CUPERTINO, California — Every year around this time, our smartphones remind us to always be ready for change.
That’s because Apple and Google are announcing updates to the operating systems that power our iPhones and Android phones. Soon, the software that makes the devices tick will have design tweaks and new features — in other words, new things to learn.
On Monday, Apple unveiled iOS 16, the next version of its iPhone operating system. It will include new features, such as a redesigned lock screen and the ability to edit text messages. Last month, Google introduced Android 13, a streamlined wallet app for storing credit cards and important documents like vaccination records. Both companies also said they were improving their text messaging apps.
The new iPhone and Android operating systems are free updates to our phones this fall.
Apple and Google often accompany these software updates with pompous language and promises. “Today, we’re going to push our platforms further than ever before,” said Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s CEO, in a pre-recorded video for the event announcing the new software.
But in reality, many of the changes — especially the ability to edit a text retroactively — are incremental improvements that should have happened long ago. Here are the most notable updates to look for.
Apple overhauls the iPhone lock screen.
Apple said it was changing the first thing everyone sees when using an iPhone: the lock screen.
In the past, people could only change the wallpaper on their lock screens. But with iOS 16, iPhone users can customize the lock screen by choosing from different fonts and colors for the clock. People can also pin “widgets,” shortcuts to apps like the phone’s calendar and fitness data tracker, to the lock screen.
These adjustments can help us adapt our phones to our lifestyles. Remember that an iPhone user can create several custom lock screens for different scenarios with the new software.
The idea is that people can switch between lock screens to suit their needs throughout the day better. For example, a lock screen for work can show the background of your office building and contain a locationidget with your next meeting appointment. A personal time lock screen can display your dog’s background and a motion widget.
Google’s Wallet app is catching up with Apple.
The pandemic accelerated mobile purchases as many people switched to contactless digital payments to avoid cash. Apple has had a robust electronic payment offering for over five years with its iPhone Wallet software, allowing people to make credit card purchases and carry important documents such as boarding passes and health records.
Google, struggling to bring its mobile payment technology to market, took the opportunity last month to delve further into payments with Android 13. For years, its Google Pay system has lagged seriously behind Apple’s, as only a a few Android users knew how to use the technology.
Last month, Google renamed its digital payment app Google Wallet. The company simplified the technology by embedding a wallet shortcut in the Android lock screen. It plans to expand the software beyond credit cards with documents such as boarding passes, movie tickets, and Covid-19 vaccination certificates.
Google and Apple are expanding their messaging apps
Anyone who has ever texted with a telephone knows the digital divide between the green and the blue bubbles.
When a text message is sent from an Android phone, it appears as a green bubble on the recipient’s screen, with images and videos often pixelated and distorted. That’s because a green bubble message is sent through the telephone company’s network, which automatically degrades the image quality.
In contrast, messages with blue bubbles sent between iPhone users go through iMessage, Apple’s messaging service, maintaining a high-quality look for photos and videos.
With Android 13, Google is trying to create its blue bubble experience. The company is building a technology called Rich Communication Services in its messaging app, which can send high-resolution images and large files. It also allows people to have group conversations like most modern messaging apps.
Apple, meanwhile, is making changes to iMessage to allow iPhone users to edit or retrieve messages after they’ve been sent. Retroactive post editing, which would spare us the embarrassment of odd autocorrect typos or accidental pocket text, is a feature people have been looking for for years.
Both companies strengthen user privacy.
Today, no software update would be complete without a statement from a Big Tech company that cares about our privacy. That’s because the tech companies want users to feel safe sharing personal data, especially since European regulators and others have addressed them.
So, of course, Apple and Google said they offered more protection to user data in their next operating systems.
Apple, which has long allowed iPhone users to give family members and romantic partners permanent access to their location data, said it would allow for greater control over data sharing if an intimate relationship gone awry. The new software feature, Safety Check, will enable people to quickly review and revoke such data to protect their information from abusers.
Google said it would give users more control over what data was shared with third-party apps. In the next version of Android, people can also give apps access to certain photos instead of their entire camera roll – protection against malicious apps disguised as photo editing software.
If any of these adjustments seem way overdue, it’s because they are. As hardware upgrades for smartphones have become more and more incremental, so does the software push to get better — but unobtrusively.