• Custom Accessibility Mode is a hidden beta feature in iOS 16.2.
  • It radically simplifies the iPhone’s Home Screen.
  • Apple’s accessibility features allow for some pretty amazing customization.

A person with vision challenges using an iPhone with voice assistance technology.

iOS 16.2 hides a rather radical new feature that makes the iPhone work like an old large-type Nokia from the 90s. 

The new Custom Accessibility Mode—discovered inside the iOS 16.2 beta by 9to5Mac—does away with much of the iPhone’s user interface, removing clutter and making the icons huge. As the name suggests, this is an accessibility feature, and one currently only in testing, hidden inside a beta version of iOS. But it already looks like something many of us might want to use, especially if we sometimes find our phones overwhelming or distracting.

“This is a UI that is going to make smartphones much easier to use for a huge subset of people: anyone with vision issues. This will be especially important to older users,” Troy Portillo, director of operations at online learning platform Studypool told Lifewire via email. 

Clean and Tidy

The standard iOS UI appears to be quite clean and minimal at first, but as soon as you start trying to do anything, its complexity gets in the way. I call this school of design "sweep-it-under-the-rug minimalism." In order to present a clean and tidy face, iOS hides everything behind menus, long-presses, and secret handshake multi-finger gestures.

It's like a kitchen with nothing on the work surfaces and everything dumped into seemingly arbitrary drawers. In this simile, even the oven and cooktop are tucked away in a closet. 

The 6th gen iPod Nano.

Custom Accessibility Mode doesn’t fix this, but it does make the basic iPhone UI a lot easier to move through. For example, the Home Screen can be tweaked to show only a 2×2 grid of apps, kind of like Apple’s old clip-on touch-screen iPod nano. 

“One of the main benefits of Custom Accessibility Mode is that it reduces the number of buttons and icons on the screen. This makes the app more accessible for users with visual impairments, who may have difficulty seeing and identifying the various buttons and icons,” technology writer James Calderon told Lifewire via email.

But it doesn't stop there. Many people use screen reader software, which is built into iOS for VoiceOver. This tells you what's on the screen and even reads the name or description of whatever your finger passes over. You can use VoiceOver even if you cannot see the screen, making it seem like Custom Accessibility Mode's reduced UI wouldn't help. But the opposite is true. 

A blind man in a suit walking across a road with a walking stick and his iPhone.

“This plus VoiceOver will be great for partially sighted and blind folks. Being able to strip out unnecessary UI clutter makes the screen reader much more efficient,” iPhone user Marbles1 said on the MacRumors forums.

But of course, there's more to it than that. 

Declutter

Many people might benefit from, or just plain prefer, a phone that doesn't shout at them every time they pick it up. Yes, it's possible to reduce the number of notifications, icon badges, and other distractions on your phone and even to customize these reductions based on the time of day or where you are. But that's all still too complex for anyone but nerds to bother with. 

Custom Accessibility Mode, then, could be a great way to cut out the distracting clutter. 

“If this comes to fruition, it will be immensely helpful for [older adults],” iPhone user Riverfreak said in a MacRumors forum post “iOS has become so dainty and precious it takes a lot of time and manual dexterity to do many simple and common things.” 

A person with vision loss using a smartphone.

And according to 9to5Mac’s Filipe Espósito, you can also use the new Custom Accessibility Mode to lock out certain phone features and protect those changes with a password. That could be a boon for anyone who spends too much time on their phone. 

"Beyond the basic functionality advantages, this is also a way to simplify the things that your phone can do. If you find yourself caught mindlessly scrolling social media for hours, for example, this may be a useful tool to help you cut back," says Portillo.

Apple's accessibility features are some of the best, allowing deep customization. At the same time, regular user customization is almost non-existent, limited to a few widgets and wallpaper. Surely there's a space for something between the two. Until then, it's worth digging around the Accessibility settings to find out what's possible.

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