If your relationship with your iPhone feels stale, like it's lost some of its spark, you have an option other than forking over $1,000 for a new one: iOS 13.
Apple's latest free mobile operating system update is available for the iPhone 6s and later starting Thursday morning. There are lots of small changes, like a new octopus animoji, video editing features, and transit directions, as well as some bigger ones like a dark mode and better privacy features.
Upgrading is easy: Go to Settings->General->Software Update and tap Download and Install.
Still, just because you can update on Thursday doesn't mean you should. If you'd like to avoid any of the bugs and quirks that are common to early versions of software, hold off a few weeks before making the leap into darkness. Apple says the update should not slow down older devices or drain iPhone batteries faster, but it's always wise to wait and see what issues early adopters report.
We've been trying out the beta version of iOS 13 on our own phone and think these five features will most change the Apple experience, and perhaps even convince you to stick with your current phone model.
-Sign In with Apple
Sign In with Apple is the company's new sign-in option that will act as an alternative to creating custom logins for individual sites, or logging into them with Google or Twitter credentials. It's important for three reasons: The two-factor authentication makes it secure, it can save people from juggling complicated passwords, and Apple says it limits private data sharing with third parties.
Most people might not notice this feature for a while. Only a handful of apps, including the scooter-rental company Bird and the travel-booking service Kayak, will offer the option when iOS 13 launches, but Apple is going to make sure that number explodes. The company is requiring all apps in the App Store that use a third party or social sign-ins to add Sign In with Apple by April, with some exceptions for business and educational tools.
Using it is simple: Open an app for the first time and click on the Sign In with Apple option, then confirm you are you with your phone's passcode, fingerprint or Face ID. There's no inventing another complicated password you'll have to remember or store in a password manager. You'll stay logged in on that device, and it works across other devices and on the Web. Developers can even add it to their Android apps.
Robocalls are a scourge, and carriers and phone manufacturers are still struggling with the best ways to minimize the automated spam calls. Apple is including two new features in iOS 13 that could help a little. One is a setting in the Phone section called "Silence Unknown Callers." If someone is calling from a number that's not in the phone's address book - or anywhere in messages or emails that would make Siri believe you know that person - the call will go directly to voice mail.
The setting is opt-in only, and probably won't be a great fit for anyone who uses their phone for work or communicates regularly with people outside their inner circle.
In addition, iPhones should begin showing a check mark by numbers that your carrier has verified as not a spoofed call, however, it is unknown when the carriers will introduce that verification.
-Find My everything
Apple has combined its Find My Friends app with its tools for locating your Apple devices, added a tab for finding yourself (physically on a map, not spiritually), and dubbed the new app "Find My."
What makes the tool interesting is a new way of locating offline devices. If an Apple Device does not have a WiFi or cellular connection, Apple can try to pinpoint its location using Bluetooth connections from any nearby Apple devices. That means a complete stranger could stroll past the AirPods you left on a train seat, and unbeknown to them their phone would ping Apple with the headphones' location. (The offline tracking feature does not, thankfully, apply to finding your friends.)
If you are a kind of magic person who does not lose things, this won't change your life one lick. For most other people it could be the difference between getting a lost iPad or AirPods back or never seeing them again.
You are going to see a lot of semi-alarming pop-up windows after installing iOS 13, warning you that various apps are asking to use Bluetooth or have been using your location in the background in recent days. The pop ups will give you the option to change your privacy settings. For example, Nest might track your location to know when you are close to home so it can turn on the heater. If that seems invasive, you can tap Change to Only While Using or keep as Always Allow. Some of what Apple has done is an attempt to crack down on crafty apps trying to deduce your location from nearby Bluetooth devices or WiFi base stations. Apple no longer provides base station information to third-party developers at all and will soon require that apps carry a note explaining why they want Bluetooth access.
A year after heavily pushing features designed to make people use their phones less, such as screen time tracking and app limits, Apple is rolling out a setting that helps people use them in the dark. The new Dark Mode makes iPhone displays easier to see in lowlight situations by inverting much of what's on the screen, so backgrounds are black and text is white. It's been a popular feature in apps over the years, and the iOS-wide implementation is hotly anticipated. There's also an option to have it turn on at sunset, or to set a custom schedule for when you want your device to automatically go dark.
While turning it on can feel soothing and appeal to your inner goth, there's no evidence that it actually does much for your eyes or device. Apple has been careful not to make any claims that Dark Mode improves battery life or is medically beneficial to eyesight. However, it is a nice way to give all your usual apps a new look.