iOS 16 review: Apple opens the lock screen

Apple has focused on modernizing the iPhone lock screen, making it a more useful part of how you interact with your phone. These changes also make it easier to use the iPhone’s Focus modes, which remain a little complicated to setup. The company has made lots of minor changes and improvements that add up to a better iPhone experience. Apple’s Messages app continues to improve, and the increasingly useful Visual Lookup feature is something an Android device can’t quite replicate. Yet. Pros: Customizable lock screen, Visual Lookup is smarter and more useful, haptic typing, launch bugs seem minimal. Cons: Some features demand the latest iPhone hardware, others need third-party app support. Engadget Score: 90

Video transcript

MAT SMITH: IOS 16 is officially here just in time for the new iPhone 14. And after spending several months in beta, I spent a couple of weeks with the full, polished version of Apple's newest mobile OS. And there is plenty to try here, including massive improvements to the messaging app, some new AI tricks, and customizable lock screens.

Just as importantly, it's not all that buggy-- crucial for any iOS users that aren't planning on buying a new iPhone. And if you're wondering whether to download it now or later, I suggest download it now.

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This year's edition of iOS works with the iPhone 8 and later, although some features do demand the A12 bionic chip. And I'll make sure to reference those later in the review. iOS 16, though, is a version of iOS you will notice because, this year, Apple has tackled the lockscreen. For a decade now, the iPhone used to feature a clock, notifications, and, well, not much else.

Things are different now, but let's start with that clock. There's a new font. You might not like how the new default font looks. I don't. But the good news is that it's customizable with several different styles and colors. You can, of course, choose photos for the lockscreen. But you can now Apply Filter Styles to them and even choose a shuffled selection of photos for your wallpapers and lock screens to cycle through.

But the big change is that there is now space for widgets. There are two different widget areas to customize-- a slim box above the clock that's best suited to one line text like weather notifications, the date, chances of rain, your next calendar event. Now if you do have an iPhone 14 Pro, make sure to check out our full review on that for all our thoughts on the dynamic island and that always on display, both feature heavily in those phones lock screens.

Below the clock, there is a bigger space that can house up to four different widgets-- a mix of 2 by 1 and 1 by 1 icons. From the lockscreen, you can tap on these to launch into the apps themselves. But don't expect to glean any information by long pressing on the icons. It's a shame. I think that would be a very Apple way to expand the information offered by those widgets. Maybe we'll see something along those lines in iOS 17.

Like when Apple debuted Home screen widgets, it will also take time for third-party app developers to get widgets of their own into their updates and onto your phone. At the moment, everything is very much Apple-made widgets for Apple-made apps. But I'm sure productivity, fitness tracking services, and others will jump at the chance to get a little space on your lockscreen.

Google, in particular, seems ready to get on board. They've already teased some of their widgets, including a forthcoming Gmail widget that will almost definitely join my lockscreen when it launches. Don't worry, though, the new lockscreen still keeps the classic features. You'll still see signal strength and battery icons, now with a percentage readout.

And both flashlight and camera shortcuts are still available to tap away. Oddly, the battery indicator only really visually shows how charged it is when the phone is either at 100% or under 20%, which can be a bit counterintuitive at one glance when you're at 50% but the battery icon appears full.

This lockscreen refresh also functions as a renewed way of showcasing an iOS 15 feature, one that can be pretty laborious to set up-- focus modes. You can now assign a focus mode-- one for personal say, one for work, one for sleep-- two individual lock screens with their own custom widget layouts and photos.

If you rarely change your wallpaper during the weekdays, you could say set up a fun weekend image of your family and assign it to your personal focus scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. The ability to now swipe between focus modes from your lockscreen just makes them easier to use in everyday life. Sure. I could have pulled from the dropdown menu and changed my focus modes there. But I didn't. With iOS 16, I'm already using these focus modes more.

Once again, it's Apple's Messages app that gets a lot of the beefed up updates this year. The Messaging app also gets some unique tricks thanks to visual lookup. It now handles image copy and pasting, pulling subjects from your photos, screenshots, and more and making them into easy to share stickers.

Not only can you put them into messages, you can put them into notes and several other apps. Long press on the object, animal, or person on your iPhone if it's an iOS XS or newer, and the phone will endeavor to clip it away from the background, ready to paste elsewhere. It's uncannily accurate for a method that's so, well, lazy. And I love it.

The visual lookup skills in iOS 16 have been upgraded elsewhere as well with a new ability to lift text from video. It doesn't always work, but it's still kind of amazing that it works at all. Apple is making up for lost time elsewhere as well within the Messages app. Finally, you can now edit and unsend messages that you send to other iPhone users if you're quick enough.

You'll have up to 15 minutes to edit after you first send the message with the chance to change your message up to five times. You can see any edited messages from other folks also using iOS 16, which will be grayed out, well, blued out underneath the correct message. Unsend features are only for iPhone to iPhone messages for now. Similarly, you can now undo send and schedule emails from the native mail app as well.

Finally, Apple has also upgraded its dictation features. Now, when you're talking to the iPhone, the keyboard will stay on screen, meaning you can edit and adjust your dictation on the fly. You can also type in the middle of dictation, which is great for names or specific places. You can tap on a word and dictate over it even to correct any mistakes.

Apple has also added more rigorous auto-punctuation to dictation, which generally helps insert commas, periods, and the rest without you having to say question mark at the end of any text-based requests to friends and family. It'll also even glean emoji as you say them, inserting them into your typing. It even worked on microscope emoji. Now this is sadly another feature that will require that A12 bionic chip found in the iPhone XR and newer devices.

Apple's health and fitness apps are relative newcomers to the company's own stable of native apps, and they continue to evolve. The Health app, in particular, now has a new medication's feature that helps you log what you take and when. You can set up multiple meds for different time of day reminders and frequencies. And your iPhone will now ping you when it's time.

Apple has also expanded the Fitness app to everyone. You no longer need an Apple Watch to track your steps when you stand and other fitness activities. Your iPhone's motion sensors will estimate your steps, distance, and even offer a rough calorie burn figure for your workouts.

IOS 16 also brings some potentially life-saving, personal safety updates. Emergency SOS, which sounds an alarm on the phone before automatically calling emergency services, can now be activated by pressing the side button on your phone five times. Then there's crash detection enabled in Settings, which will take data from the motion sensor gyroscope, accelerometer, microphone, and more, combine it with a series of algorithms to detect whether you've been in a car crash.

When detected, a warning will flag up on your iPhone or Apple Watch. And if you're still responsive, you can swipe on the screen to call emergency services or close the alert if it was a false alarm. Like the SOS call, the iPhone will automatically dial emergency services after 10 seconds have passed.

Now it wouldn't be an Apple update without a few security updates. Perhaps the most noticeable addition is Safety Check. From here, you can decouple your iPhone from specific contacts, services, and gadgets. Inside Safety Check, you can uncheck permissions and even nix the connection completely with Emergency Reset or Select All and Stop Sharing. You will need to use your passcode or face ID to use these more extreme measures.

One of the best updates is one I pretty much missed until I started reading iOS 16's very lengthy release notes. Haptic typing is here on an iPhone several years late. Until now, if you wanted typing vibrations on your iOS device, you'd actually have to install Gboard, which is, yes, Google's third-party keyboard. Now mere days later, it's hard to imagine going back to a life without haptic typing on glass. Those Android people, they've had it good.

As I've said, there's lots to check out in iOS 16, lots of small things, but some other things worth noting in my review. Take Apple Maps, for example. It now includes support for multi-stop routing, which can be synced with your Mac. Travel fares are also now displayed if you're riding public transport.

Apple also, finally, lets you hang up on calls with Siri hands-free. Sure. It can sound incredibly abrupt, almost rude. But hang-ups, until now, required a physical tap on the device. You can also adjust Siri's wait time before it responds to your voice commands.

iOS 16 marks another notable evolution of Apple's, often slow to change, mobile operating system, this time with a focus on enriching your lockscreen experience. I focused a lot on the lockscreen in this review because it's such a major part of how you interact with your iPhone.

Changes elsewhere are small. But there are an awful lot of them, and they add up. Sure. Some are less important. For example, Apple has added no fewer than seven more nose options for memoji. There are some features that I haven't been able to test, including accessibility upgrades for LiDAR-capable phones and Passkeys support. The latter uses your iPhone's security features for securely logging into websites and devices like your smart TV.

As with many iOS updates, you might not notice a lot of these changes. Many will find the medication's reminder feature useful and simple while others won't even know it's there. Sports fans might love a new dedicated news app tab for their favorite team. But on the other hand, you might just not care about sports.

You can and you should test out the new lockscreen widgets, setups and focus modes. But also, you don't have to. But please turn on haptic typing, and never let your iPhone make those typing noises ever again. Thanks for watching. And make sure to check out our full iOS 16 review over at Engadget.com. Make sure to like and subscribe for all the very latest tech news and reviews. And I'll see you soon.

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