Apple has just released iOS 10.3 to the general public, an update which is likely to be the last major release of iOS 10; at this point in the year, work usually begins in earnest on the next major release of iOS, which will be revealed at WWDC in June. The update is available for everything that runs iOS 10: the iPhone 5 and newer, the fourth-generation iPad and newer, the iPad Mini 2 and newer, both iPad Pros, and the sixth-generation iPod Touch.
The update has been going through the beta process for a couple of months now, and since it’s likely to be iOS 10’s last major update, we’ll spend some extra time with a few of the high-profile features. I’ve also spent a tiny bit of time with the new APFS filesystem, which won’t change much for most people but does seem to free up a small amount of local storage space.
Change is afoot… in the Settings app
Many of iOS 10.3’s most noticeable tweaks are in the most exciting part of any operating system: the Settings app!
The most obvious of the changes moves the iCloud settings screen from about halfway down the list to its own prominent position at the top of the stack. There isn’t a ton of stuff here that doesn’t already exist in iOS 10.2.1, but given that the first thing most people do with their iPhones and iPads is sign in to their iCloud accounts, it makes sense to move this stuff front and center.
Particularly useful is a big “Password & Security” section right at the top of the new screen, which lets you change your iCloud password and set up two-factor authentication. This was available before, it was just buried in a non-obvious place (go to the iCloud settings page, then tap your Apple ID, then tap Password & Security).
You also get a list of every single device signed in to your Apple ID, including iOS devices, Macs, Apple TVs, and Apple Watches. This provides easy access to serial numbers, Find my iPhone/iPad/Mac info for the OSes that support it, as well as iDevice backup status, iPhone phone number and IMEI information, and Apple Pay information. If a device is lost or destroyed or traded in, you can use this screen to easily remove it from your account, and if you spot a device that doesn’t belong, you can change your password quickly to lock it out.
Tapping the iCloud badge here opens a screen that looks mostly like the top level of the old iCloud settings screen looked. This is where you toggle whether to sync photos, mail, calendars, and other things, and it’s also where you turn device backups and Find My iPhone on and off. Keep scrolling down and you’ll get a complete list (with toggles) of every app using iCloud Drive storage; this was previously hidden in a separate iCloud Drive page. There’s a nice storage bar at the top of the screen that tells you how your iCloud storage is being used, but you still have to find the Manage Storage screen to see how much space each individual app and device is using.
iOS 10.3 will automatically convert your iDevice’s filesystem from HFS+ to APFS when you install it, making it the first Apple operating system to ship with APFS as a non-beta default filesystem.
As we’ve written, it feels pretty brave of Apple (brave in the “possibly foolhardy” sense) to ship a brand-new filesystem on its biggest platform first, where it could cause the most problems if something went wrong. But it also makes a certain kind of sense. iDevices will have predictable and uniform partition maps that Apple already knows all about, since users can’t access the filesystem directly and mess with things. Testing the APFS conversion on every single device that supports iOS 10 (and maybe even every single storage capacity option for every one of those devices) is a lot of work, but there are still a finite number of configurations to test.
On the Mac, by contrast, people’s system partitions could be set up in all kinds of weird and unpredictable ways, making it more difficult to account for edge cases in the conversion process. So iOS gets to be the guinea pig, and macOS (as well as watchOS and tvOS) will likely pick up APFS support in the new major OS updates we see at WWDC this year.
iOS doesn’t and has never exposed its filesystem directly to its users, so unlike in macOS where you can pull back the curtain to see how it’s working, the change in iOS will effectively be invisible to users (except insofar as a filesystem that is quietly more modern and robust is a good thing in the long run). User-facing benefits like directory size calculation and cloning files in multiple locations, easily noticeable in macOS, have little bearing in the more locked-down world of iOS.
Rumor sites covering the iOS 10.3 betas usually do some hand-waving here, claiming that APFS may be faster or save disk space. I can’t speak to the filesystem’s speed except to say that boot times on three devices I tested under iOS 10.2.1 and iOS 3 beta 7 (a late build that, bug fixes aside, should be more-or-less identical to today’s release build) were the same. But iDevices with iOS 10.3 installed do consistently seem to show larger amounts of space available, as well as larger capacities, suggesting that the conversion to APFS is reducing the size needed for the OS partition.
|Device||Total capacity (iOS 10.2.1)||Total capacity (iOS 10.3)||Available (iOS 10.2.1)||Available (iOS 10.3)|
|iPhone 5S, 64GB||59.26GB||60.46GB||57.93GB||58.89GB|
|iPhone 6 Plus, 16GB||11.87GB||12.18GB||10.91GB||11.25GB|
|9.7″ iPad Pro, 256GB||248.84GB||252.50GB||247.14GB||250.68GB|
These are small gains in usable capacity, just a few hundred megabytes (the more storage you have, the more you seem to gain). These are also far from real-world conditions—the tests were all done on freshly reset devices that have been allowed to build their Spotlight indexes but had no apps, photos, or browser data on them and hadn’t been connected to iCloud. And without more information, it’s not possible to attribute the space savings exclusively to APFS; it’s merely the most likely of all possible options. Your mileage may vary, but it does look like iOS 10.3 and APFS will help you reclaim a little space.