Every September for the last decade or so, Apple has unveiled a brand new iPhone model. Along with the new hardware comes a refresh of their mobile operating system, iOS. In 2021, iOS 15 will be released to millions of iDevices around the world. It comes with a whole score of new features, updates, and improvements.
Whether you’re unboxing a shiny new iPhone 13 Pro Max, or just updating iOS on an older phone, here are the best new iOS 15 features you should check out.
Facetime With Non-iOS Users
Some of the iPhone’s most popular features are, unfortunately, exclusively for Apple devices. That means things like iMessage and FaceTime are impossible if your friends or family members have non-Apple phones. Thankfully, the cracks are starting to appear on Apple’s “walled garden” approach to technology.
While there’s still no FaceTime app for Android phones or Windows PCs, there’s a workaround in iOS 15. FaceTime users can now create a link and send it to anyone. Clicking the link will bring them into a browser-based video call, similar to Zoom or Google Meet.
You could already switch your iPhone into Do Not Disturb mode, in an effort to avoid being distracted by constant notifications. However, it was merely a simple “on/off” toggle. In iOS 15, Apple expanded on DND Mode by introducing Focus.
This feature allows you to set up multiple scenarios – home, work, driving, or vacation, for example. Then, you can customize your notification rules for each one. That means you can “focus” on work, without feeling the need to pay attention to your Instagram notifications. Focus mode can also automatically let other people know that you’ve got notifications off, so they don’t think you’re purposely ignoring them.
While competing phones may already have a version of this, it’s very typical of Apple to take an existing feature and implement it with the utmost elegance. Live Text uses optical character recognition (OCR) to identify text in photos, screenshots, and other places around your phone.
Say you’re out around town, and you see a poster for some service that you’re interested in. Rather than copy down the phone number, you just take a photo of the whole poster. Live Text will scan the photo for text and numbers, giving you the option to call the number directly. It will also suggest driving directions for photos of addresses.
You’ll barely notice this update unless you specifically go looking for it. Apple has added a universal translation feature, baked directly into iOS. Just highlight any text (in an email, on a webpage, on social media, etc), and choose the “translate” option from the pop-up menu.
You can choose from a wide variety of languages, and even set a favorite default language. Some translations even offer audio samples, in case you’re trying to order dinner while on vacation, for example. You can also download oft-used languages so that every translation doesn’t need an internet connection to ping Apple’s servers.
If you’re waist-deep in the Apple life, you probably have some other expensive technology kicking around. Maybe an iPad or some AirPods. Maybe even a high-end MacBook. If you carry your Apple devices with you every day, say to campus or to work, you certainly don’t want to accidentally leave anything behind.
Apple has introduced separation alerts in iOS 15. Once set-up, your phone will alert you if it detects you’ve moved too far away from your MacBook or AirPods. Hopefully, that means you don’t forget your iPad at the office or your backpack on the subway.
It will also work with Apple’s new AirTag trackers, meaning you can track almost anything. You can turn certain separation alerts off, in case, for example, you never plan to bring your iPad to work.
Smart lists are a great addition for anyone who regularly uses the iPhone’s built-in Reminder or Notes app. The Smart List feature allows you to keep your reminders and notes even more organized.
You can now add tags to your reminders and notes in order to keep them grouped together. Even better, Smart Lists will intelligently group your notes together automatically.
iCloud Burner Emails
Have you ever signed up for an account with a new website and quietly wondered how much spam is going to arrive in your inbox as a result? With iOS (and any paid iCloud+ account, which starts at $1 per month), you can simply generate a temporary email address for any purpose you might have.
The burner email will automatically forward everything to your real email address, while keeping it private from the prying eyes of Big Tech and targeted ads. If you decide you’re done with whatever website or purpose you used the burner email for, you can simply delete it entirely.
Account Recovery Contacts
The security of iDevices has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. These days, a stolen iPhone isn’t good for much (other than spare parts) unless you know the owner’s Apple ID password.
In iOS 15, Apple will finally let you designate one (or more) contacts to be the “key” to your account, if you lose access for some reason. Your recovery contacts won’t have access to any of your data. However, Apple will be able to send them a recovery code which can help you get your own account access back.
Sharing With Siri
This is a nice little quality of life upgrade from Apple. While sharing things via iMessage has always been available, it usually required a couple taps of the screen. Now, if you want to share a photo or an article with a friend (while you’re looking at it), just ask Siri to do it for you.
While viewing something shareable, just say “Hey Siri, share this with my Mom.” Siri will whip the article/photo/song off to your mother in iMessage and let you keep enjoying it.
New Weather App
Technically, it’s still the same weather app that comes with your phone. However, it’s been given a number of serious upgrades. Most of the new features are a result of Apple buying (and then shutting down) the popular weather app Dark Sky. While longtime fans of that app will mourn its death, at least some of the best features are now directly available in iOS.
The improved weather app features slick animations, full-screen weather radars, and next-hour precipitation alerts. You can still set multiple cities as your defaults, in case you frequently travel between places. And of course, you can still have the Weather app use your location to tell you what it’s like outside – no matter where you.
Odds and Ends
There are more neat little upgrades in iOS, but not every single one of them deserves their own subsection. So here’s a short round-up of some other cool surprises you’ll find.
- Use Siri Offline: With the “Offline Siri” feature enabled, you can use Apple’s digital assistant for limited things, without being connected to the internet in any way.
- Find My Airpods: The ‘Find My’ feature is one of Apple’s best, but devices need to be connected to the internet to show up. Now, AirPod Pro and Max headphones will update their location too, as long as they are near another Find My device.
- Temporary iCloud Storage: Switching to a new device can be a pain, especially if you don’t have room in your iCloud to store a backup of your old device first. The 5GB that Apple offers for free is hardly enough. In iOS 15, you’ll get a temporary boost in your storage anytime you’re switching to a new phone – enough to make the backup and get all your data on your new device.
Features That Are Delayed
Apple had a few other new features planned for iOS, but they just didn’t quite get them polished in time to include in the debut of the new operating system. Here are a few things you can look forward to hitting your iDevice in the near future.
- ID in Wallet: Apple is working with the TSA to include official State IDs to your Apple Wallet. That would include your driver’s license or other government issued ID.
- Legacy Contacts: You’ll soon be able to identify a legacy contact, responsible for managing (or deleting) your data after you pass away.
- App Privacy Report: Apple has been touting their anti-tracking initiatives for a while now. They plan to introduce a feature that lets you see exactly what data your various apps are keeping track of, letting you make informed decisions about using them.