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5 rumored iOS 18 features I’m most excited about – and AI is just the start

Apple App Store

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Apple is just weeks away from announcing its iOS 18 update at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) — and iOS 18 could prove to be one of the company’s biggest software updates yet.

Over the past several months, rumors have swirled about Apple’s plans for the next iteration of its mobile operating system. Many reports suggest that artificial intelligence will play a critical role in the software, helping Apple to reimagine how its mobile software operates and interacts with users. And although Apple hasn’t confirmed any of those reports, considering how important AI has become in Samsung’s Galaxy UI software and Google’s Android, it stands to reason that AI will be fully baked into iOS 18 this year.

Also: The M4 iPad Pro’s true potential will be realized at WWDC, and AI will have a lot to do with it

But AI may not be Apple’s only focus with iOS 18. According to reports, there’s a good chance that a new level of customization could come to the operating system, enabling users to do far more than they have previously. And with several outlets suggesting that Siri could become a truly useful tool this year, there’s plenty to look forward to in iOS 18.

So read on for more about Apple’s upcoming operating system and the five rumored features I’m most looking forward to seeing in this year’s iOS 18.

1. AI all around

Apple is planning to fully bake AI into iOS 18, according to several reports.

For one, Apple is planning to offer AI-generated emojis that show up in text messages as users type, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. In addition to custom emojis that respond to what users type, Apple’s AI features in iOS 18 could retouch photos automatically, Safari will get an intelligent search feature to help users find websites more easily, and Spotlight will get an AI boost to help you find content on your device. Even Apple Music will get a boost by creating AI-generated playlists automatically based on user song preference.

Also: Apple builds a slimmed-down AI model using Stanford, Google innovations

However, here’s the big question: Which AI provider will Apple partner with to power iOS 18’s AI features? Some reports have said that Apple is nearing a deal with OpenAI on iOS 18 features; other reports have suggested the iPhone maker is also talking to Google about using Gemini, as well as to Anthropic. Which provider Apple chooses could impact how AI works in iOS 18.

2. Serious customization

One of the hallmarks of Apple’s design philosophy over the years has centered on not allowing users to customize its operating system experience all that much. That’s now changing.

According to Gurman’s sources, Apple will allow full iOS 18 customization this year. The feature would enable users to change the colors of app icons and — perhaps most remarkably — allow them to ditch the grid layout of apps in favor of a freeform option of their choosing. Apple’s iOS has lagged behind Google’s Android in enabling home screen customization, so it’s nice to see the company consider opening things up.

3. So long, green bubbles

Although it’s already been announced, Apple this year will adopt the Rich Communication Standard (RCS) for messaging. When iOS users have text exchanges with Android users, they’ll now all have the same features available in Apple’s iMessage, including the ability to send photos and videos, hold group chats without silly green bubbles, and more. 

Also: MacBook Pro vs. MacBook Air: How to decide which Apple laptop to buy

Apple said earlier this year that it would launch RCS support for Android communication later in 2024. Chances are, it’ll launch on iOS 18, and finally, communicating with Android users will be streamlined for iPhone and iPad users.

4. An Apple Maps boost

According to several reports, Apple is planning a pretty big update to Apple Maps in iOS 18, and I’m all for it.

For one, Apple is reportedly planning to offer users the opportunity to create custom routes, so they can decide for themselves if they want to take the scenic route or try to get to their destination in the fastest time possible. The company also may add a topographical mapping feature, but it’s the ability to create a custom route — a feature Google Maps has long offered — that could be the most compelling improvement.

5. Smart Recaps, anyone?

Trying to stay on top of everything during the day is extremely difficult. And too often, we’re inundated with notifications.

Also: The best iPhone models of 2024: Expert tested and reviewed

In iOS 18, Apple is trying to address that with a rumored Smart Recaps feature. According to reports, Smart Recaps will give you a full overview of all the notifications — emails, texts, app updates, and more — that you may have missed. Apple’s AI smarts will then be used to offer you the option to respond to those notifications with AI’s help or ignore them. Either way, you won’t need to tap through apps and waste time when AI can give you the updates with ease. Nice.

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