Apple’s iOS 10.3 is rolling out today, with a new find my AirPods option and CarPlay improvements. Most of the features in iOS 10.3 aren’t major, but Apple is actually undertaking a pretty huge shift for all iPad and iPhone users today. Within iOS 10.3, Apple is moving supported devices to its new Apple File System (APFS). It’s a file system that was originally announced at WWDC last year, and it’s designed with the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, and Apple TV in mind.
Apple has been using its 31-year-old Hierarchical File System (HFS) for iOS devices so far. It was originally designed for Macs with floppy or hard disks, and not for modern mobile devices with solid state storage. Even its successor, HFS+, still doesn’t address the needs of these mobile devices enough. Apple’s new APFS is designed to scale across these new types of devices and take advantage of flash or SSD storage. It’s also engineered with encryption as a primary feature, and even supports features like snapshots so restoring files on a Mac or even an iOS device might get a lot easier in the future.
As APFS is designed to be low latency, this should also improve read and write speeds on iOS or Mac devices. Apple demonstrated this during WWDC last year with a Mac, showing how APFS saved time on a simple file copy compared to HFS+. Most iPhone and iPad users won’t notice a difference after today’s iOS 10.3 update, but there could be a boost to storage levels for some. Beta testers of iOS 10.3 reported seeing more storage available after the update, primarily due to the way APFS calculates available data.
Other than a tiny boost to storage, it’s unlikely you’ll see any benefits from this new file system on an iPad or iPhone just yet. It will help lay some of the foundations for Apple to switch fully over to 64-bit apps only on iOS, something that many believe will happen with iOS 11. What you might notice when you install iOS 10.3 is that it takes longer to install. It shouldn’t be too much longer, but Apple is taking on a big task to carefully and silently update millions of iOS devices’ file systems so things will take a little longer than normal.
Apple has just released iOS 10.3 to the general public, an update which is likely to be the last major release of iOS 10; at this point in the year, work usually begins in earnest on the next major release of iOS, which will be revealed at WWDC in June. The update is available for everything that runs iOS 10: the iPhone 5 and newer, the fourth-generation iPad and newer, the iPad Mini 2 and newer, both iPad Pros, and the sixth-generation iPod Touch.
The update has been going through the beta process for a couple of months now, and since it’s likely to be iOS 10’s last major update, we’ll spend some extra time with a few of the high-profile features. I’ve also spent a tiny bit of time with the new APFS filesystem, which won’t change much for most people but does seem to free up a small amount of local storage space.
Change is afoot… in the Settings app
Many of iOS 10.3’s most noticeable tweaks are in the most exciting part of any operating system: the Settings app!
The most obvious of the changes moves the iCloud settings screen from about halfway down the list to its own prominent position at the top of the stack. There isn’t a ton of stuff here that doesn’t already exist in iOS 10.2.1, but given that the first thing most people do with their iPhones and iPads is sign in to their iCloud accounts, it makes sense to move this stuff front and center.
Particularly useful is a big “Password & Security” section right at the top of the new screen, which lets you change your iCloud password and set up two-factor authentication. This was available before, it was just buried in a non-obvious place (go to the iCloud settings page, then tap your Apple ID, then tap Password & Security).
You also get a list of every single device signed in to your Apple ID, including iOS devices, Macs, Apple TVs, and Apple Watches. This provides easy access to serial numbers, Find my iPhone/iPad/Mac info for the OSes that support it, as well as iDevice backup status, iPhone phone number and IMEI information, and Apple Pay information. If a device is lost or destroyed or traded in, you can use this screen to easily remove it from your account, and if you spot a device that doesn’t belong, you can change your password quickly to lock it out.
Tapping the iCloud badge here opens a screen that looks mostly like the top level of the old iCloud settings screen looked. This is where you toggle whether to sync photos, mail, calendars, and other things, and it’s also where you turn device backups and Find My iPhone on and off. Keep scrolling down and you’ll get a complete list (with toggles) of every app using iCloud Drive storage; this was previously hidden in a separate iCloud Drive page. There’s a nice storage bar at the top of the screen that tells you how your iCloud storage is being used, but you still have to find the Manage Storage screen to see how much space each individual app and device is using.
iOS 10.3 will automatically convert your iDevice’s filesystem from HFS+ to APFS when you install it, making it the first Apple operating system to ship with APFS as a non-beta default filesystem.
As we’ve written, it feels pretty brave of Apple (brave in the “possibly foolhardy” sense) to ship a brand-new filesystem on its biggest platform first, where it could cause the most problems if something went wrong. But it also makes a certain kind of sense. iDevices will have predictable and uniform partition maps that Apple already knows all about, since users can’t access the filesystem directly and mess with things. Testing the APFS conversion on every single device that supports iOS 10 (and maybe even every single storage capacity option for every one of those devices) is a lot of work, but there are still a finite number of configurations to test.
On the Mac, by contrast, people’s system partitions could be set up in all kinds of weird and unpredictable ways, making it more difficult to account for edge cases in the conversion process. So iOS gets to be the guinea pig, and macOS (as well as watchOS and tvOS) will likely pick up APFS support in the new major OS updates we see at WWDC this year.
iOS doesn’t and has never exposed its filesystem directly to its users, so unlike in macOS where you can pull back the curtain to see how it’s working, the change in iOS will effectively be invisible to users (except insofar as a filesystem that is quietly more modern and robust is a good thing in the long run). User-facing benefits like directory size calculation and cloning files in multiple locations, easily noticeable in macOS, have little bearing in the more locked-down world of iOS.
Rumor sites covering the iOS 10.3 betas usually do some hand-waving here, claiming that APFS may be faster or save disk space. I can’t speak to the filesystem’s speed except to say that boot times on three devices I tested under iOS 10.2.1 and iOS 3 beta 7 (a late build that, bug fixes aside, should be more-or-less identical to today’s release build) were the same. But iDevices with iOS 10.3 installed do consistently seem to show larger amounts of space available, as well as larger capacities, suggesting that the conversion to APFS is reducing the size needed for the OS partition.
|Device||Total capacity (iOS 10.2.1)||Total capacity (iOS 10.3)||Available (iOS 10.2.1)||Available (iOS 10.3)|
|iPhone 5S, 64GB||59.26GB||60.46GB||57.93GB||58.89GB|
|iPhone 6 Plus, 16GB||11.87GB||12.18GB||10.91GB||11.25GB|
|9.7″ iPad Pro, 256GB||248.84GB||252.50GB||247.14GB||250.68GB|
These are small gains in usable capacity, just a few hundred megabytes (the more storage you have, the more you seem to gain). These are also far from real-world conditions—the tests were all done on freshly reset devices that have been allowed to build their Spotlight indexes but had no apps, photos, or browser data on them and hadn’t been connected to iCloud. And without more information, it’s not possible to attribute the space savings exclusively to APFS; it’s merely the most likely of all possible options. Your mileage may vary. But it does look like iOS 10.3 and APFS will help you reclaim a little space.
If iOS 10.3 does feel faster to you it might be because of Apple’s seemingly never-ending quest to mess with the app launching animations it introduced in iOS 7. When you launch or close an app, you can see the icon you tap sort of “expand” to take up the entire screen; in iOS 10.3, that expansion process happens just a little more quickly, just enough to convey a greater sense of speed.
The impending end of 32-bit iOS
We’ve been tracking this one for a while now, but iOS 10.3 is ramping up the warnings about old, unmaintained (read: 32-bit) apps that may not work in future versions of the software (read: probably iOS 11, which is also likely to drop support for the last of the 32-bit iOS hardware). Dive into Settings, then General, then About, and tap the Applications text, and you’ll see a complete list of apps.
As you can see from the list on my phone, the list is made up exclusively of games. While productivity and some free-to-play games may be updated continuously, there’s little financial incentive for developers of older pay-once-for-everything titles to keep them updated. All iOS apps and app updates since June of 2015 must include 64-bit support, so it has been nearly two years since any of these games were touched.
On the one hand, dropping support for older apps is in keeping with Apple’s stated desire to clean up the App Store. On the other, it’s too bad that a significant chunk of iPhone and App Store history is going out the window with them. Without effort on the part of developers or some kind of solution from Apple, these old apps are just going to be lost to time.
And the rest
A hidden setting discovered during the beta period by developer Steve Troughton-Smith that lets iPad users pop out a floating, iPhone-style keyboard still isn’t available to users in this build. And there were no further iPad-specific changes or features, contrary to what a few rumors from last year said could come in future iOS 10 updates.
Otherwise, iOS 10.3 contains a whole host of other, smaller changes. The Find My AirPods feature can make one or both of your AirPods play noises so you can more easily find them. The CarPlay interface has been tweaked. You can rent iTunes movies once and watch them on all of your devices. You can see weather information in the Maps app by 3D Touching the temperature. And the Podcasts app gets its own widget. The full release notes are pasted below.
Find My iPhone
- View the current or last-known location of your AirPods
- Play a sound on one or both AirPods to help you find them
- Support for paying and checking status of bills with payment apps
- Support for scheduling with ride-booking apps
- Support for checking car fuel level, lock status, turning on lights, and activating horn with automaker apps
- Cricket sports scores and statistics for Indian Premier League and International Cricket Council
- Shortcuts in the status bar for easy access to last-used apps
- Apple Music Now Playing screen gives access to Up Next and the currently playing song’s album
- Daily curated playlists and new music categories in Apple Music
Other improvements and fixes
- Rent once and watch your iTunes movies across your devices
- New Settings unified view for your Apple ID account information, settings, and devices
- Hourly weather in Maps using 3D Touch on the displayed current temperature
- Support for searching “parked car” in Maps
- Calendar adds the ability to delete an unwanted invite and report it as junk
- Home app support to trigger scenes using accessories with switches and buttons
- Home app support for accessory battery level status
- Podcast support for 3D Touch and Today widget to access recently updated shows
- Podcast shows or episodes are shareable to Messages with full playback support
- Fixes an issue that could prevent Maps from displaying your current location after resetting
- Location & Privacy
- VoiceOver stability improvements for Phone, Safari, and Mail