Apple released iOS 15, its big annual iPhone software update, on Monday.
This year’s version has some big changes, including the ability of FaceTime to make calls to Windows and Android users, artificial intelligence that can better identify animals, plants and other items in photos, and a feature that better controls limits on notifications.
While Apple pushes out updates on a regular basis throughout the year, the annual update that is released alongside new iPhones has the most additional features and changes.
IOS 15 is available for a lot of older phones, too, all the way back to the iPhone 6S, which was released in 2015. Here’s what you’ll get.
What’s new in iOS 15?
FaceTime that includes Windows and Android users. FaceTime, Apple’s videoconferencing software, used to be reserved for Apple products only — users who wanted to FaceTime with an Android phone or Windows PC were out of luck. Starting in iOS 15, anyone with an Apple computer will see a button that allows them to create a link to a FaceTime chat. Users can send that link to any computer or phone with a modern web browser, and they can join in the chat too. Users will need to be let into the chat, so the link won’t let random people join without your permission.
New Messages integration. Some people get lots of different links in Apple Messages, formerly iMessage, throughout the day but don’t have time to check them out until later. Now, Messages will share that information with other apps. For example, if someone sends a link to an Apple News news story, it will show up in the Apple News app in a section called “Shared with You.” Same for Apple Music and Apple Photos. This new integration also applies to Safari web links, podcasts and Apple TV movies and TV shows.
AI that can tell what’s in a photo, including text. Apple has been improving its photo recognition capabilities in its Photos app for years, and this year it takes a big step forward in terms of the types of objects inside photos it can recognize. With iOS 15, Apple’s software can identify and provide more information about animals, landmarks, plants and books. It also makes text inside your photos searchable, and users can even copy and paste text from a photo into a document. Apple’s AI runs on an iPhone, instead of using the cloud to do the work on a remote server, so the things you identify or copy won’t be sent back to Apple.
More control of notifications during off-hours. For a few years, iPhone users have had a mode called “Do Not Disturb” that limited notifications except from a list of close contacts. These features have received a big upgrade in iOS 15 that Apple calls “Focus.” The main feature shows only notifications from people and apps you’ve pre-approved. If someone is texting a user who is in Focus Mode, they’ll receive a message that notifications have been silenced, sort of like an away message. Users can create multiple Focus profiles for different situations, such as work, play and sleep. It will allow users to create special home screens so they can, for example, have different collections of apps for work or home.
Apple Maps reminders. Apple Maps comes with annual improvements, including better directions, public transit schedules, and an augmented reality walking directions feature that places big arrows over scenes of the real world telling users where to go. But commuters will probably like best the new real-time alerts that tell users when they need to get off the bus, train or subway before they miss their stop.
New Safari redesign. The default browser on the iPhone is getting its biggest redesign in years, bringing the address bar and back button from the top of the screen closer to the bottom to make it easier for thumbs to reach. If you don’t like the new Safari, you can change it back to the old look. Safari will also save groups of open tabs, so you can come back to them later, and supports extensions — just like Google Chrome or Safari on the desktop — for the first time through Apple’s app stores. Extensions are little apps that let you do more on a site, such as block ads, but there aren’t a lot available yet.
Better system search. Apple’s Spotlight is a power-user feature that searches the web and your files and makes apps easier to access. Users access it when swiping down from the top of the screen. It has a new look this year, with more photos, and Apple-provided information about TV shows, movies, musicians, and links that have been shared with you.
Privacy protections. Apple has emphasized privacy in recent years, but in iOS 15 it’s starting to become a feature worth upgrading for. One new feature is called “App Privacy Report,” and it will show you how often an app accessed your microphone or location over the last seven days. It also will tell users if apps are phoning home to their own servers — which is normal but can highlight certain uses of data that have previously been overlooked. People who pay for iCloud will also get “iCloud Private Relay,” a beta feature that is similar to a VPN and hides IP addresses, which can give away your location. People who use Apple’s Mail app can provide random burner email addresses and hide tracking pixels that tell marketers whether an email has been opened or not.
Driver’s license and keys in Apple Wallet. Apple is adding the ability to put driver’s licenses and keys into the Wallet app, but it may be a while before all users can take advantage of these big new features.
Apple says the TSA and eight states are already on board with the program to put driver’s licenses and state ID’s on the iPhone. Users will have to wait until their state government supports the feature.
Users will also be able to store keys, including car ignition keys, in Apple Wallet. If you have a smart home or go to an office with compatible locks, you can start unlocking your front door with your phone as soon as you update with the new software. The car ignition key feature requires a BMW or other compatible vehicle.
One big delay: Apple is planning to launch a feature called SharePlay that lets you watch a movie or TV show with other people over FaceTime. But that feature isn’t included yet and is now promised for later this year.
It’s really easy to install iOS 15. You just need an iPhone SE (1st generation) or newer or an iPhone 6s or newer. Those phones were released in 2016 and 2015, respectively, so most people should get the update. Here’s what you do:
- Connect your compatible iPhone to Wi-Fi and power.
- Open Settings.
- Open General.
- Open Software Update.
- Tap Download and Install.