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iOS 18 hands-on impressions: Apple is Android-ifying the iPhone experience

The first beta is now available to registered developers, and we've spent 24 hours trying out its new additions.

Published onJune 12, 2024

During its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple previewed 2024’s major OS updates. Coming to its products this fall, these highly anticipated versions will offer some of the most significant changes we’ve witnessed in years. These include Apple Intelligence, advanced customizations on iOS 18 and iPadOS 18, and iPhone mirroring on macOS Sequoia — to name a few.

While Apple won’t release these OS updates to the public until later this year, those enrolled in the company’s developer program can already try them out. Otherwise, users hanging somewhere in the middle can install the public beta versions next month. As you may have guessed, we’re passionate about the latest software releases here at Android Authority, and you can’t know Android as well as we do without also truly knowing the direction of its biggest competitor. So, we’ve gone ahead and installed iOS 18 beta 1 to report on its bundled features, where Apple’s software is heading, and what that means for the future of Android’s direct rival.

The Home(ly) Screen

One of the biggest changes included in iOS 18 beta 1 is the overhauled Home Screen. For the first time in iPhone’s history, we can place app icons anywhere on the grid. As a result, users no longer need to rely on transparent widget workarounds to leave blank spaces between apps.

That’s far from being the most notable addition to the iOS 18 Home Screen, though. With beta 1, users can test the new icon and widget tinting feature Apple previewed during WWDC24. So, just like widgets, app icons can now offer dark mode variants that adapt to your system’s appearance settings. Alternatively, you can opt for a custom tint that applies to all icons and widgets — even if the app developer hasn’t added support for the feature.

Honestly, I think it’s one of the cheapest-looking additions Apple has debuted in a long time. In fact, while iOS generally offers more polished features at launch, I would say that Android’s Material You execution takes the crown. Unlike Android’s case, app developers don’t need to optimize their app icons or widgets for the new tint to apply. Consequently, the end result looks like a poorly designed jailbreak tweak from the 2010s. Apple has given us Material Ew.

App icon tints can look like poorly designed jailbreak tweaks from the 2010s. Android's Material You execution takes the customization crown

To be clear, I think the tint generally looks bad on all app icons on widgets — including first-party Apple ones. Many become illegible, and identifying the different icons at a glance is a nightmare. Even the notification badge switches from red to black, making it hard to spot. It’s been just a day, and I’m trying to love it, so maybe my eyes will adapt in the coming weeks.

iOS 18 beta 1 running on iPhone 15 Pro Max
Mahmoud Itani / Android Authority

However, iOS 18 beta 1’s Home Screen updates don’t stop there. Some other neat changes include locking individual apps with biometrics and a Hidden folder to conceal questionable apps. These additions make it easier to stop prying eyes from accessing private apps and data, without needing third-party developers to implement their own security measures in their applications. Once you hide an app, it’ll be placed in a locked Hidden folder located at the bottom of the App Library.

Otherwise, as of iOS 18 beta 1, legacy widgets are no longer supported. While most relevant apps have already adopted the new-ish widgets introduced with iOS 14, some haven’t yet. If you’ve added any of those to their designated area, then they’ll simply disappear once you update to iOS 18.

Lastly, when editing the Home Screen, there’s now a button that enlarges app icons and widgets. Enabling it hides app labels, too, which some users may perceive as a cleaner look.

There’s no denying that the Home Screen update on iOS 18 is one of the most significant in years. While I personally don’t like how the tinting effect works, it isn’t forced on users, and having more options is a welcome move that should gradually liberate iOS from its shackled reputation.

Out-of-Control Center

The iPhone’s Control Center houses some of the most commonly used toggles, the Now Playing tile, smart home controls, and more. For years, Apple had blocked iPhone users from customizing the Control Center in any meaningful way. Beyond adding and removing a few small toggles, users were limited to the tech overlord’s defaults.

iOS 18 beta 1 takes the Control Center from one extreme to another. With this release, you can quite literally have an empty Control Center if you wish. All toggles are now replaceable, and certain ones offer multiple sizes. So you can emphasize a button as much as desired.

iOS 18 truly mimics Android's Quick Settings, allowing iPhone users to add and focus on just the shortcuts that they need.

Naturally, larger toggles and tiles mean running out of space faster. Apple addresses this by introducing Control Center pages. With iOS 18 beta 1, you can create multiple pages and customize them as needed. You could even add the same toggle multiple times to the same or different pages. It’s pretty much a fully flexible canvas — go wild!

iPhone iOS18 Control Panel showing network controls
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Personally, I’ve opted for a single page, as my muscle memory is used to that. I did rearrange some things, though, and I appreciate how customizable the experience has become. Some of the changes I love are the new Now Playing tile that adapts to the album art and the handy VPN toggle.

iOS 18 truly mimics Android’s Quick Settings, allowing iPhone users to add and focus on just the shortcuts that they need. And with the new API, developers can design their own toggles, which iPhone 15 Pro users can also assign to the Action button — beyond the Control Center itself.

Unlocked Screen

One of the most requested iOS features is the ability to remove or replace the camera and flashlight toggles on the Lock Screen. iOS 18 beta 1 finally unlocks that, allowing you to switch to a different layout. Speaking of the flashlight, with this release, you can also control the beam’s radius for the first time, not just its intensity.

Otherwise, the Lock Screen on iOS 18 beta is largely the same, as it already offers a wide range of customizations. Apple did introduce some new additions to it, nevertheless, such as a fresh rainbow font color.

A Photos app you’ll get lost navigating

Another major change included in the first iOS 18 beta is the redesigned Photos app. It’s arguably why wise words like “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” exist. With this version, Apple completely rebuilt it from the ground up and disrupted its intuitive UX in the process. I now find myself lost, unable to navigate to the sections I frequent easily. Technologically challenged people won’t appreciate the muscle memory reset once the update officially debuts.

To be fair, I do think the new user interface is cleaner, and the animations are much flashier. I’m confident that I’ll restore my peace of mind once I adapt to it. It’s just that I actively rely on this app, and wasting time trying to find what I’m looking for every time I launch it has been an unpleasant experience.

Nevertheless, Apple has made some decent additions to Photos on iOS 18. Beyond the new UI, the photos themselves have rounded corners that look more futuristic. In fact, I think the entire app resembles visionOS and its modernity. Many buttons have been rounded, you can pin collections, the interface is highly customizable, and there are new automatic categories and filters that can detect receipts, documents, and other particular types of images.

One of the biggest updates to Photos on iOS 18 is missing in beta 1, however. Users likely won’t be able to use the new AI-powered clean-up feature until Apple Intelligence debuts later this year. I’m anticipating this upcoming feature, as I often rely on third-party editing apps like Google Snapseed and Adobe Lightroom to remove objects when my MacBook isn’t on me. For reference, macOS has offered a basic clean-up tool by default for years now.

Messages adds new ways to express

iOS 18 beta 1 also boosts the Messages app. While RCS support seemingly isn’t live yet, there are some neat changes that testers can try out now. These include scheduling messages and reacting to text with any emoji — instead of being limited to six tapback options and stickers. Individual emoji sent or received also look much bigger on iOS 18 beta 1.

Furthermore, beta 1 packs some handy text formatting options that extend beyond the basics. With iOS 18, users can bold, italicize, strikethrough, and underline text, in addition to applying some special effects. These include Big, Small, Shake, Nod, Explode, Ripple, Bloom, and Jitter. Interestingly, unlike legacy Bubble and Screen effects, the new formatting and special effects can be applied to individual words, not just entire messages.

The (1)password app you need

With iOS 18 beta 1, Apple has bundled an all-new Passwords app. Along with this addition, the company has retired the dedicated section in the Settings app, as it has been increasingly upgrading it with new features. Thanks to the  dedicated app, users can now filter through their passkeys, Wi-Fi passwords, accounts with two-factor authentication enabled, and more. The Passwords app on iOS 18 can also generate QR codes for saved Wi-Fi networks that other smartphone users can scan to join. Expectedly, those with iCloud enabled will still get to sync their passwords and codes across other Apple devices and Windows PCs.

Visualized Voice Memos

While Apple Intelligence doesn’t launch until later this year, iOS 18 beta 1 includes some lowkey AI-powered features. For example, when recording audio in the Voice Memos app, you can see a live transcript of your speech. You can similarly record audio and view the transcript in the Notes app. Speaking of Notes, the app also got a notable boost with support for advanced mathematical equations and formulas, but more on that in our upcoming iPadOS 18 hands-on.

Similar to Notes and Voice Memos, the Phone app on iOS 18 will support call recording and live transcripts. However, we haven’t been able to confirm whether these Phone features, in particular, are included in beta 1. Notably, clicking a person’s name in the Phone app’s call log on beta 1 no longer rings their number without confirmation, and T9 dialing support has been added, too.

Calendar, meet Reminders

For the longest time, the Calendar and Reminders apps didn’t communicate meaningfully. iOS 18 beta 1 finally addresses that by bridging their databases. With this release, when you add a date/time to a reminder, it populates in the Calendar app and widget. This makes it possible to visualize your entire daily, weekly, and monthly plans in a single app. It’s a long overdue feature that third-party solutions like Fantastical have offered for years. But hey, better late than never.

Lost 2.0: Settings edition

iOS 18 beta 1 also completely redesigns the Settings app and wrecks your muscle memory in the process. Some sections have been merged, while others have been relocated. Fortunately, you can search for individual menus and toggles, so getting lost is somewhat more manageable here.

Beyond the new interface, the iCloud section has received a facelift. Similarly, main sections like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth now include clear banners explaining what these settings are all about. The iPhone 15 models also now support finer battery charging limits, allowing users to pick between different percentages — instead of being restricted to 80% when using the feature.

iOS 18 beta 1 completely redesigns the Settings app and wrecks your muscle memory in the process.

Beta 1 also includes the Accessibility settings Apple officially announced a few weeks ago. These include a new function that allows you to control your iPhone by moving your eyeballs. Setting it up takes a minute, but it didn’t work reliably for me. The camera fails to detect where I’m looking exactly, resulting in accidental input. Nevertheless, it’s still an impressive addition that will be priceless to those who need it, especially after Apple further optimizes it.

iPhone iOS18 Control Panel showing music player
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Another notable Accessibility setting on iOS 18 beta 1 allows users to experience music through phone haptics. The feature relies on your iPhone’s Taptic Engine to deliver a touching (sorry) experience that matches the beats of the songs that are being played. Currently, it only works with Apple Music and Apple Music Classical, but third-party developers can adopt the relevant API in their own apps.

Other iOS 18 beta features

Apart from the aforementioned features, iOS 18 beta 1 includes some other welcome additions, such as a redesigned Fitness app and Freeform Scenes. However, we will dive into these in our upcoming watchOS 11 and iPadOS 18 hands-on articles, respectively, as they aren’t iPhone-centric features. There are also smaller tweaks across the operating system, like granular contact sharing permissions in apps and Journal goals and insights.

Additionally, many of the announced features aren’t included in iOS 18 beta 1, such as the redesigned Mail app, Apple Intelligence, the updated Siri UI, and more. Some of these should be added in future iOS 18 betas, while others will be reserved for later iOS 18.x updates.

iOS 18 beta 1 hands-on impressions: The verdict

iPhone iOS18 Control Panel
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Based on a day’s usage, iOS 18 beta 1 showcases an OS that increasingly resembles Android to me, especially when considering the new Home Screen, Control Center, and first-party app layout customizations. Apple has never provided this level of control over its operating system before, and it’s clearly changing its approach to potentially attract and retain power users.

Ultimately, we’ve reached a point where Android and iOS have objectively matured. Both operating systems now pack similar sets of features, with the former offering more flexibility while the latter generally sticking to what’s familiar and safe. The two won’t intersect; they’ll continue to learn from and mimic each other while flowing on two parallel lines, a single hair strand apart. And this is a good thing — customers can pick their preferred platform while no longer needing to give up on too many perks not offered on the, ahem, greener side.

Should you download and install iOS 18 beta 1?

If you need to ask, then the answer is likely no. iOS 18 beta 1 is the first pre-release build of a major OS version bump, and it’s aimed at developers to optimize their apps in advance. If you have a spare device you don’t depend on, then there’s no harm in trying it out. After all, if things go south, you could always roll back to the stable version.

If you’re considering running iOS 18 beta on your daily driver, I would advise you to wait for a few more builds first. iOS 18 beta 1 packs all sorts of lags, glitches, bugs, and inconsistencies. While enthusiasts may be willing to make the sacrifice, it’s bound to be an unpleasant, unstable experience. If you decide to proceed, you can follow the instructions listed on Apple’s website.

When will iOS 18 be released?

Apple iPhone 15 Plus and iPhone 15 Pro Max
Aamir Siddiqui / Android Authority

iOS 18 beta 1 is currently available to those enrolled in Apple’s developer program. The company will then expand the pre-release software’s availability to those in the public beta program sometime in early July. Once the iPhone maker concludes the testing process, iOS 18 should roll out to all users with compatible iPhone models by late September.

Does my iPhone support iOS 18?

iOS 18 doesn’t drop support for any iPhone models. So, if you’re running iOS 17 right now, you’ll be able to install the upcoming release this fall. The compatible devices include the iPhone XR and XS models released in 2018 and newer ones. Beyond flagship iPhones, iOS 18 will also be available on the second- and third-generation SE variants launched in 2020 and 2022, respectively. Do note, though, that Apple Intelligence will require an iPhone 15 Pro model.

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