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iOS 12 highlights: Memoji, tech addiction tool, group FaceTime

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iOS 12 highlights: Memoji, tech addiction tool, group FaceTime

During his keynote at WWDC 2018, Apple's CEO Tim Cook gave the world a preview of what's to come in iOS 12 – the next-generation software arriving on iPhones and iPads later this year.

The company announced its next-generation mobile software iOS 12 is packed with performance improvements.  Apple has a particular focus on "digital health" with iOS 12.

The company has ironed out some of the software bugs, boosted the software's performance and added a host of features that take advantage of the built-in AR and Face ID sensors found in its latest handsets. 

Here is a closer look at the new software:

Tech addiction tool

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Apple is adding tools to help its customers use their phones less, a direct response to criticisms it received earlier this year from shareholders worried about phone addiction. A new activity report will track how much time you're spending on your mobile device and how you're spending it via a daily breakdown.

Apple is also adding a page for users to see apps are sending you the most notifications.

"You can make decisions about how much time you'd like to spend with your device each day," Apple's Craig Federighi told developers.

If you need a little help making those kind of decisions, a new setting called App Limits acts as your iPhone babysitter. If an app is sucking up too much of your time, you can set your own limit, such as one hour a day for Instagram. You'll get a 5 min warning when you're almost out of time (and a button if you'd like to extend your time, of course).

Parents have extra controls and can give their kids time allowances. They can also schedule "downtime" for kids to prevent them from checking their devices at bedtime.

The features came several months after major shareholders wrote a letter to Apple asking the company to add more parental controls and to study the impact of excessive iPhone usage on mental health.

Memoji

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Tigers, koalas, and T-rexes, oh my! Apple is adding new animals (and a ghost) to the Animoji feature, which is only available to iPhone X users. It's also adding tongue detection, so the animals mimic your own tongue movements.

But the biggest emoji news is a new option to create an Animoji that looks just like you. Called a Memoji, the feature lets you create a cartoon version of yourself. Users can select skin color, freckles, hairstyle, head shape, eye wear and more. The software will then recreate your head and face movements just like the other Animojis in Messages.

Group FaceTime

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FaceTime will soon be able to support video chats with up to 32 people. If you're in an unwieldly group chat, you can start a FaceTime directly from Messages so you can argue with family members over video.

Meanwhile, the camera in Messages is getting new effects, including filters, shapes and stickers. Texting is more fun in iOS 12, too. But perhaps not as fun as 32 people trying to talk over each other at once.

Augmented reality

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iOS 12 also focuses on augmented reality. Apple also showed off a new AR tool, Measure, that turns your phone into an $800 ruler. It also highlighted how some developers, such as Lego, are incorporating the trendy technology into apps. (Lego app users will soon be able to hold an iOS device over certain Lego sets to play a multiplayer games).

The operating systems themselves won't be available to the general public until the Fall, but Apple announced an earlier public beta program for eager iPhone, iPad and Mac users. But it's not a full picture of what will eventually come to your devices. The company saves a few surprises for its September press event when it also announces new iPhones.

Mojave

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Apple's next macOS will be named Mojave, after the desert in California. It adds a dark mode, which makes backgrounds black and grey instead of white. Dark mode will be optimal for viewing your computer in a dark room or at night, but it can also be useful for editing photos or other creative projects.

For messy desktops, there's a new option called Desktop Stacks, which sorts the random files on your desktop into piles by categories, such as file type, date or tag. But it's still all there -- it's a bit like throwing your papers into a pile, rather than getting rid of things you don't need.

Apple is bringing some classic iOS apps to its desktop, including News, Voice Memos, Stocks and Home. The apps' look will be similar to the iPad versions of the apps.

iOS 12 compatibility

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Once the release date rolls around, iOS 12 will be available as a free software update for iPhone 5s and later, all iPad Air and iPad Pro models, iPad 5th generation, iPad 6th generation, iPad mini 2 and later and iPod touch 6th generation.

Improved privacy and security

Apple announced some new privacy and anti-tracking features coming to its Safari browser.

In Safari on iOS 12, Apple has added so-called enhanced Intelligent Tracking Prevention to actively stop social media “Like” and “Share” buttons, as well as comment widgets, tracking you without express permission. This is likely to have come off the back of, or at least due to the climate surrounding, the likes of Facebook's Cambridge Analytica saga, GDPR, as well as reports that surfaced today which suggested Facebook shared the data of millions of users with Apple back in the day. 

Safari will also help users stop sites tracking them, and will automatically create autofill and store strong passwords for any new online accounts. It will also intelligently highlight when a password has been reused and encourage the user to change it, to promote good password hygiene, and so not to get caught out by data breaches and phishing scams. 

Apple TV

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You'll no longer need to log with a cable account over and over again to access content via Apple TV. A new zero sign-on feature will detect if you're on your cable provider's broadband and automatically sign you in to apps that require a cable subscription.

watchOS updates

Apple Watch users will have more workout options, such as activity competitions and automatic workout detection, and new watchface designs. The company demoed a handful of new watch apps by having an employee workout live on stage.

Meanwhile, a fun new feature called Walki-Talkie lets you communicate with other people who are also using Apple Watches over voice. The Apple Podcast app is also coming to the Apple Watch.

App Store

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Federighi nixed rumors that the iOS and Mac App Stores would merge. But the Mac App store is getting a makeover with more editorial content to look more like its iOS sibling

Apple is also adding some developer tools to help make it easier to bring iOS apps to the Mac.

How to install iOS 12

When the iOS 12 release date rolls around, and the update is available for your phone, you will be prompted to install it automatically.

Alternatively, you can go to Settings, General and Software Update. This makes your phone search for the latest software and, when applicable, you'll be prompted to download.

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