The momentum of the mobile space has changed in the past year. As the market for high end smartphones approaches saturation, the focus on the software side has moved from massive feature expansions to refinement and optimization. We saw great examples of this with both iOS and Android over 2014 and 2015. Whereas iOS 8 and Android Lollipop were heavy with feature releases, iOS 9 and Android Marshmallow were much lighter. Following up to a large feature release provided both teams a good time to reflect upon their development directions and a focus on improving the user experience.

2016 marks a very special year for iOS. After launching as iPhone OS back in 2007, iOS has gone through many iterations and a name change, and has now arrived at version 10. Although version numbers are somewhat arbitrary – Apple has been on macOS 10 for sixteen years now – the tenth major release for an operating system is still an important and exciting milestone. It means that a platform has withstood the test of time, and ideally has had ample opportunity to mature. At the same time however, because it’s a milestone, it’s a reflection on both the past and the future; what has come before, and what is yet to come. For Apple and its eager customer base, iOS 10 embodies this well: the company is in a position where they need to deliver a substantial update, if for no other reason than to satisfy expectations.

With iOS 10 it's difficult to describe what Apple has focused on. It's really one of those OS releases that makes changes to every part of the system. There are big design changes, and big app changes, plus new features and APIs so developers can make even better applications. On top of all that there are performance improvements to bring back the smoothness to areas where it was lost during Apple's rapid redesign and feature boosts in iOS 7 and 8. 

With feature-rich releases it can often be difficult to decide where to start the discussion. To keep in line with my previous iOS reviews I'll start off with a look at what changes Apple has made to the iOS UI before moving on to feature changes at the app level and then finishing with changes at the developer level. Without any further delay, lets dive into the new refined design of iOS 10.

Refining The Design of iOS
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  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    Cash. Money. The usual. Bills have to be paid. The days of complete, free, impartial journalism died years back. The Verge and Engadget being the worst of the many. I see a web page design in the future for Anandtech.
  • robinthakur - Friday, September 23, 2016 - link

    Because people click on the articles more, would be my guess? I scanned the whole site for the iPhone 7 review and clicked on another apple article on iOS10 when I couldn't find it. This is actually a good technical review by somebody who clearly knows the OS inside out, so I've got no problem with it.
  • ABR - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    The overall UI smoothness improvement is really noticeable on an iPad Air 2. It's a really shame this is the release they decided to cut support for iPad 2 and that era devices, because those are just the ones that became truly unusable starting with iOS 8. Thinking charitably, it could be that dropping the support is one of the things that helped improve the performance, or, more cynically, maybe it's just part of their plan to continue encouraging purchase of new devices.
  • tipoo - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    Yeah, even if they dropped all the new features, the performance improvements would have been huge for A5 devices. In fact I wouldn't mind if they stripped the OS as much as they could to get A5 smooth again, but of course they're not going to do such an undertaking for the old chip.
  • tipoo - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    The worst thing about it is no OS security updates for older OSs, so you're forced to either go insecure, or get a dog slow OS on your formerly decent hardware. There's also no easy downgrade mechanism.
  • m16 - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    I'm very impressed with the update, really snappy. I'm even more impressed that all my apps work, but I don't have any fancy apps outside of some photography apps that control the aperture.

    I wish they'd brought back notification center social media posting. I mean, OS X Capitan has it!!! It had it back on the iOS 7 days.

    Anyone else thinking this should be back should go to apple's feedback page on either iOS or the iPhone/iPad and request the feature back.
  • yhselp - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    I'm very glad Apple have seemingly fixed performance and UI issues for the 5s compared to iOS 9.

    After upgrading yesterday I was pleasantly surprised. At least for now. I hope I don't jinx it. The 5s is now noticeably smoother; navigating menus, multitasking, and general use overall is now more in line with how fast it used to be on iOS 8. In-app performance seems to have improved as well; I specifically tested an app that used to work great on iOS 8, then ran poorly on iOS 9, and now seems to work great again on iOS 10. Furthermore, the UI itself is now better optimized for a 4-inch display - not only is it better than iOS 9, but there are also improvement over how it used to be on iOS 8.

    So far so good then. Haven't encountered any major hitches, and battery life seems to be holding up. Still, some things are sometimes actually slower than how I remember them from iOS 8, but the opposite is true as well - sometimes the 5s feels faster than ever. Overall, so far, I'd say the smoothness is on par with iOS 8.

    One thing that still baffles me is the Music app. I still pretty much hate it, although it's an improvement over iOS 9 both in terms of usability and 4-inch friendliness. Maybe it's better suited to how most people seem to consume music nowadays - internet music, music services, etc. I can't believe that so few people listen to music in a more traditional way that it's worth ignoring them. Why is it so hard for Apple to at least offer more control over how the music library is sorted? I want to be able to browse by artist, tap on a band, and see all their songs I have on my device in one place with little bars above every group indicating which albums they're from; just as it used to be, and not how it is now. On top of that, the Music app is now less sexy than ever, there's no cover flow at all (at least, I can't seem to find it), and the UI can still get unnecessarily cluttered on a 4-inch display. For me, the best Music app would be a hybrid of how it used to look on iPhone 5 running iOS 6 with some of the improvements from iOS 7 and 8.
  • yhselp - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    I can't help but think - thank God they made the SE, because without it iOS 10 might not have been as 4-inch friendly as it is.

    I'd be very much interested to hear any impressions on how iOS 10 works on iPhone 5/5c.
  • yhselp - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    Update: One important thing that has seen a downgrade, in my opinion, is notification banners. When you're doing something, and someone sends you a message the banner that appears on the top of the screen is bigger, gets in the way, and it's harder to reply quickly without opening the Messages app - pulling down the banner is harder, and once done it takes up to whole screen.

    For me, that is a major downgrade as it makes banner more obtrusive on a 4" device, and make it hard to reply to messages quickly. I understand it might have been made in a bid to improve visibility on 4" devices, but I don't think it was the right call.

    This might prove to be iOS 10's Achilles' heel on 4" devices. I would very much like to see it fixed.
  • mdriftmeyer - Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - link

    You'd be wrong. Works great on my iPhone 5s. Notifications now are more easily flipped through and understood at quick glances.

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