Apple released the iOS 16 beta 5 today and with it comes the long-awaited return of battery percentage to the status bar. Unfortunately, it’s ugly as hell and unreadable to boot.
Previously, battery percentage appeared to the left of the battery icon. However, Apple removed it starting with the iPhone X because there wasn’t enough space to cram it in thanks to the notch. To find out battery percentage, you currently have to swipe down to Control Center. In iOS 16, Apple’s “solved” that issue by having the figure appear within the battery icon.
(If you’ve updated to the latest version of the beta and don’t see it, that’s because it’s not enabled by default. To turn it on, you have to go to the Battery menu in Settings and flip on the Battery Percentage toggle. The option also appears to be unavailable on the iPhone 11, iPhone 12 Mini, and iPhone 13 Mini. This might change with future beta releases, but them’s the breaks for now.)
It looks like an eyesore — something you’d see on a phone circa 2011. From a distance, it kind of looks like the number on a sports jersey — and not in a good way. However, I recognize that’s my personal aesthetic taste. My biggest issue is this new battery percentage figure also has functional problems as well.
Because the number appears within the battery icon, it has to appear fully charged at all times for readability. So, even if you’ve got a paltry 10 percent battery left on your phone, the icon itself still looks full. In the few hours I’ve had this feature on, it’s admittedly caused my brain to short-circuit. A full battery icon that reads 55? That just borks the visual cues we’ve all become accustomed to.
The whole purpose of the battery icon is to understand quickly, at a glance, how much juice you have left. Unfortunately, the “full” battery plus the teeny-tiny numbers aren’t easy on the eyes. That’s especially true if you already have poor vision. It doesn’t help that it’s always been hard to read the status bar if you happen to use a light background. Of course, not everyone will have this issue. If you have 20/20 vision, it likely won’t bother you much. I happen to have severe astigmatism and nearsightedness and a few Focus Mode lock screens with light backgrounds. I can’t tell you how many times I misread the 50 percent battery figure as 5G instead.
Compare all this to the depleting battery icon. While the numberless icon doesn’t tell you exactly how much battery you have left, it’s so easy to figure out a rough ballpark. It’s an intuitive design that hardly needs any explaining. It’s small consolation, but at least the battery icon still changes colors when you enable low-power mode or plug in your phone. The former turns the icon yellow, while the latter turns it green with a lightning symbol next to it. (Charging also happens to make the battery icon and numbers bigger and, thus, way more readable! Why not do this for the regular mode, too?!)
It almost feels like Apple subjected us to this on purpose. The company is known for its meticulous control over product design — regardless of whether the changes it makes are what the people want. (RIP, headphone jack.) Apple decided with the iPhone X that we didn’t need battery percentage in the status bar. It gave us what it deemed to be a satisfactory solution with Control Center. But we all clamored for Apple to restore battery percentage in the top-right corner of our phones, and this is what we got.
I’ll likely go back to turning the battery percentage off. The depleting battery icon, after all, works in the vast majority of situations. And the next time my battery gets dangerously close to zero, I’ll heave a heavy sigh as I swipe down for Control Center, mourning what could’ve been.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge