There’s plenty to enjoy in iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 [Updated]

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There’s plenty to enjoy in iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8
iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch just got a heap of new features.
Photo: Apple

If you’ve been eagerly waiting for iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 since June, then rejoice! Everyone can finally install them. iPad gets plenty of new features, while iPhone and Apple Watch get a handful of nice improvements.

Here are the cool enhancements you can look forward to, whether you jump on the updates Monday or decide to wait.

Stability results are mixed

Apple gave developers the final release candidates for all three updates several days ago. Other Cult of Mac writers and I immediately began testing them, and the results vary between OSs.

I’ve spent many hours running the iPadOS 15 RC and had no significant problems. And I’m a heavy user — Screen Time tells me that Thursday alone I was on my Pad Pro for 13 hours. No update is perfect but after all the testing I’ve done, I don’t see this new version harboring some horrible bug that’ll make your life harder.

The same can be said for Apple Watch. There aren’t any dramatic changes in watchOS 8, and Apple seems to have ironed out all the bugs in the beta testing process.

iOS 15 is more problematic. It seems just a bit buggier. Nothing horrendous. But we here at Cult of Mac keep running into the sort of issues that you must restart your iPhone to make go away. It’s all in all less polished than we’d like.

Some people prefer to wait until the first “bug fix” update before installing new OS releases. That might be wise for iOS 15, if not for iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8. And I’m still going to try to tempt you with the new features you might not want to wait for, despite any small bugs.

iOS 15 keeps you focused, offers improved video calls

Perhaps the most important feature in the initial release of iOS 15 is Focus. This lets you set up a range of notification profiles based on what you’re doing. You might already do something similar when you’re sleeping or driving. Focus lets you create ones that block certain notifications when you’re working, then block a completely different set when you’re relaxing. Apple is trying hard to help us create a healthy work/life balance.

The COVID-19 pandemic made video calls important to our work and social lives. This didn’t escape Apple’s attention, and one result is background blur for video chats in iOS 15. And there’s something similar for audio: voice isolation so people on the chat with you can’t hear background noise. While not world-shaking, I’ve tested these new options in beta and they’re real improvements. And they are welcome because just about everyone on a video call wants to hide what’s going on around them.

iOS 15 keeps you focused, offers improved video calls
Focus is an important addition to iOS 15. And Group FaceTime displays participants in same-size tiles in a grid view. Plus, the Weather app has been redesigned to include full-screen maps.
Photo: Apple

But don’t expect SharePlay, a cool video chat feature that drew a lot of attention when Apple announced it. SharePlay will allow users to enjoy music, movies, TV shows, etc., together during a call. But it’s been cut from the first iteration of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15.

Easily the most controversial change in iOS 15 is a redesign of the Safari web browser that moves the Address bar to the bottom of the screen. It’s much more convenient there, but complaints from some beta testers afraid of change convinced Apple to build in the option to move the Address bar back to the top.

Not controversial at all is Live Text, a small but handy addition that lets you easily pull the text from images. It can even quickly translate signs and menus into a language you can read.

iPadOS 15 redesigns multitasking and Safari

iPadOS 15 also includes Focus and the video chat enhancements, and Live Text, too. But that’s just the start.

Most notably, the update makes multitasking on an iPad far more intuitive. A new multitasking menu appears at the top of apps and makes it easy to put a couple of applications side by side. Or push one of them off the screen so the other can take over. Hopefully, this will get more people doing iPad multitasking.

And — thankfully — widgets are no longer limited to the left edge of the Home screen. They can appear anywhere. Plus, the App Library makes the jump to iPad.

iPadOS 15 updates the Home screen
The App Library has been added to iPad in iPaOS 15. And Home screen widgets are now far more flexible.
Photo: Apple

Finally, there’s a brand-new feature called QuickNote. A swipe from the lower right corner of iPad’s screen opens a new note that lets you type or write down important details quickly.

watchOS 8 tries to make you healthier

Apple upgrades the Breathe app into a Mindfulness app in watchOS 8. It can still suggest you periodically take a break, or it can give you a topic to reflect on while you relax for a measured amount of time.

A pair of workout types were added: tai chi and pilates. Expanding the types of exercise people can measure is right in line with Apple’s vision for the wearable.

But it’s not all about health. The just-announced Apple Watch Series 7 offers the largest screen yet on this wearable, and Apple clearly wants users to take advantage of it. As proof, a redesigned Photos app can show a collection of images at once. And a new Portraits Watch face has a 3D effect, putting the time slightly behind a person who’s in the foreground. It’s a beautiful look — but one not available on my Apple Watch Series 3.

As for general usefulness, the Home app has been given a face-lift that makes it easier to access HomeKit accessories. (Note: You should get some HomeKit accessories. Home automation is great.)

Looking ahead, the Wallet app will soon be able to store a digital key for your house. This will require hardware to support the feature. And Wallet will be able to hold your driver’s license … in states that adopt this.

macOS Monterey launches later

Unlike iOS 15 or watchOS 8, don’t go looking for the full version of macOS Monterey on Monday. It’s not scheduled for release, and beta testing is still very much going on. For example, there’s hasn’t yet been a beta with Universal Control, a signature feature of the update.

It could be a month or even two before macOS 11 reaches a Mac near you.

How to install the iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 updates

iOS 15 is available for iPhone 6s and later. iPadOS 15 is compatible with iPad mini 4 and later, iPad Air 2 and later, iPad 5th generation and later, and all iPad Pro models. Install either by connecting a compatible device to a Mac, or to a PC running iTunes. Alternatively, an over-the-air update is also available. That’s accomplished by opening the Settings app and going to General > Software Update.

The watchOS 8 update is for Apple Watch Series 3 models and later. It can be installed directly onto an Apple Watch, as long as the wearable is connected to Wi-Fi. From the Settings app just navigate to General > Software Update. Alternatively, it can be installed from an iPhone by opening the Apple Watch app and going to My Watch > General > Software Update.

iOS, iPadOS and watchOS release notes

Here’s what Apple’s own (quite lengthy) release notes have to say about the iPhone update:

“iOS 15 brings audio and video enhancements to FaceTime, including spatial audio and Portrait mode. Shared with You resurfaces the articles, photos, and other shared content from your Messages conversations in the corresponding app. Focus helps you reduce distractions by filtering out notifications based on what you are currently doing. Notifications have been redesigned and a new notification summary delivers a collection of notifications so you can catch up on your own time. Maps delivers a beautiful redesign with a new three-dimensional city experience and augmented reality walking directions. Live Text uses on-device intelligence to recognize text in photos across the entire system and on the web. New privacy controls in Siri, Mail, and more provide transparency and give you more control over your data.”

And Apple’s release notes for tablets:

“iPadOS 15 makes multitasking easier to discover, easier to use, and more powerful. Widgets can now be placed among apps on your Home Screen and App Library makes it possible to get to all of your apps right from the dock. Quick Note gives you a fast and easy way take notes over any app or screen. New translation features and the Translate app for iPad help you better understand the world around you. FaceTime calls sound and feel more natural with Audio and video enhancements, including spatial audio and Portrait mode. Focus helps you reduce distractions by filtering out notifications based on what you are currently doing.”

And the release notes for Apple Watch users:

“watchOS 8 brings you new ways to stay healthy, active, and connected. A redesigned Photos app helps you stay connected to your most precious memories, and the new Mindfulness app and new Tai Chi and Pilates workout types will help you lead a healthy and fit life. And updates to Wallet and Home make it simple and convenient to access your house, car, and even the places you love to visit.”