iOS 10 is still a mess, but at least it's a snappy, stable mess

Opinion: With a week to go until iOS 10 gets a release date, the current beta shows an operating system that's still painful to navigate.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer

I've now been using the iOS 10 beta for almost eight long, painful weeks. But now that we're a week away from a release date for Apple's newest mobile operating system, I thought I'd give you an update of where I think it's at, and what you can expect when it's finally released in a few weeks.

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After a week of using the iOS 10 beta I called it a total mess. And it was. I'd essentially taken my workhorse iPhone and near crippled it by applying the beta. Yup, I know, betas and all that, but there's no better way to get a feel for a platform, and get an understanding of its evolution than to start using it as early as possible.

And in many ways I'm glad that I did because I've seen a lot of changes. While I won't comment on how the stability or performance of beta software is in any detail, I'm pleased to report that the current iOS 10 beta that I'm running on my workhorse iPhone has settled down to be very stable and snappy. If the current levels of performance and stability carry forward to the release version, then I think people will be happy on those two fronts.

I've also seen huge battery life improvements over the past few weeks. I'm now at the point where I'm getting the sort of battery life that I'd expect based on my daily usage.

So no complaints there, either.

But... (there's always a "but," isn't there?).

The first, and I think most annoying, gotcha of switching to iOS 10 is Apple's insistence on shoving too much of my data onto the lock screen. I wholeheartedly agree with my colleague Zack Whittaker when he says that a lock screen shouldn't be a hub of information. I don't understand why Apple would go to the trouble of building a secure platform, and then develop a super-convenient method of unlocking the device that only requires the tap of a finger, only to then, by design, make so much information accessible without needing to authenticate.

The answer, of course, is convenience. Apple realizes how complex iOS has become, with information buried in every nook and cranny, and this is how it has chosen to float this information to the surface.

Problem is, putting it on the lock screen makes it plainly visible to all.

And because the lock screen is now a sort of hub for what's been going on since you last used your iPhone or iPad, Apple has tweaked the Touch ID process to make it harder to blow by all this junk.

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Ever since Touch ID was introduced, you just tap the Home button, and then you're into your device, but with iOS 10, you can unlock the device and still be on the lock screen. You have to tap the Home button again to get to your apps. I get why Apple did this -- because people would just blow past anything on the lock screen, like notifications and such, but in iOS 10, Apple wants to make more use of the lock screen. But it feels more like Apple wants to force me to use the lock screen rather than make it a useful feature. You can still blow past the lock screen -- just tap and hold the Home button -- but I feel like I'm forced to change how I work because Apple wants to show me the new lock screen's cool features.

Apple has made a tweak to iOS 10 to allow users to restore the old functionality, but you have to know that this is possible, and then find it within the labyrinth that Apple calls the Settings app.

The lock screen also highlights another problem in iOS 10 -- how much space notifications waste. Information is displayed in huge "flash card" style panels, but the text is tiny and there's tons of wasted space. Also, while these panels might work out great in Apple's lab during testing, if you get a lot of notifications then they really become unwieldy to use.

iOS 10 is still a mess, but at least it's a snappy, stable mess

There are also some weirdly jumbo-sized buttons.

iOS 10 is still a mess, but at least it's a snappy, stable mess

There's also a lot more horizontal swiping in iOS 10. In fact, horizontal swiping seems to be the new vertical swiping. For example, from the lock screen you swipe left to access the camera, rather than swiping up. I'm not sure what this is supposed to accomplish, especially since you seem to have to make a huge, exaggerated swipe. I used to be able to access the camera from the lock screen with my thumb when I had to swipe up pretty reliably, but my success rate with this new swipe is much lower.

This is, to me, the perfect example of change for the sake of change, with an added twist of not really working all that well.

And then there are the horizontal scrolling inconsistencies.

For example, on the lock screen, a horizontal swipe takes me to the camera, but once in the Camera app, horizontal swiping is used to switch between different camera settings. Instinctively, I want to swipe out, but I can't and have to use the Home button. It's a minor gripe, and I know that you've never been able to swipe out of an app, but it highlights a big disconnect between the developers who wrote the code for the lock screen and the developers who work on the Camera app.

It all feels weirdly inconsistent.

Apple, to its credit, has streamlined some aspects of the user interface. For example, the gratuitous, gaudy, and highly annoying app opening/closing animations are gone, and the swiping seems to be a bit more refined (or maybe it's me that's getting better).

I'm also not a big fan of the new Messages app. Sure, it's "fun" to use, but the fun features have been added at the cost of burying useful features. For example, you can't seem to select text to copy from a message anymore, you have to copy the whole thing. This is because of the popups to allow you to send canned responses to messages.

iOS 10 is still a mess, but at least it's a snappy, stable mess

Then there's the Control Center box.

iOS 10 is still a mess, but at least it's a snappy, stable mess

There are so many things wrong with this that I don't know where to begin.

  • Why is the Night Shift button so crazy big?
  • Do the colors on the circular buttons for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and such mean anything in particular (beyond the fact that the setting is on/off)?
  • Why is the Night Shift button so crazy big?
  • Why has the volume control been shifted over to a second screen along with the other media controls?
  • Why is the Night Shift button so crazy big?
  • Access to HomeKit devices is buried on a third panel, so if you want quick access to your devices, forget about it.

The new Control Center panel is so bad that I'm left to assume one of two things:

  • 4:00 pm came around on the day that the code for the beta was supposed to be finalized and this panel had not been done, so someone knocked this together in a few minutes as a placeholder and it has then been forgotten about.
  • Someone let their young child design it.

I don't understand why this panel wastes so much space, and I don't know why it has to extend over two panels (why can't it just vertical scroll?).

The iOS 10 Control Center ranks not only as one of the worst user interface designs by Apple, but as one of the worst by any major software developer. If there was some way to customize the panel, that would remove some of the irritation, but it still wouldn't compensate for the fact that Apple clearly doesn't have a solution for its bloated platform.

iOS 10 now feels like iTunes.

So, when iOS 10 rolls onto tens of millions of iPhone and iPads later this month, I expect that users will be pleased by the speed and stability of the platform, but will be left confused and possibly angry by all the tweaks and changes that Apple has shoe-horned into the operating system. Gestures and actions that have been ingrained into muscle memory through thousands upon thousands of repetitions will need to be relearned, and there will be more swiping and more frustration and users have to dig through the platform to find the information they want.

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