Yesterday, Apple released a handful of software upgrades as it does every year around this time. iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and tvOS 15 are all now available to the general public, and as per usual, people are wondering whether any of them are worth installing.
Usually, if someone asks me whether they should install an update like this, I encourage them to just do it. Not only are you getting new features, you’re also getting better security and privacy. That’s always a good thing.
Still, many are hesitant about software upgrades because they assume it’ll break or change something they’re familiar with. That’s true with a decent number of updates released in the past, but if you’re worried about any of these updates ruining your experience, think again.
Safari in iOS 15 is… noticeable
Apple may have the most iterative update for iOS it’s ever released with iOS 15. There’s absolutely nothing ground-breaking about it, and it’s even pretty hard to notice the new features and changes Apple has added. I think the most obvious will be the Safari redesign that’s caused a lot of controversy over the beta period. Apple moved a lot of the controls to the bottom of your screen so they’re easier to reach, and I’ve found that I actually like the adjustment. It makes navigation way easier than performing thumb gymnastics to reach the search bar at the top of your phone. Still, if you don’t like the repositioning, you can revert to the old design in Settings.
Focus modes are great
Speaking of Settings, there are new controls baked into Do Not Disturb called Focus that have proven to be a highlight of iOS 15 for me. Focus is basically a tool that lets you create different profiles on your iPhone (or iPad through iPadOS 15) to control who gets you contact you, which apps get to notify you, and even what’s displayed on your home screen. I’ve set up a Work profile that can automatically turn on when I get to my office in Sunny Ocean City, New Jersey. Once it’s activated, I get a custom home screen with all of my work apps, distracting apps silenced to the background, and a select number of contacts who get to buzz my phone.
Once you set up a Focus mode, it’ll sync across your iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac (so long as you’re running the latest software on all of them). They can be turned on manually or automatically based on time and location. Apple also includes an auto-activation mode which can detect when your phone thinks you’ll want a particular Focus mode on, but I just stuck with location- or time-based activation.
I think Focus modes have the potential to be one of the more important features Apple has released in the past few years. They’re extremely useful and help with avoiding apps you don’t want to use during the day.
Other features in the mix
That being said, this is probably the most significant update in iOS 15 you’ll find, at least for now. The Weather app has gotten a big upgrade, but it’s just the Weather app – it’s not like it’ll change your life. Apple Maps, Notes, Photos, Spotlight, and more are also seeing improvements, but it might be hard to find them if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Other features that are pretty tucked away include Live Text (the ability to copy text from photos and your camera feed), FaceTime call link sharing (with support for Android and Windows 10 devices, finally), and support for digital state ID cards in Wallet. Siri is also improved on iOS 15 so that it runs locally on your device, which means it’s way faster and your recordings don’t get sent to the cloud.
What Apple wants you to focus on is SharePlay, a feature undoubtedly born from the pandemic. Through FaceTime, using SharePlay, you can watch content with your friends on platforms like Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus. It’s the virtual watch party you wanted during quarantine, but a year too late. And it’ll be even later now that Apple decided not to include in the initial release of iOS and iPadOS 15. When it’ll roll out remains unclear, but I’m sure it won’t be for a while.
iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and tvOS 15
All of these new features are nice, but they’re incremental. The same goes for iPadOS 15, which gets a majority of these new features plus widgets on the home screen, the App Library, and new multitasking shortcuts. Then there’s watchOS 8 which gets a couple of new workouts, a new Photos app, some new watch faces, and a lot of the same features as iOS 15. tvOS 15 is by far the most incremental, however, given how Apple didn’t even bother to give it its own feature page on its website.
It’s quite simple: Apple took a break this year. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. How much innovation can you do over Zoom and Slack anyway? It makes plenty of sense for Apple to take a break from inventing crazy new features, but it is a pretty big bummer. The iPhone aside, I at least wish Apple would’ve gotten a little crazy with iPadOS given how the latest iPad Pros have M1 processors in them.
Regardless, this is a very incremental year for Apple, as we’ve seen now with both their software and hardware. If you’re on the fence about upgrading your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Apple TV, I recommend just going for it. Nothing is fundamentally bad here, and you likely won’t have any major learning curves to tackle once the software’s installed.