CUPERTINO, California – About this time each yearour smartphones become a reminder to always be ready for change.
That’s because Apple and Google are announcing updates to the operating systems of our iPhones and Android phones. Soon, the software that makes devices tick will have design changes and new features—in other words, new things to learn.
Apple introduced on Monday iOS 16, the next version of its iPhone operating system. It includes new features like a redesigned lock screen and the ability to edit text messages. Last month, Google introduced Android 13which is a streamlined wallet app for storing credit cards and important documents such as vaccination records. Both companies also said they are improving their apps for sending text messages.
The new iPhone and Android operating systems will be available as free updates on our phones this fall.
Apple and Google often accompany these software updates with grandiloquent words and promises. “Today, we will push our platforms further than ever,” said Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, in a pre-recorded video for the new software announcement event.
But in reality, many of the changes — notably the ability to post-edit text — are incremental improvements that feel like they should have happened a long time ago. Here are the most notable updates to look for.
Apple is revamping the iPhone lock screen
Apple said it would make a change to what someone sees first when using an iPhone: the lock screen.
In the past, users 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 will also be able to pin “widgets,” which are essentially shortcuts to apps like the phone’s calendar and fitness tracker, to the lock screen.
These customizations could help us adapt our phones to our lifestyles. Consider that the new software allows an iPhone user to create a range of custom lock screens for different scenarios.
For example, a lock screen dedicated to work might show a background image of your office building and include a calendar widget showing your next meeting. A personal time lock screen could display a wallpaper of your dog and an exercise widget. The idea is that people can switch between lock screens to better meet their needs throughout the day.
Google’s wallet app is catching up with Apple
The pandemic has accelerated the use of mobile shopping as many people have switched to contactless digital payments to avoid contact with cash. Apple has had a robust electronic payment offering for more than five years with its wallet software for iPhones, allowing people to make credit card purchases and carry important documents like boarding passes and health records.
Google, which has been struggling to market its mobile payment technology, took the opportunity to delve further into payments with Android 13 last month. For years, its Google Pay system has grown exponentially delayed Apple’s payment system because few Android users have understood how to use the technology.
Last month, Google rebranded its digital payments app Google wallet. The company simplified the technology by embedding a wallet shortcut on the Android lock screen. There are also plans to expand the software beyond credit cards and include documents such as boarding passes, movie tickets and Covid-19 vaccination records.
Google and Apple are expanding their messaging apps
Anyone who has ever sent text messages with their mobile phone knows the digital gap between the so-called green bubble and the blue bubble.
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. This is because a green speech bubble is sent over the phone company’s network, which automatically degrades the picture quality.
In contrast, Blue Bubble messages sent between iPhone users are routed through iMessage, Apple’s proprietary messaging service, which maintains a high-quality look for photos and videos.
With Android 13, Google is trying to create its own blue bubble experience. The company is building a technology called Rich communication services, which can send high-resolution images and large files. It will also allow people to create 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. Post-editing messages that would save us the embarrassment of bizarre autocorrect typos or accidental pocket text is a feature people have been asking for for years.
Both companies strengthen user privacy
Today, no software update would be complete without a big tech company declaring that they care about our privacy. That’s because the tech companies want users to feel safe about sharing personal information, especially as a European regulators and others have cracked down on them about the problem.
Of course, Apple and Google said they would offer more protections for user data in their next operating systems.
Apple, which has long allowed iPhone users to give to family members and romantic partners permanent access to their location data, said it would provide deeper controls over such data sharing should an intimate relationship go awry. Its new software feature, Safety Check, allows users to quickly review and revoke access to such data so they can protect their information from misuse.
Google said it would give users more control over what data is shared with third-party apps. The next version of Android will also allow users to grant apps access to just specific photos instead of their entire camera roll – a measure to protect against malicious apps masquerading as photo editing software.
If many of these tweaks feel long overdue, that’s because they are. Just as smartphone hardware upgrades have become more and more incrementallythe software is also getting better and better – but inconspicuously.