For the past few years, Apple’s annual iOS updates have focused on one major overhaul feature while making smaller tweaks to everything else. Last year, the Focus was, well, the Focus. A year before that, it was the home screen.
This time it’s a lock screen. You can now change fonts, add widgets, customize the information displayed and choose from a wider variety of wallpapers. Apple also integrated the lock screen more deeply with the focus modes that were developed in iOS 15. And it laid the groundwork for more than just notifications that third-party apps can show you before you unlock your phone.
Given the increasingly iterative nature of iOS releases today—with many key features not arriving until months after the original ship date of a new, fully numbered build—we’re moving to simpler initial iOS previews like updates will come in additional articles from time to time. So today we’re going to look at the main new feature of iOS 16, but we’ll also touch on a few other key features and changes.
The lock screen
While iOS 16 touches most aspects of using the iPhone in various small ways, it is very much the “lock screen update”. This makes sense: Apple makes a lot of noise about shipping features that integrate hardware and software, and iPhone 14 ProThe new always-on display puts that emphasis on the lock screen.
But there’s plenty here for users of other iPhone models that don’t have this always-on feature. Following last year’s focus on focus modes and the previous year’s emphasis on home screen customizationit’s the most significant move Apple has made on the customization front with the iPhone, well, almost so far.
I know what you’re going to say: Aren’t these all features that have been part of Android since forever?
Yes, you’re right – mostly. In typical Apple style, there are some flourishes here that Android doesn’t touch, but as far as functionality goes, it’s mostly yesterday’s news for Android diehards. But what was already a win for Android users is largely a win for iOS users as well.
It’s easy to see the Apple Watch’s influence on this update—the new widgets act like complications, and the new lock screen acts like a watch face. That sentence right there tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the new lock screen. Imagine the Apple Watch and all the customizations, features, and limitations that watch faces offer. Now make it all the size of a phone. There you have it, it’s the new iOS lock screen.
To start playing with these customizations, just long press your finger on the lock screen. This takes you to an interface with horizontally scrolling cards, each representing one of your custom screens.
There are three important buttons at the bottom. You can tap Focus to change the focus mode that turns on when this lock screen is active. You can tap “personalize” to change your widgets, fonts, wallpapers and more. There is also a “+” button to add a new custom lock screen to the card row.
It starts with wallpapers
When you press the + button, a panel pops up that offers you different wallpaper options. These options fall into several buckets. There are color gradient wallpapers where you choose a general color theme and set some attributes to a simple gradient. (It actually looks better than it sounds.)
There are collections that somewhat resemble Apple’s previous approach to iPhone wallpapers: pre-made patterns in several different color options.
You can also make a wallpaper of emoticons in a grid or pattern across the screen, and you can even choose which emoticons to display. You can select up to six emoticons to include in the wallpaper using Apple’s standard emoticon selection interface.
My personal favorite wallpaper bucket is the Weather & Astronomy category. They provide few ways to customize, but are quite elegant. The obvious one here is changing the wallpaper visuals to match the live weather conditions in your area — and said visuals look like the ones the Weather app already draws.
There are also live wallpapers for the Earth, Moon and Solar System. The one for the solar system shows the actual current relative positions of the planets as they orbit the sun, while the one for Earth shows your location on a globe with a green dot, amid updating cloud cover that reflects conditions around the world.
The moon and Earth animate at different angles as you switch from always-on display to active lock screen and then swipe to the home screen. It’s a fun effect, and the moon wallpaper in particular looks amazing on OLED iPhone screens.
But as neat as they are, I’m guessing most people will choose the wallpapers that use photos from your library in the Photos app. Tapping on Photos gives you a choice between individual photos on your phone.
Using machine learning, the iPhone analyzes all the photos in your library so you can get Featured suggestions, which I found to be mostly on the money. There are even subcategories for these featured suggestions, including people, pets, nature, and cities. And of course, you can browse your entire photo library and select any image you want.
There’s also “Photo Shuffle,” which is “a dynamic set of photos that shuffle as you use your iPhone throughout the day,” according to the tip. You can set the shuffle frequency to change on touch, on lock, hourly or daily. Once again, it presents you with featured photos and lets you choose which categories to include – but you can still manually select any photo from your library.
This is as good a place as any to note that for the photo wallpapers, Apple uses some neat AI tricks to cut out key objects in the image, such as faces or buildings, and allows them to overlay parts of the time indicator, creating a clean effect. It’s shocking how well this actually works. Unfortunately it doesn’t work when you add widgets below the clock. Except for this limitation, you can turn this on and off at will.
Once you’ve selected your wallpaper, you’ll be taken to the customize view of the entire lock screen.