Updated: July 5, 2021 5:15:13 pm
Every July, Apple releases the public beta version of iOS, the operating system that powers the iPhone, the world’s most popular smartphone. Although not the final version, the public beta allows a large pool of tech enthusiasts to try out the features that will be rolled out as part of the new version of iOS and for Apple to fine-tune its offering based on user feedback.
The changes coming to iOS 15, like opening FaceTime to Android and Windows users or the new live text function, reflect how the pandemic appears to have impacted our lives. I won’t call iOS 15 revolutionary, rather the update brings those features that might improve the usefulness of the iPhone when everyone is dependent on video calling and increased collaboration.
I have been testing the iOS 15 public beta version on my iPhone 12, and here are five features that impressed me the most.
Safari gets a makeover
Safari, the iPhone’s built-in browser, is getting a makeover in iOS 15. While the initial impression of the new Safari looks promising, there are things that confused me. As part of the redesign, Apple has moved the search and address bar from top to the bottom of the screen. Well, the idea of placing the Tab Bar to the bottom of the screen in Safari is to allow one-handed browsing, especially now when the iPhone’s screen sizes continue to increase. The problem is, even after 48 hours, I continue to tap on the top of the Safari page to access the search bar.
Maybe it will take me a few more hours to get used to this placement, but I must say the Safari on the iPhone 12 feels fast. There are many features in Safari I found genuinely interesting. For instance, now I can customise the start page, change the background image, or even tweak the order in the section that appears. Searching using my voice in Safari is a welcome change, though I don’t think I will be using this feature often. But one neat feature I am most excited about is the new “Shared with You” feature. If someone shares a meme with you via iMessage, it will appear in “Shared with you” in Apple Photos but it also extends to Safari, Podcasts, Apple Music, and Apple TV.
‘Focus’ mode is useful
I hate getting notifications, especially after 11 pm. I want peace of mind and I don’t want to be near my phone at all. The truth is my and your life is controlled by WhatsApp and even if I want to get rid of it I can’t. Apple has a solution for this and it’s called “focus”. What this feature does is allow you to create profiles, so you can select which app or person sends you notifications at a particular time. So, for example, if I am working on an important story and don’t want any kind of disturbance, I just need to enable Focus mode and allow a text from my editor but deactivate notifications from WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger till the time I am writing the story.
Think of Focus as an advanced version of Do Not Disturb. When Focus is enabled, I won’t even see a notification that I received a WhatsApp message or an alert from Twitter. The good thing about this feature is that if someone tries to text you and if you have disabled the notification from a person or an app, they get a message that says “Anuj has silenced notifications with Focus.” Simply put, Focus gives you total control over apps and people who can reach you at a specific time. For now, this doesn’t work with WhatsApp but Apple’s own Messages supports it. I haven’t dug too much into the Focus mode yet but I will be using this feature more often.
FaceTime meets Zoom
Okay…I admit Zoom has taken over our lives and it is hard to switch to any other video conferencing platform. But Apple really thinks its FaceTime is as good as Zoom to stay in touch with family, friends or colleagues. For the first time, Apple is opening FaceTime to Android and Windows platforms. It sounds impressive until you realise that there are no dedicated FaceTime apps for either Android or Windows. Instead, the conversions will be done through web browsers instead. So if you use an Android smartphone or a Windows laptop and have a friend with an iPhone or Mac, the Apple user can send a link to join a FaceTime call through a text, email, WhatsApp or a calendar invite.
Once you receive the link, you can click on it and it will open in a web browser. The best part is you can join the call without having to forcefully download an app or own an Apple device. Mind you: only an Apple device user can schedule or start a FaceTime call. In the iOS 15 public beta, this functionality is live. I need to tell you that the quality of the call depends on how your browser handles audio-video on the device. When I tried a FaceTime call with a friend who has an Android phone, I did not find any glitch. For me, what matters is Apple’s assurance that a FaceTime conversation is end-to-end encrypted.
SharePlay is a nice addition
I am surprised to see how Apple is making its FaceTime app more than a Zoom competitor. The new SharePlay is the perfect example that shows why Apple’s ecosystem is so unique and why it is so hard for competitors to replicate this model. When you start a FaceTime call with a friend or a group of friends, you will notice a small button showing a screen. Tap that to start a screen sharing, open Apple TV+, Disney+, or even Apple Music, and then watch a show or movie together. You can also share your iPhone screen via SharePlay.
If you are watching a movie with a friend, he or she can pause or fast forward the playback. It’s live in the iOS 15 public beta, and for now it’s only compatible with Apple TV+. SharePlay in FaceTime is a pretty solid feature but one thing I observed while testing this feature is that everyone on call has to subscribe to that particular subscription service to watch shows or movies together.
Live Text is similar to Google Lens
I am impressed with the new live text feature in iOS 15. If you have ever heard about Google Lens (available on Android devices), this feature does exactly the same thing. Basically, the live text function is Apple’s Optical Character Recognition (OCR) feature. It fetches text from any picture captured with the camera and that can be copied, pasted or translated.
If you are traveling in Paris and want to translate the signboard across the road, take your phone out, capture it and let the iPhone translate what is written in your language. The other day my charger for an old laptop broke and I wanted to find where I could buy a replacement unit. Instead of typing the model number and searching on the web, I took the picture, tapped the model number written on the adapter, and then performed a search to find the relevant information.