iOS 14.5 brings App Tracking Transparency, mask-friendly Face ID

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iOS 14.5 brings App Tracking Transparency, mask-friendly Face ID
Starting with iOS 14.5, iPhone owners can use their Apple Watch to securely unlock their handset when attempting to use Face ID while wearing a face mask.
Photo: Apple

Apple on Monday gave all iPhone users access to iOS 14.5. And iPad users can install iPadOS 14.5  Today’s updates bring a ton of new features, including unlocking an iPhone with an Apple Watch while wearing a mask.

The OS updates also bring App Tracking Transparency, a controversial change that makes it harder for apps to track users for targeted advertising. Other upgrades include new emoji, fresh Siri voices, additional features for Apple’s news and map apps, support for the just-announced AirTag trackers and a wholesale redesign of the Podcasts app.

watchOS 7.4, which is necessary for the new mask-friendly Face ID feature, and tvOS 14.5 also became available today, along with macOS Big Sur 11.3.

What’s new in iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5

Drivers can report accidents, road hazards and speed checks in iOS 14.5.
Drivers can report accidents, road hazards and speed checks in iOS 14.5.
Photo: Apple

Apple’s own description of the iOS update hits the high points of what users should expect when upgrading their handsets.

iOS 14.5 includes the option to unlock iPhone with Apple Watch while wearing a face mask, adds support for AirTag, and introduces separate skin tone variations for emoji with couples,” the company said in a press release. “Siri adds more diverse voice options, and App Tracking Transparency lets you control which apps are allowed to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites.”

The description for iPadOS 14.5 is nearly the same but omits the part about unlocking with Apple Watch. That feature isn’t supported by tablets.

The details of these features came to light during public beta testing. Unlocking iPhone with Apple Watch drew considerable attention as the COVID-19 pandemic wore on and people grew increasingly weary of how face masks interfered with Face ID. The Apple Maps update lets users report accidents, speed traps and other hazards.

App Tracking Transparency

App Tracking Transparency is iOS 14.5's controversial new privacy-related feature.
App Tracking Transparency is iOS 14.5’s controversial new privacy-related feature.
Screenshot: Apple

App Tracking Transparency is one of the biggest changes in today’s update. It blocks third-party applications from tracking users without specific permission, and has supporters and detractors.

Apple has long thrown up hurdles for app developers who want to collect user data. Privacy has been a big selling point of all its devices, with iOS in particular offering a number of ways to prevent tracking — not only on the web inside Safari, but also inside third-party apps.

App Tracking Transparency is the latest addition to those protections. The feature already upset the likes of Facebook, which says it’s a bad move for small businesses, but it surely will be welcomed by iPhone and iPad users everywhere who are keen on protecting their data.

The feature means it’s easier than ever on iPhone and iPad to ensure that what you do inside one app cannot be seen by another. The slight downside to users is that App Tracking Transparency will present you with yet another popup every time you open a new app (if the app wants to track your data). But after you’ve approved or declined the request, you shouldn’t have to worry about it again.

tvOS 14.5 also includes App Tracking Transparency.

Other improvements in iOS 14.5

iOS 14.5 brings a long-overdue refresh to the Apple Podcasts app.
iOS 14.5 brings a long-overdue refresh to the Apple Podcasts app.
Photo: Apple

Today’s big iOS update brings some other handy features as well.

New Podcasts app

The Podcasts app gets a top-to-bottom overhaul, with “redesigned show pages to make it easier to start listening, as well as an option to save and download episodes so they are automatically added to Library for quick access,” Apple said. “Top Charts, categories, and curated collections on the Search tab help listeners discover new shows.”

Improvements to the Podcasts app also include a new “smart play button” and a refreshed interface that makes it easier to find, “follow” and listen to new podcasts. Apple now uses “follow” instead of “subscribe,” due to the service’s new support for paid podcasts.

Reminders

Inside the Reminders app, you can now sort your to-do lists by due date, creation date, priority, or title. You can also print a Reminders list for the first time. Inside Apple News, there’s a brand-new Search tab, plus a redesigned “For You” section for News+ subscribers.

New emojis

iOS 14.5 brings six new emoji, including face exhaling, face in clouds, and face with spiral eyes. They really should have released it on 4/20.
iOS 14.5 brings six new emoji, including face exhaling, face in clouds, and face with spiral eyes. They really should have released it on 4/20.
Photo: Apple

Users get a whole bunch of new emoji to enjoy in iOS and iPadOS 14.5, including skin tones for couples, flaming hearts and revamped injection and headphones symbols — with the latter styled on AirPods Max.

iPhone 12’s Dual-SIM mode now supports 5G. And iOS 14.5 brings “Smart Data Mode enhancements to further optimize the experience on the network, including better battery life and data usage,” Apple said.

Apple also gave Siri the ability to call the emergency services.

More secure iPad microphones

An iPad can use magnets to detect that it’s been placed into certain cases and automatically turn its own display off. With iPadOS 14.5, that same process also deactivates the microphone in some recent models.  That includes iPad (8th generation), iPad Air (4th generation), iPad Pro 11-inch (2nd generation) and iPad Pro 12.9-inch (4th generation).

And an even stronger version of this privacy protection is already built into the 2020 and 2021 iPad Pro models. Their microphones are hardware disabled by a magnetic case.

Get them now

Install iOS 14.5 or iPadOS 14.5 by connecting to a Mac, or to a PC running iTunes. Alternatively, an over-the-air update is also possible. That’s accomplished by opening the Settings app and going to General > Software Update.

After updating your iPhone, you can install Monday’s update directly onto the Apple Watch, as long as the wearable is connected to Wi-Fi. From the Settings app, navigate to General > Software Update. Then tap Download and Install. Alternatively, this update can be installed from an iPhone by opening the Apple Watch app and going to My Watch > General > Software Update.

Killian Bell contributed to this report.