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My favorite iOS 16 feature is a magical meme machine

Images of 16 on iPhone screens to represent iOS 16
(Image credit: DANIEL CONSTANTE/Shutterstock)

Apple loves to talk about magic, and iOS 16 features a massive dose of magic in a new feature I can't stop playing with. But it's the kind of feature you kinda need to see for yourself. Especially if you're a slightly jaded tech reporter such as myself.

I've seen enough keynote speeches to know that the features promised on stage don't always live up to what you get in your hand. There's a reason why "your mileage may vary" is one of my favorite phrases.

But, then, I actually downloaded iOS 16 and remembered one neat little feature from the Photos app that was demoed at WWDC. It's a really nifty little feature that will get even better once it's in macOS Ventura later this fall. And it has the most boring name in Apple's Ventura preview (opens in new tab): "Lift subject from background." 

So, allow me to explain one iOS 16 feature that could easily fly under your radar — but shouldn't.

iOS 16 makes it really easy to make your own memes

Following iOS 15 adding Live Text in Photos, where you could select text inside of images and copy and paste it out, iOS 16 offers a similar feature for extracting a subject out of a photo. Apple can't call this Live Photos (they already have that). They could have called it Live Subject, but that probably sounds too much like you're Dr. Frankenstein.

But in iOS 16, and soon on macOS Ventura, you can hold down on a person (or persons, as I discovered) in a photo, and watch as a slight sheer filter moves across the "subject." Now, you can copy this person, or save that part of the image as a new photo. And because I love to make silly memes, I love this more than anything else in iOS 16 (sorry, lock screen widgets). Just look at this photo of perplexed UFC president Dana White, which just gets funnier when he doesn't have a background. 

His confused look is simply funnier if you delete his background. And I keep finding this feature amusing. 

Going back to the magic at hand, I have to give Apple credit. This feature works so well that it continues to shock and surprise. Though it's not always perfect — as you'll see below, in a photo of the cast of What We Do In The Shadows where Nadja's arm is missing. Scroll around in there to see extracted versions of Chris Pine at the Don't Worry Darling promo tour, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper from They Live (I shot the movie on my TV), CNN's Anderson Cooper and Donie O'Sullivan and pro wrestlers Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi.

As someone who has a Photoshop license, I'll admit, this isn't a new feature. And I'll also admit that these are half-cooked. All of these are ripe for pasting onto other backgrounds, to make something new.

Unfortunately iOS 16's Photos app isn't quite there yet for using layers and pasting things around. Or at least I can't find that functionality.

Outlook: This is fun, but iOS 16 can get better

So, for now, if I want something that looks better and less obviously-broken, I need to grab my laptop. There, I can use an image editor (Photoshop and Pixelmator both do handily) to layer in separate layers. 

Inspired by a joke my friend Mike Andronico made about how some wrestlers use the same last name (Xavier Woods, who goes by Austin Creed when he hosts gaming content and Julius and Brutus, The Creed Brothers), I made the following pretty easily. I just saved images from these (opens in new tab) three (opens in new tab) pages (opens in new tab) and layered them in Pixelmator.

(Clockwise) Julius Creed. Austin Creed and Brutus Creed on a WWE NXT 2.0 background.

(Image credit: WWE and G4)

Which, for a little laugh and posting online, when I'm bored while watching TV, is worth the time and effort. But if Photos in iOS 16 (or iOS 17, probably) can let you paste those extracted subjects into other photos and resize them? Without downloading a third-party app? 

That's gonna have me completely engrossed with making silly jokes in a new way.

Next: Apple's new iOS 16 update has fixed these annoying bugs

Henry T. Casey
Senior Editor

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.