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Inside Beat

iOS 14 update: Groundbreaking, but not really

 – Photo by Michelle Fan

Apple’s iOS 14 was released on Sept. 16. Since then, social media users have lauded the update and proudly displayed their new custom home screens all over TikTok, Twitter and Instagram. The ones I’ve enjoyed the most include this Club Penguin design, this iconic "Twilight" theme and my personal favorite, a meme turned into a layout.

Within my own friend circle, I’ve also heard a lot of excitement and awe at the update, which some of my friends have declared to be “the best update since iOS 7,” a major transition from the iOS 6 that gave the iPhone the iconic application designs it has today.

To which I replied: “Yeah, because we’re finally just getting access to what Android users have had for years.” That’s right — those new features that everyone’s gassing up? They’re only new to Apple users, and their functionality is both more limited and more buggy than their Android predecessors.

I’m not complaining about getting all these new capabilities, though. I just don’t want to settle for less — instead of saying, “Wow, this is incredible!” we should be saying, “It’s about damn time.”

So let’s examine some of these “new” features, shall we?

Messages finally catches up to, well, every other messaging app out there

With “filter unknown senders,” which separates random phone numbers from your friends, pinned contacts, in-line replies and searchable emojis, my Messages app might actually stand a chance against Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, two messaging titans.

I still don’t like the feel of Messages as much as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp — it still feels older and clunkier, probably in part because you need to long-press to use an in-line reply, whereas Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp allow you to simply swipe the text you’re responding to — but it’s definitely an improvement from previous iterations.

Scared of surveillance? Apple’s got you covered … kinda

Privacy is a big part of the latest update. From the new orange and green dots at the corner of your screen to the addition of the privacy report in Settings, iOS 14 shows that Apple is taking privacy and security more seriously. (Orange means your microphone is on, green means your camera is on.) The update also makes it harder for websites to track you via WiFi if you select the "Use Private Address" feature in Settings. 

Perhaps most importantly, iOS 14 allows you to limit surveillance and tracking from apps and advertisers, like Facebook. I’m sure we’re all aware of the reality we live in — a lot of the apps you use follow you across platforms.

It’s an open secret that Facebook and Instagram spy on what we do when we’re not on them — looking at our Google searches, texts and web browsing habits — to alter their algorithms and advertise more specifically to our tastes, or tastes they want us to have.

Now, you can go to "Privacy" in Settings, select "Tracking" and toggle it on or off, depending on how much you hate getting Chipotle ads every time you mention it to a friend. Apps that don’t ask for permission to track you might still be able to do so, but Apple has said they will make app policies tighter for increased security in the near future.

More control over your default apps! Goodbye, Safari and Mail

My favorite part of the new update has been totally overshadowed by glamorous home screen designs — finally, every time I tap on a professor’s email from a staff directory, I won’t be bullied into using my Mail app.

Gone are the days of copying and pasting email addresses into Gmail, so I can have some semblance of control over my life.

Now, you can set Chrome and Gmail as your default browser and email app instead of using Safari and Mail. Go to Settings, use the search bar to find the app you’re looking for, open the app and select the “Default Browser App” or “Default Mail App” tab, which will only be available if the app is compatible. Since all my passwords, accounts, bookmarks and more are fully integrated with Chrome, this makes opening links and web browsing so much easier.

Last but not least, those amazing (and time-consuming) home screens

This wouldn’t be an iOS 14 review if I didn’t talk about the home screens.

Yes, the home screens are super customizable now. Yes, you can even change the icon appearances. Yes, they look beautiful and will brighten up your day (who doesn’t like looking at nice things as soon as they unlock their phone?).

And yes, they are ridiculously time-consuming.

Customizing your home screen with widgets that display your favorite fictional characters, actors and celebrities isn’t the hard part. All you have to do is download a custom widget app, like Widgetsmith, select 1 of 3 widget sizes you’d like, pick the photo widget and choose an image from your gallery.

Then you can move it around on your phone and place it as you please. Sure, there’s less freedom than Android, which has a range of downloadable widgets and styles on top of ones that are already integrated into the operating system, and Android doesn’t sort your apps on the page for you, so you can really put things where you want them to go, but it’s not so bad.

Curating the images I wanted on my home screen and matching them with a pastel wallpaper took me 30 minutes, tops.

It was the app customization that took forever. Granted, I made things more complicated for myself when I decided on a whim to hand-draw custom app icons for my screen to really complete the aesthetic I was going for. But I actually enjoyed that part. The frustration set in when I had to spend hours changing each and every icon individually by using the Shortcuts app.

This is the process for setting one custom icon: Go to Shortcuts, tap the plus sign on the top right corner, select “Add Action,” search “Open App,” select “Open App,” tap the blue “Choose” text, select the app you want to use a custom icon for, tap the three blue dots on the top right corner, set a shortcut name (it’s best to just use the name of the app you’re customizing for this), tap “Add to home screen,” set yet another shortcut name (again, use the name of the app you’re customizing, like “Instagram” or “Twitter”), tap the shortcut icon, tap “Choose Photo” and then finally select the custom icon image you saved in your photo gallery.

If reading all of that gave you a headache, just imagine how irritating it is to do that 10 or even 20 times. For every single app you want to change the look of.

On top of that, iOS 14 doesn’t support transparent app icons, meaning that if you want to change the shape of your app to a circle, or in my case, a cat, instead of using the boring old square tiles, you have to add even more steps to the customization process.

To create the illusion of transparency, take a screenshot of your home screen. Import that screenshot as well as a clean copy of your wallpaper into a photo editing or drawing software. Then, import your app icon on top of that. From bottom-most layer to top-most, you should have your wallpaper, screenshot and imported icons.

From there, you have to individually crop the image several times so that you are left only with a square tile of the icon, and the canvas borders should be the same as the app borders. Then delete the multiply layer. Save it as a portable network graphics (PNG) file and then send it to your phone. Do this process for as many custom icons as you have … and then begin doing the Shortcut-setting process in the last paragraph.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, because the most you can do is create the illusion of transparency, you can’t move any of those custom icon apps around. They have to stay in place, otherwise the illusion of transparency is broken, and your home screen will look less like BTScore aesthetic goals and more like a discount jigsaw puzzle.

Meanwhile, our Android friends have it way too easy. Simply by downloading a launcher and customization packs, they can change their entire theme with the touch of a button. It changes everything from home screen orientation to widget aesthetics to lock screen looks to super cute fonts in less than 5 minutes.

Some of my favorite layouts integrate music widgets seamlessly into the background, are easily downloadable as complete, cohesive sets and might even make you wonder if you’re looking at a phone screen at all.

All that said, I ended up spending 3 hours on Saturday painstakingly customizing my phone. To anyone out there working on their home screen layouts, I wish you the best of luck.

To the rest of you with more patience and less free time, wait a few more years for the next iOS update. By the time Android lowkey comes up with the next big thing, maybe we’ll be allowed to customize our lock screens.

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