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When Apple announced lock screen customization as one of iOS 16’s tentpole features, I wasn’t thrilled at first.

While I appreciate Apple’s efforts to make the iPhone more flexible and personal, I tend not to linger on my phone’s lock screen for long, and I’m a minimalist when it comes to home screen widgets. It wasn’t clear to me why customizing the lock screen would be worth it.

Then I made an emoji background full of Atari-style floppy disks and joysticks, and everything clicked.

As it turns out, the main attraction with iOS 16’s lock screen isn’t the utility, but the fun factor. The easy (and automatic) shuffling of your background makes the iPhone just that little bit more pleasant to use. The widgets, of which only a handful currently exist, are just icing on the cake.

If you’ve taken the plunge on iOS 16 beta– which has been surprisingly stable so far in my experience – here’s how to customize the lock screen itself:

Step 1: Create a new iOS 16 lock screen

Instead of turning your iPhone screen off and back on, you can always get to the lock screen by swiping down from the top left corner of the screen, even if the phone is unlocked.

Once you’ve done that, long-press anywhere on the lock screen to bring up the customization menu. Then press “Customize” to change the current lock screen, or + to add a new one.

Unfortunately, the lock screen you brought with you from iOS 15 isn’t customizable, at least not in the first public beta. If you want to add widgets or change the clock, you have to create a new lock screen from scratch.

Step 2: Choose your background

After pressing the + button, you will see a series of background options. To make the most of iOS 16’s customization potential, I recommend skipping the out-of-the-box templates and starting from scratch with the buttons at the top:

  • Photos: Uses a single image from your library as the background.
  • People: Uses a photo of a specific person as the background.
  • Photo shuffle: Automatically switches between photos of specific people, pets, places or things at a frequency of your choice. You can also manually select a handful of photos to browse. Once selected, tap the “…” icon to change the shuffle frequency.
  • emoji: Type any combination of emoji to create a lock screen pattern. After choosing an emoji, swipe right to switch between patterns and tap the “…” to choose a background color.
  • Weather: Displays an animated background that reflects the current weather conditions.
  • Astrology: Uses space-related images that reflect your current position. Swipe right to choose between the Earth, Moon and Solar System.

For Photos, People and Photo Shuffle you can also: apply color filters to the images. After choosing a photo, swipe right to switch between natural, black and white, duotone and color wash effects. For duotone and color wash, you can further customize the colors by tapping “…” and selecting “Style Color”.

Step 3: Choose your widgets

Once your wallpaper is set, you can customize iOS 16’s clock and lock screen widgets.

Start by tapping the date at the top, then change it from the pop-up menu below. In addition to the date, you can view weather conditions, alarms, calendar events, reminders, and fitness data. These widgets also serve as quick links so you can tap the alarm to go to the Clock app, or tap the weather to see a more detailed forecast.

For the clock, you can tap to choose between different fonts or colors, or press the globe icon to select Arabic-Indian or Davanagari numbers.

Below the clock, Apple has room for additional widgets, including news updates, smart home status, battery levels, along with more detailed weather and fitness data. Just tap a widget to add it, drag and drop to move it and tap the minus button to remove it.

iOS 16 will support third-party widgets in the future, but at the time of writing I haven’t come across any.

Step 4: Choose your home background

Once you’ve set the lock screen to your liking, click “Done”, and iOS 16 will present two choices for your home screen wallpaper: “Set as wallpaper pair” uses a faded version of the lock screen wallpaper, while “Customize Home screen ” offers a few additional settings:

  • First point: use a faded and non-blurred version of the lock screen wallpaper.
  • Second dot: Use a gradient background color for the wallpaper.
  • Third dot: Use a solid background color for the wallpaper.
  • Photo icon: Choose an image from your gallery for the background. As with images on the lock screen, you can choose color filters for this background as well.

Please note that if you make further changes to your lock screen, you will have to go through this process of selecting wallpapers on the home screen again. To quickly keep your previous selection, click “Customize Home Screen” and select “Done.”

Step 5: Use Focus to Switch Lock Screens Automatically

Focus modes are a feature Apple introduced in iOS 15 that lets you hide certain types of notifications based on your current activity. For example, you can schedule a “Sleep” focus that mutes all notifications, or a “Work” focus that allows email or Slack alerts to get through.

In iOS 16, each Focus mode can have its own lock screen, so you can set a dark wallpaper with no widgets for sleep mode, and a more colorful wallpaper with reminders and calendar events for work mode.

To assign a focus mode to your lock screen, simply long-press the screen, then tap the “Focus” button at the bottom and select the mode you want to use. If you haven’t set focus modes yet, you can do so under iOS Settings > Focus.

Step 6: Customize your notifications

The last thing you can do to customize the iOS 16 lock screen is change the appearance of notifications. If you go to Settings > Notifications > Show as, you’ll see a few options:

  • Pile: The default view mode, which shows new notifications from different apps in an overlapping stack.
  • List: More akin to iOS 15, this shows new notifications in a non-overlapping list.
  • Count: This only shows the number of missed notifications without additional details.

In all three cases, swiping up reveals the full list of notifications, which come in from the bottom of the screen.

With that, your iOS 16 lock screen should be more pleasant to look at, and perhaps even more useful. If you unlock your phone as often as I do, it’s probably worth it anyway.

Sign up for Jared’s Newsletter advisor to get more practical technical advice delivered to your inbox every Tuesday.

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