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Apple iOS 13 Review: Come for Dark Mode, Stay for Everything Else

Today is the correct day to install iOS 13. That’s because version 13.1 is beginning to roll out, making the entire operating system much more stable and bug-free. That means I can talk about everything I love about the update and help you decide whether you should install it on your phone as well.

iOS 13 has so many little tweaks buried inside of it that make using your iPhone feel better. It’s more appealing to look at, it’s convenient from a functionality standpoint, and it’s much more versatile than ever before. It’s kind of like a version of iOS we always hope we get when WWDC rolls around. Except this year, we actually got it.

For example: we finally got dark mode. You know how many years we’ve been asking Apple to do a dark mode in iOS? Like, six. And especially over the past couple of years now that iPhones come with OLED displays.

Then there are the subtle UI tweaks; the redesigned versions of Apple Maps, Photos, Music, and Reminders; the convenient shortcut gestures that require a long-press and not a 3D Touch; and all the final touches to create a well-rounded experience.

There isn’t very much to dislike about iOS 13. It’s an overall solid update. You’re gonna probably upgrade for dark mode alone, but it’s worth staying for all the other stuff Apple includes that simply enhance the user experience.

Dark Mode is Finally Here

iOS 13’s marquee feature is dark mode. Finally, after years of having a bright-white UI, Apple caved and gave us exactly what we want: pitch-black darkness. Now, in the Settings app, you can turn on the new dark mode and make everything… darker. Every system app gets the new UI, and so do notifications and certain wallpapers.

Dark mode in iOS 13 looks especially good on iPhone X models. I’ve had the iOS 13 beta on my iPhone XS for the past three months, and it looks awesome thanks to the OLED’s reproduction of inky blacks. I also have the beta on my iPhone 7 which looks alright, but you don’t get the full effect of the feature with the device’s LCD panel. It looks good, don’t get me wrong, but it looks especially stunning on more recent iPhones.

One of the best features of the new dark mode is the ability to schedule it to turn on and off depending on the time of day. I have my iPhone set to turn it on automatically at sunset, but you can pick precise times if that’s what you want. This is one of those features that you won’t realize you want until you have it.

Of course, if you wanna turn on dark mode manually, you can do it in the settings app or in Control Center.

From a utility standpoint, dark mode also helps with battery life. It’s common knowledge that darker UI elements, whether they’re presented on an LCD panel or OLED, are much more friendly to the lifespan of your battery because the pixels on your screen don’t have to be that bright, therefore saving some extra juice. This is especially true with OLEDs, obviously, since dark pixels can be turned off when not in use.

I can’t tell you it’s a night and day difference in terms of how much battery life you save when dark mode is on, but I can tell you it helps to save a few fumes in the tank over the course of a day. If you want your phone to last just a bit longer because you know you’ll be away from a charger for a while, flick dark mode on.

Dark mode is probably the feature that I would tell people is the biggest perk of upgrading to iOS 13. Like I said, users have been waiting years for Apple to release it, and now that the time has finally come, it would make sense for at least some people to install iOS 13 for this feature alone. It’s that big.

And did I mention it looks cool? Because it definitely does.

Photos, Reminders, Music, and Maps Get Overhauled

Dark mode may be reason enough to install iOS 13, but if that’s not enough to convince you to upgrade, consider the awesome improvements Apple has made to four of its stock applications: Photos, Reminders, Music, and Maps.

Photos

The Photos app in iOS 13 has been completely overhauled with a new user interface that lets you zoom in on timeframes to find specific photos. You can view photos by years, months, days, or view them all at once in “All Photos.” At the bottom, you’ll find tabs for Photos, For You, Albums, and Search.

The For You tab offers up memories of the past, featured photos that Apple thinks are worth looking at, effect suggestions to help improve your photos, and view shared photos and albums; the Albums tab shows you (you guessed it!) your photo albums; and the Search tab lets you sift through your photos with intelligent search terms such as “food” or “beach.”

Using the new Photos app day to day, you begin to pick up on the sublte improvements Apple has made. None of the features I just mentioned (besides the visual overhaul) are necessarily ground-breaking, and we’ve seen most of them in other photo apps such as Google Photos. But now that they’re available in the stock Photos app on iOS, the experience of using the app simply becomes more pleasurable.

One of the more enticing improvements Apple made to Photos in iOS 13 is the inclusion of new editing tools. You now have much more granular control over how your pictures are gonna look after you touch them up. Each editing tool is based on a scale of 100 notches, negative and positive, which should let you achieve the exact look you’re shooting for.

What’s even cooler is the fact that Apple has finally brought proper editing tools to the Photos app for videos. Granted, the tools aren’t as extensive as what’s available with simple images, but you can at least saturate, crop, rotate, and sharpen videos, something only third-party apps could do before.

In a nutshell, the new Photos app is a pleasure to use and offers a more versatile set of features than what you’re probably used to from stock Apple applications.

Reminders

The Reminders app in iOS 13 has also been completely revamped. It now comes with a new design; improved reminder sorting features; enhanced Siri integration; the ability to include attachments in reminders; and new ways of being reminded about something, like when you’re messaging a certain contact.

I enjoy the new Reminders app simply for the new design and sorting features. That’s enough for me to get excited. I didn’t use a lot of the other features Apple included in this update like the appearance customization and attachments features. But if you’ve wanted these features in the past, they’re now available.

Music

The Music app isn’t getting a life-changing update in iOS 13 (it’s still Apple Music, in other words), but it is getting an updated UI with some subtle yet noticeable changes. The music player has been given a new UI, and so have the controls for sifting through your queue.

With iOS 13, Apple will be heavily marketing the new time-synced lyrics feature of the Music app. Instead of just listing the lyrics to a specific song, Apple Music will now show you the lyrics in real time as they’re spoken. They show up on your screen in a sort of karaoke-style interface, potentially killing in-home karaoke machines as we know them.

I didn’t get very much time with this feature while iOS 13 was in beta since most songs weren’t supported immediately (looking at you, Logic discography). But now that iOS 13.0 is available, I did get to check out the feature over the past couple of days, and it works as advertised.

Don’t upgrade to iOS 13 just for the Music app. It’s not worth it. But if you already know you’re gonna pull the trigger, the new features Apple introduced this year are nice perks.

Maps

So Apple Maps got another update.

I know, I know. You’re probably saying “I don’t care, I use Google Maps anyway.” I do too, and I can conclusively say that the new features in Maps in iOS 13 aren’t enough to pry you away from Google’s grip.

Mind you, I came to this conclusion despite Apple including the following features:

  • A mapping system built from the ground up
  • Location collecting to save your favorite locations in easy-to-access lists
  • A new Google Street View-esque “Look Around” feature with 3D 360-degree views
  • Real-time transit information, including updated ETA information
  • Improved Siri guidance
  • Up-to-the-moment flight status
  • Updated “Place cards”
  • An improved CarPlay experience
  • A new MapKit for developers which features vector overlays, point-of-interest filtering, camera zoom and pan limits, and support for dark mode.

Despite having all of these features, I was never able to convince myself to use Apple Maps over Google Maps during my testing. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve always just used Google Maps or if I’m subliminally scared to use Apple Maps out of fear of location inaccuracy. That’s been a problem for many people over Apple Map’s lifespan, and iOS 13 doesn’t do enough to fix that.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just stubborn and prefer Google Maps over Apple Maps. Or maybe Apple isn’t trying hard enough to overcome the sheer dominence of Google Maps. Either way, the app gets plenty of updates with iOS 13, and if you use it every day, you’ll appreciate what’s there.

The rest of us will just stick with Google Maps.

Performance Enhancements

Since iOS 12, Apple has taken it to heart to make every new version of iOS faster and better-optimized for your device. iOS 13 is no different.

With iOS 13, Apple says apps can launch up to twice as fast as before, Face ID is up to 30 percent faster, apps can be packaged in up to 50 percent smaller sizes for better storage efficiency, and app updates will be up to 60 percent smaller.

In day to day usage, I’ve noticed all four of these new features. Apps definitely open faster than they used to (although I’m not sure about twice as fast), Face ID is faster, apps take up less space than before (not all apps, mind you), and app updates install much faster than before. Apple’s claims, in this case, are a bit exaggerated, but they’re roughly true.

I’d assume those with older iPhones wil notice these features more than I did with my 2018 iPhone XS. If you have an iPhone 8, 7, or 6s, you’ll undoubtedly notice and appreciate all of these new features. Anything newer, and you’re looking at a few slight improvements that make your experience a bit more refined and pleasurable.

Haptic Touch

Some of you might not care about Haptic Touch in iOS 13 (it’s pretty easy to avoid using, after all), but I thought it deserved its own section since it’s literally responsible for killing a hardware feature of the iPhone.

With iOS 13, Apple is replacing 3D Touch with Haptic Touch. That’s why the newest iphones don’t come with pressure-sensitive screens. Now, when you touch and hold on certain elements of iOS 13, you’ll feel a slight bump and be presented with shortcuts or additional information. This is the same functionality as 3D Touch, just built into a long-press instead of a forceful one.

This means icon shortcuts on your home screen, peeks and pops, link previewing, and more are making their way to devices that don’t have 3D Touch-compatible screens, including the iPad and iPhone SE. Even the latest iPod touch is getting the feature.

I guess Apple decided it wasn’t worth building an entirely new display structure to include a feature that could have been achieved by including long-press shortcuts. It was Android’s response to 3D Touch, after all.

The Little Stuff

Here’s where we start getting into the smaller features of iOS 13. These are always some of the best features in any iOS update as they can dramatically improve your experience using your phone, despite them not getting very much attention from Apple.

Swipe-to-Type is Now a Built-In Feature

Third-party keyboards have allowed you to swipe across letters in order to type for years. But just now, at the end of 2019, Apple is adding the feature to its stock keyboard. It’s actually pretty accurate and fast to use, so my only complaint here is the fact it took Apple more than five years to introduce the feature themselves after it became a thing.

The Volume Indicator Doesn’t Suck Any More

You know how in basically every version of iOS, the volume indicator just sits smack in the middle of your screen and blocks whatever you’re looking at just to tell you that you hit a volume button? That doesn’t happen anymore with iOS 13.

Apple switched to a much less intrusive indicator that lives on the left-side of your screen and ever-so-subtley tells you whether you’re turning up or down the volume. This is the way it should’ve been all along. At least it’s here now, I guess.

Siri Sounds Better

If you use Siri, you’ll notice it has a new voice. It’s nothing ground-shattering, but it does sound a bit more refined, less robotic, and more like a living person. Siri can now also tune into basically any radio station in the country, play audio from third-party apps, and speak with an Indian accent.

These are small improvements, and that’s a problem. Apple doesn’t seem to be as invested in Siri as Google is in the Assistant. That’s why the latter is leaps and bounds ahead of the former. iOS 13 could’ve been the release where we saw actual, meaningful improvements to Siri to improve its functionality and intelligence. But Apple didn’t do that, and we now have to wait another year to see if the company does anything about it.

Memojis and Messages Get Updates

I almost gave these features their own sections, but I don’t use either of them very often, so I can’t exactly talk about them in great detail.

In a nutshell, you can now customize your Memoji with a ton of new accessories, colors, and styling options. Memojis can now be shared as stickers or traditional emojis. Messages now lets you include a profile photo that your friends can see on their phones. You can now search for more stuff inside your messages. There are three new Animoji.

I’ve kind of decided not to use iMessage so as not to get locked into Apple’s ecosystem. After all, I have to switch phones more frequently than you might assume. Therefore, I really don’t care about these features, but if you do, install iOS 13. I’m sure you’ll like them.

Everything Else

  • The Health app is getting an update with new features like menstrual cycle tracking, a new Summary view, highlights, interactive charts and filters, environmental and headphone audio levels (to help protect your hearing), oral health tracking (get those smart toothbrushes out, fam!), and activity trends.
  • There’s a new share sheet that just looks way better and less cluttered.
  • The Camera app includes a new “High-Key Mono” portrait lighting effect, and now anyone with portrait mode can adjust how much background blur they want.
  • Sign in with Apple lets you sign into apps and services with your Apple ID, just like you can with your Google or Facebook account. I’d probably trust Apple more than Facebook to log me into services, but I’m not sure the same can be said when compared to Google. Both are pretty much on par.
  • The new Find My app combines Find My Friends and Find My iPhone into a single app. It works just like you’d expect. I assume one of Apple’s main reasons for introducing this app is to give you a place to track your Apple Tiles, or whatever they’re gonna call them. Rumors pointed to them coming out this month, but it’s pretty clear they didn’t. Guess we’ll have to see how things play out.
  • You can now connect two pairs of AirPods or Powerbeats Pro to your iPhone to share audio with a friend. That’s fun.
  • HomePod now supports audio hand-off so you can keep listening to something on your phone when you get home on a better speaker. You can also add multiple family members to a HomePod for a customized experience tailed for whomever is speaking.
  • CarPlay got revamped, but I didn’t test it because somebody hasn’t bought a car yet.
  • Apple’s AR tech now supports motion capture and people occlusion, but there aren’t many experiences that have these features just yet so I couldn’t test them.
  • The App Store now hides your updates page in the menu you access by tapping your profile at the top of the app. That’s because there’s now a tab at the bottom so you can access Apple Arcade, a feature exclusive to iOS 13.

Conclusion

Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff packed into iOS 13. Apple does that every year, and every year, it can be difficult to decide whether upgrading is worth it.

I’m an advocate for always installing the latest iOS updates. Not only do you get new features, but you also get updated privacy and security features that people especially value nowadays.

If you don’t install iOS 13 for the security aspects, install it for dark mode. It’s just so cool. After that, stay for everything else like the performance enhancements, the redesigned Photos app, the upgraded Reminders experience, the new iMessage stuff, and everything else.

And if you want Apple Arcade, you have to install iOS 13.

In a nutshell, I think it’s worth upgrading to iOS 13. It’s a load of fun to play around with, and now that the bugs have been squashed thanks to iOS 13.1, I couldn’t feel more positive about this conclusion.

Rating: 8.5/10

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