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Fresh Features Can Sweeten Your iPhone or Android

They arrive when you download free updated operating systems from Apple and Google

spinner image an apple logo and an android logo side by side
Getty Images

Smartphone operating systems frequently have big updates, and sometimes significant updates to the updates. But you’ll need to make sure that your phone is new enough to take advantage of them.

In late October, Apple released iOS 16.1 software, which added new features and tweaked iOS 16 itself, which had been released roughly six weeks earlier. And that was shortly after Apple unveiled four new iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models on Sept. 7. 

Google's own recent Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro models arrived on Oct. 7 and were loaded with the latest Android 13 operating system.

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You'll need the latest Apple hardware to get some of the new capabilities, including the iPhone's ability to detect a severe car crash in the same way that General Motors' OnStar or Toyota Safety Connect have done for more than a decade. A separate feature that lets you summon emergency SOS via satellite when you're in an area without cellular coverage or Wi-Fi also needs the new equipment.

An iPhone 14 starts at $799 with iPhone 14 Pro versions commanding $999 on up. Google's Pixel 7 starts at $599; the Pixel 7 Pro at $899.

For many of the fresh features, you won’t have to splurge on an expensive replacement for the handset you already carry. Instead, you can spice up your smartphone through the free software upgrades. iOS 16 is the latest version of Apple's operating system software for iPhones, and it's compatible with devices back to the iPhone 8, which debuted in September 2017. 

Android 13, will work with 2019’s Pixel 4 and later models, not to mention partner devices from ASUS, Lenovo, OnePlus, Tecno, Xiaomi and others. Certain Samsung Galaxy phones also get what's known as One UI 5 software, an Android 13 overlay. But for now Android 13 is still only available on the Pixels.

To get iOS 16, open Settings on your phone, tap General | Software Update | Install Now. Here are some of the features you can look forward to. Keep in mind that some iOS and Android features and functions may differ by device.

Apple introduces several features

spinner image smartphone lock screen
A new "LIve Activities" feature will let you see sports scores on the lock screen of your iPhone.

• Personalize your lock screen. You can personalize the lock screen on the iPhone in ways that go beyond changing the wallpaper. By tapping any element on the lock screen, you can edit color filters, fonts and background photos on the display, and swipe to sample different styles.

You might add subtle depth effects, such as having a picture of your grandchild appear in front of the time display. Or you might shuffle different photos throughout the day. As part of iOS 16.1, Apple added a Live Activities lock screen feature that will let you see sports scores, an Uber driver’s distance and other activities in real time through apps that support the feature.

You can also add widgets that show upcoming appointments, the temperature, battery levels and other at-a-glance information.

• Improve Focus. Last year with the launch of iOS 15, Apple supplied a set of Focus tools to help you better balance your work and personal life and reduce distractions from one or the other. Depending upon the time of day, you can hide or surface certain apps, curtail incoming notifications, designate people or apps to only reach you during an emergency and so on. With iOS 16, Apple tied Focus settings to the lock screen, with appropriate widgets, photos and corresponding notifications to match the appropriate Focus.

Recall text messages

 • Unsend text messages. We’ve all inadvertently sent messages with embarrassing typos. Or worse, sent one to the wrong person. The new operating system will let you edit the text you just sent in the iMessages app or tap Undo Send to recall one before the wrong person sees it. 

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• Use Live Text via video. Apple’s visual recognition Live Text feature is kind of its answer to Google’s Google Lens visual lookup feature. It arrived last year with iOS 15 so that you could extract and digitize text the phone’s camera sees to make it actionable. For example, you could add text to your notes, cut and paste it, look up a phone number and translate foreign words into English.

With iOS 16, Live Text came to video. Now you can pause a video to interact in a similar fashion with text that appears in the frame. Moreover, through the visual lookup feature, you’ll be able to tap and hold on the subject in an image and drag that image into the Messages app.

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• Pay later via Apple Pay. Apple will let you split the cost of an Apple Pay transaction into four equal payments spread out over six weeks. Apple says it won’t charge fees or interest.

• Track medications. The Health app added a section where you can track your medications and vitamins. To help build the list, you can scan a drug’s label. You can also schedule times to take your medications, receive reminders and receive alert notifications of potentially dangerous drug interactions based on content licensed from Elsevier, a publisher of health and science information.

Upgraded photo sharing

• Share family photos. You snap numerous precious family photos. But so do your spouse, kids and grandkids. A new iCloud Shared Photo Library feature will let everyone in your family contribute pictures to a library that can be shared with up to five other people. You might share photos based on a particular date or the people in the pictures.

You can manually move photos to this shared library or tap a switch within the Camera to send photos there as you take them. You can also automate the process. Everyone with access has permission to edit or remove pictures. 

This Shared Photo Library feature had been delayed, but was added with the iOS 16.1 update.

• Stay safe. You share passwords and data on your phone with a spouse or partner. But if the relationship sours and that person turns abusive, your safety may be at risk.

Apple teamed with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Center for Victims of Crime and the Women’s Services Network to develop a new Safety Check tool found inside the device settings. It will let you “digitally separate” from abusive partners. You can revoke a user’s access from all the apps and data on your phone, restrict access to your messages and prevent the person from viewing your location.

Android updates will help you personalize

• Enhance privacy.  Google will introduce a color-coded Privacy & Security settings page in Android 13 that it claims will give you more control over your information. It's not available yet. Photos and videos and Music and audio categories will replace the more vague Files and media category. A new photo picker feature will let you select individual photos or videos for an app to access without having to share your entire media library with that app.

spinner image a screenshot showing the words app language
The new Android update will let you tie your language preferences to specific apps.

Meanwhile, the phone will preemptively delete stuff copied on to the device’s clipboard so apps can’t access older information. You can also require apps to seek your permission before they can send you notifications. And users generally will have more say on what apps can see what data.

• Change languages as desired. If you are multilingual or live in a multilingual household, you may communicate differently depending on your circumstances. Inside Settings, you’ll be able to tie your language preferences to specific apps. For example, you might prefer English while using a banking app but use your native language in social media.

• Customize look and feel. When Google overhauled the design of Android 12 last year with what was dubbed Material You, it called it the biggest visual change in the history of Android. The idea was to come up with icon shapes and colors to adhere to your sense of style. It should feel less dramatic this time around, but with Android 13 Google says it will go further with variants designed to accentuate the color scheme you’ve chosen.

On a Pixel, for example, you can turn on a Themed icons toggle in Settings to have supported apps, apart from Google’s own, consistently match the colors you’ve selected. The feature is still in beta. New media controls will feature album art and also match the aesthetics.

This story, originally published June 8, 2022, has been updated to reflect the debut of the new operating systems and announcement of new devices.

Edward C. Baig is a contributing writer who covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune, and is author of Macs for Dummies and coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies

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