You’ll still be able to access all your apps via the App Library, or you can turn the “Focus” off at any moment. Uniquely, your friends and family can see if you’re in a Focus if you don’t want to be disturbed via the Messages app, but a Status API will allow any messaging app to implement this functionality.
Live Text, Photo Memories, and Better Safari
One of the coolest features in iOS 15 is Live Text, and it’s tied to upgrades in Apple’s computer vision technology. Point your camera app at anything with text, and you’ll see a text icon on the bottom right. That’ll let you highlight the text so you can easily copy and paste it to another app. This works for images with text in your Photos library too—just tap the same text icon on the bottom right. If there’s a phone number in the photo or an address, Live Text will turn it into a link so you can tap it. Phone numbers seamlessly launch in the phone dialer and the address opens in Maps.
Perhaps a little stranger is an integration between Apple Music and the Photos app. When you open the Photos app and go to the For You tab, you’ll be greeted with a new version of Memories—this feature automatically generates a mini-movie of specific trips or events and automatically chooses a relevant song from Apple Music (but only if you have a subscription to the music service). You can customize the movie as you view it by changing up the pace, switching songs, changing filters, or swapping images. It’s not far off from a Google Photos feature introduced in 2018, but Apple gives you far greater control with music integration here.
Safari is now easier to use with one hand. The URL bar is now situated on the bottom, and it hides away when you scroll to maximize your screen’s real estate. You’ll notice Safari looks a lot more similar to the interface on macOS or your iPad on the new tab page—there’s your favorite websites, reading list, and content shared with you. You can swipe through tabs easily and group them together. And finally, for the first time, Safari extensions are coming to iOS. These are available through the App Store, though don’t expect every single extension you use on a computer to be present just yet.
With SharePlay in iOS 15.1, you’ll be able to share movies, music, Fitness+ workout, and your screen with anyone you’re FaceTiming with. Want to listen to a new album with your friend in sync at the same time? You can bring in tunes from Apple Music. Maybe you want to watch a movie with your long-distance partner while video chatting? Easy. You can AirPlay the movie to your TV at the same time to watch it on the big screen.
Apple says any other developer with a content streaming app will be able to add support, though services like Disney+, HBOMax, ESPN+, and TikTok are already on board. The implementation gives a lot of control to the developer. For example, if both video call users are trying to stream a movie on Disney+, Disney could allow the other user to sign up for a free trial, allow one free movie to stream via SharePlay a month to anyone, or block access completely if neither party has an account. It’s the developer’s choice.
Speaking of travel, the improved version of Apple Maps the company introduced last year is now rolling out to four new countries: Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Australia. Apple’s map data is getting even more detailed in iOS 15. You’ll find more street-level details in commercial districts, elevation information in cities, as well as custom designs for landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge. When driving, Maps will now show highway interchanges in 3D so you have a better idea of exactly which lane you need to be on. These features are coming to CarPlay later in 2021, too.
If you ride public transit, Maps will tell you when to get off, and if you don’t know which way to head once off the bus or outside the subway station, just point your phone at the buildings in front of you to have Apple’s augmented reality point the way. It’s similar to AR Live View in Google Maps.
Shared With You
Select items your friends share in Messages now sit in a new “Shared With You” section in certain apps. For example, if someone shares several photos of a trip you were a part of, these images will reside in the new Shared With You section in the Photos app. If you are sent a news article, you can find it in a Shared With You section in Apple News. The idea is to give you another opportunity to see what your friends and family members sent, in case you didn’t have time to look at it earlier. New Shared With You sections are available in Apple Photos, News, Podcasts, Safari, TV, and Music.
When you use Spotlight, the search bar that pops up when you swipe down on the home screen, you’ll notice a fresh design with more details when you search for contacts, celebrities, and movies. Plus you can search for your photos through it and use it to install new apps. You can now easily access it right from the Lock Screen too, by simply swiping down on the display.
With Apple’s Health App, you can now share your health data with family members or caregivers. That way, they can easily keep an eye on metrics and receive notifications for any unusual trends over time. There’s also a new Walking Steadiness metric that routinely analyzes your fall risk.
You can store your Covid-19 test results and vaccination records in the app, too. If the specific medical location or vaccine provider doesn’t support this feature, you can download the record using a QR code or browser and store it in the Health app to access whenever. If you have successfully added your vaccination record, the app can now create a vaccination card in the Wallet app, so you can easily flash it before entering businesses or a restaurant.
This new service is available to anyone who subscribes to iCloud already with no changes in pricing. It adds the ability for you to generate one-off burner emails when you’re signing up for a service on the web; expands HomeKit Secure Video support; and adds a feature called iCloud Private Relay (currently available in beta with a final version coming later), which encrypts all the internet traffic leaving your device so that no one can view your data, somewhat like a virtual private network.
Other New Features
There are tons of other features in iOS 15. Here are a few more that stand out.
- ProRes Video: If you have an iPhone 13 Pro or Pro Max, iOS 15.1 added the ability to record ProRes video, which you can turn on by heading to Settings > Camera > Formats > ProRes. Then, in the camera app, you’ll see a ProRes option in the video tab. This format gives you greater control when editing, but the file sizes are much larger.
- Auto Macro Toggle: In the iPhone 13 Pro models, the camera switches lenses when you get close to a subject to enable macro mode, but sometimes it keeps switching back and forth. To prevent this, iOS 15.1 now lets you toggle this Auto Macro feature off (Settings > Camera > Auto Macro). Now, to enable Macro, you’ll need to manually switch to the ultrawide camera and move close to a subject.
- iCloud Backup: You can temporarily back up your data to iCloud, even if you don’t have enough storage, to transfer your data to a new iPhone.
- Weather app: Apple bought the popular Dark Sky weather app last year, and it looks like we’re finally seeing the fruits of that acquisition now. The Weather app has a fresh design, with more detailed graphics, a background that more precisely changes to current weather conditions, and access to high-resolution weather maps.
- Messages: Rather than scrolling through one long message of multiple photos, iMessage now neatly organizes numerous images (sent simultaneously) into a stack you can swipe through. To view all of them at once, you can also tap on the collage icon.
- Visual Look Up: Just like Google Lens, you can point the camera at landmarks, plants, pets, or books, and get information about whatever you’re looking at.
- Mail Privacy Protection: This feature prevents senders from seeing if you opened an email, and it hides your IP address and location.
- Siri: Talking to Siri in iOS 15 is more secure than ever because your audio now doesn’t leave your device. You can control a variety of on-device functions without an internet connection, like asking Siri to turn on Dark mode or set an alarm, and it’ll run much faster.
- Find My: You can now find your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max through the Find My app.
Apple showed off a majority of the new features available in iOS 15 at its Worldwide Developers Conference this past summer, but not all of them are available at launch. Below are a few that have been delayed.
App Privacy Report
Available by heading to Settings > Privacy > Recent App Activity, this feature will show what apps have been accessing your camera, microphone, location, and photos over a seven-day period. It’ll even highlight what third-party domains the app has contacted, so you can truly see where your data is going. Unfortunately, the pleasant interface you see above isn’t available yet. At the moment, after 7 days, you’ll get a downloadable report that you can only open in a text editor on a PC or Mac.
Apple is continuing its quest to take over your physical wallet. Last year it let you add car keys, but in iOS 15, you can add additional keys. Add a home key if you use a smart lock, an access card you may use to enter your office, or a hotel room key—Apple says Hyatt is rolling out this functionality to 1,000 properties worldwide, and yes, you will be able to tap your Apple Watch to enter your room.