Since September 20, 2021, Apple has made the new iOS 15 mobile operating system available as a free download for its compatible iPhones. NextPit shows you what the new software is capable of, which iPhone models work best with it, and how you can install the update on your iPhone.
We have compiled all information about iOS 15 for you in this article, ranging from how to obtain the latest update to all of its new features.
- Notification / Message Center
- Find my?
- Our favorite features
- Supported devices
- iOS 15 updates
Focus is a basic way of filtering messages, calls, and apps on the iPhone. Your iPhone will also be able to learn over time just what situation you are in, suggesting the appropriate corresponding option for Focus. For example, if you regularly go to bed at around 10:30 pm, the iPhone takes note of that in iOS 15 while shifting the focus to sleep.
You can also set custom options for Focus in addition to Work, Time for Me, and Do Not Disturb. With a set focus, others who would want to contact you will receive a notification that you are currently unavailable, now how about that? This will definitely inform others that you do not want to be disturbed at the moment, which allows them to be aware of your situation and make changes accordingly.
For me, Focus is one of those features whose true potential will only be realized after some time. I've been running iOS 15 for a few weeks now and use Focus every now and then. Before I dive into it a bit more, let's talk about the basic functionality first:
Focus is, in the broadest sense, an extension of the previously familiar Do Not Disturb feature. Once it is activated, your Apple device will no longer receive messages or calls to distract you. Basically, you won't receive any more notifications, where it applies to all your devices that have an Apple ID. For instance, if you set your Mac to Do Not Disturb, that status will also apply to your iPhone or iPad. This is especially handy when you're in a meeting or want to concentrate on your work, or simply want to get a good night's sleep without being disturbed.
Configuring Focus is not that easy
The main challenge of Focus, however, lies in configuring it right. If you did not set up the modes correctly, it could work against you by not receiving any more incoming calls even if you are in "work" mode, which means that an all-important call from a boss or an important client would unintentionally land in your phone voicemail.
Another feature that is worth mentioning is Live Text. If you were to snap a photo with your iPhone, the iPhone is capable of recognizing plenty of helpful information using its on-device intelligence. With OCR (Optical Character Recognition) running on the iPhone itself, you can extract or highlight text from an image to send an email directly to an address, look up directions, or even make a phone call.
All of this even works straight from the camera app itself. However, it's not easy to locate this feature. If the camera recognizes text, a small icon appears of which you have to tap. The iPhone will then extract the targeted text and offer additional options for you to explore.
Live Text will let you quickly and conveniently extract and reuse text. The Apple OCR can even recognize handwritten recipes and the recognized text can be translated directly into another language with a single click.
Object recognition in images and visual lookup
Something that also did not work reliably in the current beta version is visual lookup. The iPhone is able to recognize photographed objects like art, landmarks, plants, books, or even pets, and by clicking on them where you can obtain additional background information.
The potential is definitely there: Inconvenient Internet searches for photographed objects will no longer be required in the future and can be accomplished with a single click. If you think about this function a little further, you can imagine using this alongside augmented reality or potentially wearing a form of Apple Glasses. Such a feature allows Apple to further train and improve its own artificial intelligence technology.
And, yes - such a function has existed on Android courtesy of Google for a very long time now. However, artificial intelligence has mainly been on the server side all this while, where images are sent to Google's servers to have the AI algorithm analyze the image before returning its results.
Apple decided to do this locally on your own device for privacy reasons, which means pictures and especially your data will never leave your device. This means you can even enjoy this feature even if you do not have access to the Internet at the moment, although I do think that such limitations would end up with less accurate or poorer results as there is only so much information your iPhone can store at any one time.
There are also new possibilities that can be applied to Spotlight. The internal search feature will also work with information that is contained within images. Search also offers more comprehensive search results for artists, people in entertainment, TV shows, movies, and even among my contacts.
In the (near) future, if I want to find (as much as possible) all pictures with dogs in them, all I have to do is enter the word "dog" and I'll be presented with all pictures, in addition to all kinds of other results, that either depict a dog or have the word dog in them. For instance, pictures can also have the word dog on them somewhere in a very small area of the image and also show up in the search results.
Actually, this upgrade is independent of iOS 15 when it comes to paying iCloud customers, but Apple announced both features at the same time, with iOS 15 being a minimum requirement in order to take full advantage of everything Apple offers.
Apple had always recognized that privacy and data protection are important assets. This is especially true as the smartphone increasingly becomes our most important everyday tool when it comes to personal data, hence it is only logical for Apple to place even more emphasis on the issue of data security. With iCloud+, all iCloud customers will automatically be upgraded at no additional cost. Apple will be adding a number of privacy features to boot, tacking on to what we already know.
Private Relay is a VPN of sorts but it works very differently. Data traffic including the destination address is first sent in an encrypted form from the Safari browser to an iCloud server. Over there, the IP address will be exchanged for another from the same region. This prevents an exact localization without fooling another server with a completely false location on the other side. Once the IP address has been exchanged, the Apple server will send the request to a second server that belongs to an Apple partner. This server will decrypt the destination address while forwarding the request there.
This way, Apple knows just which users it is dealing with but does not know their destination. The Apple partner will neither know the user nor the exact IP address to boot.
Hiding email addresses and email privacy in general
Many users are probably unaware that whenever they open their e-mails, some information is often transmitted to the sender in the background, including whether the e-mail has been read, the IP address of the recipient, or something similar.
iOS 15 and Apple's very own Mail application will prevent this from happening in the future. This is especially true with advertising emails and is highly recommended because in this way, you can prevent your advertising profile from being formed.
Apart from that, there is a unique function known as Hide email address. Apple will integrate this feature in iCloud+ so that it can instantly create unique and random email addresses, which in turn are linked to your own personal mailbox. This way, you no longer have to enter your actual email address when filling out a form or subscribing to a newsletter.
Experiencing things together - that's what FaceTime is supposed to dive into more in the future. In addition to a number of improvements such as 3D audio (individual voices will sound as though they were coming from the direction of the person speaking) and the ability to share one's own screen or portrait mode (only the face will be focused) that comes in handy during a video call, Apple has plans to include these functions in iOS 15 that are meant to encourage people to experience iPhone and Apple content together.
In addition, calls can now happen even with Android smartphones. Using an invitation link, owners of a non-Apple smartphone can also jump into a call.
SharePlay allows you to play your favorite music, a movie, or a TV show during a FaceTime call in a shared experience. Through synchronized playback, all participants are always at the same level, making it feel as though everyone was in the same room. For SharePlay work really well, all participants must have the same subscription for said content, such as movies. So it's not enough for one person on the call to have purchased a movie or be an Apple TV+ subscriber and share the content with other participants.
Whether it is enjoying a movie, listening to the music together, or sharing your screen, people can continue to carry out normal conversations in the background, just like a regular video call.
SharePlay has its own set of challenges
For me, SharePlay is a nice feature by itself, and I'm sure many people, especially the younger generation, would like to take advantage of it. However, it might not be easy to organize a watch party in reality. This requires all participants in a call to have a subscription to the music/video streaming service, and not everybody might have the luxury of doing so. Younger people in particular, have different age ranges and might not have the purchasing power to enjoy a monthly subscription, where age restrictions might be in place for certain movies due to their rating, not forgetting that not everyone has a Netflix, Sky or Apple+ subscription.
Who doesn't know this feeling: Once you have placed your smartphone down for a while and return to it later, you are surprised by an entire screen of notifications. As with the new Focus feature, Apple is taking the digital decluttering route when it comes to notifications. This means that a flood of messages will no longer make it to your lock screen on their own.
But more importantly, iOS 15 offers you notifications to be grouped together within a customizable section. At selected times, the iPhone will compile a beautifully designed report that has been customized to suit your personal agenda, with the most important notifications remaining at the top.
New messages will also obtain a brand new look, featuring photos of the contact as well as a larger app icon. This is supposed to make it quicker and easier to figure out just what the notification is all about.
The Photos app will receive a comparatively major update that carries a lot of changes overall. Also, the camera app now lets you turn off the Night mode and prevents it from automatically turning on.
Memories - This feature will let your iPhone suggests photos gleaned from your photo database, and will now be a whole lot more interactive.
In iOS 15, Apple will further expand the Retrospective slideshow by expanding the categories to include people, places, or even specific trips while generating videos with new effects automatically and integrating it with Apple Music. The iPhone will automatically set a soundtrack from Apple Music to go with your throwback videos, although you can also manually and individually customize the tracks from the Apple Music library itself.
Memories is something that I've regularly used, if not daily, ever since it was introduced. Not only do the montages have new effects that are really impressive, there are also new themes released almost on a daily basis where photos and videos from my library have been assigned to. Sometimes it's travel, events, pictures of the day that have been 'summarized' over a longer period of time or concerning a specific person.
Once a particular throwback of memories is completed, my iPhone will immediately offers me the next one and it is all-too-common for me to take a look at five, six, or even seven of the automatically generated Memories at a stretch.
On-device intelligence in photos
Apple will use metadata in our photos with iOS 15, with a lot of it relying on the device's local AI and not just in the Memories feature that we discussed earlier.
With Live Text available in existing photos and also directly in the camera, text of any kind can be used and processed within the app itself. The option to translate this text directly should be an interesting one for many people, especially when they are on vacation at a destination where the language is foreign to them. For instance, you can always snap a photo of a recipe in a cookbook elsewhere, before translating the text and pasting it in a file somewhere for your own future reference.
As we already explored in the Live Text section, this function still carries some weaknesses. However, the anomalies continue to be weeded out in the beta phase, and it is just a matter of time until Live Text ends up as an indispensable helper for many.
Unfortunately, the fundamental changes in Maps are not available to us in Europe (or only to a limited extent), as it will initially be USA-centric. City views have been improved vastly with 3D models of the buildings, specially marked walking and biking paths, parks, and even trees. Unfortunately over here in Europe, no cities have received this treatment just yet. However, it is probably only a matter of time until cities in this country will also be shown in all of the new Apple Maps glory. After all, it was just last month where people in major German cities have begun mapping out the details using a 360-degree camera.
Where navigation is concerned, the view has also experienced a significant change and improvement. There is a whole lot more detail to take in, not only in terms of buildings, but also when it comes to lanes, pedestrian crossings, and bike lanes.
Also not forgetting those who rarely hop into a car but take public transport or get around on foot, you can obtain directions as an augmented reality option.
For public transport, stops and journey times for certain routes can be accessed. If you have a regular route, you can always pin them at the top of the window for easier access.
Those in the US can definitely be pleased with the growing possibilities surrounding the Wallet app. Before the end of the year, it will be possible to store ID cards and driver's licenses in certain states. Even when you are traveling by air, identification via iPhone or Wallet will be sufficient. Wallet will also see future integration at public entrances, offering access to hotel rooms or even rental cars.
Hence, this shows Apple's dogged persistence in pursuing the strategy of making the iPhone the most personal device that you can own.
Due to the lack of a Wallet-enabled car and other corresponding options, we have not yet been able to test this feature out. As with Apple Pay, the new options for Wallet will also gradually be made available outside of the US. Needless to say, if it takes off in Apple's home country, it will most probably be equally important elsewhere on the globe in the future.
With the 15.4 update, Apple added support for the European Union Digital COVID Certificate (EU DCC) in the Wallet and Health Apps. The feature scans and stores the QR Code used as an immunization or test certificate in selected countries.
Apple treats its Safari browser to an update that amounts to nothing more than a radical new design. The change is so extensive, so much so that we would love to talk about the new iPhone browser in detail in a separate article.
In addition to the fact that the address bar has been relocated from the top of the screen to the bottom, floating above the page or disappearing after a certain time, Safari will boast of three main innovations which we have listed below.
New Tab Bar design
In order to be able to navigate efficiently using just one hand, Apple has redesigned the tab bar. Instead of having to click a button as before, you can now quickly swipe back and forth between tabs or switch to the full overview with a simple swipe gesture.
It's actually much easier to navigate and access the different windows within the new browser. However, switching to the new Safari version does take some getting used to. Many people probably feel the same way as I do, as they instinctively orient themselves upwards when keying in an address. In the meantime, I have adapted and think that it was a good idea to implement the new tab bar in a sensible manner.
New design of the tab overview and tab groups
If you like to organize your bookmarks or open many tabs, then you should be extremely pleased with the new version. Tabs can be grouped together in order for you to quickly switch between groups.
Once a group (or groups) is created, groups can be accessed across all Apple devices, allowing you to navigate on the Mac or iPad just as you were on the iPhone.
I myself am rather pragmatic when it comes to tabs: I open a page and if I need a new window, I don't search for it, but would rather do so in a new window. Every now and then I would close all tabs at once. Of course, this is a personal preference for individual users.
Safari receives extensions or plugins
"Finally!", you say. After plugins have been a common feature in other browsers for a long time, it is now Safari's turn to obtain extensions. Apple is working on a separate area for that in the App Store.
The number of currently available extensions is still small, but it is just a matter of time before more and more of these end up in the App Store and eventually, on our browsers.
News will also receive a slew of new features, where most of them will fill a niche that is old hat on the likes of Telegram, WhatsApp, and other instant messaging apps.
Shared with you
Shared media content such as photos, videos, links, or apps will appear in a new section of the respective apps under Shared with you. From there, you can also send messages directly to the person who sent you something without having to launch Messages.
This feature is very useful by itself. However, the integration does not quite feel that well-executed. I myself had to continue searching for it in Photos, Safari, or Music. While you can quickly find shared content in Messages with the corresponding contact, the Shared with you option is not quite as easy to find in the other apps.
When sending multiple images, iOS will now create a collage of sorts, or a group of them, which you can scroll through by swiping. By tapping the group, the group will expand where you can then view them individually or save the images that you like to your own library.
The iPhone's Weather app will also receive cosmetic changes after having received a facelift. In addition to having more weather-centric data displayed, there are now newer graphics, including new full-screen weather maps and a dynamic layout that depends on what the current weather is like at a particular location. There's also a small area of the display that depicts the current position of the sun, one for wind, barometric pressure, and a few others.
There are a whole lot more changes and features to come with iOS 15 where Health is concerned. There is an update in the Health app, with Notes boasting a feature known as Shared with you, which is also a staple in other instant messengers such as WhatsApp and Telegram - where links, photos, and other content that are shared with me can be filtered when displayed. This option will be integrated into Photos, Safari, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and the TV app.
With Where is, you can now also locate devices that have been turned off or even deleted from your list. This works via the so-called Find My network from Apple. Here, virtually all Apple devices serve as "sniffers" and will send the location of other devices to iCloud servers. This guarantees a high degree of protection when it comes to your own data.
Apple is also adding Find My support to the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. There's also a widget that instantly shows key locations at a glance.
In the future, if you share the location with friends or family, you can view a live view of their movements. Previously, a person's location would only be updated once every few seconds, which does not allow you to track their speed or direction accurately.
For those who Notes also use on iPad, iOS 15, and iPadOS 15, you can look forward to a wide range of improvements. I'll say it upfront, Notes is personally one of the best improvements that Apple will offer this year in terms of productivity.
On iOS, the improvements are less noticeable than on the iPad. However, even on the iPhone, it's now much easier to integrate and edit spreadsheets. If you are collaborating with others, you can also mention people directly and notify them in that manner.
In order to make it easier to find and organize notes, you can now assign tags to notes. Notes can be quickly filtered out and located via a search browser.
Notes has been an app that did not make it to my list of favorite apps when it comes to capturing thoughts and ideas. However, it has been bumped up my list with this release. On an almost daily basis, I use the app. For this reason alone, I will dedicate a separate article to it soon.
Apple has significantly stepped up its efforts to improve user privacy across the board with iOS 15, which will also apply to Siri.
Instead of sending Siri requests to Apple servers as before, all processing is performed directly on the device via the Neural Engine. In addition to an increased level of security, this will also improve the AI response speed - at least theoretically in most cases.
What I personally really liked is the fact that Siri will be able to learn better and correctly recognize names that I use on a frequent basis. If I dictated the name "Mia" in the past, Siri always processed it as "me". Since iOS 15, that hardly ever happened to me anymore.
Siri will also maintain the context between one query and the next. This allows Siri to retain information from the prior question in a subsequent question.
If one uses AirPods, Siri can announce reminders or calls through your wireless earbuds. This means you no longer have to look at your device display, and you can also accept a call directly via voice command if you have your AirPods on.
Siri also offers greater neural text-to-speech voice support in iOS 15 in more languages, covering Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Finnish. There's also Siri voice support for mixed English, Indian, and a mix of Indian English and native dialects such as Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam, and Punjabi.
There are a number of new Widgets that come with iOS 15, such as a new widget for Where's?, for Mail, and even the App Store.
We have compiled the best widgets on iOS 15 for you in a separate article.
Even if not much has changed visually with iOS 15, there are some fundamental changes with the latest update. For example, almost everything has changed in Safari. Of course, the core function of the Apple browser is still to surf the Internet. Otherwise, many will be surprised with the new update: The address line for the URL has shifted from the top to bottom, tabs can also be quickly navigated using swiping gestures, there are web extensions, and the start page can be individually customized to your liking.
The idea behind these changes by Apple is for users to navigate using just one hand. Even if I personally like the new Safari and think that the user interface is better compared to the previous version, I don't really like surfing the web with one hand despite the new design. After all, how many iPhones are easy to use with just one hand?
And the winner is: Live Text is my favorite feature on iOS 15
There is a function that I definitely wouldn't want to live without anymore: Apple introduced Live Text in iOS 15. The function served me so well on my summer vacation that I would like to call Live Text my new favorite function of the update.
I'm not saying that without having Live Text in Denmark I would have starved to death during my two-week stay. But it would have been a lot more complicated. Because almost everything on the Danish island of Bornholm was only available in the local language. The iPhone recognized text in pictures and then offered additional functions straight from the camera or photo app.
For Danish menus, I copied the text and translated it with DeepL. That was a lifesaver, as it could easily have been that I ordered some exotic food from the menu that might not have agreed with my appetite. After all, you cannot have fish for every single meal, can you? At least not for me. By the way, Live Text translates up to eleven other languages, including Spanish, Russian, and English, directly in the app itself.
We will explain how the function works later below.
Second place goes to: Focus
Actually, I wasn't sure whether I should award second place for my new favorite functions to the new Notes app or to Focus. In the end, I chose the latter. Typing on my smartphone is something that I personally don't really enjoy doing. I miss the haptic feedback of physical buttons even after all these years. That's why Notes on the Mac and especially on the iPad are at the forefront, and everyone who likes to work productively will probably agree with me after testing the new app.
Also, Focus is for people who like to be productive or just do not want to be disturbed. Admittedly, it is not that easy to set up the tool in a meaningful manner. It takes a bit of experience and thought to get the options right. This is because Focus places a context-dependent filter over your iPhone and avoids distractions. In plain language, this means if you have activated a Focus, you will only see a selection of certain apps, notifications can be deactivated, and calls can be sent to your voicemail if you wish.
Hence, it can be tricky to achieve the perfect balance for each personality since there are far-reaching consequences once Focus is activated. That is why it requires a certain amount of sensitivity to determine just how you use the option. Otherwise you might be wondering why the iPhone remained so quiet the whole day while your voicemail is overflowing. That's exactly what happened to me at the beginning.
Now, a few weeks and many Focus experiences later, I have found useful configurations for myself that I use at night or at work in order to get through the night or day with as little distraction as possible, without missing out on anything important. For me, Focus is a real added value feature of the iPhone with iOS 15 and a function that I would not want to live without.
All good things come in threes: With Private Relay and iCloud +, data is even more secure on the iPhone
The Private Relay function has the potential to become a real “game-changer”, a feature that fundamentally changes something that already exists. All customers who are already iCloud subscribers receive a free upgrade to iCloud +. Apple will be introducing a number of data protection functions that should make it much more difficult for third parties to access our private data. The Private Relay function is part of iCloud + and works like a VPN service in a broader sense.
Apple servers will conceal the exact location that many web services could otherwise receive via the IP address. Instead, Apple shows your whereabouts in a larger region as opposed to a pinpoint location. This way, many business models that base their reach on such raw data will be made obsolete soon. And that's good news, at least for us consumers and users of such services.
Apple is offering support for iOS 15 from the iPhone 6s onward. However, some older devices will not receive all the features that iOS 15 offers. We have put together a couple of articles to discuss this issue:
iOS 15.4 finally brings the Universal Control feature that was announced in the iOS 15 unveiling. With it, users can seamlessly control iPads and Macs using a single set of input devices - keyboard, mouse, trackpad. Click on the link above to learn how it works and how to use it.
For iPhone owners, iOS 15.4 allows users to activate Face ID while using masks. The feature requires to re-register the face detection for the first set-up, but after that, the option can be toggled on and off without additional steps. Learn how to activate the option by clicking here.
For SharePlay, the new version adds an option for app developers to start a SharePlay session without having users open FaceTime first and then switch back to the streaming app. Since it is an API (app interface) feature, developers need to update their apps to support the new option.
The update also added 37 new emojis implemented on the Unicode 14 specification, improved the security for the AirTags trackers, changed the default setting for the emergency SOS “Call with 5 Presses”, and, for European users, the Wallet and Health apps now support scanning and storing the EU's digital COVID certificate QR Code.
iOS 15.3: Important vulnerability fixed
The update to iOS 15.3 was rolled out on January 28, 2022. Apple did not introduce any new functions, but some critical security gaps were closed. Above all, a bug in the WebKit browser engine, which led to the user ID and your usage behavior being communicated when browsing via Internet browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Safari.
iOS 15.2: Privacy Report and the Nude Photo Filter
If you downloaded the update to iOS 15.2 shortly before Christmas 2021, you have been able to use the new data protection report ever since. The nude photo filter, which is not active in iCloud but locally on your device, was introduced at the end of the year.
iOS 15.1: SharePlay introduced
Unfortunately, Apple didn't get one of the coolest iOS 15 features ready for the launch. That's why it came in October - we mean, of course, "SharePlay". With the function, after the update to iOS 15.1, the content of video streaming apps can be easily enjoyed together with friends or family via Face ID. Of course we have published a guide about SharePlay for you, in which you can learn how it works and how to use it.
With the launch of the iPhone 13, Apple brings an operating system in the form of iOS 15 that bridges the gaps with Android and at the same time, continues to pull ahead of the competition. Visually, not much has changed at first glance. Apple managed to integrate major innovations underneath the hood in such a manner that you don't even notice it at first. I found myself asking a few times, "It's always been like this. Right?" Well, that's the good news, which means most of us should have a very easy time making the jump from iOS 14 to iOS 15.
Selected innovations found in FaceTime or also in messages/iMessage seem to be a step in the right direction by bridging the gap with its competitors - such as Google Meet, WhatsApp, or Telegram. Here, Apple certainly has some serious catching up to do, so it is nice to see them put in the necessary effort.
Some features such as Live Text or Notes have the potential to become really indispensable tools on a daily basis. Extracting text from images is something that I use on a regular basis. The fact that the AI processing happens on the smartphone itself without having to send information to Apple's own servers is a real plus point in my books, not only for data security and privacy reasons but also when it involves performance. And functions such as Private Relay will put a stop to the data collection frenzy on the Internet. It should only be a matter of time before other companies follow suit and decouple their business models and practices from collecting personal data.
Apple once again showed that they place a very high premium on sustainability and will offer iOS 15 to all iPhones from the iPhone 6s onward. However, older models lack the necessary hardware to take advantage of all the new features. In the supported devices section, we've rounded up some features that, unfortunately, won't make it in some older iPhone models.
Nevertheless, I will reiterate myself once again: With iOS 15, especially in conjunction with macOS and iPadOS, Apple will gain even more ground on its competition (here's an interesting read: iOS 15 pushes Android into a corner).
Through a carefully orchestrated integration between its consumer electronics devices, Apple offers its users a simplicity that cannot be found in other operating systems or platforms. Apple's consistency in implementing privacy continues to blaze a trail that other companies should urgently follow as an example.
Updated in March 2022 with a changelog for the 15.4 update.