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iOS and iPadOS 15 are out today: Here’s a quick rundown of all the key new features

Ben Johnston
20 Sep 2021
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Highlights of iOS and iPadOS 15 include major updates to FaceTime, live text recognition and tools to help boost productivity

Apple has begun rolling out iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 to compatible devices, bringing a whole host of new features and settings for users to play with. Although the new iPhone 13 range is set to be the first new devices to come with the software, owners of existing iPhones and iPads will be able to upgrade from today (20 September).

As with previous iterations, there’s quite a bit of overlap in what’s being offered across iOS and iPadOS 15, with only a few things that are unique to one or the other. We’ll break down the headline features a little further down, but first let’s go over which devices will be able to upgrade to the new OS, and how you go about downloading the update.

iOS and iPadOS 15: Compatible devices

With the announcement of iOS 15, Apple confirmed any iPhone capable of running iOS 14 will be able to upgrade to the new version, with the oldest device included in the upgrade being the iPhone 6S. Not all of those will be able to take full advantage of iOS 15, however, with certain features requiring an A12 Bionic chip or newer; that’s every iPhone from the XR onwards.

iPadOS 15 is a little more straightforward, with no stipulations or restrictions based on the chipset. Supported devices include all models of the iPad Pro, iPad 5th generation and later, iPad Air 2 and later, and iPad mini 4 and later.

For either device, all you need to do to upgrade (providing your device is compatible) is open the Settings app, select General and tap on Software Update.

iOS 15 and iPadOS 15: Features

FaceTime and SharePlay

One of the marquee features of both iOS and iPadOS 15 is the slew of updates coming to FaceTime. There are several audio and visual enhancements included here. Spatial Audio aims to better replicate in-person conversation by spreading out the voices of everyone on a call, giving the impression that the speaker’s voice is coming from the direction in which they are positioned on the screen. There’s also Portrait Mode, which produces a depth-of-field effect to put you in better focus, and Voice Isolation, which uses machine learning to locate and suppress background noises.

This update also brings in the new SharePlay feature, a mode in FaceTime that allows you to experience music, shows and films in sync with others using Apple devices. Controls are universal, so anyone watching can pause to ask a question or rewind to experience a great scene again, and there’s even picture-in-picture, letting you see your friends’ reaction live to a shocking twist or an outstanding guitar solo.

SharePlay is supported across iPhone, iPad and Mac and even extends to Apple TV, so you can watch your favourite shows together on the big screen.

You can also now create shareable links to invite non-iOS users to FaceTime calls, making it easier to connect with friends using Android or Windows devices. The calls remain end-to-end encrypted, so you’re not sacrificing any security for the privilege.

iOS and iPadOS 15 features: Focus and notifications

Another standout addition in iOS and iPadOS 15 is the Focus feature, a selection of tools designed to help reduce distractions and maximise productivity.

Here, you’re able to create custom profiles that can be activated or deactivated at the touch of a button, which filter notifications based on the apps and people you want to hear from. If you have several Apple devices running iOS15, your Focus settings will apply across all of them, so no unauthorised notifications can slip through while you’re trying to concentrate. Focus profiles can be turned on and off from the Control Centre.

The notifications themselves have also seen a few tweaks. These include a redesign to make the information easier to take in at a quick glance (photos of contacts are now included and app icons are larger, for instance), and a new notification summary is delivered daily. You’ll also be able to temporarily mute notifications from any app or messaging thread by swiping them away and tapping Options.

iOS and iPadOS 15 features: Live Text and Spotlight

Something you’ll want to play with straight away when you get iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 installed is Live Text. This new tool is able to recognise text in real time in images across the system, including the camera and Safari.

With it, you can copy, look up and even translate text directly from images, allowing you to quickly copy a Wi-Fi password, call a phone number or open a webpage in Safari just by tapping on the image.

Searching your phone and the web has also been simplified, with the Spotlight feature adding the ability to search photos on your phone and on the internet.

iOS and iPadOS 15 features: Other notable features

The Safari browser has also had a face-lift, bringing the address bar to the bottom of the screen for easier access. It has a new customisable start page; you can now group tabs together; and there’s finally support for Safari extensions.

Apple’s Maps app is being updated with a greater level of detail, bringing in helpful functions such as road-level views of complex intersections and augmented reality walking directions, along with some other ease-of-use tweaks.

Messages now collects together articles, photos and recommendations sent to you by friends in the new Shared with You section, saving you from scrolling back through dozens of messages to find that recipe your friend sent you a month or so back.

And Apple has made further strides in privacy. Mail Privacy Protection is designed to hide your IP address, to keep senders from learning your location and building a profile on you. The new App Privacy Report, meanwhile, provides an overview of how apps have used permitted access to your location, photos, camera, microphone and contacts across the last seven days, and whether they have contacted any outside domains.

iOS 15-specific features

Most of the updates to iOS 15 are shared with iPadOS 15, but there are a couple of small changes specific to iPhones.

The first of these concerns the Weather app, which has had a redesign, including animated backgrounds that more accurately reflect the sun’s position and precipitation levels, and notifications for the start/end of rain and snow.

Finally, while not available outside the US yet, the Wallet app now supports more types of different items, including car and hotel keys, IDs and driving licences.

iPadOS 15 additional features

iPadOS 15 finally brings several iOS 14 features to Apple’s tablet range, including the Translate app, resizable widgets and the App Library.

But it’s the revamp of the Multitasking function that will make the most difference to the way iPad users use their devices. Instead of relying on gestures alone, Apple is adding a new Multitasking control that sits in at the top centre of each open app.

This should allow for easier and more intuitive control over Split View and Slide Over modes and, along with an expanded range of keyboard shortcuts and a redesigned keyboard shortcuts bar, it should be easier than ever to use an iPad with the keyboard alone.

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