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Finding the Fun Side of Software Updates for the iPhone and Android

Finding the Fun Side of Software Updates for the iPhone and Android

As the year winds down, take the time to explore iOS 17 and Android 14 with new wallpaper and widgets or by creating a digital diary.

As the year winds to a close, many frenzied smartphone users haven’t had the chance to explore major updates to the Google and iPhone operating systems that arrived this fall. As you finally get a breather — or maybe even a new phone in your gift haul — why not start with some of the more personally engaging features that can help you ease into Android 14 or iOS 17? Here are some highlights.

Google’s release of Android 14 was focused largely on improving security and accessibility features. But Google has also added fresh ways to customize phone screens with new wallpaper, app widgets and shortcuts. To get started, open the Settings app, select Wallpaper & Style and make your choices to personalize your device.

Android 14 offers new wallpaper, themes and ways to customize your screen, including choosing your own shortcut buttons for the camera and other options.Google

Apple has plenty of options in its iOS 17 Wallpaper settings, but with last week’s iOS 17.2 update, users can get deeply personal in a different way with the new Journal app included with the software; it’s also in the App Store. Journal is a free digital diary for recording thoughts and feelings through text, images and topic suggestions. You can back up your encrypted entries to your iCloud account, where you get five gigabytes of free online storage before Apple starts charging.

The Journal app in Apple’s recent iOS 17.2 update is meant to guide you through creating and maintaining a digital diary.Apple

Apple’s multimedia Journal is similar to third-party apps like Day One and Journey, which have free and paid premium versions. While Google has not yet added its own dedicated diary app to Android, some people use the company’s free Keep and Docs apps for their pensive moments.

Image-based search adds another dimension to activities like shopping, museum-going, travel or just walking around town. Apple’s existing Visual Look Up feature for identifying objects in photos got a boost in iOS 17 and now works on videos as well. To use it, just open a photo or pause a video on your phone and tap the Info icon (the third from the left) at the bottom of the screen. If more information is available about the image subject, tap Look Up to see the search results.

Apple’s Visual Look Up tool can provide more information about businesses and identify wildlife.Apple

(Another trick with Visual Look Up: When you see a glowing white outline around the main object in a photo, tap it to open a pop-up menu. Select Add Sticker to save a silhouetted copy of the object that you can send in a message or insert from the iPhone’s emoji keyboard.)

When using the iPhone’s Visual Look Up feature, if the photo’s subject has a glowing white outline, you can tap the screen to get the Add Sticker menu and make art for text messages.Apple

Google Lens, introduced in 2017, has steadily become more accurate with its pairing of object identification and relevant internet search results. Say you’re in a museum and want more information on the artwork you’re looking at through your phone’s camera. Tap the adjacent Google Lens icon to see the articles Google Search rounds up.

In addition to identifying objects like the Woolworth Building and artwork by Ed Ruscha at the Museum of Modern Art, Google Lens can also recognize plants, animals and consumer goods — and provide corresponding articles, translations and other information.Google

Google Lens works on objects in still photos and exported frames from video clips. It is available as an Android app but is integrated elsewhere, including in the stand-alone Google app for Android and iOS.

Both Apple’s Visual Look Up and Google Lens can recognize, copy and translate text in images you see through the camera. Check each company’s privacy policy if you have data-collection concerns.

Android’s developers have been sneaking little surprises into the system’s code for years, and this year’s update brings a hidden game. To uncover it, open the Settings app and scroll down to About Phone. Tap it and then tap Android Version.

Once you find the Android 14 logo, press it until the phone begins to vibrate like a rocket taking off — and a tiny spaceship you can steer with your finger appears on the screen.Google

On the next screen, quickly tap Android Version three times to start the game. On the game screen, press and hold the Android 14 logo until the phone begins to vibrate and a tiny spaceship appears. Press your finger on the screen to get steering controls and use the position information in the corner to fly to different stars.

Apple’s iOS 17 includes a Standby feature that turns the iPhone lock screen into a smart display for showing off the time, temperature, photos, music, recipes and other apps. When enabled in iPhone Settings, the Standby mode kicks on when the phone is charging and sitting stable in the horizontal screen orientation.

If you don’t care for the default widgets, press and hold your finger on either side of the screen to choose new ones from the list of Standby-compatible options. The Night Mode option in the settings gives the screen a red tint if you decide to use the phone as a bedside clock.

To change one or both widgets for the iPhone’s Standby mode, press and hold either side of the screen showing an existing widget and then scroll through the alternatives until you find the one you want. You can also get suggestions for Standby-compatible widgets on your phone.Apple

Third-party apps like Zetabit Tecnologia’s Standby Mode Pro give Android-based phones a similar function, as does the “always on display” setting for lock screens on recent Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets.

These hands-free options also serve as a reminder that it’s good to put the phone down occasionally and enjoy the holidays.

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