iOS 18: The biggest new features coming to your iPhone

iOS 18 home screen customization features
(Image credit: Apple)

After months of rumors, we now know what iOS 18 is going to bring to our iPhones when the full software release comes out later this year, and the short answer is: quite a lot. 

Between new features like a reworked Photos app, more customizable Home Screen, Lock Screen and Control Center interfaces and improved privacy options, new interactivity options with macOS Sequoia and a whole boatload of AI via Apple Intelligence, there's plenty to check out.

And that's precisely what we've been doing, as we've studied Apple's iOS 18 preview to get a better idea of how the newly announced features will work. The arrival of the iOS 18 public beta in July should bring more answers ahead of the full software release, arriving just as Apple's new iPhones will be ready to make their debut.

Here's the latest on iOS 18.

iOS 18 cheat sheet: Biggest upgrades

  • Home screen: App icons and widgets can now be placed freely rather than in the left-to-right and top-to-bottom, and can use specific dark mode icons and other custom tints.
  • Control Center: You can now access multiple pages of controls just by swiping and holding from the top right corner of your phone's display. A Controls Gallery lets you customize the interface freely with Apple-made and third-party options.
  • Lock screen: Your two on-screen shortcuts can be changed from the default flashlight and camera combo. The same goes for the Action button on iPhone 15 Pro.
  • Privacy: "Lock an app" lets you lock an app behind Face ID, Touch ID or a password, and hide information from on-device searches. "Hide an app" lets you conceal apps in a locked folder in the App Library. Contacts can now be kept from apps rather than giving blanket permission, and connecting Bluetooth devices can now use a new security-forward interface.
  • Messages: Tapbacks (message reactions) can now work with any emoji or sticker, while Send Later lets you schedule messages and improved formatting lets you italicize, underline, bold or strike-through messages. Text effects have also arrived to make your messages more lively, with automated or manual options available. Apple's also allowing iPhone 14 and later models with satellite connectivity to send messages via satellite too, be it iMessage or SMS texts.
  • Mail: On-device categorization (a feature coming later in the year) helps you filter emails automatically, such as keeping newsletters or sales receipts away from personal messages. A new summary view shows you all messages from a specific contact to get a high-level view of what you need to know.
  • Maps: Topographic maps with walking routes have been added (with offline access available).
  • Wallet: Tap to Cash lets you send money by bringing your iPhone next to someone else's. Apple Pay now works with loyalty points etc., and digital tickets now have a refreshed look.
  • Journal: A new Insights view to show stats, search to help you find old entries
  • Game mode: This is designed to minimize background activity to keep performance high and latency with controllers and wireless headphones.
  • Photos: A fresh look for this crucial app keeps your grid and library on the same screen, with filter and time scale options offered to help navigate. The Collections view shows specific sets of photos with screenshots and other uninteresting images filtered out to make an attractive collage. A carousel of favorites and featured photos takes pride of place at the top of the app to surface your best shots.

iOS 18: Expected release date

WWDC 2023

iOS 17's preview at WWDC 2023 (Image credit: Apple)

A developer beta for iOS 18 became available June 10, with a second beta landing in developers' hands two weeks later. While you can download the iOS 18 developer beta now, you're probably better off waiting for the public beta, as the software out right now isn't fully features and may contain significant bugs.

So when will the public beta arrive? At WWDC, Apple said it would show up in July, and you'll be able to download it from beta.apple.com. Past iOS beta programs have run all summer-long with frequent updates for bug fixes and new features. 

All of this leads up to the full release of iOS 18 later this year. That version should be ready to download right as the iPhone 16 models arrive in stores. Usually, that occurs around mid-September. (See our guide to the iPhone 16 release date for a guess as to when the new phones might be ready.)

iOS 18: Supported devices

iPhone XR vs iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max

iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

iOS 18 supports all of the iPhones dating back to the iPhone XS and iPhone XR and newer. Here's a full list. Just note that Apple Intelligence needs an A17 Pro chip, so you'll need the iPhone 15 Pro, iPhone 15 Pro Max or wait for the new iPhone 16 models. 

  • iPhone 15
  • iPhone 15 Plus
  • iPhone 15 Pro
  • iPhone 15 Pro Max
  • iPhone 14
  • iPhone 14 Plus
  • iPhone 14 Pro
  • iPhone 14 Pro Max
  • iPhone 13
  • iPhone 13 mini
  • iPhone 13 Pro
  • iPhone 13 Pro Max
  • iPhone 12
  • iPhone 12 mini
  • iPhone 12 Pro
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone SE
  • (2nd generation or later)

As with previous iOS releases, not every supported phone can run every new iOS 18 feature. Here's a closer look on which iOS 18 features are available on which iPhones.

iOS 18: Home screen

After a decade and a half of fixed home screen app layouts, Apple's finally allowing you to place icons freely on the home screen grid. This way you can keep certain parts of your home screen app-free so you can admire your wallpaper, or create fun patterns of apps that you couldn't do before.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

The icons themselves can now be customized, too. A dark mode option now lets the icons blend-in when the rest of the interface goes into blackout at night, but you're also free to add your own coloring to your icons. An auto option will pair them to the colors found in your current wallpaper, but you can set them manually too.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

Our guide to the iOS 18 home screen goes into greater detail on the five most significant changes Apple is making, with this increased amount of customization.

iOS 18: Control Center

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

The menu of key iPhone options accessible with a swipe from the top right of your screen just got a big overhaul. Controls can be freely added and removed from a gallery, similar to adding widgets to your home screen, and can be placed on multiple pages as you like.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

On a similar theme to the home screen and Control Center, the two lockscreen shortcuts on your iPhone, currently set to the flashlight and the camera, can be swapped around with icons for other controls.

iOS 18: Privacy features

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

To keep your photos, files and other information safe from prying eyes, iOS 18 now permits apps to be locked behind a password or Face/Touch ID or hidden entirely — locked away in a new dedicated folder in the App Library, also behind a passcode.

A reworked app permission now also lets you select which of your contacts an app can access, giving it the go-ahead to interact with only specified people. Similarly, Bluetooth accessories now use a different connection interface that'll help you keep unwanted gizmos from trying to access your phone.

iOS 18: Messages

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

Rather than using pre-approved message reactions (TapBacks in Apple-ish), you're now able to react with any emoji or sticker you can think of in iOS 18 Messages.

You can also make your messages more lively with the new Text Effects menu, adding animation (either automatically or manually set) to certain words or emoji. Or you can more simply format your words with classic bold, italic, underline or strike-through formatting.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

On a more practical level, you can now pre-schedule your messages in case you don't want to send something right away, and satellite comms-compatible iPhones (the iPhone 14 and iPhone 15 series) can send iMessages and SMS via satellite, helping keep you connected when away from cell reception.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

As had been indicated in the build-up to WWDC, Apple has added support for RCS in iOS 18, which should improve inter-platform texting with Android users by adding more advanced features like read receipts and tapback support among other capabilities. The green and blue bubbles will remain, though.

iOS 18: Mail

Emails on iPhone will be categorized in Apple's default email app, with automatic sorting for transactions, newsletters and personal emails that can be manually overriden if you wish.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

If you need to quickly get the gist of your email history with a specific contact, Mail will let you do this with a new summary view.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

Don't look for this feature right away in the iOS 18 public beta. Apple has indicated that the Mail improvements will arrive later this year, potentially even after iOS 18's full release.

iOS 18: Maps

iOS 18 Apple Maps trail and hiking maps

(Image credit: Apple)

For keen walkers, iOS 18 Maps now offers walking and hiking routes, including for a number of U.S. National Parks. These routes can be saved for offline use, and you can set your own routes. Trail routes show the distance as well as the amount of elevation you can expect on a hike, which should help you visualize if the route is too strenuous for your skill level.

iOS 18: Wallet

Instead of using a banking app, the Wallet app now supports Tap to Cash for sending small amounts of money between iPhones by bringing the tops of two iPhones together. The feature works a lot like the NameDrop tool Apple released in iOS 17 a year ago.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

As for Apple Pay, it now works with your various loyalty schemes so you get points for your payments. Tickets kept in your wallet have a new look too, plus link to supporting information to help you when it's time to attend your event.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: apple)

iOS 18: Journal

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple's reflection and mindfulness app is getting upgraded to help you reminisce. Search has been improved to help you find older entries, and a new Insights screen lets you track your stats.

Our look at the iOS 18 Journal app goes into greater detail on these changes.

iOS 18: Game mode

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

Here's a feature borrowed from macOS. Game Mode is now an iOS 18 option, to help your iPhone focus more on running your game smoothly and less on background functions. It'll help with Bluetooth latency too, making controllers and audio accessories feel more responsive.

iOS 18: Photos

iOS 18 logo next to iOS 18 Photos app screenshot on iPhone

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple saved the biggest set of upgrades for the iOS 18 Photos app. A redesigned interface lets you admire a rotating carousel of favorited photos or navigate more deliberately through your images based on time or topic, with smarter automated sorting to keep screenshots and other non-important photos out of these albums.

Collections is the feature that helps sort your images into categories, and can identify groups of people, or a certain trip, and arrange your photos accordingly.

iOS 18: AI features

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

The new Apple Intelligence suite of features isn't specific to iOS 18, but there are several abilities that will be relevant to iPhone users across multiple apps.

On a base level, there are writing and image editing tools. You can rejig your text to change the tone or summarize it more succinctly, or tweak a photo to remove or add elements.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

Generative AI gets another look-in with Genmoji, available for generating the perfect reaction for a specific moment, and the Image Playground app, which lets you combine styles and subjects for easy prompting.

Siri's been given a revamp too. As well as a new glowing border indicator to show it's listening, it can now follow context-aware commands so you don't have to be so specific when trying to look for a file. It'll surface feature guides if you need help operating a part of your iPhone, work across multiple apps to fulfill a request or edit an image for you too. And more will be coming down the line, such as on-screen awareness, to make its actions more context-specific.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple promises to process your requests securely on-device, or via "Private Cloud Compute," which uses online features but without sharing your data with anyone, even Apple. But with your permission, other AI tools like ChatGPT can be used to let it work from a wider knowledge base when needed. Once it's made available later this year anyway.

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

However, Apple quietly admitted that these features are limited to the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, equipped with Apple's latest A17 Pro chip, initially. Whether some or all of these features will eventually filter down to older models, or if only the newest iPhones will be capable of using Apple Intelligence features, remains to be seen.

iOS 18 outlook

Even with some details still missing, iOS 18 sounds like a very significant update that will deliver plenty of new capabilities to your iPhone — even current models. We're eager for more details to emerge about the update and the next several months, and to finally try the beta versions once they're available. And you can guarantee that we'll show and share these features with you as soon as we're able.

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Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.