Between the launch of iOS 16, the upcoming expansion of lock screen content company Glance in the US, and updates to Google’s pixel widgets, it’s clear the lock screen is about to change.
Why it matters
The lock screen is the first thing most people see when they pick up their phone. These updates suggest companies are trying to make better use of this space.
Apple’s iOS 16 update officially launches this fall and just arrived in public beta on Monday. Glance hasn’t given a timeline for his US debut.
How often do you check your phone every day? Whether it’s just once or too many times to count, your lock screen background will always greet you first. Maybe it’s a photo of your pet, a picture of a beautiful sunset from a recent vacation, or just a cool piece of art. This could change soon.
The lock screen has long been considered an intimate space reserved for personal photos, important notifications, and tools like the flashlight. However, companies are increasingly looking to make more of these valuable properties, as evidenced by Apple’s iOS 16 update and other changes reportedly coming Android phones.
Apple’s iOS 16 update, the launched in public beta on Monday brings more customization options and new widgets to the iPhone lock screen when it arrives this fall. You can quickly see more information and apply stylistic effects to lock screen photos, similar to iPhone portrait mode photos feature.
Glance, a Google-backed subsidiary of mobile ad tech firm InMobi, also reiterated its plans to bring its lock screen platform to the US. And Google is reportedly planning to include more information in its own lock screen widget for Pixel phones.
Taken together, changes like these suggest that we might not want to swipe past our lock screens so quickly in the future.
The iPhone lock screen is getting a major makeover
One of the biggest features of iOS 16 is the new lock screen. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, called it “the biggest update ever” when demonstrating the update at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June. You can customize font styles and colors for the date and time, and give your background photo a magazine cover aesthetic.
As I wrote before, it’s really the new widgets that will bring more utility to the iPhone lock screen. The iPhone already allows you to place widgets on your lock screen’s secondary Today View screen, which you can access by swiping right.
But iOS 16 adds widgets to the main lock screen to show at-a-glance information like temperature, activity rings from Apple Watch, and upcoming calendar events. Android phones have offered this kind of functionality for years, and it’s nice to see it iPhone follow. You can even create multiple lock screens and swipe through them, much like Apple Watch watch faces.
Since you can add widgets from apps like Spotify, Google Maps, and Outlook to the iPhone’s Today View, I wouldn’t be surprised if third-party widgets were available for the new lock screen as well. If you look closely at Apple’s WWDC demo, you can even see an option for a Nike widget. That means developers will soon have another way of reaching out to iPhone owners and preventing their apps from being buried deep in a user’s app library.
It’s impossible to know how useful this new lock screen will be without spending a lot of time on iOS 16. But as I wrote earlier, it sounds like iOS 16’s new widgets will make your iPhone feel more similar Apple watch, which looks like an upgrade. As with the Apple Watch, the new lock screen should make it easier to see important information without having to dig into apps or even unlock your phone.
Android phone owners may soon have new lock screen options
Glance, which offers entertainment and other digital content on the lock screens of certain Android devices in India and Southeast Asia, is in talks with wireless carriers to launch in the United States in the next two months, according to TechCrunch. Though the company hasn’t announced its US launch time or other details, it did offer a glimpse of its US lock screen offering on Monday.
Glance’s lock screen comes in the form of what are called “rooms,” which are essentially curated lock screens tailored to specific themes. For example, a fitness-focused lock screen would display stats like calories burned and exercise goals alongside a music player. A news “room” would show headlines and the weather, while a music version could show live concerts. It reminds me how the new iPhone lock screen in iOS 16 can be tied to different “focuses” like work or home mode.
TechCrunch’s report of Glance’s arrival in the US sparked concerns that ads would also appear on the lock screen. Glance’s corporate page features examples of advertisers who have used their platform to reach potential customers on the very first screen they see when they pick up their phone. Intel, Zomato and Garnier are among the case studies listed.
But Rohan Choudhary, vice president and general manager of the Glance feed, told CNET the US version will be ad-free.
“We are very clear that in the US we will not have any ads on the lock screen at all,” he said.
The company also issued a press release on Monday, stating it “does not intend to display ads on the lock screen interface.” Still, Glance needs to prove that its lockscreen offerings offer more value than the many widgets and other options already available to Android users. It also needs to strike the right balance of displaying useful information without being too distracting.
The company plans to monetize its service through news subscriptions and commerce links from shopping platforms displayed through Glance. But these tips need to be useful and relevant, or they might end up feeling just as intrusive as ads. The company says it has a 60% retention rate and can be found on 400 million phones in the markets it currently serves.
Google, meanwhile, has its own means of making the lock screen more helpful. The company’s At a Glance feature for pixel phones Displays relevant information on the lock screen, as the name suggests. A recent report from 9to5Google suggests new tidbits could be visible in this widget soon. Ride-sharing updates from apps like Lyft and Uber could be among the new notifications available in At a Glance, potentially making it even easier to see urgent notifications on the lock screen.
Regardless of the implementation, these expected changes prove that the lock screen needs an update. As our phones have evolved into hubs for accessing information, controlling home appliances, and ordering everything from a cab to full grocery orders, the lock screen has taken on an important new role. Just showing timely warnings is not enough.
Whether it’s the new widgets in iOS 16, updates to the Pixel At A Glance feature, or Glance’s lock screen “blanks,” the goal seems to be the same: make our lock screens better at holding the tide of notifications and updates that bombard our phones every day. It remains to be seen how successful these attempts will be.