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Apple iOS 15: News, features, and everything you need to know

Apple’s newest iPhone operating system, iOS 15, launched on September 20. The update brings new features and controversial design changes to the vast majority of iPhones, including many older devices. Whether you’re planning to buy a new iPhone 13 or holding onto your older iPhone model, here’s everything you need to know about iOS 15 and its subsequent updates.

What devices can get iOS 15?

The new Apple iPhone 13 models will ship with iOS 15, but there are hundreds of millions of iPhone users with older devices who will benefit from the update as well. Apple released iOS 15 to all iPhone models going back to the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6 Plus, and original iPhone SE, making these the longest-supported iPhone models yet. The corresponding iPadOS 15 rolled out to a slew of devices, including the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, iPad (5th-generation), and iPad Pro 9.7, as well as the new iPad Mini 6 and 10.2-inch iPad, of course.

What are the new features of iOS 15?

There are many new features and improvements in iOS 15. Here are a few of the most exciting ones to watch out for once you update:

Notifications

If you’re the type to ignore notifications or let them pile up, this update should make your life a bit easier. A new Notification Summary on the lock screen compiles your notifications for a cleaner look. You don’t have to worry about missing anything, though. The summary uses on-device intelligence about what you interact with the most to separate and prioritize notifications, so urgent notifications like messages won’t be lost among app reminders.

The new Focus feature enhances the Notification Summary even further. You can choose from among the preset Focus modes — Work, Personal, Sleep, and Do Not Disturb — or create up to 10 Focuses so iOS 15 can prioritize notifications based on your circumstance. Focus modes can even be set to a location, and once you set your status, it automatically applies across all connected Apple devices. There are new notification settings and new widgets for the home screen that let you see the notifications in your Focus mode. Throughout the notification system in iOS 15, icons for apps are larger and text is clearer, making it easy to catch up with everything at a glance.

Sharing

Apple knows how important video calls and messaging are today, and it has announced a variety of new features for both FaceTime and Messages that are all built around SharePlay.

SharePlay is about listening, watching, and sharing with friends and family. For example, during a FaceTime call, you can simply press Play in Apple Music and listen to a song together, all synced up right from the start. Anyone on the call can play or pause, giving everyone control over the entertainment.

A group of friends uses SharePlay to stream a television show together.

This also works with video, which can be streamed to an Apple TV at the same time while always remaining in sync for callers. Apple’s SharePlay API will bring SharePlay to different apps, with Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Twitch, and TikTok among the partners. It’s also possible to share your iPhone’s screen with people on a call, letting everyone browse the web or even provide advice on how to change a setting.

Shared With You works throughout the iPhone, from Photos, News, and Podcasts to Safari, and lets you share articles, songs, and photos with friends as a message. Photos integrates shared photos from friends who have added you to friends and family on iCloud, and iOS 15 will sort photos with you in them and place them in your gallery. News shared with you in this way is placed at the top of your list, and you get reminders about who sent you the story.

Camera

Apple has introduced a text-scanning feature to the iPhone’s camera and then supercharged it. Live Text unlocks text-based information from photos and works with screenshots and online photos, too. When you take a photo, it recognizes text, which can be copied and pasted into an email or text message, or you can select text from an existing photo to search online. It also recognizes phone numbers, which can be called directly from the photo.

A person using the iPhone to capture text on a whiteboard.

The new iOS 15 uses on-device intelligence to look closely at images. Visual Lookup lets you search a photo for information on art, books, nature, and landmarks. Elsewhere, Spotlight now searches for photos based on text, someone’s name, or even elements in a photo. You don’t even have to search for someone you know, as Spotlight also recognizes actors and other famous names.

Photos

Apple Music has been integrated into Memories, where iOS 15 will build more exciting, personal collages of photos and videos based on your activities. It now builds these short shows with Apple Music tracks personalized from your tastes and appropriate to the setting. Images are all timed to the beat.

A Memory Mix playing on an iPhone.

To personalize them further, you can edit these using Memory Mixes to change the pacing, songs, and even the look using different filters. And iOS 15 continues to analyze the Memory and makes further recommendations on songs to use, all based on your personal tastes.

Apple Wallet

Your driver’s license will be the first personal identity document stored in Apple Wallet, where it will be encrypted and stored in the iPhone’s secure space. Apple stated that the Transportation Security Administration is working to accept the digital ID soon, and when you share it, a list of what will be accessed is shown. Apple wasn’t specific on when this feature would be added or whether the feature will be available outside the U.S.

A driver's license stored in Apple Wallet.

In addition to payment cards, work IDs, and driver’s licenses, Apple Wallet can now store digital keys. Digital keys are one of the features limited to iPhones with A12 Bionic chips or newer. If you have an eligible device, you can use digital keys to unlock your compatible car, secure your home with a HomeKit door lock, and go directly to your room instead of stopping by the front desk whenever you stay at a partnered hotel, like a Hyatt-branded property.

Maps

Apple is expanding Maps coverage to Spain and Portugal soon, and then Italy and Australia before the end of the year. It is also introducing an augmented reality (AR) view to a selection of cities before year’s end, but that update will only be available on iPhone models with A12 Bionic or newer chips.

Cities with AR will also support walking directions. To use walking directions, people with eligible iPhone models will scan their surroundings using the Camera app. Maps will determine your location and then deliver walking directions back to the Camera app.

The new Maps will have an interactive globe overview. There are lots of new details, including custom-designed landmark icons, distances, elevation, and a night mode with a moonlight look.

Apple Maps' new driving details.

Driving directions have been updated in iOS 15 with more granular details on the map, including bus lanes, crosswalks, bike lanes, and better guidance for complex junctions and turn lanes. Initially only for Maps on iOS, these changes will come to CarPlay later this year. For transit guidance, Maps will follow the route for you and remind you when it’s your stop.

Privacy

In another gesture toward Apple’s commitment to protecting user information, Siri now processes requests on-device by default. On-device audio processing is faster but requires a lot more processing power, so it’s limited to devices with A12 Bionic chips or newer.

Another security feature, Mail Privacy Protection, prevents senders from learning whether or not you’ve opened their emails. Traffic leaving your device via the Safari or Mail app will remove most personal information, like your IP address and location, so that no one can build a profile around that information.

It hasn’t been added yet, but Apple plans to introduce an App Privacy Report in a later update. This report will give you an overview of how apps use the information they’ve been granted access to (like camera, microphone, and location) and which other domains they’re contacting.

What iOS 15 apps are changing?

There are more changes, new widgets, and support for more languages in iOS 15. Here are some other popular apps that are getting updates:

FaceTime

You’ll soon be able to FaceTime anyone, even people with Windows and Google phones. You’ll be able to schedule FaceTime calls in advance (which will sync with the Calendar app), or invite people to FaceTime calls instantly with a link that they can open in Edge or Chrome. Once all your friends are in the call, you can use the new Grid view to see them all in same-size tiles.

Safari

Apple iOS 15 introduced Tab Groups that sync between devices. You can create whatever groups you need, like Recipes for weekly meal-planning. When you don’t need to see those tabs, you won’t have to keep scrolling past them. You can also switch between tabs by swiping left or right on the new tab bar at the bottom of the browser.

Open tabs in Safari on iOS 15.
Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

Health

The Health app can now store information from your Apple Watch, immunization records, and lab results. You can share health data with loved ones or health centers, and it’s easy to protect sensitive information because you can always tell who has access to what.

What features came with iOS 15.1

With iOS 15.1, Apple started adding some of the missing features lacking in the original iOS 15 release. SharePlay is now here, letting you share content from App store apps over FaceTime with friends and family. For the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max, Apple has now added support for the much-vaunted ProRes video and tweaked the disorienting macro camera switching feature to make it optional.

Universal control still isn’t here yet, even as Monterey becomes available for download, but Apple says it’ll be coming in a future update. Finally, Apple now lets people add vaccine cards to the Apple Wallet app for easy access.

What features came with iOS 15.2

Apple released iOS 15.2 in the second week of December with a slew of features and fixes. Updates touch quite a few apps and services, from Siri, to the TV app, to Apple Music.

While the full changelog of iOS 15.2 is quite meaty, Apple highlighted a few features. The App Privacy report we alluded to earlier is now coming to iPhones with this update, letting you see how often apps access your location, microphone, and similar permissions.

Digital Legacy, a tool that lets you hand over your Apple account to trusted ones in the event of your demise, has finally made an appearance. Your iPhone would also be able to find AirTags on or around your person more easily, staving off stalkers with a new “items that can track me” setting in the Find Me app.

The Apple Music Voice Plan, a cheaper $5 Apple Music plan for those who enjoy using Siri, is now available. Next, Apple is including a feature for parents that allows them to filter out nudity in the Messages app, as well as accompanying safety messages for minors who do.

As expected, there are a few fixes for iPhone 13 phones here. The company is fixing a bug that stops streaming apps from loading video on those phones, as well as tweaking the camera app to include a setting for manually controlling when a macro shot use the ultrawide lens.

Should I update now?

Even a month after the release went live, there’s still no reason to rush into updating. The operating system underwent months of beta testing, but a live launch always uncovers new ones. Problems with iOS 15 were addressed within a week of launch, and Apple has fixed most bugs with 15.1, with another update on the cards following that.

As for what problems users have found so far, some people are stuck with a badge that incorrectly reports their storage is almost full. Some have discovered bugs that interfere with touch responses on older iPhones, and so on. Another bug allows someone with your device to bypass the lock screen using Siri’s VoiceOver feature. The security researcher who discovered that bug demonstrated it in a video in protest of problems with Apple’s Bug Bounty program, according to Apple Insider.

That particular vulnerability requires that someone have access to your device and that Siri be enabled. If you want to make sure your device is secure, you can disable Lock Screen access to Siri in the Touch ID and Passcode settings.

Apple doesn’t force you to update anymore, and iOS users can always choose to stay on iOS 14 by disabling automatic updates and still be supported with security patches until they are satisfied with the quality of the next release.

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