SharePlay. Screen share. Shared with You. FaceTime for everyone. Focus… for anyone. Status. Notification summaries. More better Maps, Notes, and Weather. Much better Safari. IDs. Keys. On-device Siri. Live Text and wide translate. Lens… I mean look up! Brighter Spotlight. More musical memories. Health Sharing. Mobility Caring. Privacy Reports. Mail Protection. Private Relay. Legacy. Recovery. Authenticator. And… so much more. It’s the iOS 15 Public Beta. It supports every iPhone going back to the 2015 6s and 2016 SE. Yes. Seriously. You can grab it now, but just remember — beta means beta, so always practice safe update and backup. Then buckle up!
Zoom won the pandemic. Wasn’t even close. It got verbed. But thanks to FaceTime’s ease of use, integration, and absence of continual security malfeasance, it also saw a ton of Apple’s to Apple’s usage as well. And that’s what’s being built on here.
There’s a new Grid View, because everyone floating and throbbing on screen is fun for a few minutes, but just way too much all day, every day. The Grid is currently limited to 6 people though, while group calls can still go over 30.
Spatial Audio, which builds a 3D sound stage around you, is being used to virtually place everyone in a group call relative to where they appear on the call, to help them sound clearer and more natural. And at this point, just spatial audio all the things.
You can turn on voice isolation, which is like the opposite of active noise cancelation, helping the other person hear what you’re saying without all the background clutter. Or, you can flip to Wide Spectrum, which is like the opposite of Transparency Mode, to amplyify every sound in your environment so the person you’re talking to can hear what you hear, like to better include them in a happy birthday party moment.
If you want to hide any personal items, or just the mess behind you, you can turn on Portrait Mode. The controls in general can be a little tricky to find, or can change state or place unexpectedly, so I hope Apple keeps iterating on it before release.
And all of that is available to third party apps as well, so Zoom or anyone else can use the built-in Portrait Mode if they want to, at least from release on. Apple’s really on overdrive this year when it comes to third-party integration for a bunch of the new features, which… you just really love to see it.
You can also create FaceTime links now and either share them or attach them to Calendar events. And, in addition to Apple devices, Android and Windows users can open them up on the web to join the call, no account or login needed. Anyone using the link needs to be approved by someone — anyone — already on the call, and if you accidentally social the link and anyone unintended joins, anyone already on the call has 30 seconds to yote them right back out again.
Then there’s SharePlay, which turns your FaceTime call into a group music or video experience. And yeah, you’ll need some family and friends on iOS 15 to use this with.
Everything is automatically in sync for everyone, all controls work for everyone, if anyone talks, the volume will adjust so you can promptly shush them and point them towards the built-in Messages functionality instead — as the laws of nature and decency demand. They can thank you later with new Memoji styles and poses.
For quick songs, TikToks, stuff like that, I think it’ll be great right on the iPhone. For longer form shows, movies, like TV or Disney+, especially Twitch streams, you can start them on your iPhone but watch them on the Apple TV, which I think will be a far better, more comfortable experience. And… kinda really sets the stage — and the tech — for shared VR and AR experiences one day, which has me all shades of hype.
Even though Apple’s making it available to all developers, there’s no YouTube yet, which would be legit great with this, no Netflix, and no Spotify… which for a company that complains so continuously always about lack of system access seems to never take that access when it’s offered. Victimy much?
You can also use SharePlay to screen share, and not just play. But pretty much anything and everything on your iPhone display. While you’re on FaceTime. It’s been available on the Mac since the elder days of iChat but on iOS, it’s just one of the biggest remaining finales ever. So many tech support trips across town saved… so many…
Notifications are like the essential truth of the Vampire Lestat. Anyone making an informed choice will always want Notifications. And anyone deluged by Notifications will do almost anything to be rid of them forever.
Apple’s trying to help with this, again… again… by expanding Do Not Disturb into something more… nuanced…. Called Focus.
With Focus, you can select a preset like OG DND, Sleep, which has been around for a minute, first in Clock, then in Health, but is newly now integrated here, Personal, or Work, or you can roll your own.
At that point, it becomes like a force shield, bouncing off all interruptions except for the people and apps you specifically choose. And whether, to curb your anxiety… or just FOMO, you can choose whether or not to let time sensitive notifications through no matter what. Siri can even announce those for you if you have like a Workout focus and are off on a run with your AirPods. What’s considered truly time sensitive? Apps get to opt-into the integration but if they abuse it, you can opt them out, hard.
You can also go in and set different Home screens to show or hide based on the Focus, so your most available apps are the most appropriate for that Focus.
Once you invoke a Focus on one device, like your iPhone, it gets invoked across all your devices, like Watch, iPad, Mac… And anyone on the other side will see that you’re in DND and can wait and message you until you come out again, or if it’s urgent, choose to punch through your shield anyway. Which, again, should cut down on anxiety and FOMO when using it. And, if anyone abuses, give you the joy of muting or the excuse to full-on block them.
And I realize for some people, Focus may sound like… a lot. Like I already got a 12 jobs and my phone shouldn’t be one of them, which is why I got and damn iPhone to begin with, a lot. But Apple provides those sample Personal and Work focuses, and recommendations for people and apps, so it’s super easy, barely and inconvenience to get started. And you can always just stick to old school DND and no one will judge you. Except maybe Thomas Frank. Because Thomas Frank.
And since Apple’s given Notifications in general a fresh coat of icon and profile-pic paint, and will bundle up app notifications into a summary for you while keeping people notifications front-and-center, it’s more glanceable and manageable now either way.
Exploring the World
Maps is getting Apple’s version of Google Earth, at least the spinning globe part. More interestingly, a new, more detailed, more stylized city and driving experience, and a more immersive Augmented reality walking direction feature that lets you scan-to-place for step-by-step.
I hate to be the boy who cried future here, because it’s such a damn cliche, but this kind of tech is another example of Apple doing what needs to be in place today in order for us to have a very exciting tomorrow, and I just can’t wait for that day to get here.
Same with IDs in Wallet. I know… I know it’s going to feel like forever for every state, province, and region to add licenses, known traveler, and other documents to Apple’s system, but at least it’s starting.
ID uses the same security as Apple Pay, so you need Face ID, Touch ID, or your passcode to authenticate your ID. And if your phone was previously locked, and someone takes it when you’re presenting your ID, they can’t unlock it any further than Wallet without your Face ID, Touch ID, or passcode. And if you get particularly bad vibes, you can always squeeze the power and volume buttons to crash the west wing… I mean throw away the hardware keys, disable biometrics, and lock everything else down until you re-enter your passcode or password. Which will require you having physical control of your phone again.
Fold in home, office, and hotel keys, and we’re one step closer to living our best physical card free life.
I’m going to cover Safari properly in the macOS preview, because long video already long, but unique to the iPhone version is the new bottom-loaded tab bar… which is great for one handed-ease of use, so you can coffee talk and walk while browsing way better, but as currently implemented it just jumps around too much and adds way more cognitive load and interface spelunking than it ought to. I’m hoping Apple spends more time with it prior to release to just zero-regression it like every version of Safari has been mandated to do since the beginning of time. Or Alexander. Or whatever! It should be the same rules as Apple Watch — every interaction as fast as WebKit possible..
Apple pre-announced the new accessibility features this year, so I’ve already got a video up on those. Also some of the new privacy features, like a full on Private Relay deep-dive. Which comes with iCloud+, the new name for the extra storage tiers, only now with more than just extra storage. So if you have that, or Apple One, you have Private Relay, and also Hide My Email, which lets you use rando Sign-in-with-Apple styles addresses instead of your own personal one; Custom domains for your iCloud email, shareable with your whole family, and even HomeKit secure video storage that does’t count against your iCloud limit.
Also, because for most regular human type non-InfoSec or high value target type people, having our photos stolen is far less of a concern than losing those photos forever, Apple is adding both Account Recovery Contacts and Digital Legacy Contacts.
You pick one or more people you trust to help you get back into your account if you’re ever locked out, and the same or different people to gain access to your data in the event of your death. Apple’s not first to this by any means, but it’s important that they’re doing it.
With Find My, you can now see family and friends in real time, so less frustration when trying to track each other down at Disney. You can also get separation alerts for devices, including AirTags, so you leave no bag behind.
Plus, you can locate devices that have been powered down for up to 24 hrs, even ones that have been erased but are still Activation Locked. And they’ll say they’re activation locked and trackable, in case some brainiac tries to sell them quick. Either way, remember you’re not batman, don’t even lose your life to find your phone.
Apple’s on-device intelligence team has just been Hulk-smashing it over the last few years, and this year in particular with Live text. It’s one of my favorite new features ever. And yes, sure, Google has had Lenses since at least 1812, but I like having it, and Translate, system-wide now on iOS. And I all-caps LOVE the way it works because just like the name says on the tin — it’s really, truly live.
That means it’s not scanning and indexing text in the background, it’s not round-tripping to any servers. The machine learning models and Apple Neural Engine cores are just tearing through it all on-device and in real time. And it’s something!
Open a photo with text in it, whether it’s typed or hand written, it’ll make it live. Open the camera, don’t even take a photo, same thing. Go to a webpage with a picture on it… you get the idea. Live Text has a particular set of machine learned skills, and if you come across an image, it will look for text, it will find it, and it will… kill… at making that text selectable, copyable, even actionable for you. Like see a link, click it. See a number, call it. I sometimes can’t even tell what’s Safari any more and what’s a screen shot in Photos. It’s trippy.
The on device computer vision system can also identify objects in photos now as well, and look them up using Siri’s knowledge system. It’s like the first, primitive, dragged from the primordial AI and AR ooze stage of a full on JARVIS HUD system. What? A nerd can and will dream!
All of this is now integrated into Spotlight search, as it should be, and you can access that right from the Lock Screen if that’s how you want to roll.
Even Siri’s living its best life now with improved sequential inference to better keep context during conversation, and — hold onto your bits — on-device speech recognition and offline query processing. That means Siri doesn’t have to round-trip to Apple’s servers for the basics any more, which not only removes a particularly annoying previous point of failure, but makes the whole system feel much more responsive. Like the move from Intel to M1 more responsive.
Apple’s also added a feature I’ve personally spent many a WWDC lobbying for in person, ever since they added Remember This a few years back — Share this. Basically, whatever you could remember, you can now share. Photos, web pages, just ‘Hey, share this’, name your target and it’s shared.
They’re a few of the critical first steps Apple has to take to… never mind make dominate like Kramer in Karate, but just make Siri competitive again in the assistant space.