iOS 15 release: everything you need to know about Apple’s big update

Free software upgrades for iPhone, iPad and Watch improve notifications, Safari, FaceTime and more due for release

Apple plans to release software updates for its iPhone, iPad and smartwatch on Monday, which will add new features for compatible devices.

Announced at the firm’s developer conference in June, iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and WatchOS 8 bring new ways to deal with notifications, tools to keep work and home life separate, the ability to FaceTime video call with non-Apple users and more.

Here’s what you need to know about the updates.

When can I get it?

Downloads for iOS, iPadOS and WatchOS updates usually start at about 6pm UK time (1pm in New York; 3am in Sydney). Unlike other manufacturers, all eligible Apple devices will be able to download and install the update the moment it is released rather than in a staggered fashion.

Which devices can get it?

All Apple smartphones from 2015’s iPhone 6S or newer, including the first-generation iPhone SE, can install iOS 15. All Apple tablets from 2014’s iPad Air 2, 2015’s iPad mini 4, 2017’s iPad 5th Generation or newer can install iPadOS 15. All Apple Watches from the 2017’s Series 3 or newer can install WatchOS 8.

How do I get it?

Open the Settings app on an iPhone or iPad then navigate to General > Software Update. Tap install if available to download, verify and then reboot to install. You can also install the update via a Mac or iTunes on a Windows computer.

WatchOS 8 requires an iPhone 6s or later to be running iOS 15 first. Then open the Watch app and navigate to General > Software Update to begin the installation. You will need to put the smartwatch on its charger to complete the update.

How much will it cost?

The update is free from Apple. If you are being asked to pay for an update it is likely to be a scam.

iOS 15

Notifications and Focus

Focus allows you to set which apps and contacts can notify you and change it on the go, so that you can minimise distractions. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Notifications have been redesigned to be clearer, now with app logos and contact photos. Less important notifications can also be bundled together as a summary and delivered daily at a time of your choosing.

The biggest change is a feature called Focus. You can create profiles, such as work, home and personal, and set which contacts and apps are allowed to notify you based on the profile so that personal messages do not interrupt work and vice-versa.

Each profile can also have a custom home screen so that activating the work Focus mode shows only a pane of work-related apps, for instance. People contacting you in Messages will be told that you have silenced notifications and can choose to notify you anyway if it is urgent. Third-party messaging apps can be updated to support the feature too.

Safari redesign

Safari’s redesign
Safari’s redesign makes reaching the address bar and controls with one hand a lot easier. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The controls, address and tab bar in Safari have been moved to the bottom of the screen. Tabs can be grouped and saved while you can swipe left and right to switch between them. The old style “single tab” interface with the address bar at the top of the screen is still available as an option.

You can voice search straight from the address bar and install extensions similar to Safari on the desktop. The browser will now block known trackers from profiling you using your IP address and automatically upgrade to encrypted web traffic when available.

FaceTime with non-Apple users

Apple’s FaceTime video calling service can now be used on Android and Windows PCs. Apple users can share a link to join a call from a browser without an account. Calls are still end-to-end encrypted.

FaceTime now has a grid view for up to six people, background blurring, background noise reduction – and now it will sound like someone is speaking from the same side of the screen as their video in group calls.

Live text and visual look up

Live text works just like Google’s longstanding Lens feature.
Live text works just like Google’s longstanding Lens feature. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

You can now perform live text and handwriting recognition in photos and the camera app, or point the camera at different objects to recognise them for more information, including pets, nature, art, books and landmarks.

Spotlight search can now look through your photos and find text in images. It can also search the web for images and presents richer results for music, movies and TV shows more like a Google search or Spotlight on a Mac.

Shared health

Apple’s Health app can now share data with friends, family and carers, allowing users to share specific information such as activity and heart rate. Health can notify those keeping an eye on loved ones when significant changes occur, such as a sudden decrease in activity, or when irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia is detected.

There’s also a “walking steadiness” measurement that can warn of the risk of falling if your balance changes.

Faster Siri and privacy upgrades

Similar to Google’s Assistant, Siri can now process voice requests locally on the iPhone rather than sending the audio to a server for interpretation. It improves privacy, is significantly faster and works offline for many features such as setting timers.

Apple Mail can block email tracking while the new app privacy report shows how often apps have accessed certain features such as location, your photos, camera and contacts, plus when apps have contacted third-party domains such as trackers.

iPadOS 15

Apple’s tablets
Apple’s tablets gain all the features in iOS 15, including focus state that syncs across all your Apple devices and the translate app, plus a few bespoke to iPadOS 15. Photograph: Apple

Improved multitasking

Multitasking menu at the top of the screen
The little multitasking menu at the top of the screen is much easier to use. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The way you place two apps side by side for multitasking has become a lot easier. Tap the new three-dot menu at the top of the screen to put the current app in full screen, split-view or slide-over then select a second app from the home screen. You can also arrange the apps by dragging them on to one another from the app switcher menu.

The app library from iOS 14 has been added to the dock on iPadOS, while widgets can be placed directly on the home screen, which reduces the number of icons you can have on screen compared with the previous Today View widget layout.

Safari redesign

Safari on the iPad
Safari on the iPad looks and works more like a desktop browser with extensions and a new tab bar design. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Safari on the iPad has been updated with tab groups, new privacy protections, extensions and a redesigned sidebar. But unlike the iPhone, the address bar is still at the top of the screen with resigned tabs sitting below it that colour match to the site you are browsing.

Quick Notes

Quickly jot down a note or save a URL to Apple’s Notes app by swiping up from the bottom right corner of the screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Swipe up from the bottom right corner of the screen to bring up a Post-it-style quick note. It will automatically add links from the site or app you are using, including text or images in Safari. You can then type or handwrite with the stylus.

Keyboard shortcuts

Press and hold the command (cmd) key to show all the available keyboard shortcuts in any given app.
Press and hold the command (cmd) key to show all the available keyboard shortcuts in any given app. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Using an external keyboard with an iPad has been much improved. The tool bar at the bottom of the screen is more compact and you can navigate within apps by jumping through text fields and buttons with the tab key, as you might on a computer. There are lots of new keyboard shortcuts, such as access to multitasking views, the app switcher, control centre and notifications.

WatchOS 8
WatchOS 8 also gains focus, notification improvements, keys and other parts of iOS 15, plus a few specific improvements. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian


Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

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