Video chat services such as FaceTime became increasingly important as the world locked down due to the global pandemic and meeting face to face became impossible. We hope everything will be back to normal by the time iOS 15 is out in September, but either way, we’ll appreciate the great new features coming to FaceTime.
Apple’s new FaceTime enhancements are designed to make the video chat experience ‘more natural, comfortable and lifelike’. Spacial Audio is a new Group Chats feature which creates a sound field that lets ‘conversations flow as easily as they do face to face’. Your friends’ voices are spread out, making it sound as if they’re coming from the same direction as their faces are found on your screen. If your mum is on the left, her voice appears to come from the left. If your friend is at the top of the screen, their voice sounds like it’s above you. It’s a seemingly small detail that makes FaceTime chat much more comfortable.
Two new microphone options are similarly aimed at making FaceTime calls more immediate, as if you were chatting face to face instead of using a video app. Voice Isolation stops the mic from picking up background noises, instead focusing on your speech alone. At the other end, the person you’re chatting to hears only you, not the ambient noise going on around you. During Apple’s presentation, Voice Isolation successfully cut out the sound of a leaf blower in the room, cleaning up the audio and preserving only the speaker’s voice. On the other hand, if you want every bit of sound to make it across the video chat, switch to Wide Spectrum. This does the opposite, picking up everything around you as well as your voice.
A new Grid View puts every person involved in a group chat on a grid, in tiles of the same size. This is useful if you want to see everyone’s reactions as well as look at the speaker, as those who haven’t spoken in a while no longer shrink in size.
To focus better on the person you’re speaking to and not the room or scene behind them, use Portrait Mode. This blurs out the background while keeping faces in focus. This feature will only be available on the iPhone XS series, iPhone 11 series and iPhone 12 series.
FaceTime Links lets you generate a link for a FaceTime call and share it with others using AirDrop, Messages, Mail and more, making it easy for people to join a group chat. You can also make a Calendar event for a FaceTime call which invitees can use to log on, even if they’re on an Android or Windows device. Yes, FaceTime is coming to non-Apple devices too!
Of course, FaceTime video chats are for more than just catching up. You can also share experiences like the latest chart album or that movie you planned to see with your mates, but couldn’t because of the pandemic. SharePlay is a new set of features that let you play music with Apple Music in sync for everyone on the call, while still chatting using FaceTime. You can also watch videos using a streaming app, also in sync, and talk about the movie while you view it. If you wish, you can extend the video display to your Apple TV without losing synchronisation with the other viewers. An API has been released that lets third-party developers bring their own apps into FaceTime. Disney+, HULU, HBO Max, ESPN+, TikTok and several others have already signed up.
Finally, Screen Sharing in FaceTime lets you share what’s on your iPhone’s screen while still remaining on the FaceTime Video call. Just the thing for showing your granny how to use her iPhone.
iOS 15 introduces new ways to view content that’s been shared in the Messages app. If you’re sent a bundle of pictures via Messages, they appear in your chat as a collage or, if there’s a lot of them, a stack. You can swipe through a stack of photos, and tap one to open it. Of course, incoming media isn’t restricted to photographs. You might also get web links, Music playlists, articles from the News app and more.
A new feature places a category called Shared With You in the News, Music and Photos apps, which collates shared articles sent via Messages and lets you look at them at your leisure. The sender is displayed on the screen so you can tap and resume your Messages conversation. The Photos app screens out stuff like screenshots and memes, to keep your app uncluttered. Shared With You is also built into the Safari, Podcasts and Apple TV apps.
A whole series of features designed to help you concentrate on what’s important at that particular time have been added. Collectively known as Focus, they can be set up for work time, personal time and more.
Notifications have a fresh new look, with contact photos for those sent by people and bigger app icons throughout. A new Notification Summary window collates notifications into a group. You can set a time when this Notification Summary is sent to you. Maybe during your lunch break or after work, when you’ve time to look at them? The summary is put together using on-device machine learning, which chooses which to prioritise based on previous use. Notifications from people are sent directly to your notifications screen, and won’t end up in the summary.
In iOS 15, if you use Do Not Disturb to temporarily silence incoming data, anyone sending you a message is informed that you have Do Not Disturb on. If their message is particularly urgent, there’s a way for them to get through.
You can also set your phone to focus your notifications on certain areas of your life, such as Do Not Disturb, Personal, Work or Sleep. You can customise these categories to choose which apps are allowed notifications, for example, only your productivity apps might send you notifications when Work is activated, or for personal time, communication and social media apps can get through. Again, on-device intelligence is used to suggest apps and people you want to allow or restrict at certain times. These Focus categories can redesign your Home screen on the fly, to show or hide apps of your choosing.
When you activate a Focus category on your iPhone, it automatically becomes active on your other Apple devices signed into the same iCloud account too, so your Mac, iPad and Apple Watch are similarly focused.
Live Text can capture words from a photograph. Just take a snap, and in-picture text can be selected, copied and pasted into another app like Notes, Mail, Messages or Pages. Telephone numbers are intelligently identified, and can be called directly from the photograph. Even handwritten notes can be captured in this way. Words in photos that are already in your library can be captured too, and it understands seven languages to date; English, Chinese (simplified and traditional), French, Italian, German, Spanish and Portuguese.
As well as Live Text, you can also look up information based on what’s in a photo. Tap the bubble that appears next to the object in question, and you can look up things like the name of a flower, the breed of a dog, an important landmark and more.
New Spotlight Features
In iOS 15, Spotlight searches have been extended to photographs. Just type ‘Photos’ followed by whatever it is you’re searching for in the Spotlight field, and results from the Photos app are included in your search results. For example, ‘Photos Cats’ would produce photographs of cats from the Photos app, alongside web pages, messages that mention both of those words, and more. You can search by location, content, people and even text found in the photos.
If you search for a person in Spotlight, you’re given lots of new information related to them. This includes buttons to message, call, or otherwise get in touch, that person’s contact card, photos with them in, their whereabouts if shared in Find My, recent conversations in Mail and Messages, shared Calendar events and more. Look up a celebrity, and programmes and movies that they have been in are offered, or maybe albums they’ve recorded. You can look for TV shows and movies in Spotlight and get similar information too.
Sweet Music with Photos Memories
The Photos app’s Memories feature assembles your photos into a slideshow and presents them with music in the background. With iOS 15, it goes one better by choosing a song from Apple Music to run behind your Memories. New memories are calculated on the fly, and timed to match the music. You can tap a photo in a Memories slideshow to pause it, with the music continuing to play, and to go back to a picture you’ve just seen, you only need to swipe.
A new feature called Memory Mixes lets you customise your memories. By changing the song, you also change the pace of the slideshow; a slower, calmer tune, for example, leads to gentler transitions from one picture to another. The title card is animated too.
The Wallet App
Let’s face it. Apple’s aim of replacing your physical wallet with the Wallet app never really happened. Sure, it’s great to pay for your shopping with Apple Pay, but do you leave home without your wallet in your pocket? Us neither. But maybe that will soon change.
With iOS 15, Apple takes another step forwards with the virtual wallet by introducing a Keys feature. With a compatible lock, you can unlock a door by waving your iPhone or Apple Watch in front of a sensor. If you use a corporate badge or card to get into your office or other place of work, you can use the Keys feature for this too, but only if your employer makes the system Wallet-compatible. Your iPhone could also replace hotel key cards. Hive Hotels is already aiming to bring Apple Keys to over a thousand of its premises, starting this autumn. This service is especially welcome as the hotel can send you the virtual key card before you even arrive, so you don’t have to queue in reception before going to your room.
The Wallet app is also getting an ID feature, whereby you can scan your drivers’ licence or state ID and have it appear in Wallet. This is only applicable in participating US states at the moment, but it should catch on in other territories with time. When presenting your digital ID, the necessary information is securely and privately transferred. You get a window showing exactly what this information is before you finalise the transaction and pass on the information. American airports are likely to be the first to accept digital ID, with more organisations and locations to follow.
The Weather App, Come Rain or Shine
The Weather app gets a huge makeover with iOS 15. Its overall appearance and design is greatly improved. Data and layouts change based on current conditions, with sun, wind, rain and more displayed as the background when experiencing those weathers. If a piece of information is deemed particularly important, such as poor air quality or continual sunny skies, it’s displayed at the top of the weather screen where you can’t miss it. New graphics have been added for wind direction, air pressure and more, making this information easier to find and, indeed, understand.
Best of all, the iOS 15 Weather app includes full screen, high resolution weather maps. Centred on your chosen location, these maps show things like temperature, rainfall and air quality in the surrounding area. Just the thing if you’re out and about locally.
Mapping the World
Apple Maps also gets some great new features, making it even easier to get around in a strange town or city. An interactive globe has been added. Spin it on your screen and zoom in on a country of your choice. In a city map, iOS 15 offers more detail than ever before, with buildings, landmarks and features accurately drawn in a 3D view. In fact, a 3D view of a major city looks a lot like a turn-of-the-century flight sim. We wonder how long it will be before Maps data is used for exactly that? At night, the graphic is depicted with a beautiful moonlit glow that makes your virtual/actual city really shine.
For drivers, new road details have been added so motorists gets a better feel for where they are, with bus and bike lanes, taxi ranks and more all added. Flyovers and underpasses are accurately mapped in full 3D.
When using public transport, your favourite lines and routes can be pinned to the top of the screen, and progress reviewed on your Apple Watch so there’s no need to keep reaching for your phone as you travel. Your route is followed too, and you’re reminded when you’ve arrived at your stop and need to get off. Scan the area while on foot and Maps works out where you are and gives you directions to where you need to be, in augmented reality. Every step of your journey is superimposed over the local scenery, making it easy to find your way.
These 3D experiences are being introduced for London, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area and Washington DC by the end of the year, with many more to come over time.
The exact release date for iOS 15 hasn’t yet been announced, but expect it in September.
All iPhones and iPod touches that can run iOS 14 can update to iOS 15. The full list of compatible models is:
•iPhone 12 Mini
•iPhone 12 Pro
•iPhone 12 Pro Max
•iPhone 11 Pro
•iPhone 11 Pro Max
•iPhone XS Max
•iPhone 8 Plus
•iPhone 7 Plus
•iPhone 6S Plus
•iPhone SE (first and second generation)
•iPod Touch (seventh generation)