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Apple’s new operating system was in public beta for months undergoing various
tweaks and amends, leading up to its final release this autumn. It isn’t unheard
of for Apple to cut support for older phones with the release of the newest
version of iOS. This time, however, they are continuing support for older devices;
iOS 15 supports all the same models as iOS 14 did the year prior. However, as
Ars Technica points out, some of the new features and improvements won’t work
on older models, such as the updates to FaceTime, the addition of LiveText, and
some changes to Siri, including offline support.
Visually, iOS 15 does not dramatically alter the way your interface appears. On top of this, the upgrade is not defined by just a couple significant feature additions, rather, changes are smaller and subtle – but there is a lot of them. As expected, Apple leaves it up to you to decide how much change you are ready for, pushing a sense of consumer customisation to the forefront; for example, with the addition of Focus mode. Focus mode is truly one of the flashier new features, and is somewhat of an upgrade from Do Not Disturb or Sleep mode, in previous iOS updates.
The difference between Do Not Disturb and the new Focus mode comes down to the sense of flexibility which Focus mode offers. Whereas Do Not Disturb either allows or blocks notifications, Focus lets you create allow-lists, to categorise apps and contacts into multiple profiles. This is useful for using their device for both work and personal reasons, as it allows you to switch off from a specific mode of usage, without having to turn off notifications altogether. As well as switching between Focus profile manually, you can also associate changes to specific times of day, or locations, and you can also allow Apple’s AI to learn about your habits and change profiles automatically.
You may worry that you may miss messages from contacts – but this update also includes a feature which will notify Messages users that you haven’t received their message, given that you’re in a Focus mode which doesn’t allowlist them, and provide them with the option of forcing a message through. Of course, non- Apple users don’t have this option available to them, although they can use a third-party app which can recognise Focus mode. Focus mode also has functionality beyond notifications; it allows you to customise the home screen to display different apps. Although, as Ars Technica note, there is the frustration that the notification changes are tied to the display customisation; you cannot customise the home screen without restricting notifications.
As well as switching between Focus modes, the new Notification Summary feature also provides a neat new way of staggering your notifications. Instead of delivering interruptions and distractions periodically throughout the day, Notification Summary gathers all your non-urgent notifications in one place, then delivers them when wanted. As CNet say, this is a pleasant change from the all- or-nothing blanket approach to notifications which is familiar to most of us; this feature allows you to manage notifications from apps you may be interested in, but do not ever require urgently, far better. This means you can get more use out of such apps, rather than having their notifications entirely muted.
There are multiple new updates to FaceTime, ideal in the light of the rise of video-conferencing. FaceTime link helps Apple rival other pieces of video-chat software, by providing a way to send links to calls via the internet. Further, the addition of Join FaceTime on the web means that those with non-Apple devices can participate in FaceTime calls directly from their browser. There are changes to the camera and audio quality, too. While other platforms such as Zoom or Skype also enable similar functionality to iOS’ new Portrait mode, which places a blur behind you to put you in the forefront; CNet points out that the new Portrait mode on FaceTime is much more seamless, lacking the jagged cut-out or gappy blur present on Zoom etc. There are other additions which seek to make FaceTime a more immersive experience too, such as Spatial Audio. Spatial audio creates a sound field, to spread out the voices of callers so they sound like they are really there with you, speaking at you from all directions. The additional of Voice isolation mode also helps to pick out specific voices, and the combination of these features really steps up the video-calling experience.
Another much-anticipated feature now present on iOS 15 is Live Text. This gives you the ability to digitise text from images online, in your Camera roll, or even in real time using your Camera, in order to select it as you would any other text. You can then interact with the text, say, you may want to translate text from another language, or tap to dial a phone number written on paper without having to retype it. This is also a promising feature in regard to accessibility for blind users, as detected text can be activated to be readable via VoiceOver and braille. Although as AppleVis note, it can be challenging to use, as it certainly requires a steady hand to focus, as well as requiring a braille-only user to possess the ability to read braille one-handedly.
Crucially, the changes to Siri are prominent. Siri is one of the best-known voice assistants, but has not yet been renowned as one of the most powerful. With iOS 15, Siri now can pick up context cues from the interface to improve the voice assistant experience, eg. you might say “Siri, call them” while viewing a conversation with a particular contact. Interestingly, Apple has also implemented offline support, albeit, as previously mentioned, this feature is not available to all Apple users. You can now access a wider range of local services using Siri without connection to the internet, such as launching apps and setting alarms and timers. Again, these improvements provide more in the way of accessibility. There are several iOS 15 features that are unavailable at launch. Prominently, SharePlay is missing; this addition allows users watch TV shows, listen to songs, and do other activities together over a FaceTime call. This also means that other iOS 15 additions will be pushed back in accordance, for example, the Verge state that the launch of Group Workouts for Fitness Plus are on pause for the time being. However, there are plenty of updates to be excited about and new functionality to explore; even if it is the case that this iOS upgrade is a little leaner than that of previous years.