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iOS 16 will make your iPhone more personal – but its personality won’t be your own

Apple’s reimagined Lock Screen gives you more options, but remains almost as locked down as before

At the time of writing, Apple’s iOS 16 slogan is personal is powerful. It’s a great sentiment, ideally suited to a world in which phones are near ubiquitous, and where people consider them an extension of their being. But is Apple doing enough when it comes to letting users make their devices feel like their own?

Apple is approaching personalization and customization from multiple angles. AI and machine learning increasingly surface important information at opportune moments. Live Activities will soon provide sports scores and delivery updates without you having to unlock your device. And Focus is becoming granular to the point it will work within apps, showing or hiding content depending on context.

For most people, though, personality and custom settings are about what’s in front of you. This is a visual thing. And in that space, Apple has long held a much stricter view.

Apple’s new Lock Screen offers customization – within Apple’s strict parameters.

Time was, you could dramatically alter the look and feel of a Mac, by using software like Kaleidoscope. That changed with Mac OS X, which was far more locked down. iOS has always been so, with Apple defining how everything should look.

This is in stark contrast to Android, where it’s possible to replace the entire app launching system and your home screens, and to apply theme packs that systematically change your icons. On iOS, you’ve long been able to select new wallpapers and ring tones – and that’s about it. And although cracks appeared in iOS 15 that in theory allowed icons to be swapped, they relied on clunky workarounds based on Shortcuts.

Surprisingly, then, the iOS 16 feature Apple’s making the most noise about is the reimagined Lock Screen, which Apple says is receiving its biggest changes ever. That’s true, but the reality is that Apple’s update is very… Apple. It’s reserved, deliberate, careful and opinionated. It allows customization, but only within strict limitations that exist within Apple’s taste boundaries.

Lots of widgets to add. A tiny space in which to put them.

You can add a small number of widgets to a strip below the clock. Wallpapers can have a 3D effect that makes the image stand out – but also, not ideally, hide the bottom of the clock. And Apple will let you choose from a selection of suitably tasteful fonts and colors to adjust the clock’s appearance.

Elsewhere, nothing has changed. The Home Screen remains inflexible, with no freeform placement of app icons. Visual distractions like the Home indicator still cannot be disabled. And even the Lock Screen updates are absent from iPadOS 16. Perhaps Apple reasons that iPad owners don’t like customization.

As ever, Apple is treading carefully and that’s fine. But it would be nice for once if the level of excitement from Apple regarding customization features matched the level of personalization on offer, rather than once again leaving us with devices a small step from homogeneity.