The iOS 15 public beta is live and everyone with a compatible iPhone can download it. We did, of course – and we’ve already seen some of the exciting new features in the next big iOS update, some of which offer novel quality of life improvements that already make iOS 15 look like a big upgrade iOS 14.
Don’t expect iOS 15 to be a major overhaul of the iPhone experience – not that you would get that idea given what we saw when Apple teased the update on WWDC 2021. As with many of Apple’s annual updates, the improvements are limited to a handful of apps and a few subtle refinements that you may not notice if you don’t look for them.
It is not the only public beta from Apple currently live, how iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 Betas started at the same time.
We don’t see all of the features promised in iOS 15 just yet, but that’s to be expected as Apple usually rolls out more features in each additional beta release. (Confusingly, Apple called this Public Beta 2, but it should be the first one available to non-developers.)
But the new features in iOS 15 really sold us some new features that we can’t wait for everyone to see. We probably missed a few things, but here’s what we noticed on the first day of using the next version of iOS.
This was probably the nicest feature – sort of Apple’s own Google Lens. At WWDC 2021, Apple demonstrated iOS 15’s ability to use AI and machine learning to find text and search for it online. Using it itself took a bit of fiddling, but we got it working: just open your camera app, point the viewfinder at text, wait for four yellow corners to frame the text, and then tap the three-line icon that appears . This will take a snapshot image and you can then tap highlight text for online look-up.
It’s neat, like a Siri visual search, but it’s a tool people are likely to forget; I know I have to make an effort to remember it’s there. The feature isn’t perfect – it doesn’t always seem to recognize words from different angles, and it really has problems with stylized logos – but once it recognizes text, you can paste it into another app. for example in a text message or the Safari search bar.
There is also a translation function along with the ‘look it up (online)’ option which also seemed to work well enough to translate a passage in a French book that we happened to have on hand – and there is also the option to read the translation out loud . It is of course a nice thing when you are traveling or reading menus that are not in your own language. The following languages are currently available for translation: Arabic, English (UK and USA), French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
You can long tap a link to pin it to any conversation, even with Android users. But iMessage convos get an additional function: the ability to translate a message if it is sent in a different language. Will there be more such functions? We hope so.
Safari also sees some notable changes. The biggest one is that the search bar has been moved to the bottom of the screen, an almost blasphemous move in terms of search engine tradition, but one that helpfully makes it available to everyone.
To the right of the search bar is a three-dot icon for opening a menu that has all the options bundled together, and the usual button for opening your tabs, which has also been redesigned, has been changed from a rotating stack to simple flat thumbnails; You can see about 6 at a time. Best of all (or worst, depending on your perspective), if you can see your tabs at a glance, you can also see the number of tabs in the bar below.
If you just want to switch between your current tab and the previous or next one, you can tap and hold the search bar and swipe left or right.
Of course, notifications aren’t sexy, and they’re barely high on the list of most anticipated iOS 15 features. And yet they’re so central to using an iPhone that anyone with the beta will immediately notice the refinements here.
For starters, the notifications are leaner – truncated, with less white space around the text, and with seemingly livelier and more eye-catching icons. There’s a little more space between different notification groups lumped together by the app – and it’s now also easier to distinguish those groups with a shaded effect that makes them appear stacked.
You can also choose to allow notifications to break through focus mode (the new name for Do Not Disturb, Sleep, and the new Home and Work modes). It’s handy for apps that you absolutely need to break the veil – and also for people like partners, family or friends who you want to be able to call at anytime. This feature is extensively customizable, allowing you to set times when focus mode is automatically activated, whether certain apps are shown on the home or lock screen, and notifying contacts when a focus mode is active (don’t bother me, I am Work!).
Okay, we haven’t seen too much of the more exciting maps refinements promised for iOS 15, such as where we are on our route, even if underground or out of signal range.
But we’ve seen the more subtle changes to maps, such as refined 3D building models and color differences between minor back roads and main roads. More noticeable are a few new tweaks to the way you enter directions: Your route now snakes from your position to your destination, which is easy to see, and when Maps recalculates a better route, it will slip out again. You can also change your departure time.