Apple announced iOS 15, the next major software update for iPhones during its virtual Worldwide Developer Conference or WWDC 2021 opening keynote event on Monday. With the new update, the iPhone maker is bringing a slew of new features to FaceTime including cross-platform calls and what it is calling “shared” experiences, notifications that will seemingly allow users to “focus”, and more “intelligence” to photos while adding new “privacy” controls to Siri, Mail and more to strengthen its commitment to safeguard their personal data.
The developer preview of iOS 15 is now available to Apple Developer Program members, and a public beta will be available in July. The final version will be rolled out for all iPhones, iPhone 6S and above, sometime in September.
“iOS 15 helps users stay connected while sharing experiences in real time, gives them new tools to help reduce distraction and find focus, uses intelligence to enhance the photos experience, and, with huge upgrades to Maps, brings new ways to explore the world,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, said.
Here’s a quick look at all the top features coming to your iPhone with iOS 15 update:
In a first, FaceTime calls will be available for all users through the web on iOS 15. This means iPhone, iPad, and Mac users will be able to create links for FaceTime calls and share them with anyone through text or third-party instant messaging apps like WhatsApp. Android and Windows users will be able to access these calls from their web browsers. Apple says FaceTime calls on the web will remain private or end-to-end encrypted.
Apple is also adding spatial audio and new microphone modes including voice isolation and wide spectrum to make FaceTime calls feel more natural and life-like. Taking some inspiration from Zoom, Apple is also bringing grid view and portrait mode to FaceTime.
Another feature called SharePlay will allow users to simultaneously watch and listen to content as well as share their screen with others with shared playback controls so anybody can pause, play, or jump ahead. Apple is partnering with streaming giants like Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Paramount Plus, Pluto TV, TikTok, and Twitch to integrate SharePlay into their apps – this content will also be accessible on a big screen through the Apple TV.
With iOS 15, Apple is introducing a new set of “focused” notifications to reduce distractions and help users “be in the moment.” Apple will use on-device machine learning to automatically decide which contacts and apps are allowed to notify users based on the profile they set. This could be for work or sleep or do not disturb. Contacts and apps that do not belong to a focus group will not be allowed to pass through. Their status will also be visible to others in Messages, so they’ll know the user is not reachable at that point of time.
Apple is adding contact photos for people and larger icons for apps in notifications on iOS 15 to make them easier to stand out so users can respond to them accordingly. A new feature called “Notification Summary” will meanwhile collect “non-time-critical” notifications and deliver them “at a more opportune time.” Apple says it will use machine learning – again, on-device – to prioritise notifications and “important communications will not end up in the summary.”
Intelligent photo updates
Drawing some inspiration from Google Lens, Apple is introducing a new feature in iOS 15 called “Live Text” that will allow users to highlight text in photos or scenes straight through the camera app in real time and act, accordingly, say for instance, copying a phone number or Wi-Fi password. Contrary to Google’s approach, Apple says Live Text will work locally on-device. Another feature called “Visual Look Up” will allow users to add more context to their surroundings.
Apple is introducing three new privacy features with iOS 15. The first being, by default on-device speech recognition for Siri (which is also said to improve performance “significantly”), the second is App Privacy Report designed to give an overview of how apps use their permissions in the last seven days, and the third called Mail Privacy Protection that hides a user’s IP address and location from the sender while also keeps them from knowing if their email was opened.
Other notable updates
- Apple is updating Safari with a new tab bar for quickly switching between multiple tabs and Tab Groups to save tabs for easy access later.
- New keys including driver’s license or state IDs for airport check-ins are coming to Apple Wallet – though this will be available only in the US.
- Apple Music integration is coming to “Memories” in photos app for personalised song suggestions – Apple says this will be on-device.
- Weather app is being updated with full-screen maps, and dynamic layouts while Notes will support user-created tags on iPhones with iOS 15.