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iOS 12 is a performance focused software update, aiming to boost the usability of older iPhone and iPad models. But that doesn’t mean iOS 12 is without new fancy features too, so while the iOS 12 update may not be as outwardly flashy as some other past releases, there are still some interesting new additions and changes to the mobile operating system for iPhone and iPad users.
We’re going to review a handful of great iOS 12 features that you’re likely to actually use. Let’s get to it!
1: The Virtual Trackpad & Text Selection Cursor
Selecting text has long been a challenge on the iPhone or iPad, and if you spend a lot of time writing emails, messages, notes, Pages, or in any other text editor you’ll appreciate the new virtual cursor tool that makes text selection and navigation much easier.
- From any app where a block of text is on screen, like in Mail, Pages, Notes, Messages, tap and hold on the Spacebar of the keyboard
- Keep holding down until the keys all turn blank, continue to hold down while you swipe around on the digital trackpad to move the text selection cursor around on screen
You can also then place a second finger on the trackpad to enter text selection mode with the cursor, which then allows you to drag the cursor and select text while in this virtual trackpad mode.
This is a great feature that you really should try out for yourself, as it’s much better experienced directly. For anyone who spends much time typing or writing in iOS this is particularly fantastic, since it’s much easier to direct the little cursor around with a virtual trackpad compared to pecking on screen between letters or words with a finger or stylus.
It should be noted this is not a new feature, it’s just how you access it that is new, and the number of devices it’s available on is new. Now you can simply tap and hold the Spacebar on any iPad or iPhone with iOS 12, whereas perviously accessing the virtual trackpad for text selection was available on iPhone with 3D Touch support only.
2: Screen Time & App Time Limits
Screen Time is arguably the best new feature of iOS 12. Screen Time gives you insight into how an iPhone or iPad is being used, allowing you to see exactly how much time is spent in particular apps. More importantly, you can take action based on that information and set time limits for app usage, and place other restrictions on app usage if desired. This makes Screen Time a fantastic tool particularly for parents or anyone providing child care or education, but also for anyone who wants to reduce their time wasted in any unproductive apps or detrimental device usage. Want to set a 15 minute time limit for a particular game? You can do that with Screen Time. Want to limit yourself to only 20 minutes of social media use? Screen Time lets you do that too.
- Open the “Settings” app and choose “Screen Time”
- Tap on the device usage graph near the top to see Screen Time usage data on that particular device
Once in Screen Time you can set time limits with App Limits, or even outright block an app from being used entirely, or set aside times of the day where the device itself isn’t usable through Downtime. There are also Content & Privacy Restriction settings available if you want to block adult content or otherwise limit device usage. It’s sort of like a broad self-control / parental controls feature built right into iOS, and it’s pretty great.
Don’t be surprised if you look at Screen Time and discover some uncomfortable data… maybe you’re spending a few hours every day lost in the misery generating abyss of social media, maybe you discover that your kids iPad is being used to spend hours every night in a video game rather than doing homework, or maybe you find that you’re not committing enough time every day to learning a new foreign language with an app like DuoLingo and you decide you want to change that. These are examples of the type of data you can get out of Screen Time on any iPhone or iPad.
By the way, for best results with Screen Time, it’s good to check it after a few days or so of device usage so that it has more data to work with. Even after you set some limits or restrictions, you should periodically check into Screen Time to see if it’s making any difference in behavior or device usage.
3: Disable Notifications Faster Than Ever
Let’s go ahead and state the obvious; Notifications are often annoying, distracting, and rarely important.
And by default just about every app on the iPhone and iPad wants to fill your device up with constant alerts and a barrage of notifications about every inconsequential event, happenstance, and useless tidbit under the sun. Do you really need to be notified instantaneously when some celebrity is on their 23rd marriage?
Do you need a giant banner splashing onto your screen to inform you about creamy salad dressing in the News app?
Is any of this stuff important enough to disrupt you and what you were doing with a giant notification message? Probably not.
But what if the breaking news notification delivered instantly to your iPhone or iPad is about the flavor of creamy salad dressing!?!??!? Stop everything that you are doing and read this notification about creamy salad dressing!! It’s breaking news, according to the News app!
But it’s kind of hard to focus when you have constant notifications bothering you, right? Did that point get across as you tried to read this section that is interspersed with that image of a useless notification?
If you feel the vast majority of notifications are simply annoying distractions, noise, and clutter, then fortunately the latest version of iOS makes it easier than ever to manage them as they come in to pester you. In fact, you can completely disable notifications faster than ever and right from the lock screen of your device:
- From the lock screen or Notification Center of iOS 12, swipe left on any notification
- Choose “Manage” from the list of options
- Select “Turn Off” from the menu to permanently disable notifications from that app
You can also choose “Deliver Silently” if you still want to see the annoyifications err notifications in Annoyification Center errr Notification Center for some reason, but choosing Turn Off is the simplest way to never see them again. And of course you can return to the Settings app Notifications section if you later change your mind.
My personal opinion is that only actual communication with actual humans should be sending you notifications, things like messages and phone calls, as everything else is likely nothing more than distraction. Make your own decisions here, but focus on what is important and think critically about the kind of stuff that is splashing onto your screen to get your attention and disrupting your device use.
4: Automatic iOS Software Updates
Do you want to make sure you’re always on the latest version of iOS? Do you frequently forget to update your iOS system software? Are you tired of wandering into the Settings app to check if a software update is available? iOS 12 has a great feature that solves all of this, it will automatically install iOS updates when they’re available onto an iPhone or iPad.
You can turn this feature on easily:
- Open the “Settings” app then go to “Software Update”
- Choose “Automatic Update” and turn the feature on
Just be sure that you have iCloud backups enabled so that your device is always backing up when it’s plugged in to charge.
The auto-update iOS feature pairs well with automatic app updates in iOS too, allowing you a very hands-off approach to device management.
5: Siri Shortcuts & Shortcuts App
The Shortcuts app (once called Workflow) allows you to create simple automation of tasks in iOS, and you can now tie those actions directly into Siri. There’s a plethora of options available with Shortcuts, you can use the feature to create animated GIFs out of Animojior a series of images, you can use your current location to find any nearby gas stations, you can create custom replies to messages that will send someone your most recent photo taken, and so much more. If it’s a task in iOS, you might just be able to automate the entire thing with Shortcuts.
Curiously, the Shortcuts app is not included by default in iOS 12, so you have to download it separately from the iOS App Store. Not to worry though, it’s free from Apple:
- Get Shortcuts app from the App Store
Launch the Shortcuts app and explore the default and example options, and create your own. Tie them to Siri so that you can simply ask Siri to perform that task for you. There’s a lot of potential here, so if you’re a fan of automation and macros, you’ll almost certainly be thrilled with Shortcuts for iOS.