Your phone’s lock screen is about to change

What is going on

Between the launch of iOS 16, content company Glance’s upcoming lock screen expansion in the US, and updates to Google’s Pixel phone widgets, it’s clear that 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 that companies are trying to make better use of that space.

What’s next

Apple’s iOS 16 update will officially launch in the fall and just arrived in public beta on Monday. Glance has not provided a timeline for his US debut.

What’s the first thing you see on you phone every day? It’s most likely your lock screen, filled with recent notifications and your lock screen background. Maybe that wallpaper is a photo of your pet, a photo of a beautiful sunset from a recent vacation or just a cool piece of art. That could all change very quickly.

The lock screen has long been considered an intimate space reserved for personal photos, important notifications, and tools like the flashlight. But companies are increasingly looking to do more with that valuable real estate, as evidenced by: Apple’s iOS 16 update and other changes reportedly coming android phones.

Apple’s iOS 16 update, which launched in public beta on Monday, will bring more customization options and new widgets to the iPhone’s lock screen when it arrives this fall. You can quickly see more information and apply stylistic effects to lock screen shots, similar to the iPhone’s portrait mode photography feature.

Glance, a Google-backed subsidiary of mobile ad technology company InMobi, also reiterated its plans to bring its lockscreen platform to the US. And Google is reportedly planning to include more bits of information in its own lock screen widget for Pixel phones.

All things considered, changes like this suggest that we may not want to swipe past our lock screens so quickly in the future.

iOS 16 widget gallery for lock screen

The iPhone lock screen widget gallery in iOS 16.

Apple/screenshot by CNET

The iPhone’s lock screen is getting a major makeover

One of the biggest features in iOS 16 is the new lock screen. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, called it “the biggest update ever” when he introduced the update on 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-like aesthetic.

As I wrote before, it’s really the new widgets that will bring more usability to the iPhone’s lock screen. 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 display bits of information at a glance, such as the Apple Watch’s temperature, Activity Rings, and upcoming calendar events. Android phones have been offering this kind of functionality for years, and it’s nice to see the iPhone follow. You can even create and browse through multiple lock screens just like Apple 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 are also available for the new lock screen. If you look closely at Apple’s WWDC demo, you’ll even see an option for a Nike widget. That means developers may soon have another way to reach iPhone owners and keep their apps from getting buried deep in a user’s app library.

It’s impossible to know how useful this new lock screen will be without spending a significant amount of time with iOS 16. But as I wrote before, it sounds like iOS 16’s new widgets make your iPhone look more like the Apple Watch, which looks like an upgrade. Like the Apple Watch, the new lock screen should make it easier to see crucial bits of information without having to dig into apps or even unlock your phone.

A screenshot of Glance's website showing lock screens on some phones

A screenshot from Glance’s website showing what the lock screen platform looks like.

View/screenshot by CNET

Android phone owners may soon have new lock screen options

Glance, which offers entertainment and other digital content on the lock screens of select Android devices in India and Southeast Asia, is in talks with wireless carriers to launch in the US over the next two months, TechCrunch said. While the company hasn’t disclosed the timing of the US launch or other details, it did provide a glimpse of the US lock screen offerings on Monday.

Glance’s lock screen appears in the form of what it calls “spaces,” essentially composite lock screens designed to fit specific themes. For example, a fitness-focused lock screen would show stats like calories burned and exercise goals alongside a music player. A news “space” would show the headlines and the weather, while a music version could show live concerts. It reminds me of how the new iPhone lock screen in iOS 16 can be linked to different “focuses,” such as work or personal mode.

The TechCrunch report on Glance’s arrival in the US raised concerns that ads would also appear on the lock screen. Glance’s company page shows examples of advertisers who have used the 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 mentioned.

But Rohan Choudhary, vice president and general manager of the Glance feed, told CNET that the US version would be ad-free.

“It’s very clear that in the US we won’t have any lock screen ads at all,” he said.

The company also issued a press release on Monday saying it “does not intend to run ads on the lock screen.” Still, Glance will have to prove that its lock screen offering offers more value than the many widgets and other options already available to Android users. It will also have to strike the right balance between showing useful information without being too distracting.

The company says it plans to monetize its service through news subscriptions and retail platform trading links that surface through Glance. But those choices have to be useful and relevant, otherwise they can feel just as intrusive as advertisements. The company says it has a 60% retention rate and can be found on 400 million phones in the markets where it currently operates.

A screenshot showing a fitness themed lock screen from Glance

When Glance launches in the US, it will focus its lock screen options on specific themes it calls “spaces.” The screenshots above are an example of a fitness-focused space.

View/screenshots by CNET

Google, meanwhile, has its own way of making the lock screen more useful. The Company At a Glance Feature for: Pixel phones shows relevant information on the lock screen if applicable, just as the name implies. A recent report from 9to5Google suggests that new tidbits may soon be visible in this widget. Ride-sharing updates from apps like Lyft and Uber could be one of the new alerts available in At a Glance, potentially making it even easier to see urgent notifications from 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 taxi to full grocery shopping, 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’s At a Glance feature, or “spaces” on Glance’s lock screen, the goal seems to be the same: to make our lock screens better at organizing the flurry of notifications. and updates our phones every day. It remains to be seen how successful these efforts will be.

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