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Benj Edwards is an Associate Editor for How-To Geek. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast. Read more…
Apple announced iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey for iPhone, iPad, and Mac during its annual WWDC keynote in June 2021. iPhone and iPad updates were released on September 20, while we’re still waiting to hear a release date for macOS Monterey. Here’s a look at the most significant new features on each platform.
Apple announced that iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and tvOS 15 will be released on September 20, 2021. Here’s how to install the updates.
Apple has not yet announced when macOS Monterey will be released, but we expect to see it arrive sometime later in fall 2021.
It’s worth noting that while many older devices will be able to run these new OS releases, some of the new features within them (especially those that require machine learning) will likely require some of the newer, higher-powered iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches to work.
Apple announced a large number of new features to the FaceTime app in iOS 15. These include Spatial Audio, which allows for more natural conversations by matching the stereo audio balance with the position of the person speaking on your screen, and Voice Isolation, which uses machine learning to identify and block annoying background sounds.
In iOS 15, FaceTime now offers a grid view for seeing multiple participants in a video call more clearly and a new Portrait Mode that blurs the background behind you so you stand out.
FaceTime links allow you to generate a web link to a FaceTime call that you can share with others so they can easily join in on a call. For the first time, Windows and Android users will be able to join in FaceTime calls using a new FaceTime web interface.
During its WWDC keynote reveal, Apple touted SharePlay as a major new feature that will work across all Apple platforms. SharePlay allows you to easily listen to music or watch movies with friends remotely over FaceTime. You can also share your screen on your device over FaceTime, so you can help with remote troubleshooting or play apps together.
iOS 15 introduces a new feature called Focus that dramatically expands the previously available Do Not Disturb mode. With Focus, you can set notification filters and limit access to apps based on context (such as when you’re sleeping, at home, working, and more) to reduce distractions. Focus can also learn from your habits and suggest filters automatically. Your Focus settings are shared between all of your linked Apple devices.
In a related development, Apple has overhauled the notifications experience on iPhone in iOS 15. Notifications now include contact photos and larger app icons. A new notification summary feature allows you to reduce distractions by silencing and grouping notifications for delivery later at a time of your choice. Notifications from people are prioritized so you don’t miss anything urgent.
Using a new feature called Live Text, your iPhone can now automatically recognize and capture text from the live view of the Camera app, in photos, or in screenshots. That means you can select text in an image and use it to perform a search, call a phone number, or copy and paste it to another app. It understands seven languages.
In a powerful application of machine learning, Visual Look Up allows you to identify plants, paintings, flowers, breeds of pets, books, and more using your Camera app by just pointing your iPhone at what you want to look up.
Thanks to Live Text support, Spotlight can now search for text within images. Spotlight also includes web image search for the first time. And when searching for notable actors, musicians, TV shows, or movies, you’ll now see rich results that feature photos and more information than before.
Safari in iOS 15 gains several major new features. Perhaps most notably, Safari now supports web extensions available through the App Store that will allow third-parties to extend the browser with new features (functionality that has been available on desktop browsers for many years).
Safari is also getting a new streamlined tabs bar that pops up at the bottom of the screen and Tab Groups that allow you to organize your tabs and sync them across your devices or share them with others.
RELATED: Apple Beat Google to Web Extensions on Mobile
The Messages app in iOS 15 features new Memoji customization options and Photo Collections that appear as a stack of images you can easily thumb through if someone shares multiple photos at once.
Also, Apple is introducing a feature called Shared With You that integrates Messages functionality into apps such as Apple News, Photos, Safari, Music, Podcasts, and the TV app. It creates a special “Shared With You” section that lists applicable photos, news, and more than others have shared with you through the Messages app. You can tap each shared item and reply from within the app without having to switch to Messages.
In a major new privacy feature for iOS 15, you can now access an App Privacy Report in the Settings app. The report shows a timeline of which apps have used the privacy permissions you have granted along with a list of which third-party domains they’ve contacted and when they did it.
Apple says this feature will arrive with a future update to iOS 15 (see a tiny footnote at the bottom), so it’s possible it might not be ready until 2022.
RELATED: With iOS 15, the iPhone Stays Ahead of Android in Privacy
In iOS 15, you can now scan your government ID (such as a driver’s license) and store it within the Wallet app with participating U.S. states. Apple is working with the TSA to allow this form of digital ID while boarding a flight. Wallet can also work with vendor-specific ID cards such as those used by Disney’s theme parks.
RELATED: With iOS 15, Can You Finally Ditch Your Wallet?
Wallet now supports car keys with Ultra-Wideband (UWB) that allows unlocking your vehicle without having to remove your iPhone from your pocket or purse. In addition, you can unlock your home, office, or even a hotel room with your iPhone if compatible locks are installed.
Over the years, Apple Maps has grown dramatically in capability, and that trend continues with iOS 15. There’s a new interactive globe, a new detailed view for popular areas that features 3D landmarks placed within the map along with new road colors and labels. Apple has also added more visual map detail to aid with navigation, including renders of complex interchanges in 3D. These features will also come to CarPlay later this year.
For transit riders using Maps, you can now pin your favorite line and keep track of your stops on Apple Watch, getting a notification when you need to disembark. And when you’re on foot, you can use your iPhone camera to scan the area and get step-by-step augmented reality directions.
The Weather app in iOS 15 features a design overhaul that includes animated weather effects (such as moving snow and rain graphics) depending on weather conditions outside. The app also includes full-screen temperature, precipitation, and air quality weather maps.
In iOS 15, Notes introduces an update activity view, the ability to make custom tags for categorizing notes, and the ability to mention other contributors to a shared Notes document.
Photos for iOS 15 brings a new update to Memories that uses machine intelligence to create dynamic slideshows featuring visual filters and music that match the images in the Memory. With Memory Mixes, you can experiment with different filters and music moods on the fly.
In a long-awaited feature, you can now place widgets directly on the home screen in iPadOS 15. (iPhones gained this feature in iOS 14 last year.) Owing to the iPad’s larger screen size, apps now support an even larger widget format for apps such as Files, Photos, and more.
In another update that brings iPadOS into feature parity with the iPhone, iPadOS 15 now includes an App Library screen that helps you quickly manage all of your apps in one place. Like in iOS 14, you can hide home screen pages you no longer need, but unlike the iPhone, you can access the App Library quickly with a special icon on the Dock.
Multitasking on the iPad has been confusing for years with hidden and confusing controls. In iPadOS 15, Apple aims to improve this with a new multitasking control available at the top of the screen. When opened, you can tap icons to choose between Slide Over, Split View, or a new center window mode in some cases.
In addition, there’s a new “shelf” interface that appears at the bottom of the screen (with thumbnails of your open windows) that you can use to quickly switch between open app windows. In iPadOS 15, you can now control multitasking features with new keyboard shortcuts. And you can create split view workspaces directly from the App Switcher screen.
With one swipe in iPadOS 15, a virtual note pad called a “Quick Note” will appear in the corner of your screen. You can type in the note or write directly in it with an Apple Pencil. When you’re done, swipe it away, and the contents will be saved automatically. When you need to recall the Quick Note, just swipe the edge of the screen again.
With iPadOS 15, the Translate app (introduced in iOS 14 last year) finally makes its way to iPad. It includes a new Auto Translate mode that automatically detects another language and begins to translate without the need to tap a button. You can also practice handwriting in another language with Apple Pencil.
You can also translate text system-wide. Select text and tap “translate” in a pop-up menu or translate text within a photo with Live Text.
With Swift Playgrounds on iPadOS 15, you can now build apps for iPhone and iPad directly on your iPad Using SwiftUI. Previously, this kind of development required Xcode on a Mac. Score one for iPad.
iPadOS 15 includes improvements to Messages, Notes, Maps, Safari, and FaceTime similar to iOS 15, including SharePlay, Live Text, Focus, the streamlined Safari tab bar, Safari web extensions, and more.
During its WWDC keynote on June 7th, Apple also announced the next version of its Mac operating system, macOS Monterey. Here’s what’s new.
RELATED: Will macOS Monterey Run on my Mac?
Monterey will receive updates to its built-in apps similar to those outlined for iPhone and iPad above, including improvements to Messages, Maps, Notes, and FaceTime, and Safari. In particular, Safari will receive a streamlined tab bar and support for Tab Groups. FaceTime will support the new SharePlay and Share Screen features, and you’ll be able to create Quick Notes like on iPad.
In addition, macOS Monterey will include the Focus mode that helps prevent distractions (detailed above in the iOS 15 section).
Using a new feature called Universal Control, owners of Apple devices will be able to use a single keyboard and mouse to control multiple Macs or iPads. To set it up, you just place the devices physically beside each other, then move your cursor to the edge of the screen. Once linked, you can seamlessly drag-and-drop files and images across multiple screens to move them between documents or app windows.
For years, Mac users have relied on the Automator app to create macros and automations. With macOS Monterey, Apple is bringing the Shortcuts app (currently on iPhone and iPad) to Macs for the first time. With Shortcuts, you can design powerful multi-step automated actions. During the WWDC keynote, Apple announced that the release of Shortcuts would begin a multi-year transition away from Automator on the Mac.
With each annual OS update, it seems like the worlds of Mac, iPhone, and iPad grow closer together—especially in the era of Apple Silicon. Exciting times ahead!
RELATED: What Is Apple’s M1 Chip for the Mac?
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