It happens every fall: Right on the heels of Apple announcing another $1,000 phone, the company releases a major operating system update that make even older iPhones feel refreshed. Today is that day, as iOS 13 becomes officially available to all owners of an iPhone 6S or later.
The new iOS 13 holds a lot of promise. It introduces a dark mode, drastically overhauls the Photos app, includes a Street-View-like feature in Apple Maps, and officially introduces Apple Arcade, the new $5 a month gaming portal.
Something atypical for Apple is iOS 13’s notably buggy rollout. Since June, when Apple hosted its annual WWDC software shindig, the company has been releasing developer and public beta versions of its new OS for iPhones. This is usually a fertile time for communities of early users to share notes about their experiences online, and provide useful feedback to Apple on how the software works. This year, some developers say they’re surprised by what feels like a scattershot release.
“iOS 13 has felt like a super-messy release, something we haven’t seen this bad since iOS 8 or so,” Steve Troughton-Smith, an app and game developer, tweeted earlier this week. Troughton-Smith frequently blogs about his experiences coding for Apple platforms. “Definitely needs a lengthy period of consolidation and bug fixing,” he says of the new mobile OS.
At least some of the known bugs have been fixed for this release today, and other early users have reported no major issues with beta versions of iOS 13. To some extent, early versions of software are usually a crapshoot. (Remember the iOS update that totally bricked iPhones?) But if you can stand to wait five days, it might be worth it to wait for iOS 13.1, the next update to the iPhone’s OS that’s expected to drop on September 24, and should be more reliable. That’s when iPadOS, the retooled operating system for iPads, is coming out as well.
I Got Bugs
Apple first released the iOS 13 beta software for developers in early June, the same day as the WWDC keynote. The first public beta, the one that’s available to curious, thrill-seeking consumers, was released at the end of that month. Since then, both the developer and public beta versions of the software have gone through nearly a dozen different iterations. The release schedule has veered a bit from Apple’s usual timeline for iOS.
Some of the early iOS 13 problems have been things that only developers would encounter in their app-making processes, like hiccups when creating custom transitions in apps, or other inconsistencies in UIKit, Apple’s set of app-building tools. Other spotted problems have been consumer-facing.
This includes a glitch that allows users to bypass the iPhone’s lock screen and access Contacts, and another that caused users to lose data and projects that had been backed up in iCloud. The former is expected to be addressed with the upcoming iOS 13.1 update. The iCloud problem, meanwhile, caused Apple to revert back to an earlier version of iCloud within one of the iOS 13 releases, according to one developer, who declined to be quoted for this story.
Developer Craig Hockenberry, wrote about this iCloud issue, calling it a “clusterfuck” and noting that it “appears that the entire stack is getting rolled back and there won’t be new iCloud features in iOS 13 (at least initially).” Hockenberry added, “iCloud can’t be a beta,” given its critical role as a service for Apple products.
Apple says the iCloud issues from early betas have been resolved in the build of the software that’s shipping today.
The WIRED Guide to the iPhone
The writers at AppleVis, an Apple-focused website for the blind and low-vision community, noted that early versions of iOS 13 would cause a device’s display to “spontaneously and randomly switch between light on dark and dark on light,” making it challenging for those with low vision to use the phone. The iPhone’s new braille keyboard display would also sometimes stop responding to input. Some of the braille-related bugs will be fixed in iOS 13.1, but the other fixes aren’t being pushed out until a later date.
In my own experience with iOS 13.0, which was running on the new iPhone 11 and 11 Pro phones, I’ve run into some minor issues, including apps crashing or freezing, menu items from apps lingering on the page even when I go back to the home screen, and a stubborn cursor when I’m trying to edit text. Deleting apps is also completely unintuitive in iOS 13: When you long press on an app, it first shows you the option to share the app or rearrange it, before the apps begin to wiggle and display the familiar “X” for deletion.
But these are much less critical bugs than iCloud backups having been wiped, or low-vision users not being able to read the iPhone’s screen. Apple’s promise has long been a kind of “it just works” ease-of-use with its products, but for some people this software may render iPhones less usable. Which brings us back to the earlier suggestion: It might not be a bad idea to wait for iOS 13.1. As the editorial team for AppleVis notes, with iOS 13.1 coming just days after the release of 13.0, “it doesn’t seem unreasonable to hypothesize that Apple has faced some challenges with the iOS 13 development process on a more general level. With this in mind, if you are willing to hold off upgrading until the release of iOS 13.1 … we recommend that you do so.”
Work Hard, Play Hard
If or when you do decide to take the plunge and install iOS 13, you’ll discover plenty of useful new features, bugs and all.
These include the aforementioned dark mode, which is all the rage. There’s a new Swype-like keyboard called QuickPath, which allows you to form words by dragging your finger along the phone’s virtual keyboard instead of pecking at individual keys. The Reminders app has gotten an overhaul, as has the Notes app, which now has a gallery view and shared folders. When you adjust the volume on your phone now, the volume level indicator no longer appears directly in the middle of your screen. Instead, it’s on the upper left.
Sign in with Apple, a new authentication tool, may have gotten mixed reactions from developers, but it’s likely to make signing into apps a lot easier and more secure for people who are firmly committed to Apple’s ecosystem.
The Photos app gets one of my favorite updates. There are now additional time-based tabs (years, months, days) at the bottom of the app, the editing tools feel more robust, and Live Photo and video thumbnails will autoplay as you’re thumbing through your albums.
But maybe the most useful updates are the ones that speed up the phone’s performance. App launch speed is supposed to be twice as fast as before, app downloads will be compressed (so they’ll happen much more quickly), and even FaceID will be getting a 30 percent speed boost on iPhone X and iPhone XS models. These may seem like relatively small increases, but it’s software updates like these that can make your “aging” iPhone truly feel like new hardware.
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