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

Apple (AAPL) has unveiled a host of software updates for its top 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 devices, from an upgraded Photos app for the iPhone to a new Vitals app for the Apple Watch.

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

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

The latest version of iOS, dubbed iOS 18, will feature a new customizable home screen for iPhone that allows you to rearrange icons as you want them to appear, so you no longer have to keep them in a strict grid like you did before since the iPhone came along. First introduced in 2007. You’ll also be able to change the color of your apps’ icons to give them a custom look.

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

Meanwhile, the Messages app will now include the ability to schedule text messages and text effects such as animated words and emojis that appear on the screen. The Mail app will have a new look with on-device labels that will drop your messages into sections like essential emails, promotions, or updates from other notes.

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Apple has also finally brought Rich Communication Services (RCS) to its Messages app. This feature means that iPhone users will be able to send high-quality encrypted photos, videos and texts to Android users. However, you’ll still have to deal with obnoxious green chat bubbles.

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the annual Developers Conference event at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, California, US, June 10, 2024. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends the annual Developers Conference event at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, US, June 10, 2024. (Reuters/Carlos Barria) (Reuters/Reuters)

The Apple Wallet app will now include a Tap for Cash feature that lets you quickly pay a friend with 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 that games run smoothly without lag.

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

Apple’s iPadOS 18 comes with many of the same features as iOS 18, including a new Photos app and a customizable Home screen. The software will also come with new updates to things like SharePlay, which lets you take control of another user’s iPad to help them navigate and adjust settings. The company is also working on bringing a calculator app to the iPad, something that has been missing for 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 the iPad will solve them for you instantly.

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Apple also announced VisionOS 2, the second version of the operating system that powers the Vision Pro headset. The company says the AR/VR device’s photo app will now give you the option to convert traditional 2D shots into 3D images 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 raising your open hand to show the home screen. Mac Virtual Display, which lets you mirror your Mac’s screen onto the Vision Pro, is also getting an update to create larger virtual displays, and Apple says it’s adding train support for using the Vision Pro on the go while riding the rails. This feature is intended to prevent the screen from moving in strange ways while you are on the road. There is a similar option for flights.

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

For its part, Apple’s watchOS 11 system features a new training mode that can see how your workouts affect your body over time. The watch will use an algorithm to estimate how hard you are working out. You’ll then be able to rate your effort level from 1 to 10. Apple Watch will then use that data to help you understand how much your training is helping you improve over time.

Fortunately, you’ll also be able to pause your workout rings, allowing you to tell your Apple Watch if you’re taking a day off from working out or if you have an injury that prevents you from exercising.

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The new Vitals app for the watch will be able to give you a deeper look into 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 many of the features found in iOS 18 and iPadOS 18, including Math Notes for the Calculator app and more expressive text in Messages, plus new iPhone Mirroring functionality that lets you wirelessly access and control… On your iPhone from your Mac.

You’ll also be able to move your apps around your screen, placing them in different quadrants so you can make the most of your display space. Meanwhile, Safari comes with the ability to summarize articles while removing distractions from web pages, which will certainly impact online advertisers.

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

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

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Email Daniel Howley at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @Daniel Holly.

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