The official iOS 12 release date was announced by Apple today, and you can update your iPhone and iPad to the new software starting next week.

iOS 12 will come out on Monday, September 17, according to the company during its iPhone XS and Apple Watch 4 launch event. You won’t need that big, but expensive iPhone XS Max or the cheaper iPhone XR to upgrade to the new software.

New features like Memoji, Group Notifications, and, importantly, better overall performance for older phones will help make your existing phone and tablet feel like new.

The release date makes sense. Apple has a habit of launching its new iOS update on the the week after its launch event. So the iOS 12 update release date is September 17, according to Apple’s track record.

Of course, you can get the iOS 12 beta right now and it’s already better than iOS 11. It also gives us preliminary insight into iPhone XS and Apple Watch 4.

Good news: We’ve tested features like the Measure app, Siri Shortcuts, and created a Memoji of ourselves and it’s actually really good. Our older iPhones are also faster, while Grouped Notifications make the UI easier to navigate.

Bad news: Group FaceTime was delayed, and it won’t launch as part of the software on September 17. Expect it in iOS 12.1, maybe sometimes in October when the iPhone XR launches.

Apple is making its mobile operating system reliable and competitive with Google’s Android Pie and the Google Pixel 3 that’s coming October 9. That much is obvious.

Here’s what we know about iOS 12 based on your older iPhone and iPhone XS.

Update: Here are our first impressions of the iOS 12 beta after going hands-on!

  • See also: the 25 new iOS 12 features that Apple didn’t tell us about

iOS 12 release date

  • June 4 – Developer beta launched (to paid Apple Developers)
  • June 25 – iOS 12 public beta launched (it’s free)
  • September 17 – the final iOS 12 software (still free)

Apple announced the iOS 12 release date today, though you could have actually tested it early (and still can), with three iOS 12 launch phases: one for developers, one for public beta testers, and one final version coming soon for everyone else.

The developer beta is available now and gets more frequent refreshes. But it’s early software and you must be a registered Apple developer. That costs money: $99 for the annual membership. It’s for people who like to tinker with software weekly, and so far Apple is on iOS 12 developer beta 12.

The iOS 12 public beta is the one most people will want to test out, and it’s also now available to download. It launched on June 25 and is completely free. It’s also likely to be less problematic than the developer beta. Expect more stable updates every two to three weeks. The downside? Apple’s public betas are always one step behind what the developers have access to.

Both versions of the iOS 12 beta had been unfinished software, so we always advised proceeding with caution before deciding to install iOS 12 beta on your primary device. For example, the iOS 12 beta 1 was great for us, but we had minor reset problems with iOS 12 beta 2. Waiting for the final iOS 12 version is a safer choice if you rely on your iPhone daily.

What’s the difference between the latest phones showcasing iOS? Watch our handy explainer to find out:

iOS 12 reliability

  • Apple’s looking to put the problematic iOS 11 behind it
  • Older iPhones will be 40% to 70% faster at certain tasks

iOS 12 will focus on reliability and performance with this update, and support all of the same iPhones and iPads that iOS 11 worked with.

 

Apple called out the iPhone 6 Plus, specifically, saying iOS 12 makes this phone 40% faster at launching apps, 70% faster at launching the camera app, and 50% faster at displaying the keyboard. Keyboard typing and other routine features on older iPhones can slow down with every new iOS update, and Apple is looking to change these pain points with iOS 12.

This makes your existing iPhone and iPad more reliable, and your older devices can be used by family members or be sold now that they’ll be more function with iOS 12. They don’t have to sit in a draw because they’re too slow.

Here’s a concrete example already: for us, the public beta has been reliable enough to download. There’s the occasional iPhone reset or hangups, but we actually found it to be more reliable than the problematic iOS 11 in some instances. So far, so good.

iOS 12 is 200% less annoying on iPhone X

Here are two irksome features we hated about iOS 11 on the iPhone X that iOS 12 is going to fix. The final software is going to feel 200% less annoying when it launches.

Closing app windows in iOS 12 is now easier thanks to the fact that all you have to do is slide up on an open app to dismiss it from the multitasking menu. iOS 11 had us press down on the app until red close icons appeared over top of each app, and then to tap those little red icons to dismiss the app. That was unpleasant.

Second, whenever we picked up our phone, we’d always pressed the volume up and power button accidentally, which is the new ‘take a screenshot’ button combination. Apple has disabled this action whenever the phone screen is off. Our iOS 12 Photos app is no longer going to be filled with errant screenshots on the daily.

iOS 12 compatibility

  • Compatible with iPhone 5S, iPad mini2 and iPad Air and newer
  • 11 iPhones, 10 iPads, 1 iPod touch – the broadest iOS update yet 

iOS 12 will run on all devices that have its 64-bit chipset, including the iPhone XS, iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max, which was first introduced in 2013. It’ll work on the iPhone 5S and newer, while the iPad Air and iPad mini 2 are the oldest iPads that are compatible with iOS 12.

That’s means this update is supporting 11 different iPhones, 10 different iPads and the sole iPod touch 6th generation still clinging to life. It’s the broadest support for a software update Apple has ever offered, and this is one of the biggest advantages Apple has over Android phones.

ARKit 2 and multiplayer gaming

  • ARKit 2 allows for ‘shared experiences’ (multiplayer potential)
  • LEGO, Fender, Adobe and Pixar are all working on AR with Apple

iOS 12 cements Apple as a leader in augmented reality (AR) with the arrival of groundbreaking multiplayer capabilities it calls Shared Experiences in ARKit 2.

iOS 12 pinpoints 911 calls in the US

You won’t have to worry about reciting your exact location when calling 911 in the US thanks to iOS 12. It’ll pinpoint your whereabouts during emergency calls.

Apple says it’ll “automatically and securely” share your iPhone location with first responders, but only with them and only during such emergencies. It’s an effort to reduce response time, yet maintain your privacy.

New ‘Measure’ app and USDZ file format

  • New USDZ file type dedicated at augmented reality
  • Measure app for iOS 12 to replace your measuring tape

‘Measure’ is getting its own AR app. It uses the iPhone’s and iPad’s advanced sensors to measure objects in front of you, including suitcases, as shown in the first iOS 12 demo. All it takes it just tap-and-drag along the edges of the object on the screen.

It can also automatically detect the approximate dimensions of a photo – we can imagine that will help when you go to buy a photo frame, but can’t find the old-fashioned tape measure. iOS 12 to the rescue.

For AR developers, Apple has created a new file type called ‘USDZ.’ The company worked on USDZ with Pixar, and Adobe is supporting it, too. The file format can be shared across FIles, Mail, Messages and Safari. This is an important step forward for developers working on AR apps.

Camera app changes

Apple didn’t announce big camera changes at its WWDC 2018 keynote, but later said that the default camera app will get tweaked with iOS 12.

The Portrait Lighting mode on newer iPhones with a dual-lens camera will look more natural. The software will be able to define crisper edges by more effectively separating a person from a background scene. Apple is also allowing third-party apps to use the software to separate the foreground and background.

It’ll be the end of an era for our how to scan a QR code from your iPhone and iPad guide. The default camera in iOS 12 makes QR code reading automatic.

And while not part of the camera app, RAW photos can be imported and managed on an iPhone and iPad, with the bonus ability of editing RAW photos on an iPad Pro.

Photos app is now smarter with iOS 12

  • Betters search and a new ‘For you’ tab
  • Suggestions on who to share photo collections with
  • Share back suggestions nudge friends to send their photos

The Photos app is expanding search in an effort to compete with Google Photos. It recognizes photos by event and indexes them accordingly. Apple says it takes into account over four million events, citing the Aspen Ideas Festival as a niche example.

This lets you search by event without any thankless manual tagging. Searching by event joins other smart suggestions, including filtering by people, places, and relative dates (searching via Siri works with all of these and is quiet handy).

The iOS 12 Photos search capabilities have also been broadened to let you use multiple search terms at once. Seeking “dog, animal” should weed out all of your gourmet hotdog results (this is a real problem we just tested on iOS 11).

iPad switches to iPhone-like gestures

It’s confusing owning both an iPad and a new iPhone X right now because returning to the home screen and opening Control Center are executed by different gestures.

The iPad takes cues from the iPhone X with the iOS 12 update: swipe up from the bottom to return home and check Control Center by pulling down from the top right-hand corner.

This may be a prelude to the iPad Pro 2018 that’s rumored to include Apple’s True Depth camera for Face ID, Animoji and Memoji.

Siri Shortcuts can find your lost keys, more

  • Siri Shortcuts allows you to assign phrases to tasks
  • ‘I lost my keys’ can ring your Tile tracker to find keys
  • ‘Heading home’ sends ETA notification to roommate, sets thermostat and fan, and brings up the fastest route through Apple Maps
  • Gallery and library full of pre-configured Siri Shortcuts

Siri is getting smarter. It‘ll know that “I lost my keys” means to ring your Tile tracker. Tile is a handy gadget, but getting to the app is a pain, and having Siri integrated is a game-changer for both Tile and our peace of mind.

Siri translates new languages, learns motorsport scores

  • Siri can now translate over 40 language pairs
  • Motorsports scores, schedules and stats knowledge
  • Food and celebrity facts knowledge expanded upon
  • Password search not part of Siri’s duties in iOS 12

Try asking Siri to translate something into Spanish. It works, and with iOS 12 it’ll be even more robust with over 40 language pairs to aid your international travels.

We really hope Siri will be able to translate foreign words into English (that’s not possible with iOS 11 at this time when asking Siri what ‘hola’ means in English).

Siri will also learn the language or motorsports, per se. Asking for Formula One and NASCAR information will have Siri recite live standings, schedule, roster and stat info.

Food knowledge and celebrity facts are also part the Siri update. Right now, asking “How healthy is fish” gives a smatter of search results and requires opening up Siri. In the future, a specific answers about food will come from the USDA database, citing calories, vitamins, and how healthy the food is overall.

Password hunting is now within Siri’s grasp, letting you search any saved passwords, according to Apple. This applies to both apps and websites.

Apple News, Stocks, Voice Memos and CarPlay

  • Apple News: new Browse tab and sidebar navigation
  • Stocks: robust chart design and stock news integration
  • Voice memos: easier menus, iCloud support, on iPad (finally)
  • CarPlay: third-party app support, like Google News and Waze

Apps are indeed getting updates with iOS 12, starting with Apple News. There’s a new Browse tab and a sidebar for better navigation. Stocks is finally being rebuilt with a helpful news design, complete with charts and Apple news headline integrated into into stocks. The top stories will be business news curated by Apple News editors.

iOS 12 grouped notifications

  • Grouped notification on iOS 12 to clean up individual notifications mess
  • Smartly grouped by app, topic, thread. Tap in to look at a particular group
  • Can clear a whole group of notifications with a single swipe

Grouped notifications are coming to iOS 12. This is a small, but important update (maybe the most important iOS 12 update) announced at the Apple WWDC keynote.

It binds together notifications by message threads and topics, making it easier to see everything at a glance. Right now, individual notifications in the morning are a big pain to check as they pile up.

Animoji changes and new Memoji

  • Tongue and wink detection for iOS 12 Animoji
  • Four new Animoji masks: Ghost, Koala, Tiger and T-Rex
  • Personalized ‘Memoji’ to look like you or ‘the real you’
  • Animoji and Memoji clips last 30 seconds (up to 10 seconds)

Animoji is expanded, not just with new masks, but with tongue detection (as seen on stage) and wink detection (not announced, but confirmed for iOS 12 afterward). Ghost Koala, Tiger and T-Rex will be joining the cast of Animoji masks.

Group FaceTime (now launching later)

  • Group FaceTime for up to 32 people with dynamic UI
  • Can use Animoji and Memoji in FaceTime
  • Won’t launch with the final software on day one

Group FaceTime is coming to iOS 12 with up to 32 participants, and you go directly from a group chat to a group FaceTime in the Messages app.

Update: Apple has delayed the launch of iOS 12 Group Notifications, indicating in the latest iOS 12 beta release notes that it’ll come out this ‘fall’. To us, that sounds like an iOS 12.1 launch – like Apple Pay, Apple Cash, AirPlay 2 and other features didn’t make it live on day one in previous operating system updates.