The best iOS 18 features that will make updating your iPhone worthwhile

The upcoming software version delivers a more personalized and customizable experience - including features Android users take for granted.
Written by Prakhar Khanna, Contributing Writer
iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max (on ZDNET Energy Yellow background)
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Apple's iOS 18, unveiled earlier this week during the company's Worldwide Developers Conference, is one of the biggest iOS upgrades in years. 

From much-awaited features like RCS support in Messages to a redesign of the Photos app, there's a lot of new stuff for users and developers alike to dig into. 

Also: Everything Apple announced at WWDC 2024, including iOS 18, Siri, AI, and more

Your iPhone will also soon be more customizable with a more personalized home screen layout, better Control Center navigation, and updates to key apps like Messages, Mail, and more. Here's all you need to know about iOS 18 and why you should be just as excited as I am.

1. Apple Intelligence on iOS 18

iPhone Apple Intelligence
Screenshot by Tiernan Ray

Apple Intelligence is the company's initiative to introduce AI features on your iPhone. While it won't be part of the Developer Beta, it is expected to roll out this fall with support for the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. Besides the usual writing tools to help summarize content and create images or "Genmojis," Apple Intelligence aims to provide a more personalized experience.  

Also: What is Apple Intelligence? How the iPhone's on-device and cloud-based AI works

Apple Intelligence uses Image Playground to help you create images based on descriptions, suggested concepts, or people from your Photos library. You can customize these images with new styles and make changes to add context to your story. The feature is integrated into your iPhone, and Apple states that "it's aware of your personal information without collecting your personal information." The company has partnered with ChatGPT to bring the service to your iPhone. You don't need an account to access ChatGPT, and it will be integrated into your iPhone.  

2. All-new, more powerful Siri

Screenshot by Nina Raemont

Siri is getting a much-needed upgrade to compete with other on-device virtual assistants. This was one of my top-requested features on my iOS 18 wishlist, and Apple seems to have delivered. In the demo, Siri felt more natural than ever. The Apple virtual assistant is being redesigned to understand you better with more awareness of personal context and the ability to take action in and across apps. Siri is supercharged with ChatGPT integration on iOS 18.

Also: Forget DALL-E: Apple's new AI image generator runs on-device and works like magic

The new version of Siri also brings vacuum cleaner support with the Home app, allowing you to control functions like power, cleaning mode, vacuuming, mopping, and charging status just by asking your iPhone. Another hands-free Siri interaction includes the ability to nod your head yes or gently shake your head no to respond to an incoming call when you are wearing the AirPods Pro. Siri now works in the background, so you don't have to speak out loud to accept or decline a call.

3. A more personalized home screen

iOS 18 home screen
Screenshot by Nina Raemont

With iOS 18, Apple finally allows you to place apps anywhere you want on the home screen. I mean, without any worry of left-aligned stacking and filling in negative spaces! I've missed this customizability, especially on Pro Max and Plus series iPhones because it's hard to reach the top of their large screens with my thumb while I'm holding the device. Like Android, iOS now allows you to place apps wherever you want -- no more rigid grid.

Also: Apple coders, rejoice! Your programming tools just got a big, free AI boost

Plus, Apple is adding the ability to customize icon colors to match the wallpaper -- much like Material You on Android. iOS 18 will suggest color combinations that match the background colors for a better look and feel to your home screen. In the WWDC keynote presentation, it looked gorgeous with Dark Mode. 

4. Customizable lock screen and Control Center

iOS 18 Control Center
Screenshot by Nina Raemont

The customizations extend to the lock screen. You can now replace the lock screen icons of Torch/Flashlight and Camera with other apps, so they are just one swipe away from the lock screen. iOS 18 also adds the ability to lock apps behind Face ID and passwords. You can add apps to a hidden space that no one else can access when, for example, you hand them your iPhone to show photos.

Also: Apple's M2 Mac Mini is down to an all-time-low price of $479

Apple is updating the Control Center to offer more customizations and adds better navigation. For instance, you can now swipe up from the Control Center to go to a larger and handier media player. Moreover, the Control Center supports multiple widget pages, including one dedicated to managing smart home appliances.

iOS 18 is making the pairing process for third-party devices easier with on-screen pop-ups, like when you pair AirPods. The new update also gives you more control over how you want to add contacts.

5. Photos gets an overhaul

iPhone Photos app
Screenshot by Nina Raemont

On iOS 18, Apple is giving Photos a major redesign. The new look makes the Library more organized to display important photos at a glance, with Collections at the bottom. A single Collection can include groups of people, which wasn't possible before. The new feature automatically organizes your library by topics like Recent Days, Trips, and People & Pets. When you tap on Photos, you get a screen that is about 60% occupied by the regular gallery of photos, while the rest includes Collections.

Also: 'Clean up' is the iPhone's new AI editing tool to wipe out photobombers

The presentation during WWDC showcased fast transitions and a Photo grid that lets you view the entire library, which you can navigate by scrolling. Plus, you can now filter out screenshots. iOS 18 also adds the ability to right-swipe from the grid to go to the new Carousel, which includes Featured Photos, media based on location, Favorites, and more. It is supposed to display a new set of photos each day to keep the experience fresh.

6. Messages gets more personality (and satellite support)

Screenshot by Nina Raemont

Messages is also getting new features like RCS support, the ability to schedule messages, and text formatting, which really should have been part of the app for some time now. With iOS 18, you can now schedule a message to be sent at a specific time -- another feature Android has had for a while -- like you would with emails. As for RCS, it brings a better texting experience if you receive messages from those who aren't on iMessage, notably Android users.

Also: Google seems to have leaked Apple's timeframe for bringing RCS to the iPhone

The updated Messages app will also let you add text formatting like bold, italics, underline, and strikethrough to your texts. Another new feature is text effects, which add a splash of personality and surprise emojis to your messages. You can apply animated, fun effects to any letter, emoji, or word and phrase of your message -- most of them are automatically suggested as you type. Moreover, iPhone 14 models and later will be able to access Satellite connectivity to text when situated in areas with no signal.

7. Other app updates

Screenshot by Nina Raemont

Apple is updating the Mail app to add Categorizations, allowing you to filter emails into categories like Primary, Transactions, and Promotions. Categorizations will be available later this year. More app updates include a Topographic view in Maps, Tap to Cash in Wallet for sharing cash digitally with a tap, and Insights in the Journal app.

Apple is adding more functionality to Safari on iOS 18. It will now detect relevant information on a page and highlight it as you browse. There's a redesigned Reader that adds a table of contents and a high-level summary for a better experience. Plus, you get a Game Mode to minimize background activity, sustaining consistently high frame rates for long durations. Toggling the mode will also reduce audio latency with AirPods and wireless game controllers.

Also: Forget LastPass: Apple unveils 'Passwords' manager app at WWDC 2024

The Home app is getting a major update later this year, introducing robot vacuum cleaner support and the ability to view your home electricity use. For compatible locks, Apple is adding Express Mode, allowing you to unlock doors as you approach with just your iPhone in your pocket or while wearing your Apple Watch. You can now also grant specific controls to people with Guest access.

The new iOS 18 update also integrates Reminders with Calendar, so you can see added future reminders when viewing your schedule. Developers can access the iOS 18 beta right now.

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