8 Things We Like
Here are eight announced features we like the look of.
1: Home Screen Widgets
Widgets give you information at a glance. They’re already a boon on the iPhone’s Today screen. iOS 14 takes things further, allowing you to add Home Screen Widgets for your apps anywhere. They’re to come in different sizes too, both on the Today screen and on the Home screen. This lets you choose what level of information you wish to display. On-screen widgets can be moved around the available screen area, just like app icons, and you can add and remove them as you wish. Best of all, you can add a Smart Stack of widgets and scroll through them to select the widget you need.
Widgets aren’t exactly a new concept, but on the Home screen, they take things to a new level. Imagine having the weather available at a glance without opening the Weather app, and your upcoming meetings at your fingertips with no need to launch Calendar. Apple’s mobile devices are set to make accessing information even easier.
2: App Library
iPhone users have been able to organise their apps into folders for years, but iOS 14 gives a new take on the concept. The App Library page sits at the end of your Home screen pages, and automatically organises your apps into smart folders. These folders include such categories as Social, Apple Arcade, Recently Added, Entertainment, Creative and more.
The apps are still on your regular Home screens, but if you find you’re not using these any more, you can simply hide pages you no longer need to see. At the top of the App Library is a search field so you can look for an app by name, and tapping a smart folder opens up a whole screen of apps, not just a three-by-three grid like regular folders.
With so many apps to install and use, it’s easy to lose track of what’s where. App Library should make navigating your iPhone easier than ever before.
3: App Clips
Picture the scene. You’re away on vacation, having lunch in a cafe. The establishment in question has a great app that lets you review your menu options, order your meal and pay the bill all from your phone, but as there isn’t a branch in your locality, after your holiday you’re unlikely to go there again. Do you download the app, use it once and delete it, or not bother and stick to paper menus and cash?
The new operating systems introduce a great new feature that gives you the best of both worlds. With App Clips, a small part of the relevant app appears just when you need it. To get the App Clip you want, just tap an NFC tag, scan QR codes from Messages, Maps, and Safari, or use an App Clip code. It’s much quicker than downloading the entire app, and it doesn’t take up space on your phone after you’ve used it.
Being smaller than the full app, an App Clip downloads almost instantly and is ready to use in seconds. They’re designed with the same attention to privacy and security as Apple’s apps, and as App Clips can use Apple Pay for payments, you don’t need to enter credit card numbers. If you decide you want the full app after all, you can download it directly from the App Clip.
4: Compact Calls
To date, if you get an incoming call while you’re using your iPhone or iPad, it takes over the entire screen. This can be very distracting, especially if you decline the call and want to get straight back to what you were doing. Compact Calls is a new feature that shows an incoming call as a notification, which only covers the top of your screen. You can still decline or accept it as before, but it’s far less intrusive.
This applies to FaceTime calls and calls from third-party apps as well as regular phone calls. Obviously, this is a relatively minor tweak to the user experience, but it’s yet another step in the right direction.
5: Better Messages
The Messages app is looking old. It’s still a great way of keeping in touch, but compared to third-party alternatives such as WhatsApp, it has grown a little tired. In iOS/iPadOS 14 it gets a spruce-up, with new features and new ways of interacting using the app.
The new Messages app lets you pin your most important conversations to the top of your list, just like you can with Notes. Pinned contacts appear as icons at the top of the screen. New Memoji options are included too. There’s over 20 new hair and headwear styles, more age options and even a surgical mask for these COVID-hit times. There are now over one trillion ways to customise a Memoji, so there’s bound to be one you like.
Finally – and maybe most importantly – group chats have been overhauled, with inline replies to specific messages, alerts when you’re specifically mentioned in the conversation and the ability to give your group chat an icon or Memoji. It all serves to clarify the somewhat-chaotic nature of current group chats, and make them far easier to follow.
6: Cycle Support
Cyclists will be pleased to hear they’re being catered for in iOS/iPadOS 14 in a number of ways. The Maps app, for example, is to include cycling as an option when getting directions. Elevation is taken into account, as are dedicated cycle paths where applicable. If you drive an electric car, Maps can show you where compatible charging points are too.
The cycling routes through San Francisco displayed during the keynote have come in for criticism from Californian cyclists, who argue they’re poorly chosen as they take no account of the murderous hills for which the city is famous. But the feature is, like the operating system, still in beta and may yet improve before its final release this September.
7: Better Controller Support
We’ve been able to use Bluetooth keyboards with our iPhones and iPads for years, but iOS/iPadOS 14 goes a very welcome step further. Mouse/trackpad support is no longer a throwaway feature tucked away in the Accessibility options. The new operating systems bring support for the mouse and trackpad to the fore, with better, more highly integrated options. Gamers will be happy too. Support for Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 and Adaptive Controller are added, as are custom button mapping, force feedback and specialty features like motion sensors, lights, and battery level.
Keyboard support has been improved with the gamer in mind. Before, you couldn’t register more than one press input at a time when using a keyboard, but with iOS/iPadOS 14 multitouch input is catered for. This is especially welcome for first-person shooter fans, as without it, you couldn’t shoot and move at the same time, and platform games, where you couldn’t previously tap the Jump button without letting go of the direction key first.
8: Sensational Siri
Apple’s own personal digital assistant goes from strength to strength in iOS/iPadOS 14. Its user interface has improved, with a new, compact design replacing the previous full-screen experience. The Siri indicator appears at the bottom of the screen. When you ask it for information or give it a specific task, this is shown atop the screen like a notification. It’s great when you need Siri while using an app. An example demoed during Apple’s keynote is using Siri to add items to a grocery list while looking at a recipe in Safari. The Reminders app appeared, not as a full-screen entity, but in a widget at the top of the screen.
It’s not all about the user interface, though. Siri now curates information from across the web, allowing it to answer more complex questions such as ‘How do hybrid cars work?’ or ‘What causes seasons?’ In iOS/iPadOS 14, you can use Siri to send an audio message through the Messages app, and keyboard dictation – which also uses Siri voice recognition – runs on your device instead being processed online, for greater accuracy and privacy. For translation, Siri now supports 65 languages and with the new Siri-powered Translate app, you can translate entire conversations on the fly too.
8 Things That Concern Us
Not everything announced has us jumping around in excitement.
1: Copying Android
Home Screen Widgets, App Library and App Clips are all very nice, but let’s not pretend they’re new. Android users have enjoyed similar features for years. Steve Jobs famously said, ‘We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas,” and it seems his successors are of a similar mind.
2: App Icon Problem
There’s a curious hiccup in the early builds of iOS/iPadOS 14. If you add a Home Screen Widget to the Home screen and delete the app icon for the app in question, there’s no easy way of getting it back. For example, if you add a Calendar widget to the Home screen and remove the Calendar icon, but later want it back, you can’t restore it from the App Store because the app is still installed and you can’t drag it from the App Library either. Instead you have to reset the Home screen layout from the Settings app. This is annoying, and we hope it’s fixed soon.
3: No Integrated Monitor Support
If you have a Mac notebook, you can plug it into an external display and use that screen as your monitor. Wouldn’t it be great if you could also do this with Apple’s mobile devices? As things are, you can plug your iPad into an external display and use it as a second, ‘presentation’ screen, or have it mirror what’s on your iPad. Either way, you probably get black borders left and right. Don’t you wish you could simply plug your iPad – or even your iPhone – into a monitor and use it instead of the built-in screen? Apps could display natively, the extra space would be great for creative work and as the iPhone and iPad gain full mouse and keyboard support with OS 14, you could ‘dock’ your mobile device when at your desk and use it as a desktop computer.
4: Nothing Breathtakingly New
Let’s be honest. For all their strengths, there was nothing that was both new and exciting in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. As mentioned before, the Home screen changes and App Clips are great, but they’re lifted from Android OS. The new Translate app is just Apple’s version of the existing Google Translate app too. That’s not to say we’re not getting significant improvements. Siri has taken a significant leap forward, for example, and with Apple bringing out its own Translate app, we’ll see some great integration with other Apple apps. But where’s the new stuff? Perhaps it’s still under wraps, waiting for the iPhone 12 and its expected LiDAR scanner.
5: App Store Policies
Apple has been greatly criticised for its App Store policies, with developers frustrated at inconsistencies in approving apps and balking at the 30% commission taken by Apple. Like Microsoft in the Nineties, Apple is facing probes into alleged monopolistic practices. In June 2020, the European Commission opened two antitrust investigations, and cases are in progress in the US too.
These complaints are nothing new, but the launch of iOS and iPadOS 14 would’ve been a great opportunity to overhaul the way Apple runs the App Store, with any back-end changes needed being made for the release of the new operating systems. It was an opportunity missed.
6: No Call Recording
A screenshot from a leaked version of iOS 14 implied we were getting a new Call Recording feature, allowing us to make recordings of telephone and FaceTime calls. This would be incredibly useful for saving conversations for later review. Journalists could record interviews, businesspeople could agree terms over the phone and type up a contract later, and more. But the (unofficial) word from Apple is that this is a feature included on early builds of iOS 14 for debugging, and won’t be in the final release. Bah!
7: Slow on Older Phones
The new operating systems run on anything that can run version 13, which is always welcome, but at the time of writing, the current developer’s builds run very slowly on older devices. This is only to be expected and will likely be alleviated when the final versions of iOS and iPadOS 14 are released in September, but for now, if you’re using an iPhone 7, it’s probably wise to avoid the public betas and wait for the finished release.
8: Missing iPadOS Features
We’re saving this one until last, as it’s possible the situation will change before the final release in September, but at the moment, iPadOS 14 is missing a couple of iOS 14’s best features. Developers who download the early builds of iPadOS 14 won’t find the App Library at the end of their iPads’ home screens, and nor can they take advantage of Home Screen Widgets. These features, lauded on the iPhone, simply aren’t there.
This seems a very strange omission. Handy widgets in various sizes and places would be just as advantageous on the tablet as on the smart phone, as would the chance to organise them in a better way with App Library. We hope future builds of iOS 14 will include these features.