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iOS 12: Apple's new iPhone software is here to download – everything you need to know

Andrew Griffin

Apple is going to dramatically change your iPhone. Even if it's old.

The company announced iOS 12, the new version of its operating software for iPhone and iPads. And while it did not include some of the dramatic features found in previous updates, it did include at least two profound changes.

And as well as those, it introduced a raft of fun and meaningful new changes, designed to make the iPhone more fun. They include changes to animoji and new features to improve the phone's augmented reality tools.

But many of the features were intended to make people spend less time on their phone. The new software includes a variety of ways to do things more quickly, and new ways to remind you to get off your phone.

Here's a full rundown of all the important changes introduced in iOS 12, which will be released this year.

Performance upgrades

Chief among the new features was something that wasn't really a feature at all. Instead, it was a promise from Apple to focus on the performance of the new software, ensuring that the phones running it do so quickly and without bugs.

In particular, Apple will focus on ensuring that old phones are able to run the software as well as they can. Apple said that iOS 12 improves the performance of the iPhone 6 – for example – dramatically, even when it is doing intensive processes.

This has been a repeated complaint about new versions of iOS – and, anecdotally, one that gets louder every year. This should be the first time that your phone feels much faster after updating, as well as much more exciting.

(Apple software boss Craig Federighi claimed that these speed boosts and performance improvements would be a worthy upgrade all by themself.)

Screen Time

The other major upgrade was also focused on fixing problems rather than introducing new things. Apple's Screen Time feature is intended to make your phone a happier and healthier place to be – even if that means stopping you using it.

Among other things, the phone will watch how you are using your apps and assemble that into graphs and charts with a whole array of probably shocking information: how often you use certain apps, and how often you pick up your phone. If you see something in there you don't like, you can set limits – so that your phone will kick you out of Instagram if you use it for more than an hour, for instance.

It will concentrate on notifications, too. Apple will make it much easier to ignore them when they're not relevant to what you are doing, in an effort to stop them being quite so intrusive and distracting you from what you should really be getting on with.

Privacy

Apple is taking a swipe at ubiquitous "share" buttons created by Facebook and others to track your behavior online regardless of whether you click on them. The company says it's shutting down that tracking through its Safari browser in an update to Mac and iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads. Apple senior vice president Craig Federighi said such tracking would be blocked by default. Even if users click to share an item, they will get a prompt with an option to prevent subsequent tracking.

He also said Apple would crack down on so-called "fingerprinting," in which data companies identify specific devices by creating a unique fingerprint based on a device's particular configuration settings, installed fonts and plug-ins. Apple plans to instead send out generic data to such collectors, making a user's device look just like any other Apple device. Federighi said the changes will make it "dramatically more difficult for data companies to identify you and track you."

Last year, Apple added "intelligent tracking prevention" that imposes time limits on tracking cookies and takes other measures to try to prevent advertising tech companies from following users around the web.

Even more augmented reality

Apple rolled out new support for augmented reality applications as it unveiled a new format for digital objects that appear to live in the real world.

The update comes as Apple tries to extend AR experiences to a broader population, rather than just hard-core, tech-savvy users. The company started that effort last year when it built AR tools into most iPhones and iPads; by contrast, Google had limited that to niche Android phone models.

Digital objects created with the new format, called USDZ, will work in Apple's Safari browser, Messages and Mail apps, meaning AR isn't limited to stand-alone apps that people choose to download separately. The format will also get support in Adobe's Creative Cloud suite of apps for professional photographers, videographers and designers. What remains to be seen is whether there is enough of a compelling reason for someone to use AR, even if it's built-in to everyday apps.

Apple also unveiled an app called "Measure" that measures boxes and other objects in the real world by pointing the camera at them. Apple is also offering tools to give multiple users a different view of the same digital objects viewed from different angles.

Animoji improvements

In iOS 12, the company's animated emoji which track a user's face, known as Animoji, have also been updated to include new animals, as well as the ability to detect when a tongue is being stuck out.

A new version of the app, called Memoji, will now also enable users to create animated emoji of their own faces instead of using an animal face.

Group FaceTime

Apple's video calling tools have barely changed at all since they were introduced in 2010.

Now it will include a range of changes, chief among them the ability to speak to more than one person at once. In fact, you'll be able to speak to 32 people at once.

All of that is done within a redesigned interface. When people speak, for instance, FaceTime spots it and ensures that the screen showing the person talking takes up more of the screen.

And you can also use the animoji described above within a FaceTime call. That means you can stick the cartoon version of your face over the real one.

Siri gets smarter

Apple wants its digital assistant Siri to do more. Third-party apps will now be able to let users invoke Siri for commonly used tasks, much the way competing assistants from Google and Amazon long have. Before, Apple had limited third-party access to a handful of categories, such as messaging, while excluding competitors to Apple's Music service, for instance.

The software update will also let people group similar tasks together into shortcuts that can be accessed by simple phrases like "heading home." Saying the phrase can be set to open Apple Maps to find the best route home and launching a radio app.

Easier photo sharing

Apple will encourage users to share photos with their friends by suggesting such opportunities in a new "for you" tab. When a friend receives photos from an event, Apple will then suggest that the friend reciprocate with photos from the same event. It's similar to how Google already encourages sharing through its own Photos app for both iPhones and Android devices.

Apple says all sharing will be done privately, using encryption already built into its Messages app.

Additional reporting by agencies