For an iPhone software update that’s not considered a major overhaul, iOS 16 sure packs in a lot of features — so many that Apple really only scratched the surface when previewing the update at its Worldwide Developer Conference.
Anyone who’s installed the iOS 16 developers preview is getting a full sense of all the features and enhancements the update will deliver when it arrives this fall. And the rest of us will get a chance next month when the iOS 16 public beta arrives.
Even the top iOS 16 features you’ve already heard about like customizable lock screens with widgets, changes to Apple Pay and enhanced Spotlight search features have new capabilities you’ve probably overlooked. To give you a closer look at some additions you might not know about, we’re highlight some iOS 16 hidden features that deserve more widespread attention.
Here are the under-the-radar iOS 16 features we can’t wait to try.
Notifications display options
You likely know that notifications are moving to the bottom of the iPhone’s screen as Apple made a point of that during its iOS 16 preview. The idea is that moving the notifications down reduces some of the screen clutter and keeps the area around the time and date display clear for any lock screen widget you happen to add.
But you have some customization powers over the look of your notifications as well. By default, the notifications will show up stacked on top of each other, but iOS 16 also offers list and count views if you prefer. You’ll even be able to change notification layouts from the lock screen itself.
Apple is giving the Home app in iOS 16 a big facelift, with the idea of making it easier to view and control smart home devices. One of the highlights from Apple’s iOS 16 presentation was the vertically scrolling list of smart home categories at the top of the home app to give you quick access to things like lights, climate control and smart locks.
But what if I told you that you never even have to launch the Home app to control these things or even unlock your phone. As part of iOS 16’s ability to add widgets to the lock screen, there will be Home app widgets that let you directly access your smart devices.
Perhaps, that’s a no-brainer for some people, but when I was thinking of lock screen widgets, I was thinking of things like ways to display temperature or upcoming appointments. Clearly, Apple’s got bigger plans for what belongs on the lock screen, and in the case of Home app widgets, it should make controlling your connected devices a lot easier.
A Sharing toggle comes to the Camera app
Sharing photos straight from your Camera app in the current version of iOS is simple enough, though it does require a few taps. Apple is going to simplify the process in iOS 16 by adding an automatic toggle that will let you share the photos you take automatically. The toggle is geared toward iOS 16’s new iCloud Shared Photo Library feature that lets you set up albums where up to six people can contribute photos and collaborate on editing them.
Even better, there’s going to be proximity-based sharing in which your phone can detect that you’re near another member of your iCloud Shared Photo Library album. (Presumably, they’ll need an iPhone running iOS 16 as well for this feature to work.)
Search button for the home screen
While we’re talking about time saving features, let’s look at the Spotlight search tool where you can quickly jump to apps, emails, photos, web queries, downloaded songs and more. (Spotlight’s also where Siri Suggestions live — these are the apps and actions you frequently use around that time of day.) Getting to search in iOS 15 involves swiping down on the home screen — it’s easy enough but iOS 16 is going to make it even easier.
The dots that are at the bottom of the iPhone screen just above the Dock currently show you how many different home screens you have and which home screen you happen to be on. But that area serves double duty in iOS 16. It’s also tappable, and when you do it tap, you’ll jump straight to a Spotlight search. This should be a lot more convenient than the current method, even if it’s only a minor tweak to the iPhone’s software.
Hands-free hang ups with Siri
Now that I’ve embraced the AirPods lifestyle, I appreciate how I can tell Siri when I want to answer phone calls, especially when I’m in the kitchen, listening to the music and podcasts while I cook. Siri saves me from having to rinse off my hands, then fumble with the iPhone, just to find out who’s calling me.
Where Siri has been falling down on the job is when phone calls come to an end. Unless I want to do that iPhone fumbling act I mentioned earlier, I’ve got to wait for the person on the other end of the line to end the call.
That changes in iOS 16. Now you ask Siri to hang up your call without ever having to touch your iPhone. It does sound as if the person on the other end of line will be able to hear you tell Siri to end the call, but to me that just makes things more dramatic: This call is over. HEY SIRI, HANG UP.
Siri understands emojis when you’re dictating texts
You can currently dictate texts with Siri, but if you’re the type who thinks emojis are worth a thousand words, your iPhone’s digital assistant can’t really help you. Dictate a lovely message to your sweetie that ends with a heart emoji, and Siri will quite literally type “heart emoji” in the text. It really kills the mood.
iOS 16 makes Siri smarter about dictated emojis, and now, telling the assistant “heart emoji” will yield a nice red heart right there in your text message. Yes, Apple is copying something Google has supported on the Pixel 6, but in this case, we’re not using a Pixel 6 — we’re using an iPhone. And this feature makes the iPhone much more useful.
Make Siri listen longer
While we’re on the subject of Siri improvements, let’s talk about an accessibility feature that Apple actually revealed back in May, a month before its iOS 16 preview. Back then, Apple promised a host of accessibility features was coming to the iPhone, and one of the promised additions that caught my eye was the ability to the adjust Siri’s pause time.
Adjusting the pause time will make the digital assistant wait longer before responding to your request. It’s ideal for anyone with impaired speech, but really if you find yourself rushing to complete a Siri command before the assistant leaps into action, you’ll appreciate this iOS 16 addition as well.
Expanded image searches
Right now, enter a search term into the Spotlight search feature, and results will include any images from the Photos app that match your query. Expect more image results in iOS 16, as Apple is going to extend image search functionality to more of its built-in apps. That includes Files, as you might imagine, but Notes and Messages also figure to be part of the mix, too.
Scheduling emails in Mail
More of us are using our phones as daily productivity tools, and that’s reflected in Mail gaining many of the same features Apple is adding to macOS Ventura. One feature that you’ll appreciate if you use the Mail app on your iPhone regularly is the newfound ability to send scheduled emails.
That’s not a possibility in the current version of Mail, which sends off any missives the moment in you tap the Send button (the arrow in the right-hand corner). But long press that button in iOS 16, and you’ll get options for when to send out the email — helpful if you want a particular message to reach a colleague at the start of their working day.
Track your orders in Apple Pay
Let’s wrap up by highlighting some features in Apple’s existing apps that have gotten overshadowed by other changes. For instance, in the Wallet app, the big change brought about by iOS 16 is Apple Pay Later, in which you can divvy up your purchase into four installment payments. But that’s not the only new capability available when you buy things with Apple Pay in iOS 16.
You’ll also be able to track orders of your Apple Pay purchases directly from within the Wallet app. The feature only works with participating merchants, but considering how widespread Apple Pay has become since Apple introduced it in 2014, you’d imagine that there will be a lot of retailers providing order tracking info to you via Wallet.
Safety Check’s quick exit feature
I’ve been impressed by the addition of Safety Check, a feature that’s designed to help people in domestic violence situations quickly cut ties with potentially dangerous people by revoking location access among other steps.
Apple appears to have put a lot of thought into how it can help people make a clean break and stay safe, and that includes a less-publicized feature in Safety Check. Dubbed Quick Exit, it’s a way to get out of the Safety Check screen quickly if you’re worried that someone might see you trying to reset access for people and apps.
Once you tap the Quick Exit button, you go to a home screen. If you go back into Settings, you’ll land on the main Settings screen instead of back in Safety Check. It’s another way to keep a potentially abusive person from spying on your activity.