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iOS 10 Review: Part 3 – Photos & Music

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How good is iOS 10's new Messages app?


Michael Grothaus

16:34, 22 Sep 2016

Next to Android Nougat, iOS 10 is the biggest software update of the year for mobile users. Apple’s iPhone is used by hundreds of millions of people all over the globe and whenever a new update lands adoption is always fast — way faster than it is with Android.

The reason for this fast adoption rate is simple: Apple controls the hardware and software, so when a new update is available it is sent, OTA, to all of the iPhones in the world. This is why new Apple software hits double figures within days of release and why it takes Google over a year sometimes to achieve similar results with its Android updates.

Apple’s iOS 10 update is a big overhaul over iOS 9, packed with tons of new features, design elements and capabilities. Usage of iOS 10 will be very high as well, as it is running on Apple’s new iPhone 7 handsets which are both now available to buy.

After using it for the past week how does it stack up? Is it really the best iOS ever? What about its major new features, such as the ones for Messages, Photos, and Siri? There’s a lot to cover in iOS 10, which is why we’re breaking our review into parts. In part 1 of our review we take a look at the all new Messages app.

iOS 10 Review: Messages

Without a doubt, the biggest changes and improvements in iOS 10 came to the Messages app, It’s no surprise Apple did this either: messaging apps are the most popular kind of smartphones apps and if you can build a huge user base around one, your app has the potential to generate billions and help chart mobile technologies moving forwards. Apple knew it needed to update its aging and stale Messages app because in recent years third-party apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and even Viber were passing it by on the feature front. And that’s to say nothing of apps like Snapchat and even Instagram, which people use to communicate.

If Apple continued to have its Messages app be nothing more than a slightly tweaked texting app, it risked users defecting to other messaging apps, which are cross-platform, and thus made it easier for those users to defect to Android. So, just what did Apple add? There are four main features I want to concentrate on: the fun factor of messages, emojis, apps, and rich text links.

iOS 10 Review: Messages – Animations

Let’s start with the fun factor–because this is where it’s most evident Apple stole from competing apps. Messages now lets you send animated text bubbles and backgrounds, stickers, and marked up images. No doubt about it, my favorite “fun feature” is the animated text bubbles which include slam, loud, gentle, and invisible ink. Each of these, when selected, will animate the text bubble when the person views your text with slam indicating big news, loud a shout, gentle a whisper, and invisible ink…well invisible ink. The first three help add tone to your messages, which is often lost in text communication. The fourth, invisible ink, covers your messages in a sparkly dust that the user needs to swipe away to read or see (all text bubble animations can be applied to media you are texting as well).

Besides animated text bubbles, Messages also includes animated backgrounds. Applying on to your message will cause the background to appear on the receivers screen when they first receive the message. Animated backgrounds include balloons, fireworks, lasers, and more.

Truthfully, those these animations and backgrounds are entertaining, applying them to each message you send can be a bit time consuming and annoying. However, for the younger crowd–and used sparingly by others–they can help add flare, tone, and content to your boring text conversations.

iOS 10 Review: Messages – Emojis

We all know emojis rule communications now. Their popularity is why Apple really beefed up the emoji capabilities in iOS 10 Message. Now when you send a single emoji it will display itself a bit larger than the regular text–a nice feature. But the really cool feature emoji lovers will adore is the ability to swap written words for emoji, making it easier to insert just the perfect emoji instead of having to manually find the right one.

In iOS 10 Messages, you can write out your entire Message, such as “Happy birthday, boy! Let’s go to a baseball game!” and then tap the emoji keyboard button. Any words with comparable emoji will be colored orange. Tapping on them will turn the word into an emoji (if there’s only one option) or bring up a popup menu to select from relevant emoji.

Though I’m not a big emoji user, Apple pulled this feature off incredibly well and it’s a standout feature many users will love most. It’ll also have me using more emoji.

iOS 10 Review: Messages – Apps

In Messages in iOS 10, the messaging app itself gains an app store. That’s right, Messages is now an app platform, allowing you to use mini apps inside a Message conversation. This mini apps can take the form of anything from sticker packs to games (like chess, for example), to full blown apps (such as an app that allows you to divide the dinner bill between people).

Stick apps are self-explanatory, and a feature other messaging apps have had for years. The games Message apps take a bit of getting used to. They’re an interesting way to play a smartphone game directly with a friend, but I question how many people will actually use them more than a few times. That being said, as a person in my 30s I may be the wrong target audience for Message games. Teenagers could love them.

But the most handy apps feature of the new Messages-as-app-platform is apps themselves. There are several good ones already out, including ones that let you share Airbnb listings with friends in a conversation so you can talk about which place you should hire. Apps that allow you to order takeout and split the bill, and apps that make it easy to send your location, ETA, or directions to a friend. This apps are the ones that really enhance communication through messages and they have the potential to upend the otherwise lackluster chat bots that are starting to appear in Facebook Messenger.

iOS 10 Review: Messages – Rich Text Links

The final Messages feature I think is worth mentioning–and for me makes iOS 10 worth it by itself. How much has it always sucked when you got a text message from a friend only saying this: http://www.knowyourmobile.com/devices/4k-tvs/23800/five-excellent-4k-tvs… ?You had to click on the link–or try to read the headline from the link–to figure out what it was a link to.

But now in Messages in iOS 10 Apple FINALLY supports rich text links, so you see the link’s headline and a nice preview image so you know what you are clicking on. Other messaging apps have had the ability to send rich links for years; welcome to 2010, Apple.

Our massive iOS 10 review continues with: Part 2: Widgets and Siri, Part 3: Photos and Music, and Part 4: Maps, News, and more. Check back soon!

In part 2 of our iOS 10 review we’re focusing on three other major improvements in Apple’s newest operating system: widgets, the new lock screen, and Siri. Let’s start with widgets. Click on over to PAGE 2 to read it now…

iOS 10 Review: Widgets

Widgets are nothing new on smartphones. Android has offered them for years. And to some extent, Apple has offered them before iOS 10. The Notification Center in previous versions of iOS offered limited widget support–but the only place you could access this widgets was in the Notification Center. With iOS 10, Apple has changed all that.

Widgets still exist in the Notification Center of iOS 10, but now you can also access them directly from an app’s icon on any page of the Home screen. Apple’s allows you to access these widgets by pressing on an app’s icon by using the 3D Touch display found on the iPhone 6s and later. It’s with this use for 3D Touch that Apple has brought the tactile force sensitive display from being a gimmick to being a truly useful feature of the iPhone.

3D Touch plus widgets make the Home screen–and the humble app icon–useful in a way it’s never been before. Whether its pressing on the Reminders’ app icon to quickly see the widget for today’s reminders, or pressing on a third-party app’s icon, such as Dark Skies, to quickly view a widget of the upcoming weather, widgets plus 3D Touch make navigating around iOS 10 a breeze. Before iOS 10 I didn’t think anyone who didn’t have a 3D Touch-capable iPhone were missing anything, now, however, the display technology seems as essential as that of the display itself.

iOS 10 Review: Lock Screen

In iOS 10, gone is the “Swipe to Unlock” lock screen we’ve been familiar with for nine years. The new lock screen now is purply an information and quick access center. Swipe to the left and you’ll see your Notification Center with all your widgets and notifications. Swipe to the right and you’ll quickly access the camera app. As for the “lock screen” part of the lock screen it now displays you background picture and any notifications you’ve received. But, again thanks to the 3D Touch display, these notifications can now be pressed on so you can interact with them. For example, pressing on a Mail notification takes you into the email message right on your lock screen, which allows you to read it, trash it, or flag it right away.

So how do you log into your iPhone if the “Swipe to Unlock” feature is gone?  You simply press the Home button with Touch ID and you’re immediately taken to your Home screen. Thanks to the speed of Touch ID, verification of your identity and unlocking the iPhone takes a fraction of a second, meaning it’s now much faster to log in.

Apple has also added a “raise to wake” feature to the iPhone. This, again, is something many Androids have had for years. Now you don’t need to press the Home button or the power button to wake your iPhone’s display. Simply raising the iPhone will enable the display for a few seconds so you could check the time or see your latest notifications. All the changes Apple has made to the lock screen make for a much faster and easier to use login experience.

iOS 10 Review: Siri

Another big change in iOS 10 comes to Siri, Apple’s personal digital assistant. Siri has long been a feature that most people probably don’t use a lot. At the best of times it was an assistant that didn’t do anything better than you could do and at its worst of times it was frustrating to use–misunderstanding your voice queries or returning irrelevant results. Both those problems seem fixed in Siri in iOS 10. The personal digital assistant now seem better able to correctly interpret your requests and the information it returns seems to happen both more quickly and also be more relevant as well.

Of course the biggest Siri improvements in iOS 10 come from the fact that Apple has opened Siri up to third-party developers. You can now, for instance, use Siri to book a Lyft or Uber, or use it to send a message via WhatsApp or LinkedIn.

Despite this third-party support, I still don’t find myself using Siri all that much. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been let down by the service for so many years that I don’t think of it as my input medium of choice when I want to interact with an app. That may change, however, as more apps support Siri–making its usefulness more apparent. Only time will tell.

Click to the next page for iOS 10 Review: Photos & Music

iOS 10 Review: Part 3 – Photos and Music

In part 3 of our iOS 10 review we’re focusing on two other apps in Apple’s newest operating system: Photos and Music. Each got major enhancements to functionality or design. Let’s start with Photos.

iOS 10 Review: Photos – Search

I’ve got to say, the most jaw-dropping experience I’ve had on iOS in years happened when I opened the updated Photos app and performed a search. I typed in “water” and the app returned thousands of pictures I had taken over the years that had water in them: oceans, lakes, rivers, fountains, and more. It was amazing: thanks to new machine learning algorithms in iOS 10, the Photos app is now able to identify objects inside of pictures–without you needing to tag them or do a thing.

Make no mistake about it, this new search functionality in iOS 10’s Photos app is one of the most significant advances in search computing in years–and the fact that it’s available on a freaking iPhone is amazing. But not content with “water” I next typed in “cake”. To show you just how smart Photos’ machine learning is, it not only returned one category of pictures with cakes in them, but separated them into four different categories: pictures with birthday cakes, pictures with wedding cakes, pictures with general cakes (such as cupcakes), and even pictures with hot cakes in them.

If you’re a person who loves taking pictures and who has a massive Photos library with hundreds of thousands of photographs going back decades you’ll love Photos new search features. They are simply amazing and they’ll have you discovering pics you’ve long forgotten about.

iOS 10 Review: Photos – Memories

Matter of fact, picture discovery and presentation is something Apple is concerned about. We take more pictures than ever, but finding the right ones and presenting them in interesting ways is harder than ever. Photos’ machine learning search solves the first problem, and its new Memories feature in iOS 10 solves the second.

Memories gets a prominent placement in the bottom toolbar in Photos. Tapping the button will take you to the Memories tab where Photos automatically assembled pictures based on “memories”–times and locations of related photos. Memories include categories such as locations, “Best of the Year”, “On This Day”, and more. Tap on any memory to view the photos inside it.

And inside each memory album will be a video that Photos has automatically assembled at the top of the album. Tap play to see your best pics of the memory displayed in a video complete with titles and music. You can even easily edit the videos by choosing other pics, swapping out the soundtrack, adjusting the tone, and making the movie longer or shorter. You can then share the videos via any means you want.

Along with Photos; new search features, Memories will help people rediscover their pictures like never before.

iOS 10 Review: Photos – People and Places Albums (But Where Is Live Photos????)

The final improvement to Photos in iOS 10 I want to touch on is the new People and Places albums. Photos now scans your library and uses machine learning to identify individuals in your pictures. It then assembles special sub-albums feature pictures with those individuals. This allows you to quickly access an album with all the pictures of, for example, your spouse. The People album has had a similar counterpart on the Mac Photos app for years, and it’s great to see it’s now available on iOS devices.

Another new album is Places. This album displays a map with stacks of photos. The stacks represent locations where those photos were taken. Zoom in to get more precise locations, such as individual addresses, or zoom out to see photos grouped by a larger geographic area, such as city or country. The Places album is going to be extremely popular with people who travel a lot.

One disappointment with Photos in iOS 10 is that Apple STILL have not created a dedicated Live Photos album. This is baffling as Live Photos are relatively hard to spot mixed in with your regular images. GET ON IT, APPLE!

iOS 10 Review: Music

The Music app has been completely redesigned in iOS 10–and Apple has hit a home run with it. In iOS 9 the Music app was a mess of a UI that was hard to navigate. Apple went back to the drawing board in iOS 10 and completely redesigned it, making font, artwork, and controls more streamlined and larger, and allowing users to customize away parts of the interface they don’t want–such as Apple Music or categories.

Music’s new design makes it one of the best included apps in iOS 10 and it’s literally making me listen to more music than ever on my iPhone. One other thing worth mentioning is the new Music controls Apple added to Control Center. Music controls are now on their own card in Control Center, making them much larger, clearer, and easier to use.

Our massive iOS 10 review continues with: Part 1: Messages, Part 2: Widgets, Lock Screen and Siri, and Part 4: Maps, News, and more.

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