iOS 16 Public Beta: Notes from the Road

One week ago, I foolhardily installed the iOS 16 public beta on my daily-use iPhone, just ahead of the Alaska cruise. But as I had hoped and expected, I’ve experienced no issues that I can attribute to this pre-release software. And I like what I see of the updates so far.

For the most part. My initial excitement, voiced in last week’s article, centered on two key new features, the newly customizable lock screen and Visual Lookup. Since then, I’ve experimented a lot more with the lock screen, and have toned down some of the widget-based capabilities, which in typical Apple form are curiously limited and specific. And I’ve not had time to experiment further with Visual Lookup, though I plan to in the future.

The issue, in part, is the connectivity on this cruise, which varies from passable to unusable depending on where I am in the ship. I’ll write more about my connectivity experience in a future Premium article, but the short version is that we can’t rely on being online, and that sort of takes the fun out of some of the lock screen customizations. Well, that and those limitations I mentioned earlier.

And the limitations are many: you can only place a single small widget next to the date, above the clock. And you can only place four widgets below the clock, with limited choices and no sizing or multi-line capabilities. And when you do add one or more widgets there, the lock screen time display loses its ability to partially occlude a part of the background wallpaper, which I feel is a key visual benefit of the new lock screen. I hope this is fixed in a future beta.

That said, there is another lock screen change that will absolutely prove to be one of the best improvements in iOS 16: notifications (and new live activities), which were previously the only interactive element on the iPhone lock screen, now display on the bottom of the lock screen instead of right below the clock. This makes them infinitely easier to interact with, since they’re right where your hand is, and you no longer need to double-fist the phone.

Apple used to place a sort-of permanent Now Playing notification on the lock screen, but this is now one of several so-called live activities that also appear at the bottom of the screen with other notifications. This, to me, is the best part: I use this Now Playing notification routinely—at the gym, on music nights at home, whatever—and it’s so much more accessible now. I love it.

I have also experimented with creating multiple lock screens, each of which can have its own look and feel, with different backgrounds, fonts, widgets, and so forth. And I feel like people will love that, but I doubt I’ll ever switch lock screens around like jewelry or clothes. It’s just not my thing.

Anyway, the long and short of the lock screen is that I only use a single widget, for now, for weather, above the time. And none below. But I love those notifications.

There’s more.

After a lot of experimentation unrelated to iOS 16, I recently switched back to Apple Mail on the iPhone, leaving Gmail behind. (I’m still using the Gmail service, of course.) This was a tough one because each has advantages and at least one issue I can’t stand: Gmail was always up-to-date, and immediately, but its small font sizes and lack of font customization was grating. And Apple Mail offers highly readable fonts that respect the system-wide choices I made, but it is almost never up-to-date and often checks for mail after I open it. That’s not what push email is supposed to be like.

Anyway, I bit the bullet and have been suffering with slow mail access so I can actually read it. And there is one new Mail feature in iOS 16 that I find interesting: if you use Focus, which I’m experimenting with on the cruise because of connectivity issues, it filters out distracting, non-important email automatically. I’m not sure yet how accurate this is, of course, but it seems like a useful feature.

There are lots of Messaging improvements in iOS 16, and I suspect this might be the second or third-biggest update in this release for many. I don’t honestly care about Messages or its unique blue box/green box features, but the ability to unsend messages—and mark read messages as unread—will prove useful. In the future: for these to work, the other person must be on iOS 16 too. I don’t have any regular contacts on this release yet.

iOS 16 promises “smarter” dictation, and as someone who routinely uses dictation for text messages, I can state with certainty that iOS dictation could only get smarter: what Google does on Android is vastly superior, with much better accuracy and faster performance. It’s magic. So I was curious how this worked.

It’s just as terrible. The only thing I’ve noticed is that voice recognition remains on if you select a point in the transcribed text with your finger. And that that leads to further accuracy issues since you may keep talking, or others are talking around you, and the transcribed text is placed in the wrong area. This one hasn’t worked out for me at all.

And I guess that’s about it for now. There’s a lot more to iOS 16, of course. But we’ll see how it progresses between now and the final release.

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Conversation 8 comments

  • Sykeward

    21 July, 2022 - 4:01 am

    <p>The dictation is a sore point for me, too. I think Apple actually did overhaul it, but the new features work so erratically that it’s a mess to use (at least before it was broken in a predictable way). </p><p><br></p><p>They added auto-punctuation and auto-capitalization that’s really aggressive and frequently wrong on the first guess. It appears they tried to mitigate this by having it continuously update what it previously typed as you continue speaking and giving it more context. However, all this is disorienting in practice and you can sometimes end up with some pretty weird results, like what should be <span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">a single normal sentence ending up as two short nonsense sentences, which it tries to fix by treating random words as proper names and capitalizing them.</span></p><p><br></p><p>Obviously this is a beta, and things like spell checking and word prediction do seem like they’ve improved, especially misspellings involving inadvertent spaces (I’m <em>very</em> thankful for this). The rest, not so much. </p><p><br></p>

  • johnlavey

    Premium Member
    21 July, 2022 - 8:37 am

    <p><strong>Dictation:</strong> unlike Paul and Sykeward I have experienced<strong> vast improvements, in my opinion,</strong> in my live conversations with my family. There still can be misspellings and crazy inserted words, of course, but most of the time I am amazed at how well it works. Periods, question marks, etc. are correctly inserted. (One reason it may seem better is that we all use iPhones. IDK) I hope it gets even better in the new betas that will be released this summer.</p>

  • mattbg

    Premium Member
    21 July, 2022 - 10:44 am

    <p>Is the Focus effect on Mail notifications similar to Focused Inbox on Outlook iOS?</p><p><br></p><p>One of the main reasons I use Outlook iOS is because it can generate notifications only for Focused Inbox e-mails, which in my experience have a much higher chance of being relevant and notification-worthy vs. the background noise e-mails that junk but also aren’t important.</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      21 July, 2022 - 4:25 pm

      Yes, that’s a good comparison.

  • lvthunder

    Premium Member
    21 July, 2022 - 4:42 pm

    <p>With this cycle, I’m more interested in iPadOS and app switching (I forget the name).</p>

    • merlinv

      21 July, 2022 - 11:43 pm

      <p>It’s stage manager, I am interested in this as well, among the other updates. </p>

  • christianwilson

    Premium Member
    22 July, 2022 - 9:35 am

    <p>I would switch to Apple Mail 100% if it had one feature. Scheduling/snoozing emails. I figured out an Inbox Zero strategy for myself a while back and it works well as long as I can snooze emails I need to deal with later. I do this for bill reminders and messages I need to respond to at a later time (after work, for example). I use Outlook.com and the Outlook app for most mail but would consolidate to Apple Mail immediately if it had a good snooze feature. </p><p><br></p><p>Does that multiple Lock Screen feature tie into Focus modes? I created a “Vacation” focus mode for a recent trip which managed only the notifications I wanted and allowed me to build a custom Home Screen featuring only the apps and widget I wanted without having to mess up my daily Home Screen. It worked really well and I would welcome being able to have work/home/etc lock screens to tie to those focus modes. </p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      22 July, 2022 - 11:17 am

      <p>Not sure about snooze, but scheduled send is a coming feature in Mail in iOS 16. I’ve not tried it yet.</p><p><br></p><p>And yes, Focus integrates with the new lock screen stuff, you can connect a lock screen to a focus.</p>

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