There are tons of big and small changes in iOS 15, though none that will disrupt your life too much if you’re not into learning new things. We’ve been using it and found some of the standouts features.
Here’s what you need to know about Apple’s latest iOS update.
The big question: Should you update your iPhone or iPad now?
This is a trick question. You should absolutely, without delay, make sure your phone is updated to the most recent version of iOS 14.8, the operating system you are probably already on. Earlier this month, Apple released an important security patch after researchers said they found an exploit that could be used to hack Apple devices.
However, there’s no rush to update to iOS 15. Developers and early adopters have been testing the public beta for months, but bugs are unavoidable. It’s best to hold off a few weeks for the first update to avoid any hiccups, but the risks should be minimal if you can’t wait.
The easy directions: How to update to iOS 15
Once you decide to install it, first back up your device just in case something goes wrong. You don’t need to pay for iCloud to keep regular backups of your device; you can make them through iTunes on a computer. Then pick a time when you are okay not having access to your device for a bit, plug it into a charger and start the process.
Go to Settings → General → Software Update and start the install.
The most fun rip-off: Text selecting in photos
You can now select text in an image in Photos, say, a recipe on a bag of chocolate chips or the license plate of someone who hit your car. If it’s clear enough, you can tap and select any text in your photos and bring up options to copy, look up, translate and share.
Yes, Google did this first. And yes, anyone who uses the Google Photos app on their iPhone can already do a similar version of this by tapping the Google Lens button under your image. Apple takes out that extra step and brings it to people who only use Photos.
Well, that was overdue: FaceTime with non-Apple friends
The company isn’t making an Android or Windows FaceTime app, but it is offering a concession. Now you can start a FaceTime call and send a Zoom-like Web link to friends or family members who aren’t on an Apple device. They can join from their browser. At this point in the pandemic, many people have probably found a workaround for this problem, such as Zoom, Google Duo or Skype. But hardcore FaceTime fans may be happy for the option.
The most pandemic related: Focus tools
After 18 months of days blending into nights, weeks into months, months into years, it’s hard to know when work stops and life picks up anymore. Focus is a tool that lets you block communications from people or apps depending on what you’re doing, like working, sleeping or spending time with your family. It’s an extension of the existing Do Not Disturb option, and you can customize defaults or make your own. It also takes a cue from Slack and will tell people who message you that you won’t see notifications, though they can barge through any way. Focus is an optimistic feature that believes people can create healthier boundaries in their life with a little technology.
The worst idea: The Safari address bar moved
After more than a decade of conditioning people to type in addresses and search terms at the top of webpages, Apple decided to move the Safari address bar to the bottom of the screen. It’s called the Tab Bar here, and it lets you swipe either way to scroll through open webpages.
Much like a bar tab, the Tab Bar can leave you disoriented and wishing there was a way to go back in time. Luckily, you can fix it in settings. Go to Settings → Safari → Tabs and change it back to Single Tab.
There are other, better, Safari features. You can organize your open webpages into groups if you kept those tabs open for a particular reason and not just because you forget about them.
An exciting addition for people on the West Coast: Air-quality maps
The built-in Weather app is finally getting a little less basic. There is now a temperature map, and when you click, you can switch it to show air quality around you. These maps are a regular part of life in the West during wildfire season, though the air effects have been felt as far away as New York and D.C. Apple has also added a bunch of nerdy weather details for each location, such as wind direction and visibility, and it can notify you if rain is coming. The format of the app remains the same and you still can’t add more than its arbitrary limit of locations, but it’s easier to search for random cities on the go.
Best feature for when you’re dead: Legacy contacts
Apple is joining Facebook and Google in adding a legacy contact. Previously, it was nearly impossible to get access to a loved one’s iPhone when he or she dies without a passcode. This feature, which will be added in a future iOS 15 update, lets you add a legacy contact who can get access to your data after a death certificate is shown. It’s worth considering what kind of details that would include before handing over an all-access pass to your trove of text messages and photos.
Other bits to check out
Siri will finally work even if you don’t have an Internet connection, but only for a limited number of things. You can hide your IP address, location and open status from email senders. The Photos app can recognize objects in images and look them up, like art work, animals and types of plants (sorry, PlantSnap).
If you still use Memoji, there are new details you can add like a leather jacket or cochlear implant. If you text someone multiple photos they’ll be slanted in an adorable way that might be weird for paperwork or photos of anything serious. You can group notifications into digests to cut down on pings, use the Notes app like Google Docs, and find lost or stolen devices even if they’re turned off.