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Published 1:25 PM EDT, Wed June 30, 2021
Apple’s iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 are coming to your iPhone and iPad this fall to offer things like Focus modes and screen sharing on FaceTime — and we just got an early look.
Since early June, we’ve been using the developer beta of the two operating systems across a few iPhones and iPads. Many of the changes are impressive and make the devices feel a little bit newer, kind of like teaching an old dog new tricks. And if you’re interested, Apple is now rolling out public betas of iOS 15 and iPadsOS 15 — but be aware that it’s not final software, so bugs and slowdowns are likely. Some applications may not work and not all features are enabled. We’d highly recommend installing on a secondary device or, as a minimum, backing up your data.
Wondering if the new software is worth the download? Here are the biggest changes we got to try out on iPhone and iPad ahead of the official release of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15.
Let’s kick things off with the new Focus modes, which are essentially customizable Do Not Disturb modes. With iOS 15 (or iPadOS 15) installed, you’ll see that Do Not Disturb is now a feature under Focus along with Driving, Sleep, Work and Personal.
With a mode like Driving, Sleep or classic Do Not Disturb, you can silence all notifications, alerts and even calls. You can, of course, customize these to your liking, but Work or Personal modes are designed around certain apps and notifications being allowed through. When you set up a Work mode, it uses AI on-device to figure out what apps or notifications might be the most pertinent. As we progressed, it suggested allowing certain people to message us — some were spot on and others were a little off, but you also have the option to add other folks from your contacts. Neater though is the apps it suggested. Right away it showed Slack, Mail, Outlook, Trello and Monday.com — all apps that are used regularly for work. You can also go through and select other apps not mentioned.
Essentially you’re choosing the apps and notifications to get alerts from, and it lets you focus without worrying about missing an important message from your boss in work mode or a family photo in a big group message in personal mode. If you choose to go pro with Focus modes, you can also create a custom home screen layout for each. As a whole, it’s quite handy, but the real kicker is that these modes sync across all your Apple devices.
When you engage a focus mode like work on your iPhone, it will sync to your Apple Watch, iPad and Mac. If you turn it off from your iPad, it reflects on your Apple Watch, iPhone and Mac. Or if you switch to a different mode, it syncs across. That’s handy and ensures that if you’re turning it on for a video call, another device dinging or ringing won’t interrupt your flow. And yes, it works with all focus Modes — Do Not Disturb, Sleep, Work and Personal are all included.
If you grew up in the era of AIM, you likely have a terrific screen name that follows you as an email address and remember the days of away messages: easy ways to alert your friends that you might not be fast to respond. Focus modes can enable a similar status for messages — essentially displaying that “XYZ has silenced his notifications” in the single chats or group chats. It’s a subtle way to let someone know you won’t be the fastest to respond, but it also gives them the chance to break through and notify that person anyway. It’s currently working in iMessage, but developers can choose to add this in via an API. At WWDC, Apple showed Slack and WeChat using the status as well.
It’s useful, but we really wish we could customize the status to give those who see it a little more context. Additionally, you’ll notice there are now “Shared with You” tabs in apps like Safari, Apple News and Apple Music. And iOS is collating whatever is shared in Messages to serve it up in other apps. In music, we can see that a friend shared “Good 4 u” by Olivia Rodrigo in a group chat and “Letter to You” by Bruce Springsteen shared in a single message. In Safari, we see suggested websites to visit. If you tap on a shared item, you can also reply back right from there, saving you a few swipes. From what we’ve seen, this feature is limited to first-party apps, but we hope to eventually see other developers taking advantage of this.
Within individual or group messages, you can now see all shared items in categories. It makes it easier to find that photo or news article shared months back. When someone sends several photos, they’ll show up in a messy stack of sorts. It’s mostly a design change and lets you swipe between them and easily add them to your photo library. And if you use Memojis, know that you can, in fact, pick an outfit and customize it to a degree now.
The big news from WWDC 2021 was that FaceTime would be coming to Android and Windows through the web. It’s also a straightforward implementation — on iOS or iPadOS, tap “Create Link” in FaceTime, copy it, send it and then start the FaceTime. Family, friends or colleagues can open that link, enter a name and ask to join. You’ll have control over who can enter the room. It’s similar to Webex, Zoom, Skype or Teams and it feels like Apple wants FaceTime to be a preferred service for all people, even if they’re not in the ecosystem. We’ve tried a few of these and it’s pretty stable in a web browser, both on a Windows PC and an Android device. Know that on these third-party devices, you won’t get access to effects or many customizations, though. It’s fascinating to see Apple expanding on this and we can only hope that Messages might see the same expansion at one point — though we’d bet that’s a pay-for-service if or when the time does arrive.
SharePlay is the other prominent feature for FaceTime, and quite frankly, we wish it was in iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and macOS Big Sur. After all, we’re still in a pandemic and the ability to screen share or watch content together would have been clutch for the last year. Alas, it’s here now and is in the Public Beta (or Beta 2 for developers). When in FaceTime, you’ll tap the “SharePlay” icon — a window with a person — in the top right corner to enable sharing your screen or the content from the app you’re within. So if you’re just in FaceTime, it will start showing off your screen or if you’re in Apple Music and selecting a song, it will begin to share that content.
Screen sharing seems like it will be especially useful for providing tech support or just explaining a walk-through on how to use something. iOS will automatically recommend you turn on a Focus mode to hide notifications as well. And the person or people on FaceTime will not be able to control your screen. This also works across devices, so a viewer on macOS or iPadOS can still see your screen. It also means they can see the content you’re streaming and currently, in the betas, it’s limited to Apple TV+ and Apple Music. You can fire up an episode of Ted Lasso and all members on the call will see playback while also have the option to control it. It’s neat and similar to GroupWatch on Disney+, which seems a little smoother thus far. FaceTime and iOS also handle volume leveling; this way, you can hear others on the call and the show. SharePlay as a whole might be the best feature of iOS 15 and come this Fall, more apps will have support for it.
For classic FaceTime calls, you’ll now be able to turn Portrait Mode on which works great and helps keep the focus on you. Again, this is similar to blurring your background, like on Zoom or Webex. You will need a device with the Neural Engine for this feature to be enabled. That includes the iPhone 8 and newer, along with the 2020 iPad, 2019 iPad Air or Mini and the 3rd Gen iPad Pros or newer. And when you’re on a group FaceTime you can now set it a grid view, so folks aren’t bopping around your
Your iPhone is getting big new features this fall — and we got to try them
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