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:
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.
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.
This also works with video, which can be streamed to an Apple TV at the same time while 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 the same-size tiles.
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.
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.
Apple also 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. Apple is also adding 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 uses the ultrawide lens.
What features came with iOS 15.3
The iOS 15.3 update was released on January 26, 2022, with Apple focusing primarily on bug fixes and stability improvements. This release didn’t add any significant new features, but it was arguably even more important for fixing some pretty serious security flaws. These alone are a good reason why you should update to iOS 15.3 as soon as possible.
There were a few smaller bugs fixed as well, including an issue with HomeKit Secure Video cameras not refreshing properly and another problem that prevented users from adding multiple COVID-19 vaccination cards for family members who received all their vaccinations on the same dates.
What’s coming in iOS 15.4
Apple released the first beta of iOS 15.4 to developers only a day after the public release of iOS 15.3, and it’s already packing in a few surprises. Most significantly, it looks like Apple is testing a new feature that will allow you to unlock your iPhone with Face ID while wearing a mask. Although a similar feature arrived last year in iOS 14.5, that one required an Apple Watch, and it wasn’t particularly secure. The new feature in iOS 15.4 will work by scanning the upper portion of your face to look for distinguishing features around the area of your eyes. If you wear glasses, however, it looks like you’ll need to train Face ID with some additional scans with them on to make sure your iPhone can still properly identify you when you’re wearing a mask.
iOS 15.4 will also pack in 30 new emojis, a new Home Screen widget for Apple Card users, and improved support for Sony’s DualSense controllers. Improvements to iCloud Keychain will let you add notes to your passwords, and Apple is also beginning a preview of passkey technology, which promises to let you sign into websites without a password. It also looks like digital vaccination cards will be expanding into Europe, with support for the new EU Digital COVID Certificate (EU DCC) format.
Should I update now?
iOS 15 underwent months of beta testing before it was released in September, but a live launch always uncovers new problems. Issues with iOS 15 were addressed within a week of launch, and Apple fixed the most serious bugs with iOS 15.1. Subsequent iOS 15.2 and iOS 15.3 updates have addressed other glitches and security problems, and it’s safe to say it’s quite stable now.
With iOS 15, Apple also allowed folks to remain on iOS 14, promising to deliver important security updates for those who chose not to upgrade right away. That was a limited-time offer, however, and now that iOS 15.3 is out, it’s time to move to iOS 15 or risk being left behind. October’s iOS 14.8.1 update is the end of the road for iOS 14 users, and there are some important security fixes in iOS 15.3 that you may not get unless you make the jump to the latest release.