Apple unveils iOS 15 with new features for FaceTime and better notifications

During the virtual keynote of WWDC, Apple shared the first details about iOS 15, the next major version of iOS that is going to be released later this year. There are four pillars with this year’s release: staying connected, focusing without distraction, using intelligence and exploring the world.

“For many of us, our iPhones have become indispensable,” SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi said. “Our new release is iOS 15. It’s packed with features that make the iOS experience adapt to and complement the way you use iPhone, whether it’s staying connected with those who matter to you most, finding the space to focus without distraction, using intelligence to discover the information you need or exploring the world around you.”

FaceTime gets a bunch of new features

Apple is adding spatial audio to FaceTime. Now the voices are spread out depending on the position of your friends on the screen. For instance, if someone appears on the left, it’ll sound like they’re on the left in your ears. In other FaceTime news, iOS now detects background noise and tries to suppress it so that you can hear your friends and family members more easily. That’s an optional feature, which means that you can disable it in case you’re showing a concert during a FaceTime call for instance.

Another FaceTime feature is “Portrait mode”. Behind this term, Apple means that it can automatically blur the background, like in “Portrait mode” photos. In case you want to use FaceTime for work conferences, you can now generate a FaceTime link and add it to a calendar invite. FaceTime will also work in a web browser, which means that people without an Apple device can join a FaceTime call. All of these features make FaceTime more competitive with other video call services, such as Zoom and Google Meet.

WWDC 2021 - Facetime Link

FaceTime is a big focus as Apple is also introducing SharePlay. With this feature, you can listen together to a music album. Press play in Apple Music and the music will start for everyone on the call. The queue is shared with everyone else, which means anyone can add songs, skip to the next track, etc.

SharePlay also lets you watch movies and TV shows together. Someone on the call starts a video and it starts on your friend’s phone or tablet. It is also compatible with AirPlay, picture-in-picture and everything you’d expect from videos on iOS.

This isn’t just compatible with videos in the Apple TV app. Apple said there will be an API to make videos compatible with SharePlay. Partners include Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Twitch, TikTok and more. Here’s a screenshot of the initial partners:

Now let’s switch to Messages. The app is getting better integration with other Apple apps like News, Photos and Music. Items shared via Messages show up in those apps. In other words, Messages (and iMessage) is acting as the social layer on top of Apple’s apps.

A new notification summary

Apple is going to use on-device intelligence to create summaries of your notifications. Instead of being sorted by apps and by date, it is sorted by priority. For instance, notifications from friends will be closer to the top.

When you silence notifications, your iMessage contacts will see that you have activated “Do not disturb”. It works a bit like “Do not disturb” in Slack. But there are new settings. Apple calls this Focus mode. You can choose apps and people you want notifications from and change your focus depending on what you’re doing.

For instance, if you’re at work, you can silence personal apps and personal calls and messages. If it’s the weekend, you can silence your work emails. Your settings sync across your iCloud account if you have multiple Apple devices. And it’ll even affect your home screen by showing and hiding apps and widgets.

New smart features

Apple is going to scan your photos for text. Called Live Text, this feature lets you highlight, copy and paste text in photos. It could be a nice accessibility feature as well. And, iOS is going to leverage that info for Spotlight. You can search from text in your photos directly in Spotlight. These features are handled on-device directly.

With iOS 15, memories are getting an upgrade. “These new memories are built on the fly. They are interactive and alive,” said Chelsea Burnette, senior manager, Photos Engineering. Memories are those interactive movies that you can watch in the Photos app. Now, you can tap with your finger to pause the movie. While music still plays in the background, your photo montage resumes when you lift your finger.

You can now search for a specific song to pair with a memory. It’s going to be interesting to see in detail what’s new for the Photos app.

Wallet, Weather and Maps

After a recap of all the features of Apple Wallet, the company announced that you’ll be able to scan your ID and store it in Wallet. It’ll be available in participating states so it’s going to be a slow rollout. When a government service wants some info from your ID, you can choose to share some data with this service directly on your iPhone.

When it comes to the Weather app, it has been updated to include many of the features that were available in Dark Sky, a popular weather app that has been acquired by Apple. Expect a new design and more data.

WWDC 2021 - weather app

As for Apple Maps, the new mapping data has been rolled out in several countries and Apple is still rolling it out in Europe. Apple has added a ton of new details to some areas, such as San Francisco. You can see bus and taxi lanes, crosswalks, bike lanes, etc. On highways, you see complex interchanges in 3D. All of this is also coming to Car Play later this year.

With transit, users can pin their favorite lines and view info on their Apple Watch. When you’re in a subway or bus, you can see your location in real time. It sounds a bit like Citymapper’s itinerary feature. You can also get directions in augmented reality by holding your phone in front of you.

AirPods software update

Apple is also announcing a bunch of new features for users who have AirPods. There’s a new conversation mode that makes it a smart hearing aid to boost conversation volume. You’ll also get more notifications if you’ve activated the “Announce notifications” setting. You can tweak that setting to limit it to certain apps and change depending on your focus mode.

You can also find your AirPods with the Find My app with audio notifications even when they’re in the case. Spatial audio is coming to the Apple TV and Macs with an M1 chip. As announced a few weeks ago, spatial audio for Apple Music is launching right now.

As you can see, iOS 15 is packed with new features. Apple is releasing a developer beta with an initial release today. The public beta phase will start in July. You can expect beta updates throughout the summer and a final release this fall.

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