Apple debuts iOS 18 with customizable home screen, updates to macOS, watchOS

Apple (AAPL) unveiled a host of software updates for its most important software offerings, including iOS, the operating system that powers the iPhone, iPadOS, watchOS, macOS, and more. The updates bring a variety of changes to Apple’s devices, ranging from an upgraded Photos app for the iPhone to a new Vitals app for the Apple Watch.

The features also come as the company rolls out its artificial intelligence strategy across its various products and services. The company announced its new Apple Intelligence generative AI platform, complete with an upgraded version of Siri and access to OpenAI’s GPT-4o for its iPhone, iPad, and Mac products. More on that here.

Here are the biggest upgrades coming to Apple’s devices later this year.

The latest version of iOS, dubbed iOS 18, will feature a new customizable home screen for the iPhone that allows you to rearrange icons as you want them to appear, so you no longer have to keep them in a rigid grid as you’ve had to since the iPhone first debuted in 2007. You’ll also be able to change the color of your apps’ icons to give them a personalized look.

Control Center is also getting major improvements, allowing you to add and reconfigure app shortcuts to third-party apps. On the privacy front, Apple announced a new feature called Lock An App, which requires users to use Face ID to unlock and access certain apps. A new hidden folder option will also let you hide specific apps on your iPhone.

The Messages app, meanwhile, will now include the ability to schedule text messages and text effects like animated words and emojis that pop off the screen. The Mail app will sport a new look with on-device categorizations that will drop your messages into sections like primary emails, promotions, or updates from other notes.

Apple is also finally bringing Rich Communication Services (RCS) to its Messages app. The feature means that iPhone users will be able to send high-quality images, videos, and encrypted texts to Android users. You’ll still, however, have to deal with those obnoxious green chat bubbles.

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the annual developer conference event at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, California, U.S., June 10, 2024. REUTERS/Carlos BarriaApple CEO Tim Cook attends the annual developer conference event at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, California, U.S., June 10, 2024. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the annual developer conference event at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., U.S., June 10, 2024. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria) (REUTERS / Reuters)

Apple’s Wallet app will now include a tap-to-cash feature that lets you quickly pay a friend using Apple Cash by tapping your phones together.

Game Mode is also coming to iPhone. In this mode, your iPhone will automatically reduce background activities to ensure games run smoothly without lags.

The Photos app for iOS 18 gets a major design update that puts a photo grid of the entire library at the top of the screen and a filter button that allows you to organize images. You can also explore photos via the People and Pets section, which lets you view groups of photos of specific people and, well, pets.

Apple’s iPadOS 18 comes with many of the same features as iOS 18, including the new Photos app and customizable home screen. The software will also come with new updates for things like SharePlay, which lets you take control of another user’s iPad to help them navigate and adjust settings. The company is also bringing the Calculator app to the iPad, something that’s been missing for quite some time. The app will include a Math Notes feature that will let you write mathematical equations on your screen using the Apple Pencil and have the iPad instantly solve them for you.

Apple also announced its visionOS 2, the second iteration of the operating system that powers the Vision Pro headset. The company says that the AR/VR device’s Photos app will now give you the option to turn traditional 2D shots into 3D-style photos using machine learning, so you’ll be able to see your photos from different perspectives.

There are also new ways to navigate the operating system, such as holding up your open hand to bring up the home screen. Mac Virtual Display, which lets you mirror your Mac’s display on the Vision Pro, is also getting an update to create larger virtual screens, and Apple says it’s adding train support for using the Vision Pro on the go when you’re riding the rails. The feature is meant to keep the display from moving in strange ways while you’re en route. There’s a similar option for flights.

Apple says Vision Pro is also coming to more countries including China, Japan, and Singapore in June and European countries in July.

Apple’s watchOS 11, for its part, sports a new training mode that can tell how your workouts are impacting your body over time. The watch will use an algorithm to estimate how much you exert yourself during exercise. You’ll then be able to rate your exertion level from 1 through 10. The Apple Watch will then use that data to help you understand how much your training is helping you to improve over time.

You’ll also, thankfully, be able to pause your exercise rings, allowing you to tell your Apple Watch if you’re taking a day off from working out or if you’ve got an injury that’s keeping you from being able to exercise.

A new Vitals app for the watch will be able to give you a deeper look at your overall health and tell you when your heart rate, temperature, and sleep are out of sync with your normal ranges.

MacOS Sequoia, which powers Macs and MacBooks, brings along many of the features found in iOS 18 and iPadOS 18, including Math Notes for the Calculator app and more expressive texts in Messages, as well as a new iPhone Mirroring function that lets you wirelessly access and control your iPhone from your Mac.

You’ll also be able to move your apps around your screen, positioning them in different quadrants so that you’ll be able to make the most out of your display real estate. The Safari browser, meanwhile, comes with the ability to summarize articles while stripping out distractions from web pages, which is sure to affect online advertisers.

Apple is also releasing a new version of its gaming toolkit to bring more Windows-based games to Macs and MacBooks. The company has been working to push deeper into gaming for years, and it appears to be paying off as more developers begin releasing titles for the company’s systems. Case in point: Ubisoft announced that its latest “Assassin’s Creed” title will be available for the Mac as well as iPhone later this year.

Apple traditionally rolls out its latest software updates during the fall, with iOS launching alongside the iPhone. You can expect iPadOS, visionOS, watchOS, and macOS to land around the same time.

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