Apple kicked off WWDC 2021 with a keynote presentation brimming with big announcements across all of its software products. We got a peek at new features coming to Safari, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch — but the biggest announcements were for the upcoming iOS 15 for iPhone.
iOS 15 will bring major changes to Facetime, notifications, messenger, and more. All of these features will be available when iOS 15 launches in the fall, but you can try them out early once the iOS 15 beta is publicly available sometime next month. We’ll let you know when beta signups are live; for now, here are the 10 coolest iOS 15 features Apple announced today.
Facetime is the new Zoom
Facetime on iOS 15 will get several new features that Apple hopes will make video calls “feel more lifelike,” which seems to be Apple’s way of saying it’s turning Facetime into a competitor for Zoom or Google Meet. Here’s a quick list of what Facetime can do on iOS 15:
- Spatial audio: The audio from other people on Facetime calls will sound like it’s coming from different locations in your headphones or from your device’s speakers. Apple says this will help make group conversations easier to follow.
- Mic filters: Users will be able to toggle on Voice Isolation to block out background noise on their end, or turn on Full spectrum audio if they want their mic to pick up all the audio in their surroundings.
- Grid view: Group calls will be displayed in the familiar grid format, with each participant getting their own tile. Tiles can be arranged and edited.
- Portrait mode: Enabling Portrait Mode in Facetime blurs your background and focuses the camera on the speaker.
- Invite others with Facetime links: Users will be able to schedule calls ahead of time in the calendar app and share links to upcoming and on-going calls.
SharePlay will let you hold group watch parties in Facetime, or share your screen if you want to give a presentation. Shared media is synced and can be controlled by all call participants. You can also send SharePlay videos to your Apple TV device. At launch, you’ll be able to watch or listen to content from:
- Apple AirPlay
- Apple Music
Apple is working to add more third-party support to SharePlay, and developers can use the SharePlayAPI to make the feature compatible with their apps.
Facetime now works in a browser
While not strictly an iOS 15 announcement, one of the biggest WWDC 2021 reveals is that Facetime will now work on a browser — even on Windows and Android devices. That’s a surprising shift in strategy for Apple, which rarely makes its software available or usable on other platforms. Come launch, you’ll be able to send and open links to Facetime calls on any device as well as participate in SharePlay sessions. No more shunning your friends who don’t use iOS.
“Shared with You” lists
Messages is getting new integrations with other Apple apps that will help you catch up on new stories, media, and other content your friends send you.
Whenever a contact sends a URL or media link in Messages, the link will automatically be added to a new “Shared with You” list available in several apps, including the News app, Apple Music, Safari, AppleTV, Apple Podcasts, and the Photos app. You can also pin a link within Messenger to add it to the top of the Shared with You section.
New Do Not Disturb options and Focus Mode
iOS’s Do Not Disturb mode is now part of the new “Focus Mode,” which lets you create different Focus profiles that block notifications from certain apps and pause specific features. For example, the “Work” Focus mode will shut out distractions from social media, YouTube, and messages, but won’t affect email, Slack, or other productivity apps. Your contacts will see a visual notification that you’re in Focus or Do Not Disturb mode in certain apps, too.
Focus Mode has presets for Work, Sleep, and Personal, but you can create your own. Of course, if you want to block all notifications, Do Not Disturb mode is still available, too.
At-a-glance notification Summaries
Notifications will look and behave differently on iOS 15. Instead of a long litany of interspersed alerts from various contacts and apps, notifications from people will now appear higher on the list. You can also choose to receive app notifications as a summary sent at specific times of the day. Important notifications and messages from your contacts will still appear immediately, but your iPhone will hold back unimportant notifications from apps you don’t use as often.
iOS 15’s Live Text feature scans photos for words — including hand-written notes or business logos in the background — and converts them into selectable text. You can copy and paste this Live Text into other apps, turn business names and phone numbers into searchable links, and import all of it into iOS Spotlight. And the feature will even work on your old photos.
LiveText supports seven languages at launch, and will be available on iOS, iPad, and Mac.
Updated Photo Memories
Thanks to Apple Music integration, you can now add a soundtrack to your curated photo and video highlight reels in Apple Photos. You can search for specific tracks and change between them on the fly to change a Photo Memory’s vibe. You can even pause or skip the video while the music is still playing, and the video will dynamically adjust to fit the tempo.
Store key and ID cards in Apple Wallet
If you live in the U.S., you’ll soon be able to scan and store in your state ID cards in Apple Wallet. Apple says the functionality is only available in “participating states,” but did not disclose which states are included.
Similarly, Apple Wallet is also working with several digital lock manufacturers so users can store their digital work IDs, hotel keycards, and digital house keys in their Apple Wallet as well. You’ll be able to tap your iPhone to enter a location with a stored key. As with all Apple Wallet cards, ID and keycards are encrypted and stored locally on the device; they can’t be stolen or hacked remotely.
Note: this feature is currently available in the U.S. only.
Better directions in Maps
Maps is getting several updates for iOS 15, including new nighttime map filters and topography information, but the most helpful are new navigation features:
- More map information: Apple is adding more transit details — like traffic lights, bus and bike lanes, crosswalks — to Maps. These new elements show up visually in the app and in Car Play.
- Track and pin public transit routes: You can pin your favourite public transportation routes in Maps and have updates sent to your Apple Watch.
- AR directions: Lastly, Apple is launching AR walking directions in select cities this year (with more to follow). Your phone will scan nearby surroundings then display AR markers and directions onscreen to guide you to your destination.