Hidden features of iOS 12 worth getting excited about

Not every iOS 12 feature is a headline-grabber, but sometimes it's the little things that matter most.

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Apple

It looks like iOS 12 may shape up to be one of Apple’s best releases in years. It’s not a complete overhaul of the iOS ecosystem, but rather a welcome refinement on iOS 11. It takes the big steps from the iPhone X and iOS 11—like Animoji and ARKit—and extends them in ways that make them truly useful.

We’ve got a list of all the big iOS 12 features, and even a list of major features that Apple didn’t talk about during its WWDC keynote presentation. But there’s a lot more to unpack. There are a host of small changes, tweaks, and features that should bring smiles to your faces, reminding all of us us that little bits of polish and refinement are what make iOS a delight to use. Here’s a list of hidden delights awaiting you in iOS 12.

Automatic Updates

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Are the days of being nagged to install iOS updates almost behind us?

After upgrading to iOS 12, you'll find a new menu item labeled Automatic Updates, which defaults to being enabled. Will iOS 12 be the first to allow your iPhone to just update itself silently in the background (probably when plugged in and connected to Wi-Fi)? Does this mean no more nagging users to install minor point releases and security patches? We look forward to seeing what Automatic Updates delivers.

More Siri accents

In iOS 11, you can change Siri’s voice to be male or female, and to have one of three different accents (in U.S. English): American, Australian, or British. Just head to Settings > Siri & Search > Siri Voice

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Siri picks up an Irish brogue and a South African accent, too. 

In iOS 12, that same menu has five accents listed; the additional accents are Irish and South African. Imagine getting your traffic report in an Irish brogue.

Closing apps on iPhone X made easy

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Closing apps on iPhone X with iOS 12 works just like it does on other devices.

One of the odd quirks of the iPhone X’s gesture interface is the way you close apps. In iOS 11, you have to swipe up from the bottom of the screen to show all your app cards in the multitasking menu. Then, if you swipe up on one, it doesn’t close the app as the similar gesture does on any other iPhone or iPad.

Rather, you have to press and hold on the stack for a second until the little close icons appear in the upper left. Then you can tap on those or swipe up on app cards to close the app. If you just swipe up on a card, it closes the multitasking menu without closing the app.

That behavior is gone in iOS 12. Once you bring up the multitasking menu, swiping up on a card immediately closes the app, as you would expect it to. This is in line with the way other iPhones and iPads operate.

iPad gestures match iPhone X

In iOS 11, the iPad got a series of gestures that are somewhat unique. Swipe up from the bottom edge, just a little, to show the dock. Swipe up a lot and you see the multitasking menu with all your running apps, along with the Control Center on the right.

With iOS 12, swiping up anywhere on the dock will bring you back to the home screen. That’s not exactly like the iPhone X’s “home area” swipe, but it’s very close (and the expanded swipe area makes sense on the larger iPad devices). To open the Control Center, you swipe down from the upper-right edge, just as you do on the iPhone X.

This brings some unity to the gestures on iOS devices, but it also gives us a hint of the future of the iPad. If Apple was going to release a new iPad Pro that has Face ID and no more Touch ID (and thus no home button), it would need a “return to home screen” gesture just like this one.

Swipe up to retry Face ID

One frustration of the iPhone X’s new Face ID unlocking feature: If your iPhone tries to read your face before you’re ready and it fails—maybe because you’re covering your mouth—you’re stuck looking at a passcode screen. You have to either put your iPhone X to sleep and wake it up again to re-try Face ID, or deliberately turn it far away from your face and back again.

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Re-trying a Face ID unlock is easier in iOS 12.

It’s a small annoyance, but one that is nonetheless smoothed out considerably with a simple design change in iOS 12. If Face ID tries and fails, you’ll still get the passcode screen, but with a prompt to simply swipe up to try Face ID again. After three failed Face ID attempts, you have to enter your passcode, though.

Alternate appearance for Face ID

Speaking of Face ID, there’s a new Appearances section in the Face ID settings page, with a single option: Set Up an Alternate Appearance.

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If you want to give two different faces access to your iPhone, you can.

It seems intended to make Face ID more reliable for those who tend to dramatically change their look more radically than the learning algorithm in Face ID can cope with. On face value alone, it wouldn't seem to offer the flexibility of Touch ID’s ability to register 10 different fingerprints, but it’s certainly enough to allow you and, say, your spouse to have access to the same iPhone X.

Locking out USB accessories

Update 07/09/18: Apple surprised us by shipping this feature in the iOS 11.4.1 point release.

Law enforcement groups (and who knows what other groups) have been using devices like GrayKey to gain access to locked iPhones without the passcode. There’s no telling what other similar devices can break into your locked, encrypted iPhone.

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iOS 12 can disable all USB access if your phone has been locked for an hour.

The latest salvo from Apple in the never-ending battle for your privacy is a new feature in iOS 12 that disables access from all USB devices if your device has been locked for more than an hour.

It’s an important security advancement: One hour is plenty of time for regular users to do USB-related functions like backup or restore, but almost certainly not enough time for USB-based iPhone cracking devices to break into your phone.

Call and FaceTime shortcuts in Messages

Have you ever been messaging someone and decide you want to call or FaceTime them? If you tap the little info button next to their name, it pulls up a whole contact card full of information, past photos of the person, you name it. It's a mess, when all you want to do is take this text conversation face-to-face.

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Now you can more easily call or FaceTime someone right from a Messages conversation.

Messages in iOS 12 streamlines this. The icon for the person you’re messaging appears at the top center of the screen, as usual. Tap on it to expand a little menu of handy shortcuts: audio call, FaceTime, or info. 

Lyrics search in Apple Music

Apple Music remains largely unchanged in iOS 12—but now you get the ability to search for songs by lyrics! There are millions of tracks in Apple Music that have lyrics data, and if you don’t know the name of a song but know how it goes, iOS 12 makes it a whole lot easier to fins!

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If you don’t know the name of that song but know how it goes, you can probably find it in Apple Music.

Hey, it’s not crossfade or smart playlists or the interface redesign we want. But there are millions of tracks in Apple Music that have lyrics data, and if you don’t know the name of a song but know how it goes, iOS 12 makes it a whole lot easier to find.

Favicons on Safari tabs

Weirdly, Safari on macOS and iOS does not show Favicons (those little site-specific icons) in tabs. It’s a frustrating bit of interface weirdness that Apple users have had to deal with for ages, because they’re supported by every other modern browser.

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Favicons! In Safari! We thought we would never live to see this day.

That’s finally getting fixed in macOS Mojave and iOS 12. If you enable a Show Icons in Tabs toggle in Settings, you’re browsing like it’s the year 2000.

Notification grouping settings per app

One of the best features of iOS 12 is that apps are grouped by app (or sometimes by type, like a message thread). This is not an on-or-off, all-or-nothing affair, though!

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Notifiction grouping isn’t just on or off. You can adjust it per app.

You can toggle notification grouping per app by looking in each app’s notification settings. This means you'll be able to have most of your notifications groups, but ungroup some apps (like your video doorbell or security cameras, for example) if you want to see all their notifications in a row.

  
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