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iOS 16’s custom Lock Screens are surprisingly fun. Here’s how to set them up

Apple’s new emoji wallpapers sold me on the iPhone’s new operating system

iOS 16’s custom Lock Screens are surprisingly fun. Here’s how to set them up

When Apple announced lock screen customization as one of the tentpole features of iOS 16, I wasn’t all that excited—at first.

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While I appreciate Apple’s attempts 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 the trouble.

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

It turns out the main attraction with iOS 16’s lock screen isn’t the utility, but the fun factor. Being able to easily (and automatically) shake up your wallpaper just makes the iPhone a little more enjoyable to use. The widgets, of which only a handful exist right now, are just icing.

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If you’ve already installed iOS 16, here’s how to start customizing the lock screen yourself:

Step 1: Create a new iOS 16 lock screen

Instead of turning your iPhone screen off and on again, you can always get to the lock screen by swiping down from the top-left half of the display, even when the phone is unlocked.

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

Step 2: Choose your background

After hitting the + button, you’ll see an array of background options. To make the most of iOS 16’s customization potential, I suggest skipping the ready-made templates and starting from scratch with the buttons at the top:

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  • Photos: Uses a single image from your library as the wallpaper.
  • People: Uses a photo of a specific person as your wallpaper.
  • Photo Shuffle: Automatically switches between photos of specified people, pets, places, or things at a frequency of your choosing. You can also manually select a handful of photos to cycle through. Once selected, tap the “…” icon to change the shuffle frequency.
  • Emoji: Type in any combination of emoji to create a lock screen pattern. After picking some emoji, swipe right to switch between patterns, and tap the “…” to choose a background color.
  • Weather: Shows an animated wallpaper that reflects the current weather conditions.
  • Astrology: Uses space-related imagery that reflects your current position. Swipe right to choose between Earth, the moon, and the solar system.

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

Step 3: Choose your widgets

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

Start by tapping the date at the top, then modify it through the pop-up menu below. Alongside the date, you can display weather conditions, alarms, calendar events, reminders, and fitness data. These widgets also serve as quick links, so you can tap the alarm to jump into the Clock app, or tap the weather to view a more detailed forecast.

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For the clock, you can tap to choose between different fonts or colors, or hit the globe icon to select Arabic Indic or Davanagari numerals.

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

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Optional step: Install some third-party lock screen widgets

While iOS 16 allows for lock screen widgets from third-party apps, chances are that a lot of your apps haven’t gotten around to supporting this feature yet. In the meantime, you can seek out some apps that have made lock screen widgets a priority. Some examples:

  • Widgetsmith: Make your own lock screen widgets with photos, text, weather, and more.
  • Launcher: Create lock screen shortcuts to contacts, apps, and actions.
  • Carrot: Weather forecasts with a sense of humor.
  • LookUp: Learn a new word every day straight from the lock screen.
  • Countdown: See when you next big event is coming up.
  • Things 3: Glance at your to-do list and deadlines
  • Focused Work: Launch pomodoro timer sessions from the lock screen.
  • Dark Noise: Create shortcuts to your favorite ambient noise tracks
  • Grow: Add an array of habit-tracking stats to the lock screen.
  • Flighty: Track flight information on the lock screen.
  • Parcel: See when packages are due to arrive.
  • Motivation: Get a positive quote on your lock screen every day.
  • Reflectly: A mood diary with motivational quotes
  • TickTick: Track habits and agenda items.
  • Apollo: View trending Reddit posts, unread message counts, and more.
  • WaterLlama: Make sure you’re drinking enough water.
  • Halide: Launch straight into this pro camera app from the lock screen.

Note that if you have one of these apps already and aren’t seeing a lock screen widget, you may need to launch the app first.

Need more suggestions? 9to5Mac has a great list of additional apps with lock screen widget support. You can also try searching the App Store for “lock screen widgets,” as many of the results will include apps that have added support.

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Step 4: Choose your home wallpaper

Once you’ve set up the lock screen to your liking, hit “Done,” and iOS 16 will present two choices for your home screen’s wallpaper: “Set as wallpaper pair” uses a blurred version of the lock screen background, while “Customize Home Screen” provides a few additional settings:

  • First dot: Use a blurred and unblurred version of the lockscreen 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 wallpaper. As with lock screen images, you can choose color filters for this wallpaper as well.

Note that if you make further changes to your lock screen, you’ll need to go through this home screen wallpaper selection process again. To quickly preserve your previous selection, just hit “Customize Home Screen,” then select “Done.”

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Step 5: Use Focus to switch lock screens automatically

Focus modes are a feature that Apple introduced in iOS 15, letting you hide certain kinds of notifications based on your current activity. For instance, you can schedule a “Sleep” focus that silences all notifications, or a “Work” focus that allows email or Slack alerts to come through.

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

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To assign a Focus mode to your lock screen, just 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 up any Focus modes yet, you can do that under iOS Settings > Focus.

Step 6: Tweak your notifications

The last thing you can do to tweak the iOS 16 lock screen is change the appearance of notifications. If you head to Settings > Notifications > Display As, you’ll see a few options:

  • Stack: The default display 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 shows only the number of missed notifications with no extra details.

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

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

Sign up for Jared’s Advisorator newsletter to get more practical tech advice in your inbox every Tuesday.

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About the author

Jared Newman covers apps and technology from his remote Cincinnati outpost. He also writes two newsletters, Cord Cutter Weekly and Advisorator.

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