Hands on: 5 best new features of iOS 16

There’s a lot to like in iOS 16, so I couldn’t resist installing the first beta to test the best new features. Here’s my hands-on experience with the new Lock Screen, improvements in the Messages and Mail apps, and more. These are just my favorites from the couple of days I’ve had to test the initial beta.

Plus there are other features that might be great when Apple gets them working right.

iOS 16: It’s about damn time

After debuting way back in 2007, iOS is fairly mature. The days when new versions brought in profound changes like support for Copy and Paste are long gone. And that’s good.

But Apple is still bringing in features that it’s dragged its heels on in the past. iOS 16 includes some that should have been on iPhone long ago. Still, better late than never.

Lock Screen widgets and background pics

Perhaps the signature feature of iOS 16 is the new Lock Screen. Instead of this offering just time/date and notifications, you can add widgets. Plus, there’s some cool new effects for displaying photos.

All it takes to begin editing the Lock Screen is a long press on the iPhone display. I had concerns that would make it too easy to accidentally make changes, but Face ID has to recognize you before the editing process starts, which prevents it from accidental pocket activations.

When setting up a new Lock Screen (left) you start by picking a wallpaper (center) then add widegets (right).
Screenshots: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Once you’re editing the Lock Screen, start by setting a wallpaper image. There are a variety of generic ones to choose from, but the real deal is using your own photos. iOS 16 helpfully suggests images that look good on a vertical screen – wide images aren’t recommended by the algorithm. I chose an adorable picture, and used two fingers to adjust it properly on the screen so the clock and widgets don’t obscure what I want to see.

Next, you’re given a selection of widgets to choose from. These are the usual suspects: weather, calendar, battery levels, stocks, etc. Just keep in mind that the space for these is very small because the layout has to leave a big space for notifications. As a result the News widget is essentially useless. Others are just small.

You can also change the font for the clock. Which is nice I guess.

I really like that iOS 16 lets you set up multiple Lock Screens and later choose the one you’re in the mood for. It’s a feature that was apparently transferred over from Apple Watch faces in watchOS.

Incidentally, the addition of lock screen widgets pretty much guarantees that the iPhone 14 Pro will include an always-on display. That said, being able to check weather and stocks with just a glance at my iPhone is a great addition, even on devices that aren’t always on.

There’s still room for improvement, though. I’m disappointed that the buttons on the Lock Screen are still not editable.

Horizontal Face ID unlock

Hallelujah! The days of having to hold your iPhone in portrait mode to use Face ID are almost over. iOS 16 adds horizontal Face ID, just like iPad has offered for years.

I tested this on my iPhone 13 and it works. It is that simple.

I keep my iPhone in landscape mode when using Apple Maps, watching YouTube and playing games with an external controller like the Backbone. Not having to flip to portrait mode just to unlock the iPhone is great.

Apple says this feature works on “supported iPhone models” but doesn’t tell us what these are. Here’s hoping it’s all of them with the Face ID sensors.

Edit already sent texts in Messages

Typos in messages can cause all kinds of confusion. And hilarity. While everyone loves “Damn You Autocorrect,”
Apple is doing something about it.

iOS 16: Edit already sent texts in Messages
The Messages app in iOS 16 has a new Edit button. And an Undo Send one.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

In Messages, tap and hold on a message you’ve sent and a pop-up window will open with Edit as an option. You can then change the contents of a previously sent message. So if you’ve just told your mom you’re getting a Christmas boner, you can quickly change that to a Christmas bonus.

There’s a time limit: 15 minutes. If you haven’t made your changes by then, you lose the option.

Note that this is not available when exchanging texts with Android users. You’ll need to be extra careful when talking to green people.

And it requires iOS 16 to be on both devices. Confusingly, iOS 16 beta 1 lets you think you’re editing messages sent to an iOS 15 iPhone but nothing happens on the receiving device. Hopefully this will be fixed in later betas.

Undo Send in Mail and Messages

The Mail app gives you 10 seconds to change your mind about sending an email. That’s hopefully time enough to realize you forgot to attach a file. It might not be enough time for you to realize you shouldn’t call your girlfriend that, but YMMV.

The feature is easy to use in Mail. Immediately after you send an email, a button appears at the bottom of the iPhone screen labeled Undo Send. Tap it and the message doesn’t go out. It opens again for editing.

And it’s not just Mail. In Messages, tap and hold on a message you’ve sent and a pop-up window will open with Undo Send as an option. There is time limit on this, though: 15 minutes.

Plus, this feature does not work when exchanging messages with iPhones not running iOS 16. And Undo Send is also not available when exchanging texts with Android users.

That’s not true of the Mail app. All it’s doing is holding up your email for a few seconds, so it doesn’t matter who you’re sending it to.

Mixing voice and touch input

Dictation makes it easy to enter text just by speaking it, which is great because the tiny iPhone keyboard isn’t the best way to tap out long messages. iOS 16 make it better by combining voice and text input.

In earlier versions, you have to choose between typing and speaking text. Now you can start text-to-speech and still use the keyboard.

Let your iPhone handle punctuation and emoji
Text can go in with a combination of voice and typing. And you can just say the name of an emoji.
Screenshot: Apple

It works well in real-life use. I can start entering text with my voice, then manually type in a word I know the iPhone won’t understand, and then go back to using my voice without having to turn Dictation on and off multiple times.

iOS 16 honorable mentions

Of course, there are more than five great new features in iOS 16.

There are some nice Wi-Fi improvements, like the ability to delete the iPhone’s record of old hotspots. And the facelift Apple gave its Books app is welcome. But neither seems important enough to make a “top 5” list.

There are a few I’m keeping my eye but aren’t yet ready. I wanted to add the new auto-punctuation feature in Dictation to this list but it’s still very buggy in the first iOS 16 beta. When doing speech-to-text, it is supposed to automatically add punctuation, but instead it adds commas seemingly at random. Here’s hoping for improvement in later versions.

And the Remind Me feature in Mail currently isn’t insistent enough. It’s supposed to bring emails back to my attention again later, when you have time to deal with them. As it stands now, the reminders are too subtle to be of any real use.

We’re still months away from the full release of iOS 16, giving time for plenty of improvements. It’s already looking very promising.

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