iOS 15 Preview: release date, new features, all you need to know

: iOS 15 developer beta 2/public beta are out now without any major new features in tow.

iOS 15 is now official, having been announced by Tim Cook, Craig Federighi and a trove of executives on stage at the opening keynote of WWDC 2021. After last year’s paradigm-shifting iOS 14 update which introduced widgets and an app gallery to the iPhone, iOS 15 definitely feels like a more laidback update that focuses on the essentials and aims to improve the core iOS experience without adding any extraneous fluff. Moreover, iOS 15 isn’t shy on reworking basic features of the OS, like Do Not DIsturb. From my brief time with it, it’s clear that iOS 15 isn’t a terribly exciting software update. Apple knows that and wouldn’t force iOS users to get it, which marks the first time an iOS update hasn’t been compulsory. Yet, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to update to iOS 15 when it’s out. It’s a quality-of-life update that feels right at home on the iPhone, and the tons of tiny touch-ups in the interface and the core apps themselves makes it worthwhile for sure.

iOS 15: Release date

As each and every other iOS update, this one will hit all the eligible devices in the fall. Apple always releases the final iOS update when it launches its new iPhones in early-to-mid September. The iPhone 13 family is expected to arrive in 2021, and we are almost certain iOS 15 will be released alongside Apple’s next iPhones.

When it comes to the iOS 15 beta, the developer-centric version is already out. You can get it if you have a developer account with Apple. If not, the public beta next month will make it available to all adventurous iOS users.

iOS 15: The most important new features

As mentioned, iOS 15 improves many of the core iOS functions. As we are still in a global pandemic, video calling has greatly increased its importance, which makes the multitude of improvements to FaceTime not such a big of a surprise.

FaceTime overwhelming

For one, FaceTime video calls are set to become way more natural, comfortable, and life-like.The app gains spatial audio support, allowing conversations to flow as they do when talking face to face. Another neat new feature is voice isolation, which prioritizes your voice over the surrounding white noise. There’s a new grid view that spices the interface up as well as portrait mode that intelligently blurs the background behind you. Good stuff.

Another novelty lets you get in on shared experiences. Dubbed SharePlay, it lets you listen to songs together with Apple Music, watch a TV show or movie in sync, or share your screen to view apps together. SharePlay works across iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and with shared playback controls, anyone in a SharePlay session can play, pause, or jump ahead. Some popular media apps, like Disney+, ESPN+, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Paramount+, Pluto TV, TikTok, and Twitch are among the first ones to announce SharePlay support.

And finally – Android and Windows users will finally be able to get in on all that FaceTiming actionafter years of waiting for the app to go cross-platform. Well, it didn’t, but Android and Windows PC users will be able to get in on a web-based version of the video call, which is a good enough concession on Apple’s part. We’ve covered FaceTime’s new-fangled features in our dedicated article here.

Notification Summary and Focus improve your digital health

Notifications are finally getting reworked. Well, sort of. Aside from scoring larger and more impactful icons that make it easier to see what app is pinging you, Apple is also introducing something called Notification Summary. Basically, it lets you bundle up non-essential notifications from apps you don’t care about and have them delivered at a specific time of the day in a beautiful widget so as to not distract you in the meantime. That’s a great new feature that makes it easy to only get notifications from important apps and eliminate the fluff. This feature works nicely and is honestly a god-send, especially if you have many apps spamming you all the time.

Another novelty is the reworked Do Not Disturb feature. It’s now called Focus and has a few more default states, but you are free to customize them or create a new one altogether. Thanks to Focus, you can select what apps are allowed to send you notifications or which contacts can bother you with their messages and calls.

What’s more, Focus will tell apps that you have your notifications silenced as a heads-up and enable them to override your DND request if they have something really important to tell you. You can automate these Focus states to turn on or off at select times of the day, just like Do Not Disturb did.

Photos takes a page out of Google Lens’ book

Apple’s Photos app is taking cues from Google’s Lens, scoring OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and allowing you to isolate text from photos, screenshots, and other images in your gallery. That’s all to the new Live Text feature, which looks like quite an intuitive and useful addition to iOS, making you wonder why such a feature wasn’t introduced earlier. Apple says all text isolation will be done on-device, so no sensitive information will be sent to Apple’s servers. Good for privacy.

Health is getting quite useful

The essential Health app is also getting some love in iOS 15. It scores a couple of new features, namely: Walking Steadiness – new Mobility algorithms assess balance, stability, and coordination via the iPhone/Watch sensors; Trends – long-term changes in various health and fitness metrics that the Apple Health app integrates; and finally, Better Labs – bloodwork lab data tracking and analysis.

All of these new and old data points can now be securely shared with either your doctor, or your loved ones, so you can have both a specialist, and a person that is closer to you, be up to date with your health and fitness points at the same time, for an increased scope of coverage in case something unforeseen happens.

More iOS 15 features:

Wallet killed the physical wallet

The Wallet app is, for the lack of a better idiom, doing away with your physical wallet–and your keys. After digitizing your credit and debit cards, the app is scoring UWB physical card support, allowing you to lock/unlock select cars and properties with your iPhone or Apple Watch. Digital keys for select new BMW vehicles and automatic keys for rooms of the Hyatt hotel will be available to Wallet users this fall. But that’s not all: select US states will let you leave your ID at home and use wallet instead. Simply scan your ID or driver’s license and rest assured you can use it everywhere you go without risk losing it. TSA is seemingly also exploring the possibility to let you go through airport security with Wallet only, without the necessity for a physical ID card.

Maps getting better and better

Just like Google Maps, Apple Maps has scored an augmented reality feature that helps you navigate your immediate surroundings. Select notable landmarks and buildings will now look spic-and-span in 3D, which is particularly impressive when it comes to Apple Maps’ neat Flyover feature. There’s also a proper round Earth there if you zoom out enough.

Safari gets redesigned

To call Safari an essential app would be an understatement – there are many other browsers available on the App Store, but Safari delivers the best experience on an iPhone. In iOS 15, the browser has scored a rather big visual update that unlocks the address/menu bar and maximizes screen space. You can switch between the various tabs by simply swiping it left or right. It’s a stark new look that definitely requires some getting used to, and I’ll admit I am not such a fan. It’s much cleaner than before, but everything requires an extra tap here or there. Tab Groups are also coming to mobile Safari, letting you organize important tabs your way; with everything syncing up with the Safari browser on your Mac or iPad, keeping things in order. While it’s a major update, I’m not entirely certain long-time iOS fans will be thrilled about it.

Translate is now system-wide

The Translate app is getting better with each and every consecutive iOS update, and iOS 15 is no different in this regard. System-wide translation has finally been added to iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, allowing you to translate any text by simply tapping to select it and choosing the Translate option. This feature works not only with typed text, but with images containing text as well. As a reminder, iOS 15 scored OCR text extraction for images. It’s certainly one of my favorite features so far as it’s just so useful.

Notes and Reminders getting better and better

The changes with Notes and Reminders are kind of big as well. The note-taking iOS app scores tags that allow for easy search, as well as user mention and activity log that enables to keep tabs on who’s editing what. This is an important change as it makes collaboration much easier than before. Reminders have also scored tag support, as well as something called Smart Lists which automatically gathers reminders by due dates and tags.

Weather redesigned

The ubiquitous Weather app is getting a pretty functional redesign that not only improves the visuals but also scores new functionalities in the form of new graphical displays for relevant weather data. We get full-screen radar maps that display temperatures and precipitation on an interactive map, making it easier to see live weather updates and forecasts for a specific area.

More about the redesigned Weather app is available right here.

Supported devices & relaxed update policy

Here’s a list of all devices that will get iOS 15:

  • iPhone 12
  • iPhone 12 mini
  • iPhone 12 Pro
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone SE (1st generation)
  • iPhone SE (2nd generation)
  • iPod touch (7th generation)

The big surprise here is that the aged iPhone 6s family is still supported. As a refresher, the same devices that supported iOS 14 support iOS 15.What’s equally surprising is that Apple won’t force users to update to iOS 15 right away as it previously did, but will let them stay on iOS 14 if they wish, which was an unforeseen change of heart.

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