When Apple unveils a new version of iOS, it doesn’t mess around.
Senior VP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi blazed through slide after slide at the WWDC 2018 keynote to show us almost everything new in iOS 12 — from new camera effects to a suite of tools to help manage device addiction, and of course those “Memoji.”
It’s one thing to show a new feature, however. Quite another to use it.
I got a chance to try out a few of the new iOS 12 tricks with an Apple-provided iPhone running the beta version of the update. While I couldn’t take any pictures, Apple did answer some questions it didn’t address in the keynote.
1. Memojis don’t have a gender option
I got to create a Memoji, an animated cartoon face you can give yourself that works just like an animoji. Bitmoji, Facebook, and Samsung have all done their own versions of this, but Apple’s Memoji will work natively in Messages as well as on FaceTime video calls.
When I began creating a Memoji, I thought for a moment I had accidentally started with a female template. Turns out there actually isn’t a gender option. Apple makes the default avatar androgynous by design. You can alter the face shape, hairstyle, or details in the nose and eyes instead.
By not including the option to select male or female for Memoji, Apple ensures everyone gets the same options for facial features — while side-stepping any accusations of restricting itself (and its users) to a binary definition of gender.
2. How Group FaceTime scales up to 32 video streams
It’s been a long wait for Group FaceTime. But with this announcement, Apple went the extra mile: Group calls with FaceTime will now handle 32 people on one call. For comparison, Skype and Google Hangouts both max out at 25.
How can Apple handle a group call with that many people, all streaming high-quality video? The short answer: It doesn’t.
At any one time, there are only four bubbles on the screen that are prominently displayed. They are the only ones that need high-quality video. The rest of the streams are in a strip of smaller bubbles along the bottom.
That way the call is never processing too much video at once, and FaceTime can switch bandwidth needs between users as they sound off.
3. Group FaceTime has a new ‘ringless’ notification
While one-to-one FaceTime chats will still sound like phone calls, group FaceTime will send participants a new “ringless” notification — one that lets participants know a video call has started in a more subtle manner.
As long as at least one person remains on the call, that call is active. Participants can jump in and out at will just by hitting the big green “Join” button after tapping on the group, in either the Messages or the FaceTime app.
4. Siri is going to get pretty thirsty
Although Apple has slowly opened up Siri to developers over the years, the new Siri Shortcuts might be the most important update yet.
Shortcuts let app developers integrate Siri with certain actions – say, ordering a specific set of groceries from Instacart – so you can just tell Siri to get it done from anywhere, even the lock screen.
Any developer can create these now. An “Add to Siri” bubble will appear in the app if the action is something you tend to do a lot. On top of that, Siri will proactively suggest you add Shortcuts via notifications.
Shortcuts might convince some Siri holdouts to actually start using the voice assistant for stuff other than the weather or setting timers. But it also seems like Siri could become the new Microsoft Clippy — forever popping up with annoying suggestions — if Apple doesn’t balance this feature properly.
5. Do Not Disturb has a great 3D Touch menu
Apple unveiled a new set of controls to help manage how you use your iPhone, providing a suite of analytics that will track everything from app use to the number of times you pick up your phone over the course of the day.
Apple already provides Do Not Disturb for muting notifications at night. Now it’s making the feature easier to use at other times with a new 3D Touch Quick Actions menu.
Call it up and you’ll have the option to turn on DND for an hour, until the evening, until you leave a specific location, or until the end of your current meeting or event.
6. When Screen Time Allowances expire, notifications are restricted
Parents will be able to manage their kids’ screen time with a new set of controls that will allow time limits on specific apps. Apple wisely chose to restrict notifications on apps after their time limits have been met — so if your kids are being taunted by their friends for hitting their limits on Messenger, say, they won’t be able to see those messages.
7. Parental controls for content are now in one place
Apple has provided controls for restricting the content kids can access, based on the rating systems for apps and movies. But currently those restrictions are imposed by device. That means if a kid uses two different iPads, the parent needs to set the controls on both.
With iOS 12, this is now handled by account, and it’s all in the Screen Time app.
8. iPhone X gestures are coming to the iPad
According to Apple’s product page on iOS 12, the iPad will get some iPhone X-like gestures in the new update.
Just swipe anywhere on the Dock to get to the Home Screen. Control Center will be available via a swipe down from the right side of the top of the screen.
And thankfully, there’s no notch on the iPad.