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iOS 15: All features and everything you need to know

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We have compiled all information about iOS 15 for you in this article, ranging from how to obtain the latest update to all of its new features.

Table of Contents

  1. What has changed in iOS 15?
  2. Download and install iOS 15
  3. Focus
  4. Spotlight
  5. iCloud+
  6. FaceTime
  7. Notification / Message Center
  8. Photos
  9. Maps
  10. Wallet
  11. Safari
  12. Messages
  13. Weather
  14. Health
  15. Where is?
  16. Notes
  17. Siri
  18. Widgets
  19. Other features
  20. Supported devices
  21. Conclusion

iOS 15: What has changed?

In terms of visuals, iOS 15 does not really bring anything new to the mobile operating system. Rather, the changes remain subtle in nature. In terms of functions, however, there are a number of innovations that happen to be interesting and worth checking out. 

This includes Apple’s very own browser, Safari, which will obtain a brand new framework and design. Apple has relocated the address bar for the URL to the bottom from the top. This should make the browser easier to navigate using one hand while being easy on your eyes as you read content. In addition, tabs are now easier to organize and navigate. Web Extensions can also now be installed in Safari, with a customizable home page.

Speaking of redesign, notifications have also been revamped. There’s a brand new look, sporting photos of contacts and larger app icons. In order to avoid distractions, the iPhone will rely on algorithms in order to understand when is a good time to display notifications on your smartphone. In addition, notifications are regrouped in iOS 15 so that the most important ones will always remain at the top.

Apple recognizes the trend of mindfulness and is adding a slew of new features that have been specially designed to promote a more calm and relaxed scenario, not to mention exploring the world of digital detox. For those who also use an Apple Watch that is powered by watchOS 8, there are additional features in the pipeline. Firstly, there’s the new app that is known as Mindfulness, which is meant to provide a greater degree of self-reflection and relaxation and will replace the outgoing Breathe app. For iPhone users who do not own an Apple Watch, the Focus feature will arrive in the future.

The most fundamental iOS 15 change is in the background

The biggest change in iOS 15, however, is something that most users may not even notice as these changes happen in the background. Apple has made available a free upgrade for all iCloud subscribers with iCloud+, which is probably riling up the feathers of many data collection agencies at this moment. 

With Private Relay, the IP address and the exact location can be concealed from data brokers. iOS 15 will also prevent third parties from knowing whether an email has been read and will also prevent the IP address from being relayed. This will make it much more difficult for data brokers to create an exact profile of Internet users in the future.

In terms of privacy, Siri has also received an upgrade. All voice input via Siri will remain on the iPhone in the future and will no longer end up on a server. No doubt this change will make using Siri a faster and smoother experience since everything happens locally.

iOS 15 will also be accompanied by plenty of other improvements and changes, including FaceTime, Apple Maps, Photos, Wallet, and others.

We have listed all of the important features that we think you should be aware of below, along with their respective changes.

Download and install iOS 15

As of June 30, 2021, iOS 15 has been available as a beta version at beta.apple.com. The official version is tipped to arrive this fall. All iPhones from the iPhone 6s onwards will be able to receive this update for free.

For those who would like to test the beta version can register as a beta tester at Apple for free. However, one must be aware that it is not the final version, which equates to some risk as the software update will remain unstable. You might even experience some crashes or data loss due to bugs when using it, so be warned!

Check out our detailed instructions on how to install iOS 15 on compatible iPhones. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best practices in the linked article, so if you would like to give the beta version of iOS 15 a go, we highly recommend reading this article.

Focus

Focus is a basic way of filtering messages, calls and apps on the iPhone. Your iPhone will also be able to learn over time just what situation you are in, suggesting the appropriate corresponding option for Focus. For example, if you regularly go to bed at around 10:30pm, the iPhone take note of that in iOS 15 while shifting the focus to sleep.

You can also set custom options for Focus in addition to Work, Time for Me, and Do Not Disturb. With a set focus, others who would want to contact you will receive a notification that you are currently unavailable, now how about that? This will definitely inform others that you do not want to be disturbed at the moment, which allows them to be aware of your situation and make changes accordingly. 

apple ios 15 focus
Different modes for different occasions. However, setting it up effectively requires some planning / © Apple

For me, Focus is one of those features whose true potential will only be realized after some time. I’ve been running iOS 15 for a few weeks now and use Focus every now and then. Before I dive into it a bit more, let’s talk about the basic functionality first:

Focus is, in the broadest sense, an extension of the previously familiar Do Not Disturb feature. Once it is activated, your Apple device will no longer receive messages or calls to distract you. Basically you won’t receive any more notifications, where it applies to all your devices that have an Apple ID. For instance, if you set your Mac to Do Not Disturb, that status will also apply to your iPhone or iPad. This is especially handy when you’re in a meeting or want to concentrate on your work, or simply want to get a good night’s sleep without being disturbed.

Configuring Focus is not that easy

The main challenge of Focus, however, lies in configuring it right. If you did not set up the modes correctly, it could work against you by not receiving any more incoming calls even if you are in “work” mode, which means that all-important call from a boss or an important client would unintentionally land in your phone voicemail.

Live Text

Another feature that is worth mentioning is Live Text. If you were to snap a photo with your iPhone, the iPhone is capable of recognizing plenty of helpful information using its on-device intelligence. With OCR (Optical Character Recognition) running on the iPhone itself, you can extract or highlight text from an image to send an email directly to an address, look up directions, or even make a phone call.

All of this even works straight from the camera app itself. However, it’s not easy to locate this feature. If the camera recognizes text, a small icon appears of which you have to tap. The iPhone will then extract the targeted text and offer additional options for you to explore.

apple ios 15 live text
In the image on the far right, you can find the button for Live Text at the bottom. If the iPhone detects any text, the software will also highlight it and offers the blue “Insert” button on the left / © Apple

In the current beta version, the function did not always work reliably, which is unsurprising for such an early version.

Live Text will let you quickly and conveniently extract and reuse text. The Apple OCR can even recognize handwritten recipes and the recognized text can be translated directly into another language with a single click.

Object recognition in images and visual lookup

Something that also did not work reliably in the current beta version is visual lookup. The iPhone is able to recognize photographed objects like art, landmarks, plants, books, or even pets and by clicking on them from where you can obtain additional background information.

The potential is definitely there: Inconvenient Internet searches for photographed objects will no longer be required in the future and can be accomplished with a single click. If you think about this function a little further, you can imagine using this alongside augmented reality or potentially wearing a form of Apple Glasses. Such a feature allows Apple to further train and improve its own artificial intelligence technology.

apple ios 15 visual lookup
Visual Lookup could be an exciting staple in the future, especially if we were to eventually have a pair of smart glasses / © Apple

And, yes – such a function has existed on Android courtesy of Google for a very long time now. However, the artificial intelligence has mainly been on the server side all this while, where images are sent to Google’s servers to have the AI algorithm analyze the image before returning its results. 

Apple decided to do this locally on your own device for privacy reasons, which means pictures and especially your data will never leave your device. This means you can even enjoy this feature even if you do not have access to the Internet at the moment, although I do think that such limitations would end up with less accurate or poorer results as there is only so much information your iPhone can store at any one time. 

Spotlight

There are also new possibilities that can be applied to Spotlight. The internal search feature will also work with information that are contained within images. Search also offers more comprehensive search results for artists, people in entertainment, TV shows, movies, and even among my contacts.

apple ios 15 spotlight search
Apple’s “Spotlight” search will become much more interactive / © Apple

In the (near) future, if I want to find (as much as possible) all pictures with dogs in them, all I have to do is enter the word “dog” and I’ll be presented with all pictures, in addition to all kinds of other results, that either depict a dog, or have the word dog in them. For instance, pictures can also have the word dog on them somewhere in a very small area of the image and also show up in the search results.

iCloud+

Actually, this upgrade is independent of iOS 15 when it comes to paying iCloud customers, but Apple announced both features at the same time, with iOS 15 being a minimum requirement in order to take full advantage of everything Apple offers.

Apple had always recognized that privacy and data protection are important assets. This is especially true as the smartphone increasingly becomes our most important everyday tool when it comes to personal data, hence it is only logical for Apple to place even more emphasis on the issue of data security. With iCloud+, all iCloud customers will automatically be upgraded at no additional cost. Apple will be adding a number of privacy features to boot, tacking on to what we already know.

Private Relay

Private Relay is a VPN of sorts but it works very differently. Data traffic including the destination address is first sent in an encrypted form from the Safari browser to an iCloud server. Over there, the IP address will be exchanged for another from the same region.

This prevents an exact localization without fooling another server with a completely false location on the other side. Once the IP address has been exchanged, the Apple server will send the request to a second server that belongs to an Apple partner. This server will decrypt the destination address while forwarding the request there.

This way, Apple knows just which users it is dealing with, but does not know their destination. The Apple partner will neither know the user nor the exact IP address to boot.

Hiding email addresses and email privacy in general

Many users are probably unaware that whenever they open their e-mails, some information is often transmitted to the sender in the background, including whether the e-mail has been read, the IP address of the recipient, or something similar.

apple ios 15 privacy2
There are a number of improvements in terms of privacy in iOS 15 in combination with iCloud+, allowing you to theoretically surf anonymously in the future / © Apple

iOS 15 and Apple’s very own Mail application will prevent this from happening in the future. This is especially true with advertising emails and is highly recommended, because through this way, you can prevent your advertising profile from being formed.

Apart from that, there is the unique function known as Hide email address. Apple will integrate this feature in iCloud+ so that it can instantly create unique and random email addresses, which in turn are linked to your own personal mailbox. This way, you no longer have to enter your actual email address when filling out a form or subscribing to a newsletter.

FaceTime

Experiencing things together – that’s what FaceTime is supposed to dive into more in the future. In addition to a number of improvements such as 3D audio (individual voices will sound as though they were coming from the direction of the person speaking) and the ability to share one’s own screen or portrait mode (only the face will be focused) that comes in handy during a video call, Apple has plans to include these functions in iOS 15 that are meant to encourage people to experience iPhone and Apple content together.

apple ios 15 facetime android ios
Whether on an iPhone or Android device: beginning with iOS 15, video calls can also happen outside of Apple devices / © Apple

In addition, calls can now happen even with Android smartphones. Using an invitation link, owners of a non-Apple smartphone can also jump into a call.

apple ios 15 shareplay demo
Watching a movie or series together can be fun, assuming both callers have the appropriate subscriptions / © Apple

SharePlay allows you to play back your favorite music, a movie, or a TV show during a FaceTime call in a shared experience. Through synchronized playback, all participants are always at the same level, making it feel as though everyone were in the same room.

For SharePlay work really well, all participants must have the same subscription for said content, such as movies. So it’s not enough for one person on the call to have purchased a movie or be an Apple TV+ subscriber and share the content with other participants.

Whether it is enjoying a movie, listening to the music together, or sharing your screen, people can continue to carry out normal conversations in the background, just like a regular video call.

apple ios 15 shareplay options
SharePlay is a good thing, but when it comes to watching media content together in combination with DRM, it’s likely to fail in reality / © Apple

SharePlay is a good idea, but….

SharePlay is a nice feature by itself, and I’m sure many people, especially the younger generation, would like to take advantage of it. However, it might not be easy to organize a watch party in reality. This requires all participants in a call to have a subscription to the music/video streaming service, and not everybody might have the luxury of doing so.

Younger people in particular have different age ranges, where restrictions might be in place for certain movies due to their rating, not forgetting that not everyone has a Netflix, Sky or Apple+ subscription.

Notifications/Messages

Who doesn’t know this feeling: Once you have placed your smartphone down for a while and return to it later, you are surprised by an entire screen of notifications. As with the new Focus feature, Apple is taking the digital decluttering route when it comes to notifications. This means that a flood of messages will no longer make it to your lock screen on their own.

apple ios 15 notifications
Messages have received a visually refresh and are better summarized / © Apple

But more importantly, iOS 15 offers you notifications to be grouped together within a customizable section. At selected times, the iPhone will compile a beautifully designed report that has been customized to suit your personal agenda, with the most important notifications remaining at the top.

New messages will also obtain a brand new look, featuring photos of the contact as well as a larger app icon. This is supposed to make it quicker and easier to figure out just what the notification is all about.

Photos

The Photos app will receive a comparatively major update that carries a lot of changes overall.

Retrospect

Retrospectives – This feature will let your iPhone suggests photos gleaned from your photo database, and will now be a whole lot more interactive.

In iOS 15, Apple will further expand the Retrospective slideshow by expanding the categories to include people, places, or even specific trips while generating videos with new effects automatically and integrating it with Apple Music. The iPhone will automatically set a soundtrack from Apple Music to go with your throwback videos, although you can also manually and individually customize the tracks from the Apple Music library itself.

apple ios 15 memories
Memories are really a great way to experience your own pictures. Warning: This can get very addictive! / © Apple

Memories is something that I’ve regularly used, if not daily, ever since it was introduced. Not only do the montages have new effects that are really impressive, there are also new themes released almost on a daily basis where photos and videos from my library have been assigned to. Sometimes it’s travel, events, pictures of the day that have been ‘summarized’ over a longer period of time or concerning a specific person.

Once a particular throwback of memories is completed, my iPhone will immediately offers me the next one and it is all-too-common for me to take a look at five, six, or even seven of the automatically generated Memories at a stretch.

On-device intelligence in photos

Apple will use metadata in our photos with iOS 15, with a lot of it relying on the device’s local AI and not just in the Memories feature that we discussed earlier.

With Live Text available in existing photos and also directly in the camera, text of any kind can be used and processed within the app itself. The option to translate this text directly should be an interesting one for many people, especially when they are on vacation at a destination where the language is foreign to them. For instance, you can always snap a photo of a recipe in a cookbook elsewhere, before translating the text and pasting it in a file somewhere for your own future reference. 

As we already explored in the Live Text section, this function still carries some weaknesses. However, the anomalies continue to be weeded out in the beta phase, and it is just a matter of time until Live Text ends up as an indispensable helper for many.

Maps

Unfortunately the fundamental changes in Maps are not available to us in Europe (or only to a limited extent), as it will initially be USA-centric. City views have been improved vastly with 3D models of the buildings, specially marked walking and biking paths, parks, and even trees. Unfortunately over here in Europe, no cities have received this treatment just yet.

However, it is probably only a matter of time until cities in this country will also be shown in all of the new Apple Maps glory. After all, it was just last month where people in major German cities have begun mapping out the details using a 360-degree camera. 

apple ios 15 maps navigation
The new Maps are not yet available in Germany, but it should arrive soon / © Apple

Where navigation is concerned, the view has also experienced a significant change and improvement. There is a whole lot more detail to take in, not only in terms of buildings, but also when it comes to lanes, pedestrian crossings, and bike lanes.

Also not forgetting those rarely hop into a car but take public transport or get around on foot, you can obtain directions as an augmented reality option.

apple ios 15 navigation options
Public transport integration on Apple Maps is already available in Berlin / © Apple

For public transport, stops and journey times for certain routes can be accessed. If you have a regular route, you can always pin them at the top of the window for easier access.

Wallet

Those in the US can definitely be pleased with the growing possibilities surrounding the Wallet app. Before the end of the year, it will be possible to store ID cards and driver’s licenses in certain states. Even when you are traveling by air, identification via iPhone or Wallet will be sufficient. Wallet will also see future integration at public entrances, offering access to hotel rooms or even rental cars.

apple ios 15 wallet
Wallet has the potential to become the universal digital key for many / © Apple

Hence, this shows Apple’s dogged persistence in pursuing the strategy of making the iPhone the most personal device that you can own.

Due to the lack of a Wallet-enabled car and other corresponding options, we have not yet been able to test this feature out. As with Apple Pay, the new options for Wallet will also gradually be made available outside of the US. Needless to say, if it takes off in Apple’s home country, it will most probably be equally important elsewhere on the globe in the future. 

Safari

Apple treats its Safari browser to an update that amounts to nothing more than a radical new design. The change is so extensive, so much so that we would love to talk about the new iPhone browser in detail in a separate article.

In addition to the fact that the address bar has been relocated from the top of the screen to the bottom, floating above the page or disappearing after a certain time, Safari will boast of three main innovations which we have listed below.

New Tab Bar Design

In order to be able to navigate efficiently using just one hand, Apple has redesigned the tab bar. Instead of having to click a button as before, you can now quickly swipe back and forth between tabs or switch to the full overview with a simple swipe gesture.

apple ios 15 safari
It took some getting used to at first, but we warmed up to it quickly: the new face of Safari and its tabs / © Apple

It’s actually much easier to navigate and access the different windows within the new browser. However, switching to the new Safari version does take some getting used to. Many people probably feel the same way as I do, as they instinctively orient themselves upwards when keying in an address. In the meantime, I have adapted and think that it was a good idea to implement the new tab bar in a sensible manner.

New design of the tab overview and tab groups

If you like to organize your bookmarks or open many tabs, then you should be extremely pleased with the new version. Tabs can be grouped together in order for you to quickly switch between groups.

Once a group (or groups) is created , groups can be accessed across all Apple devices, allowing you to navigate on the Mac or iPad just as you were on the iPhone.

I myself am rather pragmatic when it comes to tabs: I open a page and if I need a new window, I don’t search for it, but would rather do so in a new window. Every now and then I would close all tabs at once. Of course, this is a personal preference for individual users. 

Safari receives extensions or plugins

“Finally!”, you say. After plugins have been a common feature in other browsers for a long time, it is now Safari’s turn to obtain extensions. Apple is working on a separate area for that in the App Store.

apple ios 15 safari extensions
There are still not so many extensions available but this should change soon / © Apple

The number of currently available extensions are still small, but it is just a matter of time before more and more of these end up in the App Store and eventually, on our browsers.

News

News will also receive a slew of new features, where most of them will fill a niche that is old hat on the likes of Telegram, WhatsApp, and other instant messaging apps.

Shared with you

Shared media content such as photos, videos, links or apps will appear in a new section of the respective apps under Shared with you. From there, you can also send messages directly to the person who sent you something without having to launch Messages.

apple ios 15 photo collections memoji
There are new memojis and photo collections in Messages: If you sent multiple pictures to a person, the iPhone will combine them into a group for you to swipe through them. With a tap, the group will expand and all images are displayed as shown on the right / © Apple

This feature is very useful by itself. However, the integration does not quite feel that well executed. I myself had to continue searching for it in Photos, Safari, or Music. While you can quickly find shared content in Messages with the corresponding contact, the Shared with you option is not quite as easy to find in the other apps.

Photo Collections

When sending multiple images, iOS will now create a collage of sorts, or a group of them, which you can scroll through by swiping. By tapping the group, the group will expand where you can then view them individually or save the images that you like to your own library.

Weather

The iPhone’s Weather app will also receive cosmetic changes after having received a facelift. In addition to having more weather-centric data displayed, there are now newer graphics, including new full-screen weather maps and a dynamic layout that depends on what the current weather is like at a particular location. There’s also a small area of display that depicts the current position of the sun, one for wind, barometric pressure, and a few others.

apple ios 15 weather widgets notes
Left: New widgets. Middle: Weather receives new maps. Right: Notes receive tags where during a collaboration, you can directly tag people / © Apple

Health

There are a whole lot more changes and features to come with iOS 15 where Health is concerned. There is an update in the Health app, with Notes boasting a feature known as Shared with you, which is also a staple in other instant messengers such as WhatsApp and Telegram – where links, photos, and other content that are shared with me can be filtered when displayed. This option will be integrated into Photos, Safari, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts ,and the TV app.

“Find My”/Where’s?

With Where’s, you can now also located devices that have been turned off or even deleted from your list. This works via the so-called Find My network from Apple. Here, virtually all Apple devices serve as “sniffers” and will send the location of other devices to iCloud servers. This guarantees a high degree of protection when it comes to your own data.

Apple is also adding Find My support to the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. There’s also a widget that instantly shows key locations at a glance.

In the future, if you share the location with friends or family, you can view a live view of their movements. Previously, a person’s location would only be updated once every few seconds, which does not allow you to track their speed or direction accurately.

Notes

For those who Notes also use on iPad, iOS 15, and iPadOS 15, you can look forward to a wide range of improvements. I’ll say it up front, Notes is personally one of the best improvements that Apple will offer this year in terms of productivity.

On iOS, the improvements are less noticeable than on the iPad. However, even on the iPhone, it’s now much easier to integrate and edit spreadsheets. If you are collaborating with others, you can also mention people directly and notify them in that manner.

In order to make it easier to find and organize notes, you can now assign tags to notes. Notes can be quickly filtered out and located via a search browser.

Notes has been an app that did not make it to my list of favorite apps when it comes to capturing thoughts and ideas. However, it has been bumped up my list with this release. On an almost daily basis, I use the app. For this reason alone, I will dedicate a separate article on it soon.

Siri

Apple has significantly stepped up its efforts to improve user privacy across the board with iOS 15, which will also apply to Siri.

Instead of sending Siri requests to Apple servers as before, all processing is performed directly on the device via the Neural Engine. In addition to an increased level of security, this will also improve the AI response speed – at least theoretically in most cases.

What I personally really liked is the fact that Siri will be able to learn better and correctly recognize names that I use on a frequent basis. If I dictated the name “Mia” in the past, Siri always processed it as “me”. Since iOS 15, that hardly ever happened to me anymore.

Siri will also maintain the context between one query and the next. This allows Siri to retain information from the prior question in a subsequent question.

If one uses AirPods, Siri can announce reminders or calls through your wireless earbuds. This means you no longer have to look at your device display, and you can also accept a call directly via voice command if you have your AirPods on.

Siri also offers greater neural text-to-speech voice support in iOS 15 in more languages, covering Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Finnish. There’s also Siri voice support for mixed English, Indian, and a mix of Indian English and native dialects such as Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam, and Punjabi.

Widgets

There are a number of new Widgets that come with iOS 15, such as a new widget for Where’s?, for Mail, and even the App Store.

We have compiled the best widgets on iOS 15 for you in a separate article.

Other New Features

iOS 15 is a major update that brings a lot of new features with it. We will continuously update this article and add new features as time passes by.

iOS 15: Supported devices

Apple is offering support for iOS 15 from the iPhone 6s onward. However, some older devices will not receive all the features that iOS 15 offers.

We have put together a couple of articles to discuss this issue:

One month with iOS 15: My first impressions

I’ve been using an iPhone that runs on iOS 15 for a little over a month now. Although one should always be wary with the limitations and bugs in beta versions, where important features might just fail to work or quirky behavior shows up, I can safely say that iOS 15 is already very stable.

Visually, not much has changed at first glance. Apple managed to integrate major innovations underneath the hood in such a manner that you don’t even notice it at first. I found myself asking a few times, “It’s always been like this. Right?”

Well, that’s the good news, which means most of us should have a very easy time making the jump from iOS 14 to iOS 15.

Some features such as Live Text or Notes have the potential to become really indispensable tools on a daily basis. Extracting text from images is something that I use on a regular basis. The fact that the AI processing happens on the smartphone itself without having to send information to Apple’s own servers is a real plus point in my books, not only for data security and privacy reasons, but also when it involves performance.

Apple once again showed that they place a very high premium on sustainability and will offer iOS 15 to all iPhones from the iPhone 6s onward. However, older models lack the necessary hardware to take advantage of all the new features. In the supported devices section, we’ve rounded up some features that unfortunately, won’t make it in some older iPhone models.

Selected innovations found in FaceTime or also in messages/iMessage seem to be a step in the right direction by bridging the gap with its competitors – such as Google Meet, WhatsApp, or Telegram. Here, Apple certainly has some serious catching up to do, so it is nice to see them put in the necessary effort. 

Nevertheless, I will reiterate myself once again: With iOS 15, especially in conjunction with macOS and iPadOS, Apple will gain even more ground on its competition (here’s an interesting read: iOS 15 pushes Android into a corner).

Through a carefully orchestrated integration between its consumer electronics devices, Apple offers its users a simplicity that cannot be found in other operating systems or platforms. Apple’s consistency in implementing privacy continues to blaze a trail that other companies should urgently follows as an example.

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