What’s new in iOS 12.1

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iOS 12.1 brings live depth control preview to the camera app.
iOS 12.1 brings live depth control preview to the camera app.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

iOS 12.1 is now available to download, and it brings a surprising number of neat new features to iPhones and iPads.

We get to enjoy Group FaceTime, live Depth Control when we’re taking photos — and the essential bagel emoji.

Group FaceTime

Group FaceTime is here at last in iOS 12.1.
Group FaceTime is here at last.
Photo: Apple

Group FaceTime is quite neat — and more useful than you might expect. That’s because Apple took the time to get this new adventure in group messaging right. Now, FaceTime is no longer limited to one-on-one calls. You can add up to 32 people to a conversation, either by inviting them into the call one at a time or by launching a chat from an iMessage group.

But … 32 people? On an iPhone screen? How the hell will you know who’s doing what? Group FaceTime fixes this by detecting who is talking — and who is most likely to talk (basically it separates out the chattiest members). Group FaceTime makes the icons of the people with the biggest big mouths much larger.

Thus, the most active members of the conversation will float to the foreground. And while the wallflowers fade away, just like in real life. You can also tap on any icon to bring that person to the front.

Amazingly, this all happens with full encryption, so conversations remain private (unless someone points a camera at their own screen, of course).

Depth camera live view

Depth Control is the big feature of the new iPhone XR and XS/Max cameras. But until now, you could only control the amount of background blur after the photo was taken, during the editing stage. Now, in iOS 12.1, iPhone XS and XR camera owners get a new on-screen control in Portrait Mode.

The control sits at the top right of the main camera screen, and tells you the currently selected aperture. Or rather, it gives you an ƒ-number that indicates the amount of blur you’d get on a regular camera if you used an aperture with that number.

iOS 12.1's new Live Depth Control in action.
iOS 12.1’s new Live Depth Control in action.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Technical terms aside, tapping that button shows you the same Depth Control slider that you get when editing a Portrait Mode photo. Move it to change the amount of background blur, and you get a nice (rough) preview of how the effect will look. The camera can also preserve your “aperture” setting between uses, so if you like to always use an extreme blur, you can leave that set. (You can find this setting in Settings > Camera > Preserve Settings > Creative Controls.) Live Depth Control also works with the front-facing selfie camera.

Apple also answered the Beautygate scandal by fixing a bug in the selfie camera. The selfie camera was, says Apple, building its images on the wrong “base” frame, selecting frames with slow shutter speeds that could end up blurred. That no longer happens.

Dual SIM

iOS 12.1 also switches on the dual-SIM option in the newest iPhones. You can’t actually put two SIM cards inside, but you can use your regular hardware nano-SIM in tandem with an eSIM. An eSIM uses what is essentially a reprogrammable SIM module that’s built into the iPhones XS, XS Max and XR. You can quickly activate an eSIM by scanning a QR code.

Thus equipped, you could have SIMs for different countries, for business and personal use, or to split data and voice between two plans. And now it’s ready to go.

New iOS 12.1 emoji

iOS 12.1 still doesn't address the fact that London bagels are way better than those New York pretenders.
iOS 12.1 still doesn’t address the fact that London bagels are way better than those New York pretenders.
Images: Apple

Speaking of “gates,” how about Bagelgate? Apple’s bagel emoji, with its bland, factory-produced look, drove the internet crazy. It made people forget for a moment that emoji were never meant to be photorealistic representations of objects. Still, the new version of the bagel emoji in iOS 12.1 does look better. It is joined by around 70 more new emojis of everyday essentials like kangaroos, lacrosse, a frisbee and ginger hair.

Finally.