Apple's iOS 12 Public Beta is available now: First thoughts

Just weeks since announcing it, Apple has already shipped its first iOS 12 Public Beta. Any iPhone user can sign up for the beta. Here are my first impressions of it.

Apple, iPhone, iOS, iOS 12, mobile
Reuters / Elijah Nouvelage

Just weeks since announcing iOS 12, Apple has already shipped its first public beta of the operating system. Any iPhone user can sign up for the beta. I thought I’d drop a few first impressions.

An upgrade older iPhones will thank you for

iOS 12 is looking good for owners of older (iPhone 5s and later) devices. Apple has met its promise of performance improvements when running the operating system on older devices. This is significant and means if you need to get an extra year or two out of the iPhone you already have, you can expect to with iOS 12.

Grouped Notifications

iOS 12 is smart enough to gather all your notifications into logical collections, sorted by app and message thread. It makes it much easier to stay on top of things. It seems to be a useful tweak that will make a small, but perceptible, difference in my day.

Another enhancement I didn’t pay much attention to at the time, but now think will become much more important: Do Not Disturb. This has been improved so you can choose to just enable it for an hour while you get something done, or while you are in a particular location. I’m a little absent-minded and I’ve often left Do Not Disturb active when I don’t need to, leading to missed calls and the need to manufacture excuses.

Smarter Photos

I’m really impressed with the Photos improvements. Machine intelligence inside the device is doing a great job surfacing images and events I’d forgotten about, reminding me of people, places, and moments I’d like to keep in memory.

It’s also become so much easier to find specific photos of specific events because Apple has added a huge number of new categories and event types that help Siri find the things I need. With hundreds of millions of iPhone users taking pictures every day, these Photos improvements will make a huge difference to people.  

Siri the translator

Used with a set of AirPods, an iPhone running iOS 12 becomes a universal translator —  but even without the ability to translate from English into French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese (and other languages in some territories), it seems to be effective, accurate, and useful. It’s a useful way to show how much more international Siri is than its competitors.

Siri in general

Siri Shortcuts isn’t supported by the current public beta, but if you do install the software, I think you’ll be very impressed with the many ways in which Siri has improved. It will answer questions about motor racing and food, including calorie content. It can organize and find passwords for you, warning if you use duplicate ones. It will even suggest how you can improve your images by editing them in a certain way, or recommend notifications to enable or silence. I’m convinced there are other Siri enhancements hidden in there, but my experience so far confirms Apple has made a slew of improvements to its voice assistant.

What about the other new features?

iOS 12 includes ARKit 2, Memojis, Screen Time, Group FaceTime, and a range of other improvements.

I have seen all of these features in action, and they all work well. I think Screen Time will be a particularly effective tool to put iPhone users in control of how they use their device.

Group FaceTime works well — even if you max out the number of people you are speaking with, you shouldn’t encounter much (if any) slowness or lag because of how Apple is implementing that feature on its servers. ARKit 2 promises a whole lot of goodness, but we won’t really get a sense of its implications until developers begin to ship apps designed to exploit its new features. Enterprise users should certainly take a look.

First thoughts

Smart, stable and better performing, iOS 12 seems a promising upgrade.

One of the best things about the iOS 12 beta is its familiarity. It doesn’t change the way you work with your device very much, but its enhancements — particularly around stability and performance — mean the user experience is more fluid than before.

I’m particularly impressed with all the Siri enhancements and the many user interface tweaks (Notifications, Screen Time and more) that seem to reflect a commitment to putting iPhone users in control of their digital experience.

That commitment to putting users in control is matched with Apple’s focus on ensuring the machine intelligence inside of its devices doesn’t spy on customers and does deliver useful features that help make life easier.

Apple appears to have found a philosophy that makes some of the world’s most advanced technologies available to users in ways that deliver tangible benefit to their digital lives. That’s a commitment that matches well with Apple’s user interface guidelines, delivering what the user needs with minimal friction.

Should you upgrade to the beta version? Not if you rely on your device — wait until the final release in fall.

This is beta software, so you must expect some problems. Some apps won't work and data may be lost, so don''t use it for mission-critical work. Not only that, but future beta releases may introduce new bugs or break existing features while Apple brings iOS 12 to release status.

I do think that people who use older an iPhone may find the beta’s performance improvements too tempting to wait for.

How to install Apple’s iOS 12 Public Beta

If you decide to test the iOS 12 beta on one of your iPhones, follow these steps:

  • Back up your device: It makes sense to back your iPhone up to iCloud and iTunes in case something goes wrong.
  • Clean up your iPhone: Delete all the apps and other items you don’t need.
  • Join Apple’s Public Beta Scheme: Visit the Apple Public Beta website, and tap the Sign up button (or sign in if you are already a member). You’ll need to enter your Apple ID and password and agree to the rules of the scheme.
  • Enroll your device: Once you join the scheme navigate to the iOS section and choose enrol your iOS device in the Get Started paragraph. You’ll be asked to download and install a profile to your iPhone.
  • Restart and install: Once you have installed the profile, you should restart your iPhone. When you do, you can open Settings>General>Software Update and install the beta OS.

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