

When you create a new shortcut, you’re presented with a blank slate of sorts. On the right side are cards, each with the name of a different function available to you in your Shortcut. Drag it to the right of the screen and you can assemble your Shortcut before assigning it to the home screen or teaching Siri to execute it as a voice command. It’s simple and very reminiscent of the popular IFTTT service.

But swipe through the available cards and you’ll quickly realize that Siri Shortcuts is a fully-fledged scripting tool. There are commands like Count, Set Variable, Get Text, Repeat, and Nothing—which is actually really important when you’re executing what is effectively a little program on your iPhone. After looking over the app for a few minutes, I realized that Shortcuts was really just macOS Automator for iOS. And that’s why this is significant: Apple is, for the first time, has found a way to let you really bend iOS to your will, but safely.

This is the kind of customization that I would expect to see in obscure, but powerful, Android apps like Tasker. I never dreamed I would see anything like this on iOS, and watching as a Shortcut generated a dialog window prompting me for input was a jarring experience. It’s shocking. It’s empowering.

It’s also, despite the high level of polish Apple has put on Shortcuts, incredibly difficult to use. I wanted to create a script that would send my colleague Michael Muchmore a text and an email with the word “Hello” when I commanded it. I couldn’t make it work. To get a better feel for what could be done with Shortcuts, I looked in the library of premade examples Apple is offering. I selected a Shortcut that prompted users to enter the name of a guitar chord, which the Shortcut appended to a website’s predictable URL structure, and displayed the result: a fingering chart for that particular chord. Although simple, and noticeably devoid of any APIs, I would never have been able to assemble this Shortcut on my own.

I assume that most people will be intimidated by the power of Shortcuts. If they use it for anything, it will be to scour the prefab library of options for something useful. If you’re a fan of Automator, or the kind of hobbyist that revels in a digital DIY project, be sure to explore Shortcuts.

Do Not Disturb and Notifications

In iOS 12, similar notifications are now stacked. Android has been grouping notifications for a while, but in typical Apple fashion it’s done with a neat, visual twist. Instead of a flat wedge, grouped notifications are shown as a stack, vanishing somewhere in the depths of your screen. Tap, and you expand the stack. Simple! A similar feature is coming to Mojave, the latest version of macOS.

What’s confusing is that iOS doesn’t just stack notifications from the same app. For example, all of my Apple News notifications were stacked by the individual publication. I’d like to have more control over these stacks, because it doesn’t do enough to stem the rising tide of notifications.Apple iOS 12

You can also long-press on a notification to preview its content, and then access more delivery options from the three-dot overflow menu in the upper right. You can either have notifications delivered quietly, prominently, or not at all. If you select the last option, some apps may provide additional options for notifications. There’s an option for Quiet Delivery; with this you won’t hear an alert sign or even see an actual notification. Instead, a badge appears on the alerting app.

Android tried something similar in recent versions, pushing developers to create different channels for different types of notifications within each app. Users could then toggle specific channels on and off. It was intended to be a middle ground between the all-or-nothing notification settings that existed previously. I was excited to see how Android developers would implement these channels, but I’ve been disappointed to see so few embracing the idea. I think Apple’s will be more successful because it implements nearly all of these controls at the OS level, rather than relying on developers to get on board.

iOS’s Do Not Disturb feature also gets a much-needed overhaul in iOS 12. You engage the distraction-silencing feature as usual, from the swipe-down control panel. Now you can opt to have Do Not Disturb switch off after an hour, when you leave a specific location, or when a specific event on your calendar ends. If you’ve avoided using this feature because you worried you’d forget to deactivate it, now’s the time to try it.

Under the Hood

According to Apple, some actions on your phone will be twice as fast, as a result of upgrading. Want more stats? Apple also claims that your camera will appear 70 percent faster, the keyboard will load 50 percent faster, and apps will launch with 2x more pep. Share sheets, which have always been dog-slow, are reportedly twice as zippy in iOS 12.

I can’t measure the difference in those terms, but iOS 12 feels fast, even when I looked at the beta version. Websites in particular load and scroll so smoothly that it puts my laptop to shame. But that experience feels restricted to iOS elements, like share sheets and Siri searches. Opening apps feels like a chore in comparison.

Augmented Reality, ARKit 2, and Measure

Apple continues to invest in augmented reality, and boasts a host of improvements to its ARKit in iOS 12. This includes the new USDZ file format and the ability to share the same AR space as other people. Apple is clearly investing a lot in making the iPhone a platform for AR, though it’s largely invisible.

To get a sense of what’s going on with AR in iOS 12, I found a conveniently curated AR apps section of the App Store. My colleague Michael Muchmore and I downloaded the Night Sky app onto my Fifth Generation iPad and his (now practically ancient) iPhone X. Planets and spaceships popped into our office seamlessly, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a rush of childish whimsy as I circled Jupiter behind my desk. And that’s speaking as someone that has been to countless AR and VR demos over the years. This stuff really does feel magical.

The process for pairing compatible devices to share AR space was surprisingly simple, and within no time we were exploring the same sky. That said, I was surprised by how well his iPhone X handled the AR experience and how often I had to reboot the app because it froze.

For anyone unwilling to seek out AR apps on their own, Apple now includes the Measure app. Half the app is taken from the old compass app and simply shows whether or not your device is level. The other half is entirely new, and lets you measure distances in the real world using AR integration on your phone. Just tap to drop a point, target the thing you want measured, and drop a second point. The app immediately displays the distance.

Apple iOS 12What makes this more than a tired tech demo is how well the Measure apps works. It’s superb. The iPhone subtly vibrates when the cursor moves over a logical measuring point, like the corner of a screen. These are “sticky” and the cursor snaps to them. You can seamlessly move between horizontal and vertical surfaces without having to instruct the app, and you can create multiple measurements in the same space. In testing, I measured the diagonal width of an iMac screen and then bisected that width.

Incredibly, the Measure app does all of this without any fancy hardware. I tested it using an iPhone 8, which doesn’t have the fancy two-camera arrangement found in higher-end devices, and it worked perfectly.

This is in stark contrast to Google’s recently released AR measurement app. I struggled to get Google’s offering to lock onto targets, and it required that I manually choose either a horizontal or vertical measure. Worse, Google’s app only let me make a single measurement at a time.

I make this comparison because it seemed that Google was way out in front in terms of AR and VR. Google, after all, had already launched several related products and had years working in the space with its (sadly) now-defunct Project Tango. Apple has clearly done its homework and I’m excited to see what else it will do with the technology.

Photos Upgrades

Apple iOS 12 BetaIn Apple’s Photos app, iOS 12 brings powerful new search features. Now, you can use different search terms like people, places, groups, and so on. More importantly, you can string these search terms together. For example, I typed in “plants,” and tapped the word from the typeahead options. It now appeared in a gray rectangle, similar to how email addresses appear in Gmail. I then added New York City, which also become a gray rectangle in the search box. Now, Photos showed me all the plants I’d photographed in NYC.

It’s a handy tool, but not yet tremendously impressive. Google Photos is able to detect the same person from infancy to adulthood based on faces, and can tell the difference between different dog breeds. Perhaps I don’t have enough photos on this test device to fully appreciate Photos’ search powers, but they feel spare by comparison.

With the new iOS version, Photos gets sharing recommendations in the new For You section. This has your Featured Photos, showing off some of your best work, as well was Sharing Suggestions that encourages you to send your pictures to the people in the photos. If you don’t have names or contacts associated with faces detected in Photos, the app makes it easy to bridge that gap. Also in the For You tab are suggested camera effects for photos you’ve already taken, and selected photos grouped chronologically into Memories, such as Best of the Last Two Months or Last Spring.

Taken together, the For You section is very similar to the Assistant in Google Photos. It’s at least as useful as Google’s offering, but with the twist of Apple positioning itself as the more privacy-friendly company.

Security and Privacy

I spend a lot of time writing about hackers and online scam artists, but physical security is a far more serious issue. As of iOS 12, your iPhone will share precise location data with 911 operators and first responders when you make an emergency call. This is a great assurance in an age where most people only have a cell phone to rely on in an emergency. Note, however, that just because the iPhone can send the information doesn’t mean that the responder who receives the call has the equipment to acquire the location data.

In the world of passwords, Apple is removing a lot of the stress of better password hygiene. The built-in password manager will already autofill stored passwords for you. Now, your iPhone can automatically suggest complex and unique passwords for apps and websites, and even flag instances of repeated passwords. That’s great, since recycling passwords is an invitation to be hacked. Siri can also now search passwords stored in the password list (a useful repository, tucked into Settings>Passwords>Accounts>Website>App Passwords). In iOS 12, you’ll also be able to send and receive passwords between Apple devices, including your Apple TV—handy for logging in to watch your favorite streaming services. Best of all, one-time-passwords sent via SMS to verify your identity will be available as autofill options in apps.

I haven’t yet been able to test these password manager features, because my test device didn’t have all my passwords loaded into it. Still, I’m glad to see Apple working to make it easier to follow best practices when it comes to personal security. My colleague Tom Brant has been an avid user of the iOS password manager for several years, leaving Dashlane in favor of Apple’s offering. He finds the autofill feature particularly useful for easily deploying saved passwords.

Expanding on its built-in and third-party ad-blocking in iOS, Apple is going further in iOS 12. From now on, Safari will prevent social-media sharing buttons (like those at the top of this article) from tracking you without your permission. Apple says that Safari will also prevent websites from “collecting your device’s unique characteristics,” which can be used to identify you and track your movements online. Both of these are welcome additions to iOS.

Memoji and More

If you’re not fond of your own face, you can partake of the new ghost, koala, tiger, and T. Rex animoji available on the iPhone X (and its XS, XS Max, and XR brethren). These animated avatars follow the movements of your face, and can now feature, in Apple’s words, tongue and wink detection. You can create short videos using these digital masks, and recordings can now last up to 30 seconds for maximum animoji karaoke value. Animoji were already impressive before, but in iOS 12 the simulacra match your facial expressions near-perfectly.

You can also use them during FaceTime sessions. Here, the animoji respond to your face in real time. It’s a remarkable feat, although I found the Alien face more menacing than entertaining. It is possible to move too far and have your true face reappear, but in general it’s an outstanding experience. I highly recommend trying these features out, even if you think they’re dumb or childish, just to see how well they work.

If animoji are too impersonal, you can now create a custom memoji (think Bitmoji, but Apple). Select hair, hats, eyewear, and mix and match colors to your heart’s content. What’s amazing is that these custom simulacra respond to your face just as well as the prefab animoji from Apple. You can even don your memoji in live Facetime chats.

Sadly, Animoji and Memoji remain exclusive to the iPhone X line. That’s too bad, because these digital talking heads are a lot of fun. But they also require fancy face-mapping hardware specific to the iPhone X devices. Not even the 2017 iPad I used in testing can take advantage of them.

Within the Messages app, you’ll notice an improved app strip giving you access to the nifty stickers, games, and so on. With iOS 12, you can now add stickers and other effects to video and photos shot from within Messages. It’s not just convenient, it’s a strong statement from Apple that if you have an iPhone, you don’t need Snapchat or Facebook Messenger to have fun with pictures and video.

Messages has, for years, been the secret weapon in the iOS arsenal. It’s fast, secure, and now offers fun extras completely unique to Apple users. Sure, the company may be aping Snapchat and the like, but it’s working, and if it’s encrypted end-to-end, then I say God bless it.

Initially, Apple boasted that iOS 12 would support group FaceTime chats with up to 32 people. At the time of writing, that feature has been delayed to “later this fall.” I can’t say I’m particularly keen to have dozens of faces shouting at me from the other side of glass screen, but its an undeniable upgrade to an already mature service. Group FaceTime will take on Google Hangouts, Skype, and other established video chat services, so Apple is probably wise to make sure it works perfectly out of the gate.

Healthy Boundaries for Your iPhone

In a time of luxury smartwatches, enormous $1,400 iPhones, and trillion-dollar valuations, it’s easy to say that Apple has lost its creative edge. That would be wrong. IOS 12 shows a company interested in experimentation with an established platform. Between the tools in Screen Time and the power of Shortcuts, iOS 12 represents the biggest change in years for how iPhone users engage with their apps and their devices.

It might not be as visually noticeable as when Apple shifted to flat visual design, or even noticeable at all, since you have to activate features like Screen Time and download Shortcuts manually. But it’s a strong acknowledgement of a growing unease with the way technology has become entwined in our lives, and a desire among consumers for more control. Fake news, data collection by social media and search engines, and smartphone addiction all feel like symptoms of some larger malady, but Apple is saying that there is a way to strike a healthy balance, and all we have to do is flick a switch.

Apple iOS was already a mature and stable operating system going into its 12th iteration. Its clean and consistent design has survived many changes, and it still holds its own in the modern smartphone world. iOS 12 keeps the 4.5 rating earned by its predecessor, and remains an Editors’ Choice.