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Apple iOS 15 preview gets some game-changing new features at WWDC

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Apple WWDC 2021


This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

iOS 15 has officially arrived. Monday during an online keynote for WWDC, Apple’s annual app developer conference, the company presented a preview iOS 15, the next major version software for the iPhone. It’s a follow-up to last year’s iOS 14 and will launch in full this fall and likely debut on the heavily rumored iPhone 13. iOS 15 brings improvements to four major themes: staying connected, finding focus, using intelligence and exploring the world. FaceTime gets new Zoom features and can be shared with Android and Windows users can 

The announcement of iOS 15 comes with a celebratory atmosphere filled with excitement. However beyond the scope of Apple’s marketing and showmanship lurks a much more sobering reality around iOS and Apple’s App Store. Over the past year, Apple responded to inquiries about its App Store from lawmakers and regulators at home and abroad. The company launched iOS 14.5 which brought new levels of user privacy and new controls over ad-tracking which led to a mini-corporate battle royale with Facebook. Apple also awaits judgment in a lawsuit by Epic Games one of the biggest app developers for iOS.

A developer version of iOS 15 will be available to download today, with a public beta launching this summer.

iOS 15 adds FaceTime support for Android, Windows

One of the biggest updates comes to FaceTime, Apple’s app for video and audio calls. Over the past year, many of us have relied on video calls to stay in-touch with friends and family and collaborate with co-workers. Apps like Skype and Zoom became the norm while FaceTime suffered because of its limitations. iOS 15 makes FaceTime a bit more like Zoom while keeping some of its quirkiness.

Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi said that the goal for updating FaceTime in iOS 15 was to make it feel more natural and comfortable to use. You can now schedule FaceTime calls and create links in-advance. FaceTime links can be accessed on Apple devices or via a browser on Android phones and Windows computers.

FaceTime’s video interface gets an overhaul with a new grid view. Gone are the random-sized tiles and instead is a neat grid of similarly sized squares of all your callers. Grid view makes it easier to see at a glance who is speaking. FaceTime in iOS 15 adds portrait mode. Just like portrait mode for photos on the iPhone which separates you from your background, FaceTime turns the background of your video call into a nice artistic blur. 

There are also new tools to improve audio. FaceTime in iOS 15 supports spatial audio during a call and makes your friends and family sound more natural and gives the effect that they are in the room with you. Your microphone gets smarter and can isolate your voice or widen its pickup to capture all the details in your environment. Apple showed a video of two people having a FaceTime call. Behind on the the people was a kid using a leaf blower right behind them. When voice isolation is enabled, the sound of the leaf blower goes away. That said, I don’t know how many people would gift their child a leaf blower, let alone use it indoors.

Watch films, listen to music over FaceTime in iOS 15

Another new feature to FaceTime is called SharePlay which lets you share your screen, your music or videos over a video call. For example, if you’re on a FaceTime call, you can play a song in Apple Music and listen to it over the call with your friends and family. The feature works with Apple Music, as well as video content from Apple TV Plus, TikTok, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Hulu among others. Developer can add the SharePlay API to their apps, so maybe there’s a hope YouTube will adopt this?

Watching a video over FaceTime can also be shared to your AppleTV. SharePlay adds an enormous wealth of multi-tasking and integration but when you’re on a FaceTime call.

Messages gets new design and content is more organized

Messages gets a visual overhaul and becomes more organized. In an iMessage conversation thread, photos are shown in a new collage design or when there are many, in a photo stack. You can swipe through a photo stack just from the in-thread view or tap to open all of the photos into a separate screen.

Another new feature called Share with You which takes videos, music, story links people shared with you in Messages and organizes them in a new tab for the corresponding app. For example, if a friend sends you a link to an Apple News story via iMessage, it’s automatically added to the Shared with You tab in the Apple News app. The tab not only shows the link but who shared it with you. When you tap on the person’s name, you’re brought back to that place in your Messages conversation with them.

Share with You also works in the Photos app. And brings photos that are shared with you in Messages into your Photos app. Apparently the Photos app will on import those that you were there for or that you care about. Screenshots and memes won’t be added. 

Shared with You works in the following apps: Apple Music, Apple News, Apple TV, Safari, Photos and Podcasts. You can also pin a message, link or content and have it be elevated in Shared with You and show up in search.

Add your driver’s license to Apple Wallet in iOS 15

The Wallet app in iOS 15 lets you add corporate keycards and driver’s licenses. Apple says that it’s working with the TSA on ways to accept it in US airports. This comes on top of being able to carry credit and debit cards, transit fare cards, car keys (for phones equipped with Apple’s U1 chip for ultrawideband).

This is a developing story.

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