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iOS 18 embraces Apple Intelligence, deeper customization and a more useful Siri


WWDC is always where we learn about the year’s biggest updates to Apple’s operating systems. Given that the iPhone is Apple’s most important product, it’s no surprise that iOS takes up a major chunk of the attention each June. WWDC 2024 is no exception, as Apple had a ton of new features and updates to go over, many of which concerned AI (or Apple Intelligence, as the company is calling it).

Apple Intelligence is all over iOS 18, as well as iPadOS 18 and macOS Sequoia. Apple is using a blend of its own tech and capabilities powered by OpenAI (as was widely expected). ChatGPT will be integrated into Apple Intelligence too.

As part of this new era, Siri is getting a major overhaul. The voice assistant will be able to get much more done as it will be more deeply integrated into your apps and have more contextual awareness. You’ll be able to use Siri for things like photo editing, rewriting emails and prioritizing notifications. There’s the option to type your Siri commands as well, which is a nice accessibility upgrade.

The language models will be able to rewrite, proofread and summarize text for you in apps such as Mail, Notes, Safari, Pages and Keynote, as well as third-party apps. Image generation will be available too in sketch, illustration and animation styles — so you won’t be able to generate realistic images using Apple’s tech. Image generation is built into apps such as Notes, Freeform and Pages.

Screenshots of a call transcription on iPhoneScreenshots of a call transcription on iPhone

Apple

You’ll be able to use natural language prompts to search for photos of certain people. There’s also the promise of more intelligent search in the browser and (at long last!) transcriptions of calls and Voice Memos to catch up to a feature Pixel devices have had for a while.

Although Apple Intelligence will pull from your personal information to make sure the systems are applicable to you, it will be aware of your personal data without collecting it, according to Apple software engineering SVP Craig Federighi.

Apple is employing a blend of both on-device and cloud-based AI processing. Your iPhone will handle as much of the legwork locally as it can, with more complex operations being sent to Apple’s processing centers. That raises some questions about privacy, one of Apple’s central selling points to would-be customers (especially after Apple openly took digs at rivals that use cloud servers for data processing), but Federighi gave some answers to those.

For one thing, the company has established something called Private Cloud Compute. Apple says the aim is to wield the power of the cloud for more advanced AI processing while making sure your iPhone data remains safe and secure.

To use these new features on iOS, you’ll need a device that has at least an Apple A17 Pro chipset — in other words, an iPhone 15 Pro or one of this year’s upcoming models. Apple Intelligence features will be available for free on iOS 18, iPadOS 18 and macOS Sequoia this fall in US English.

Apple also focused on customization. You’ll be able to make the home screen look more like your own vibe than ever. You’ll be able to change the colors of app icons, which can automatically get a different look when you have Dark Mode enabled. Your apps won’t need to be locked within a rigid grid anymore either. Your home screen can look almost as messy as you want.

Control Center is getting some big changes. You’ll be able to access things like media playback and smart home controls from here. Developers will be able to take advantage of this and offer Control Center management for their apps too. It’ll be possible to pin custom controls to the home screen for your most frequently used apps and functions (so you’ll be able to switch out the flashlight control for something else, for instance). Custom controls can also be mapped to the physical action button as you see fit.

When it comes to Messages, there’s another nice update in the form of scheduling. When you’re catching up on things late at night, you’ll be able to time a message to send in the morning, for instance. Those who use emoji reactions in Messages (aka Tapbacks) are getting a nice update too. You’ll be able to choose from any emoji instead of the five basic reactions Apple has offered for years.

Text effects (the little animations that show up when you type a certain phrase) are getting an upgrade as well. Meanwhile, Apple will offer satellite messaging support on iPhone 14 and later devices. That’s a major update, especially for those who go off the grid often, as messaging will be more useful beyond emergencies. You’ll be able to send and receive texts, emoji and Tapbacks via iMessage and SMS.

AI-generated emoji in MessagesAI-generated emoji in Messages

Apple

There’s also a key AI-related change coming to the Messages app. Your iPhone will be able to generate custom emoji based on what you’re writing. You might need a PhD in semiotics to decipher some of the “Genmoji” you receive.

There’s one other big update for Messages in iOS 18: Apple will add support for RCS (Rich Communication Services) to Messages. RCS is a more advanced messaging protocol than SMS. It enables better media sharing, Wi-Fi messaging, group chats and, crucially, better security thanks to end-to-end encryption. It should allow for more secure, media-rich messaging between iPhone and Android devices.

Apple for years refused to support RCS in order to keep iMessage a walled garden. But after persistent pressure from Google — and more importantly, new EU laws coming into force — Apple promised to start supporting RCS sometime this year. Apple, which is never petty about anything ever, almost completely glossed over the addition of RCS in its the keynote, relegating it to a three-word mention.

The Photos app is getting is biggest redesign ever, Apple says. It’s getting a visual overhaul and one of the key aims is to help you find your photos more easily (filtering out screenshots should be a breeze, for one thing). Your snaps will be organized around memorable moments. Apple Intelligence will power features like Clean Up, which is effectively Apple’s version of Google’s Magic Eraser tool.

The Mail app will soon be able to categorize emails — just like Gmail has for years. Apple will also organize emails by sender and make it easy to archive or delete every email you get from a certain company. This will be optional, so you can stick to a single inbox if you wish.

Maps, meanwhile, will offer more detailed topographic maps to bring the app more into line with the Apple Watch. This should be useful for planning routes while hiking. As for the Journal app, it will now show stats for things like a daily writing streak.

Wallet is getting a handy new feature that will allow you to send cash without having to exchange personal details. All you need to do is simply tap your phones together. This could be handy for splitting the bill after dinner with a new acquaintance. Tickets saved to Wallet can now include stadium details, recommended Apple Music playlists and other information.

Calendar can show events and tasks from Reminders app, while the Notes app can automatically solve any math equations you enter. The Home app will offer guest access

Another welcome change is the introduction of a dedicated Passwords app. This will work across iOS, iPadOS, visionOS and macOS and make it easier to find saved passwords from iCloud Keychain. Even better, there will also be Windows support via the iCloud for Windows app. Hopefully, this will make it easier for everyone to use a password manager and have unique passwords for every single account — something we strongly recommend.

This being Apple, of course it has some new privacy controls for apps in iOS 18. You’ll have the option to lock apps behind an authentication method (i.e., your PIN or Face ID) so that when you pass your iPhone to someone to show them your camera roll, they can’t go snooping in your Messages. You can also hide apps — perhaps ones you use for dating — in a locked folder too. Elsewhere on the app privacy front, you’ll be able to decide which of your contacts an app has access to instead of giving them absolutely everyone’s phone numbers and personal information.

Elsewhere, Apple is bringing Game Mode to iPhone. This aims to boost performance by minimizing background activity, while controllers and AirPods should be more responsive.

During an emergency call, dispatchers will be able to send a request to turn it into a video call or to share media from the camera roll. This, Apple suggests, can help first responders better prepare for an incident. The Health app, meanwhile, has been redesigned to make it easier to access vital info in an emergency.

On the accessibility front, users will be able to navigate their iPhone using eye tracking. You’ll be able to set up a custom sound that will trigger tasks using the Vocal Shortcut feature, while Music Haptics aims to give those who are deaf or hard of hearing another way to experience music via the Taptic Engine.

A developer beta of iOS 18 is available today and a public version will roll out in July. As always, iOS 18 will roll out to all eligible iPhones this fall.

If your device can run iOS 17, you’ll be able to install iOS 18. The list of eligible devices includes the iPhone 11 and later lineups, along with iPhone Xs, Xs Max, Xr and the second-gen SE.

Catch up here for all the news out of Apple’s WWDC 2024.



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