iOS 15 is now officially available to download as an over-the-air upgrade for iPhones, and it’s got more than just new wallpapers to try out. Once you install the big update, there are a slew of new features to check out, some of which might just change the way you use your iPhone. Here are 19 ways iOS 15 is a huge upgrade from iOS 14, and how to start using them.
One of the biggest new features in iOS is called Focus, which you can find in the main Settings menu. It’s like Do Not Disturb, but you can set up multiple scenarios—like home, work, or vacation—and set custom notification rules for each one. There’s also the option to let other people know you’ve got notifications off when they try to text you.
Across many of Apple’s iOS apps—including Photos, Safari, Apple News, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and Apple TV—you’ll see new sections titled Shared With You. These are easy reference points for all the stuff that your various contacts have shared with you in Messages (and you can also send message responses from inside these apps, too).
Anything that helps with the daily deluge of phone notifications is welcome, and the Scheduled Summary option under Notifications in Settings does just that: You can choose apps to limit notifications from, and the summary will bundle those alerts together and deliver them at scheduled times you can specify rather than sending them immediately.
The same Portrait Mode that blurs the background behind people when you take a shot with the iPhone camera can now be applied during FaceTime calls, too. During a call, tap your video thumbnail to see a larger version, then tap the Portrait Mode icon that shows up in the upper left-hand corner. The background blur should be instantly applied.
While we instinctively think of health information as strictly private and personal, there are times when it’s good to share—with partners, for example, or with elderly parents. The Apple Health app in iOS 15 lets you choose which data and trends to share (from heart health to overall activity to the Medical ID) and which contacts you want to share it with.
Also new in the Health app in iOS 15 is Walking Steadiness. The metric measures how steady your walking is, as the name suggests, and this data is a pretty accurate predictor of how likely you are to have a fall over the course of the next year or so. You can even get a warning in the form of a notification if your steadiness reading starts dropping over time.
If you pay for iCloud storage, then you get some new iCloud+ features automatically with iOS 15, and that includes iCloud Private Relay. The sort-of-but-not-quite-a-VPN reroutes and encrypts your connection to the internet for extra privacy and security. You can find it from Settings by tapping on your name at the top, then iCloud, then Private Relay.
New to the Find My app in iOS 15 are separation alerts, and they’re exactly what they sound like: alerts that sound when your iPhone is separated from another device (like a MacBook, Apple Watch, or AirTag). Select an entry in the Find My app, then look for the Notify When Left Behind notification option which will appear on compatible devices.
iOS 15 is also ushering in a new feature called Live Text, which shows up in the Camera and Photos apps. The feature can scan any photo for text, which you can then search for or copy. In the Camera preview, tap the Live Text button (bottom right) that appears when text is in the frame, and in Photos just tap to select text as you would anywhere else in iOS. Live Text works with both typed and handwritten text, and supports multiple languages.
Zoom way in to certain large cities in Apple Maps and you’ll see some beautifully rendered 3D landmarks—like the Golden Gate Bridge, for example. San Francisco is a good choice if you want to see what these detailed improvements look like, and Los Angeles, New York and London are among the other major urban centers to also get these visual upgrades.
Apple has just gone right ahead and blatantly ripped off the immersive augmented reality walking mode in Google Maps, but we’ll take it. If you’re in a city that supports the feature and load up a walking route in Apple Maps, lift up your phone to get a prompt to scan your surroundings and see immersive AR navigation prompts.
When you think of browser extensions, you usually think of Google Chrome, but Safari supports the shortcuts, too. Now extensions are coming to Safari on the iPhone. In Settings, tap Safari then Extensions to see what’s already installed and which extensions are currently enabled, then pick More Extensions to find some new plug-ins to add to the list.
Also new in Safari in iOS 15 is the ability to group browser tabs for easier sorting. Tap the tab button on the toolbar (the two rectangles, bottom right), select the Tabs dropdown that appears at the bottom of the screen, and you can create a new tab group. All the webpages that you then open up will be added to that group until you start a new one.
A smaller but still useful Safari feature is pull to refresh, which lets you tap and drag down from the top of the screen to refresh a website. It’s easier to use than reloading a page, though many might not discover it right away.
Memories in the Photos app is getting a host of improvements: The auto-generated slideshows now come with recommended song suggestions from Apple Music, have a fresh new visual look, are more interactive than before, and come with more templates to pick from. What’s more, there are new categories of Memories available in iOS 15.
Open up the Settings app in iOS 15, choose Privacy, and scroll down to the bottom of the page, where you’ll see a new option to Record App Activity. Once enabled, this feature keeps a rolling 7-day log of which apps are using location, photos, contacts, and camera and microphone permissions, and when. Any badly behaved apps should stand out in the list.
An iOS update usually means more Memoji features to play around with, and that’s once again the case with iOS 15. Apple has packed in different outfits and new stickers (such as one showing an open MacBook) to try, and there are some new accessibility customizations to have a look at as well—they include cochlear implants and soft helmets.
If you’re in the U.S. and your state supports it (there are eight so far that do), you can store your driver’s license digitally in Apple Wallet. The process is the same as it is for adding credit cards and transit passes in Apple Wallet: You tap on the + (plus) button on the front screen, then follow the prompts. State IDs are supported as well as driver’s licenses.
One iOS 15 feature we’re excited to try isn’t available at launch is SharePlay. The new FaceTime tool lets you listen to music or watch TV or movies in apps like Apple TV+ or Apple Music with your loved ones while on a video call. Apple says the feature will be coming to iOS 15 in a future software update later this fall. We tested it out in an early developer beta of iOS 15 and found it to be a really fun way to share content, so hopefully it won’t take long to roll out.
More on security and privacy from G/O Media’s partner:
- Selecting a VPN
- ProtonVPN Deep Dive
- VPN Pricing Information
- Surfshark - VPN Provider
Gizmodo is not involved in creating these articles but may receive a commission from purchases through its content.