iOS 15 brings welcome enhancements to FaceTime, notifications, more

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iOS 15 brings welcome enhancements to FaceTime, Notifications, more
Apple took the wraps off iOS 15 on the opening day of its WWDC conference.
Screenshot: Apple

iOS 15 just made the jump from rumor to reality. Apple is bringing major new features to FaceTime, Messages, notifications, and more. Many of the applications that come bundled with iPhone are getting updates, like Apple Maps and Weather.

However, some features people had been hoping for didn’t make the cut, like interactive widgets.

iOS 15 was unveiled at WWDC 2021 on Monday.

More natural FaceTime video calls

With the pandemic forcing people to interact over video calls, Apple brought significant updates to FaceTime. That includes allowing Windows and Android users to participate in calls. They won‘t get dedicated applications, but will use a web interface with end-to-end encryption. This feature is called FaceTime Links.

New support for Spatial Audio is designed to make it seem that the audio from various participants in a FaceTime call is coming from different directions. And a new voice isolation feature blocks out background noise to make it easier to hear people. And Portrait mode can blur the background to put the focus on you.

Another pandemic-inspired feature is SharePlay. This allows users to enjoy music, movies, TV shows, etc. together during a call. As demonstrated at WWDC, a group can watch a TV show or movie together on FaceTime. This is an open API, and it supports not just Apple TV+ but also Disney+, Hulu, Paramount+ and other streaming services.

Plus, there’s a simple grid view coming in iOS 15, an oft-requested feature.

New notification controls

With iOS 14, telling an iPhone you’re driving limits the notifications that arrive. The new version expands that to sleeping, working, etc. Apple calls this “Focus,” and the goal is too allow users to specify in what ways they’re willing to be interrupted while working,playing, exercising, sleeping, etc.

The status can be set from the iPhone lock screen, and it allows users to choose which people and applications can send notifications. There’s even a dedicated lock screen for each Focus mode.

Live Text

iOS 15 lets users easily pull the text out of images. As Craig Federighi, Apple’s chief of software, demonstrated at WWDC 2021, an iPhone user can take a picture of a whiteboard then quickly copy all the text from the image. This can then be pasted into an email, for example.

Live Text works with already existing images, too. Even ones that are on the web.

Messages improvements

The Messages application is getting upgraded with “Stacks” of shared images.

And when pictures, web sites, podcasts, etc. are shared with a user, these will appear later in the relevant apps. For example, if someone receives a shared playlist, that plays list will appear in a “Shared with You” section of Apple Music.

There was no mention of an Android version of Messages.

Apple Maps

Apple Maps gets a big update in iOS 15
iOS 15 will make navigation in Apple Maps a significantly more 3D experience.
Screenshot: Apple

A lot of attention went into upgrading Apple Maps, likely to make it more competitive with Google Maps and even Google Earth. The navigation app is getting more detailed city maps with elevation. And custom-designed landmarks. When driving, 3D maps with crosswalks, bike lanes, etc. are intended to make traveling easier.

These features will debut in select cities later in 2021.

Weather

The simple Weather app isn’t the most high-profile iPhone software, but it’s nevertheless getting a major update in iOS 15. There’s a new design with animated backgrounds that change to match exact weather conditions. And Apple added new weather graphics for wind, UV index, pressure and more.

And more

What’s new in iOS 15
There were no fundamental changes in iOS 15, but Apple improved many of the bundled applications. (Click for larger version.)
Photo: Apple

iOS 15 heads for beta

Apple is expected to make the first iOS 15 beta available later on Monday. A public beta should be out in a few weeks.

But the full release of this new version won’t be available until autumn. It’ll probably be timed to coincide with the iPhone 13 debut.