iOS 12 is Apple’s brand new operating system for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Apple gave us our first look at iOS 12 in June during the company’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose. Instead of rattling off a laundry list of new features, Apple said it was focusing on under-the-hood refinements; improving performance and stability.

iOS 12 on iPhone X

iOS 12 on Apple’s iPhone X

Sure, there are some flashy new features like Memoji, but overall iOS 12 is about making the iPhones and iPads we already own faster and more reliable. That means some people will complain and say Apple is slacking. To me it says Apple gets that sometimes the next big feature needs to code house cleaning to make the iPhones we have right now even better.

That said, Apple did improve some features and roll in a few new ones, too. This year we get better Notifications management, Screen Time for managing how much time we spend on our devices, Siri Shortcuts to control automated actions with your voice, more information about our battery usage, support for third-party password managers, Memoji, and more.

Is it worth the time to upgrade your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to iOS 12? Read on to find out.

iOS 12 Compatibility

iOS 12 supports a surprisingly long list of Apple devices. To install and run iOS 12 you need an iPhone 5S or newer, the second generation iPad mini or newer, iPad Air and iPad Air 2, fifth or sixth generation iPad, every iPad Pro model, and the sixth generation iPod touch. It comes preinstalled on the just announced iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR, too.

iOS 12 Availability

iOS 12 is available now as a free upgrade for compatible devices. Go to Settings > General > Software Update to start the installation process. Be sure to back up your device before starting the upgrade process. Odds are you won’t experience any problems, but it’s always a good idea to prepare for disaster.

iOS 12 Performance

Apple promised significant performance improvements in iOS 12, and it feels like the company delivered. I could show you numbers, but what matters is real world use. To that end, I tested iOS 12 on a fourth generation iPad mini, 12.9-inch first generation iPad Pro, iPhone 6, and iPhone X.

I found iOS 12 to feel noticeably faster even in early betas. Apps launch quicker, taps are more responsive, and system-level screen animations (like swiping between pages of Home screen apps) looked more fluid. I was especially surprised that my sacrificial testing device—the iPad mini—saw noticeable performance improvements even with iOS 12 developer beta 1.

I wouldn’t say iOS 12 is like getting a free processor upgrade, but it is a boost. If you ever believed the conspiracy theories that Apple intentionally hobbles older iPhones and iPads to force new purchases, it’s time to let that go. Apple released a major operating system update that works on devices as old as the iPhone 5S and sixth generation iPod touch without feeling sluggish.

It seems to me artificially slowing down devices is a pretty backwards way to get people to buy a newer version. If you aren’t happy with what you have, what incentive do you have to buy from the same company again? Unhappy customers aren’t serial purchasers.

Giving people usable software upgrades that work on years-old devices sounds like a better way to keep customers happy and buying from you. iOS 12 does just that, and I expect it’ll help drive customer loyalty.

Notifications gets a Facelift

Notifications finally feel manageable in iOS 12. Apple listened and now groups items in Notification Center together in visual stacks. Your Messages Notifications, for example, are all in a single stack. It’s the same for other Notifications, too, like VIP Mail and IFTTT push notifications. Swipe left to manage, view or clear a Notifications stack. Swipe right to open the associated app. You can still tap a Notification to jump to the app, too.

Notification Center Instant Tuning in iOS 12 on iPhone

Instant Tuning for Notifications in iOS 12

It feels like Notifications are actually useful now because they aren’t strung together in a ridiculously long list. I had mostly given up on the Notifications view until iOS 12. Now it’s giving me useful information I can actually see.

[iOS 12: Manage Notifications with Instant Tuning]

I don’t get why it took Apple so long to give us functional organization for Notifications. It’s not like this is new stuff. Notification Center was introduced in iOS 5 and we’re up to iOS 12 now. Still, it’s nice we finally have Notifications with organization that makes sense.

New and Improved Do Not Disturb

Do Not Disturb isn’t new, but it does have a new feature: It doesn’t show Notifications when active. Instead, it dumps them all at once when your DND time expires. If you’re using DND when you go to bed, you can keep all Notifications hidden until you get up in the morning.

iOs 12 Do Not Disturb and Bedtime on iPhone

iOS 12 Do Not Disturb settings (left)and Bedtime (right)

The changes work in concert with Notifications so you don’t get distracted or woken up when phone—or iPad—time isn’t what you want.

[iOS 12: How to Set Up Your Bedtime Alarm]

The new Bedtime feature ties in with that by automatically enabling DND when it’s time to hit the sack. Bedtime also tracks your sleep, although I’m not seeing much value in that right now because it feels more like tracking that you’re supposed to be in bed, not that you’re actually asleep. The settings are in an odd place, too. Instead of being part of the DND settings, Bedtime is in the Clock app.

iOS 12 Screen Time

Screen Time is like your own personal activity auditor. It logs how much time you spend in apps, along with how much time you spend on specific activities like hanging out on social networks, for example. You get a weekly update showing your times, and you can look in Settings any time you like to see what you’re up to.

iOS 12 Screen Time settings

iOS 12 Screen Time settings let you limit time using apps

You can also set daily time limits for types of apps. A warning pops up five minutes before you hit your time limit. You get the opportunity to postpone the inevitable, or seemingly inevitable, because I never ran into a limit when I tapped “Ignore.” Right now it feels more like a passive/aggressive move to guilt you off of your iPhone.

App limits are determined by activity types. Setting a limit on Social Networking, for example, caps how much time you spend in apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp. It also limits how much time you spend on the associated websites. That means you can’t hit your limit in the Facebook app and then switch to the Facebook website.

[How to Use Screen Time in iOS 12]

Apple has done a pretty good job of plugging all the loopholes someone might use to use apps beyond their Screen Time limits. There’s even an option to set a Screen Time passcode so the time limits can’t be disabled. That’s really handy if you’re helping someone else control their on-device activities. Your limits can apply to all of your iOS devices, so the time you spend in Twitter on your iPhone carries over to your iPad, too.

If you need specific apps available even after you hit your time limits, Apple took that into account, too. You can exempt specific apps, which is good if you need some to be always available for work, for example.

The big shocker for me was seeing how often I pick up my iPhone during the day: 550 times over the past seven days, averaging 78 times a day. That’s another bit of data Screen Time displays

Screen Time’s Downtime feature leaves only the Phone and apps you specify available during the timeframe you set. Once the start and stop times are set, you’ll get a warning five minutes before Downtime kicks in. It’s a nice way to get a reminder to put your iPhone or iPad down for the evening.

App Limits is well thought out and a nice nod to the notion that sometimes it’s easy to spend too much time with our faces in our iPhone or iPad screens. It isn’t a fix for self control issues, but it can help.

ARKit 2 and Augmented Reality

Apple embraced Augmented Reality in iOS 11, and isn’t letting up with iOS 12. The new operating system introduces ARKit 2, first shown off during Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote presentation in early June.

ARKit 2 multiple users on iPhone

ARKit 2 supports multiple users for shared experiences

The demo showed multiple people sharing the same AR experience in games, plus a way to share AR content with people. It was pretty compelling, and went beyond simply playing games. Apple also showed off a new app called Measure that’s bundled with iOS 12. It lets you take measurements in three dimensions using your iPhone or iPad camera, and it’s a great example of what you can do with AR outside of games.

Shared viewing in AR looks really interesting because now you can collaborate with someone while looking at the same object or scene. LEGO showed off a game where two people can interact with a scene they build out of real LEGO bricks. It was pretty impressive, and hints at the possibilities for other markets. Imagine doctors collaborating on a diagnosis, or engineers working on a new engine design.

[5 iOS 12 AR Apps to Test Your New Camera]

[How to Use iOS 12’s Measure App]

The catch is that developers need to develop apps that take advantage of ARKit 2. Without that, it’s little more than a cool bullet point in iOS 12’s feature list. Developers were pretty excited about the original ARKit, so odds are we’ll see some amazing ARKit 2 apps as well.

Group FaceTime

Group FaceTime lets up to 32 people participate in a voice and video chat simultaneously. Or, at least it will. Apple showed off the feature during June’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote and included it in early iOS 12 betas. The feature was pulled before the official release and Apple says it’s coming in a future update. We’ll update our review when Group FaceTime is released.

Siri Shortcuts

Siri Shortcuts brings cross-app automation to iOS, and it has the potential to be really big. String together a series of actions such as sending a message to someone, changing the thermostat setting in your home, and starting your favorite music playlist, and then add your own custom trigger phrase, such as “I’m going home.” When you say, “Hey Siri, I’m going home,” all of those actions happen.