iPhones are currently on iOS 15—well, if you've updated your iPhone since last September. This version adds an easier way to use Safari, preconfigured modes to instantly change your home screen setup, and huge upgrades to FaceTime, among dozens of other new features. However, the latest iOS 15.4 version adds a few extras, like Face ID that can recognize you even with a face mask on. We break down all the top features here, but first, here's how to download it.
Updated March 2022: We've added details on iOS 15.4.
Is Your iPhone Compatible?
If you have an older iPhone, you might be wondering if it supports iOS 15. Well, if it's an iPhone 6S (2015) or newer, then your device has made the cut. But you should also know that features like Portrait mode on FaceTime, Live Text, augmented reality directions in Maps, and spatial audio, among others, will only work on iPhones powered by an A12 Bionic chip or newer. That means you'll need an iPhone XS or newer to make the most out of the update.
How to Install iOS 15
Before installing iOS 15, back up your iPhone. Backing up is simple if you do it via iCloud. Head to Settings. Tap on your name at the top and then tap iCloud. Scroll until you see iCloud Backup and toggle it on if it isn't already. If it's already on, tap Back Up Now to force a fresh backup. If you go back to the previous page, you can toggle off things you don't want to back up. This is the easy way to back up your device. If you don't have enough iCloud storage, our How to Back Up Your iPhone guide goes into other options.
Time to install iOS 15. (Note: You might see the option to install an even newer version, like iOS 15.4, which usually fixes bugs and adds a few extra features.) First, plug your iPhone into a charger—such a heavy-duty update eats up a good amount of battery life. Make sure you're connected to Wi-Fi, unless you're using a computer to install it. Then head over to Settings > General > Software Update. Tap on iOS 15 and choose Download and Install. Once that's done, tap Install Now and your iPhone will automatically begin updating. Once it cycles through the process and the device restarts, you're all set. It'll take some time, so try not to do it when you need to use your phone for something important.
What's New in iOS 15.4?
You can scroll down to find some of the broader new features in iOS 15. We're first taking a look at what Apple just added.
Face ID With a Mask
The feature we've all been waiting for since the pandemic began is finally here: the ability to unlock your iPhone while wearing a face mask. To enable it, head to Settings > Face ID & Passcode and toggle on Use Face ID With a Mask. The process is similar to setting up a standard Face ID profile, but since the feature is capturing the area around your eyes for authentication, you'll have the option to add glasses (sunglasses not included). For Face ID to work properly with a mask on, you'll have to look directly at your iPhone to unlock it.
More Emoji to Choose From
If you're getting tired of cycling through your “frequently used emoji,” you're in luck. With iOS 15.4, you're blessed with tons of new options. We're talking seven new smiley emoji (including melting face, saluting face, face holding back tears, and face with peeking eye), gender-neutral emoji, new hand gestures, and more diverse handshakes, as well as new objects and symbols. You can see the complete list from Emojipedia here.
A New Siri Voice
Last year, Apple added two new Siri voices to its roster as part of its commitment to diversity and inclusion. The latest update adds a gender-neutral option that you can set as Siri's default tone. To change Siri's voice on your device, go to Settings > Siri & Search > Siri Voice and tap on Voice 5.
AirTag Safety Features
To reduce unwanted tracking with AirTags, Apple has made a few changes, with more on the way later this year. For starters, you'll now get privacy warnings when setting up an AirTag, including a message that states the Bluetooth trackers are specifically meant for tracking belongings and should not be used to track people without their consent. It also lets users know that law enforcement can request any identifying information tied to the Airtag, like an Apple ID or serial number. Apple has also updated its support documentation, with helpful tips and explanations regarding unwanted tracking alerts and disabling AirTags.
For future updates, Apple is working on a “display alert with sound” feature—where an AirTag will emit a sound after a set period (typically 8 to 24 hours) and an alert will appear on iPhones near it, with the option to play the sound again or use the precision finding feature to locate it. Apple is planning to update its alert system to notify users sooner when an unknown AirTag is tracking them while also increasing the volume when the tracker's sound goes off.
Tap to Pay
This is more for small businesses, but Apple's Tap To Pay lets business owners accept contactless payments without the need for a third-party service—like Square or Venmo. Using an iOS app and an iPhone XS or later, merchants can have customers check out with Apple Pay and/or contactless debit and credit cards via the business's own iPhone or Apple Watch. This feature is currently only available in the US to participating payment platforms, starting with Stripe, with additional apps to follow later this year.
Own an iPad and a Mac? You can now interact with both devices using one mouse and one keyboard, thanks to Universal Control with iPadOS 15.4. Rather than relying on Apple's SideCar feature to turn your iPad into a secondary screen, Universal Control lets you run iPadOS and MacOS simultaneously on each device. You can move your cursor between both screens and type and drag and drop content—without any cables.
The Top iOS 15 Features
Below you'll find many of the features Apple launched last fall.
A Fancier FaceTime
Apple's video-calling app received some major upgrades in iOS 15, making it closer in features to videoconferencing services such as Zoom and Google Meet. For starters, there's a grid view for multiperson chats that works like Zoom's conference calls. There's also a Portrait mode—like the similar feature in the Camera app, it keeps your face in focus but blurs out your messy room in the background. You can also create FaceTime links to share and invite others to a video chat, and these can be added to your calendar. Those with the link can join calls through Google Chrome or Microsoft's Edge browser, even if they're using an Android phone or a Windows laptop. (The calls are still end-to-end encrypted.)
Video calls sound more natural too, with FaceTime using spatial audio to space out sounds based on where your friends are on the grid view of a group call, making it feel more like you're all in a room. And there are two new options for the microphone: Voice Isolation and Wide Spectrum. The former will cut out all ambient noise so the person on the other end just hears your voice. The latter will try to pick up all sounds in your surroundings.
New Ways to Focus
If you've ever felt overwhelmed by the endless list of notifications on your iPhone, help has arrived. In iOS 15, notifications have a new look and you have new ways to manage them. There are contact photos for your messages, larger icons for notifications that come from apps, and a new Do Not Disturb mode to silence them all. When you don't want to be interrupted, your friends and family will see when you have Do Not Disturb turned on in Messages, exactly like a status update. They can still send a message through, just as with the similar mode in Slack.
A new Notification Summary function lets you check unimportant alerts at specific times of day, like in the morning or evening. It's powered by on-device machine learning that identifies your phone usage patterns and parses which notifications should fall under the summary and when to deliver them to you. Don't fret—your messages and missed phone calls won't fall into Summary. You also have to opt into it. Head to Settings > Notifications > Scheduled Summary to check it out.
Perhaps the best new feature is a way to organize your entire iPhone's home screen to match your mood. You can choose between profiles like Work, Personal, and Sleep (or create up to 10 Focuses), and your home screen will show apps and widgets related to that mode. So if it's 9 am and you switch to Work, you can customize your home screen to show work apps, widgets, and messages from coworkers only. These modes can be turned on for an hour, start when you enter or leave a specific location, or be timed to your calendar events.
You'll still be able to access all your apps via the App Library, or you can turn the Focus off at any time. Uniquely, your friends and family will be able to see that you're in a Focus when you don't want to be disturbed via the Messages app, but a Status API allows any messaging app to implement this functionality.
Live Text, Photo Memories, and Better Safari
One of the coolest features in iOS 15 is Live Text, and it's tied to upgrades in your device's computer vision technology. Point your camera app at anything with text and you'll see a text icon on the bottom right. That'll let you highlight the text so you can easily copy and paste it to another app. This works for images with text in your Photos library too—just tap the same text icon on the bottom right. If there's a phone number in the photo or an address, Live Text will turn it into a link so you can tap it. Phone numbers seamlessly launch in the phone dialer, and the address opens in Maps.
Perhaps a little stranger is an integration between Apple Music and the Photos app. When you open the Photos app and go to the For You tab, you'll be greeted with a new version of Memories—this feature automatically generates a mini-movie of specific trips or events and chooses a relevant song from Apple Music (but only if you have a subscription to the music service). You can customize the movie as you view it by changing up the pace, switching songs, changing filters, or swapping images. It's not far off from a Google Photos feature introduced in 2018, but Apple gives you far greater control with music integration here.
Safari is now easier to use with one hand. The URL bar is now situated on the bottom, and it hides away when you scroll to maximize your screen's real estate. You'll notice Safari looks a lot more like the interface on MacOS or your iPad on the new tab page—there's your favorite websites, reading list, and content shared with you. You can easily swipe through tabs and group them together. And finally, Safari extensions are now available in iOS. These are accessed through the App Store, though that's up to the app's developer.
With SharePlay, you'll be able to share movies, music, Fitness+ workouts, and your screen with anyone you're FaceTiming with. Want to listen to a new album with your friend? You can bring in tunes from Apple Music. Maybe you want to watch a movie with your long-distance partner while video chatting? Easy. You can AirPlay the movie to your TV at the same time to watch it on the big screen. You can read more about how to use SharePlay in our guide.
Apple says any developer with a content streaming app can add support, and services like Disney+, HBOMax, ESPN+, and TikTok are already available. The implementation gives developers a lot of control. For example, if both video call users are trying to stream a movie on Disney+, Disney could allow the other user to sign up for a free trial, allow one free movie per month to stream to anyone via SharePlay, or block access completely if neither party has an account. It's the developer's choice.
The improved version of Apple Maps the company introduced in 2020 has rolled out to four new countries: Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Australia. Apple's map data is getting even more detailed in iOS 15. You'll find more street-level details in commercial districts, elevation information in cities, and custom designs for landmarks like San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. When driving, Maps now shows highway interchanges in 3D so you have a better idea of exactly which lane you need to be in. With CarPlay, you also can see details like medians, turn lanes, taxi lanes, bike lanes, and pedestrian crosswalks. The feature works in supported cities, which include New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington, DC.
If you ride public transit, Maps will tell you when to get off, and once you've hopped off the bus or are outside the subway station, you can point your phone at the buildings in front of you to have Apple's augmented reality show you the way. It's similar to AR Live View in Google Maps.
Shared With You
Select items that your friends share in Messages now sit in a new “Shared With You” section in certain apps. For example, if someone shares several photos of a trip you were part of, these images will reside in the new Shared With You section in the Photos app. If you are sent a news article, you can find it in a Shared With You section in Apple News. The idea is to give you another opportunity to see what your friends and family members sent, in case you didn't have time to look at it earlier. Shared With You sections are available in Apple Photos, News, Podcasts, Safari, TV, and Music.
When you use Spotlight, the search bar that pops up when you swipe down on the home screen, you'll notice a fresh design with more details when you search for contacts, celebrities, and movies. Plus you can search for your photos through it and use it to install new apps. You can now access it right from the lock screen too, simply by swiping down on the display.
With Apple's Health App, you can now share your health data with family members or caregivers. That way, they can easily keep an eye on metrics and receive notifications for any unusual trends over time. There's also a new Walking Steadiness metric that routinely analyzes your risk of falling.
You can store your Covid-19 test results and vaccination records in the app too. If a specific medical location or vaccine provider doesn't support this feature, you can download the record using a QR code or browser and store it in the Health app to access whenever. If you have successfully added your vaccination record, the app can now create a vaccination card in the Wallet app, so you can easily flash it before entering restaurants or other businesses.
App Privacy Report
Available by heading to Settings > Privacy > Recent App Activity, this feature shows which apps have been accessing your camera, microphone, location, and photos over a seven-day period. It also highlights which third-party domains the app has contacted so you can truly see where your data is going. You can read more about how to read your App Privacy Report here.
This new service is available to anyone who subscribes to iCloud already, with no changes in pricing (you probably got an email about it last September). It adds the ability for you to generate one-off burner emails when you're signing up for a service on the web; expands HomeKit Secure Video support; and adds a feature called iCloud Private Relay (currently available in beta with a final version coming later), which encrypts all the internet traffic leaving your device so that no one can view your data, somewhat like a virtual private network.
Communication Safety in iMessage
To protect children from viewing and sharing photos that contain nudity, Apple has added an iMessage safety feature. If a child with an iPhone receives a sexually explicit photo on iMessage, the photo will be blurred and a warning will appear. The child will also receive a pop-up with options that include blocking the contact, leaving the conversation, and accessing additional safety resources online. Anyone 13 years old and under will also be prompted to message a parent or guardian.
Apple's feature for detecting child sexual abuse materials (CSAM), on the other hand, has yet to roll out. Essentially, Apple can scan hashes of images (not the image itself) uploaded to iCloud Photos on your iPhone or iPad with CSAM hashes in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. If the company detects a specific number of CSAM images, these photos can be viewed by Apple moderators and will then be reported to the NCMEC. However, after significant backlash over privacy concerns regarding these new features, Apple has delayed them. You can read more about it all here.
Apple Music Voice Plan
Apple has expanded its music streaming service with a new subscription tier called the Apple Music Voice Plan. Rather than manually searching through Apple Music, you can use the new tier to request songs using Siri. For $5 a month, you have access to 90 million songs, along with a variety of playlists and Apple Music Radio. The feature is compatible with your iPhone, AirPods, HomePod Mini, and other Apple devices, as well as CarPlay, but the catch is that you need to make all your song requests through Siri.
Other New Features
There are tons of other features in iOS 15. Here are a few more that stand out:
ProRes Video: If you have an iPhone 13 Pro or Pro Max, iOS 15.1 added the ability to record ProRes video, which you can turn on by heading to Settings > Camera > Formats > ProRes. Then, in the camera app, you'll see a ProRes option in the video tab. This format gives you greater control when editing, but the file sizes are much larger.Auto Macro Toggle: In the iPhone 13 Pro models, the camera switches lenses when you get close to a subject to enable macro mode, but sometimes it keeps switching back and forth. To prevent this, you can toggle the Auto Macro feature off (Settings > Camera > Auto Macro). To enable Macro, you'll need to manually switch to the ultrawide camera and move close to a subject.iCloud Backup: You can temporarily back up your data to iCloud, even if you don't have enough storage, to transfer your data to a new iPhone.Weather: Apple bought the popular Dark Sky weather app in 2020, and it looks like we're finally seeing the fruit of that acquisition. The Weather app has a fresh design, with more detailed graphics, a background that more precisely changes to current weather conditions, and access to high-resolution weather maps.Messages: Rather than scrolling through one long message of multiple photos, iMessage now neatly organizes numerous images (sent simultaneously) into a stack you can swipe through. To view all of them at once, you can also tap on the collage icon.Visual Look Up: Just like Google Lens, you can point the camera at landmarks, plants, pets, or books and get information about whatever you're looking at.Mail Privacy Protection: This feature prevents senders from seeing if you opened an email, and it hides your IP address and location.Siri: Talking to Siri in iOS 15 is more secure than ever because now your audio doesn't leave your device. You can control a variety of on-device functions without an internet connection, like asking Siri to turn on Dark mode or set an alarm, and it'll run much faster.Find My: You can now find your AirPods Pro or AirPods Max through the Find My app feature.Digital Legacy: With Digital Legacy, personal information and sensitive data stored in your iCloud will be passed to assigned Legacy Contacts if you were to pass away. These contacts will have access to a digital key (along with a physical copy you can store in your will) on their devices for access to a death certificate and downloadable documents and photos.Hide My Email: If you're subscribed to iCloud+, you can create unique email addresses in the Mail app. That way, you can keep your email address private when signing up for apps, newsletters, coupon codes, and more.iPadOS 15
iPadOS 15 shares the same DNA as iOS, which means it has many of the aforementioned features. But Apple debuted a stand-alone name in 2019 for a reason. Here are a few iPad-specific perks (and two also available on iOS).
Multitasking received a small boost—at the top of the screen, a new menu lets you quickly toggle on Split View or Slide Over, no swiping needed. Swipe down on it and the app will move to the edge, letting you see the home screen to choose a new app to open alongside it. Whenever you want to switch apps, swipe down on the app to choose something else from the home screen. If you want to cycle between multiple app windows, you can put your instances into a new area called the shelf. These multitasking options support new keyboard shortcuts so you don't need to tap the iPad's screen to utilize them.
The Notes app has turned into something that sort of resembles Google Docs. You can now mention your contacts in shared notes and they'll get an alert, you can add tags for organization, and there's an activity view to see exactly what has changed in the note. The best new perk? Quick Note. It turns Notes into a systemwide feature you can access anywhere on the iPad. Just swipe in from the corner to see a Post-It-like notepad you can use to jot your thoughts down quickly.
The most visual feature is the ability to place widgets anywhere on the home screen, just like you can on your iPhone. There are larger widgets to make use of the more copious screen real estate, and Apple has even brought the App Library over so you're not left dealing with dozens of home pages. You can access the App Library from the iPad's dock.
Language translation has received an overhaul too. Now the Translate app automatically knows when someone is speaking and will translate the conversation in real time, no need to tap a screen. Translations now work systemwide too. Just select text and tap Translate in the context menu to convert it. This is also available on iOS.
Coming SoonDigital Wallet
Apple's Digital Wallet improvements in iOS 15 have been delayed to early 2022. The idea is to be able to add various types of digital keys. You may already be able to add your car key (depending on the model), but soon you will also be able to add a home key if you use a smart lock, an access card to enter your office, or a hotel room key—Apple says Hyatt is rolling out this functionality to 1,000 properties worldwide, and, yes, you will be able to tap your Apple Watch to enter your room.
Even better, you'll be able to scan your driver's license with the iPhone's camera and add it to the Wallet app. This is only available in participating states, starting with Arizona and Georgia. It will later become available in Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah. One of the first places you'll be able to make use of your digital ID is the airport; Apple says the Transportation Security Administration is enabling checkpoints that support the feature.
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