- Apple's iOS 15 comes to iPhones this fall, and it includes a lot of fun new FaceTime, iMessage, Safari, Wallet and privacy updates.
- You'll be able to watch Disney+ with friends over FaceTime, for example.
- And, later this year, you'll be able to add your driver's license in some states so you can move through TSA at the airport faster.
Apple's iOS 15 update will bring lots of new features to your iPhone when it launches this fall. Apple announced the latest iPhone software this week during its big annual developer conference, when it highlighted some of the changes.
The update will give you more options for FaceTime video chat including, yes, finally talking with friends on Android. It also brings new privacy features that help protect your email and show you how often apps access things such as your camera and microphone. And later this winter, you may even be able to add your driver's license to Apple Wallet, depending on where you live.
There are a lot of changes, but I'm going to highlight some of the ones that stand out most to me. They're available for developers to test now, and anyone will be able to test a beta version starting in July. Otherwise, expect to see these on your iPhone in the fall. The software will be available for the iPhone 6s and newer.
FaceTime is getting a few new features. One is called SharePlay. Once you start a FaceTime video call with someone, or multiple people, you'll be able to open supported apps such as Disney+, Hulu, TikTok and others, and then watch a movie or TV show together. Viewers can pause or fast forward, and everything will stay in sync. You can even switch to chatting over iMessage while watching or share your screen. It works across iPad, Mac and iPhone.
FaceTime with Android and Windows users
You'll be able to bring Android and Windows friends into your FaceTime video chats. Anyone with a Mac, iPad or iPhone will see a new button to create a link for a FaceTime video, which can be shared with users on non-Apple devices. You'll need to let those users into the chat, too, so you don't have to worry about the link being passed on to other folks and random people showing up in the chat.
Your driver's license in Apple Wallet — and keys, too!
Apple will soon let you store your driver's license in the Apple Wallet app on your iPhone. That means, to start, you won't have to pull out your license to move through TSA at the airport. This feature will come in the winter, and Apple is working to get approval state by state. You'll still need your driver's license in case you get pulled over, since it will only be accepted by the TSA when it launches.
And speaking of the wallet, you'll soon be able to store digital keys to your house in Apple Wallet. If you have a supported HomeKit smart lock at home, or at the office if your workplace offers it, you'll be able to tap your phone to unlock the door. And you'll be able to share temporary or permanent digital keys with visitors.
New iMessage features
The updated iMessage will start to share relevant information in other apps. So, for example, if someone sends you a link to a news story, you'll see that in the "Shared with You" section of Apple News with a reminder of who sent the link. It's convenient if you want to read a story later but don't want to go digging back through hundreds of messages to find the link.
And if someone sends a picture (not a meme or a screenshot), it'll appear in "Shared with You" in Apple Photos. This applies to links in Safari, podcasts, and movies and TV shows in Apple TV. Also, instead of seeing a long list of pictures when someone sends many, you'll get a clean stack of photos you can flip through.
Identify animals, items and plants in photos
Your iPhone will be able to identify and tell you more information about an animal, a landmark, a plant or an object, such as a book. A small icon will appear on top of photos in your gallery and, with a tap, it can identify a pet's dog breed and show you more information, for example. Or it can name a flower with some background on the plant. The feature is similar to the one that's been available on Android phones called Google Lens.
Block out messages and notifications at certain times with Focus
I'm excited for this. A new "Focus" feature will allow notifications only from people and apps you've preapproved at a certain time.
The idea is that, when you just want to sit down and read, or don't want your phone buzzing after a certain hour, you won't see random apps spamming notifications or texts from people you don't need to hear from in the moment. And recipients will see if you're focusing, with a message that says, for example, "Todd has notifications silenced with Focus." If it's urgent, the sender can push the message through anyway.
You can create Focus settings for lots of things: work, play, sleep and more. And each will let you create a custom home screen, so you see only certain apps, while the rest remain accessible. Maybe you create a home screen for work apps and another for apps you use when you're at home, for example.
Big changes to Apple Maps
Apple finished rolling out a full redesign of its Maps app last year, but it's already back with another big update. Among lots of other things, it offers improved driving directions, with more clearly marked lanes, crosswalks and more. And there's a really cool 3D model that shows elevation and points of interest in major cities. The new maps will work in San Francisco first, followed by Philadelphia, New York, London, Washington and Los Angeles before it spreads to other cities.
And speaking of your location, iOS 15 will also provide more public transit information, including real-time alerts for when you need to get off the bus, train or subway. There's even a new augmented reality feature that, like in Google Maps, overlays more information over the real world so you can see where you're going.
Updates to the Safari browser including searching the web by voice
Safari is getting a big update on iPhone, Mac and iPad. It includes a redesign that brings the search bar to the bottom of the page on iPhone; support for saving groups of open tabs, like ones you use for work or for planning a vacation, that you can reopen on any device, and a new option to search the web by voice.
Just tap a microphone button and speak what you want to search for, and Safari takes care of the rest. Also, extensions are supported on iPhones and iPads for the first time, so you can use plug-ins such as Honey to find discount and promo codes while shopping.
Translate, copy and interact with text in photos
Any text in any photo can be copy and pasted or translated. So, if you're reading a menu in another language, you can just take a picture of it and see what it says. Or, you can take a picture of an address or restaurant name and then tap it to get more information in Apple Maps. Another neat example: Take a picture of a package and then click the tracking number to follow where the package is through UPS or FedEx. You can also tap phone numbers in images to call a place right away.
Improved Spotlight search
Spotlight search is the tool you get when you swipe down on the screen to search your iPhone. It's getting big improvements, too. If you search a contact, for example, it'll show you the pictures you've snapped of that person and any text message links that person has sent you. You'll get more information about TV shows, movies, artists and musicians and more.
Apple will tell you even more about how apps are using your phone. A new privacy report will show you how often an app accessed your microphone, location, photos and camera over the last seven days. And it will show you the servers the app is contacting, so you can see if an app might be sending data to lots of other companies or places.
Privacy protections in iCloud+ and Mail
The new software introduces iCloud+, a fancy new name for iCloud. You won't pay more for some of the features, but it includes new benefits. It will hide your online activity using "iCloud Private Relay," which makes it harder for people to see the sites and other places you visit.
A "Hide My Email" feature creates a random email address in forms where you need one to sign up, so the recipient doesn't know your actual one, though you can still receive forwarded emails to your regular address. You'll also get support for as many HomeKit Secure Video cameras as you may have around your house. The 99 cents-per-month plan includes support for one camera, but you can add more depending on your plan.
Siri gets faster
Siri is faster for some tasks in iOS 15. New on-device processing means you can ask Siri to do things such as set timers and alarms, open apps, control music, turn on the flashlight and more, all without requiring an internet connection. That means those tasks should happen right away, instead of with a slight delay. This feature requires the 2018 iPhone XS or newer.
Create legacy contacts so they can access your account when you die
A new "Digital Legacy" program lets you set contacts who will be able to access your account when you pass away. This should make it easier for loved ones to get everything off your device, transfer the ownership of the phone or close an account. It's currently a difficult and confusing process. Also, a new "Account Recovery Contacts" feature lets you designate certain people who will be able to help you change your password in case you ever forget it and get locked out of your account or certain devices.
There's a lot more in iOS 15, including changes to AirPods that can help you hear conversations better, new widgets for Apple Apps, systemwide translation and more. But these were some of the highlights that stuck out to me. Also, remember, sometimes Apple introduces a few new features that require the hardware in the newest iPhones, so expect some other changes in the fall.