Each year, Apple hosts a developer-focused event to show off new software and app development capabilities. This year’s WWDC was chock-full of announcements from iOS 15 and its improved notifications to updated health features that span across the company’s devices.
This article will dive into iOS 15, Apple’s update for the iPhone. Oddly enough, it wasn’t significantly leaked like past major iOS updates were, and that’s probably because there aren’t a ton of ground-breaking improvements. Instead, Apple’s focusing on the quality of the user experience of the iPhone instead of trying to revolutionize it. Which is okay, because these improvements seem appealing.
The company said it’s adding a lot of notable upgrades to FaceTime. Potentially the biggest new feature is the ability to share links to FaceTime calls that can be used on Windows and Android devices. It isn’t a direct solution for the lack of FaceTime on those platforms, but it seems like a decent workaround. Of course, every call you take through your browser will be end-to-end encrypted.
FaceTime also gains Spatial Audio on video calls to make voices sound like they’re coming from where their head is positioned on your screen. Users can also enable portrait mode while on a video call to blur their background.
SharePlay is a new feature that lets you share content with people while on a call. For instance, you could fire up a new song to play for someone over the phone, or you could host a viewing party over FaceTime for a new show or movie on Apple TV. The content syncs across everyone’s devices and can be controlled by anyone on the call. Third-party media sources like Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Paramount Plus, Pluto TV, TikTok, and Twitch will also support SharePlay at launch.
I don’t think we’ve ever seen this many improvements on FaceTime all at once, so it’s cool that they’re leaning into the feature in a world dominated lately by video calls.
Of course, the other proprietary Apple communication app, iMessage, is also getting improvements with iOS 15, but it’s not as significant. You get new outfits for Memoji, Shared with You plugs content you’ve been sent into apps like Apple News (articles) and TV (movie and show links), and there are some new collage views for multiple photos sent by someone.
What I’m looking forward to a lot are the new Focus features. Focus is basically a do not disturb setting but on steroids. You can set up multiple profiles for work, personal use, and more to customize what notifications you get and who can communicate with you. Your home screen can also change based on the profile you set, so you can have a custom home screen for when you’re at work to reduce the risk of distractions. I just tried setting a home screen for when I’m at work the other day and was unsuccessful, so I’m looking forward to using this feature.
As a side effect, notifications are also seeing significant improvements with iOS 15. They’re bigger now and feature iconography for easier identification. You can also customize which notifications mean something to you and which ones don’t. When you do that, a notification summary will be delivered at a set time to show you the things you don’t need to take action on. This could be helpful if you get a lot of notifications but don’t want to turn them off for fear of missing something.
iOS 15 will also make the system’s artificial intelligence more useful. Apple is copying Google in a lot of ways in this instance since it’s adding smart text recognition to images (“Live Text”), the ability to look things up in images (“Visual Look Up”), and the ability to search for things within images to make it easier to find the picture you want. These are all features Android users have had for years with Google Lens, so it’s nice that Apple’s finally joining the club.
There’s also a really cool feature that many never thought would come to the US: digital driver’s licenses. Soon, with iOS 15, you’ll be able to store your ID in the Wallet app. According to Apple, you’ll need to live in a state that allows it, but I assume many states will enable the feature out the gate.
As for Apple’s stock apps, here’s a breakdown of what each one gets.
- Safari gets a redesign with a new tab design and UI.
- Apple Maps gets enhanced 3D driving maps with more detail, an improved experience for finding transit lines, and augmented reality walking directions for certain cities.
- Wallet gets hotel, house, and other keys in addition to car keys and IDs.
- The Weather app gets redesigned with much more information and new graphics.
- Notes gets @ mentions and tags, along with a new Activity view to show the history of a note.
- Find My now works with AirPods.
- Translate now supports cross-language conversations.
- TV gets a new “For All of You” that curates content catered to everyone in your house.
Apple is also improving the way you set up your iPhone with the ability to back up your data to iCloud even if you don’t have a subscription. The Move to iOS app also gets support for transferring photos, files, folders, and accessibility settings.
Of course, Apple also dove into privacy with iOS 15. Here’s what they’re doing, according to their press release.
With on-device speech recognition, audio of Siri requests is now processed entirely on iPhone by default, and performance improves significantly. Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from learning whether an email has been opened, and hides IP addresses so senders can’t learn a user’s location or use it to build a profile on them. App Privacy Report offers an overview of how apps use the access that has been granted to location, photos, camera, microphone, and contacts in the last seven days, and which other domains are contacted.
iOS 15 will be supported on every device that supported iOS 14, including the iPhone 6s which was rumored to be dropped from this year’s support list. The update will ship to all customers this fall, and a developer beta is available today. There will be a public beta for everyone to test next month.