iOS 14 is here! Anyone with an iPhone 6s or later can now install the latest version of Apple's phone operating system for free, and get access to all the latest features.
Upgrading iOS always sounds like a win-win, since as well as new features you get tweaks to the interface, security patches and potentially some performance boosts too. But not so fast - it's worth taking a moment to think it through before taking the plunge.
Con: Downgrading is very difficult
For one thing, updating iOS tends to be a one-way ticket. We've had enormous reader traffic in the past on our article showing how to downgrade from a new version of iOS to the previous one, which gives an idea of how many people change their mind. Unfortunately, as visitors to the article discover, the method is really difficult, and if you're not quick it may not be possible at all.
In other words, you need to be sure iOS 14 is right for you before making the switch.
Pro: Widgets are wonderful
The main reason to upgrade this year, in the absence of a total aesthetic revamp (like we saw in iOS 7, many years ago) or broad performance improvements (the headline inclusion in iOS 12) is the new features you'll get access to. And the top of that particular list is occupied by widgets.
Widgets, as any Android user will tell you given half a chance, are not a new concept. They're not even new on iOS, since older versions could have all sorts of widgets in the Today View. But only in iOS 14 can you have widgets on the home screen.
If you're not familiar with the concept, widgets give you information or access to features from an app without having to open it. The Apple Weather widget on my home screen shows me the local conditions; the Apple TV widget shows me a range of series I've got on the go, and lets me play the next episode direct from the home screen.
There's already a lot of useful widgets to choose from, and they allow you to heavily customise the way your iPhone's interface looks and behaves - an area where Apple hasn't always been hugely accommodating in the past. And if you don't like them (and they do take up as much space as at least four app icons), you don't have to use them at all, or you can keep them locked away in the Today View.
That's my Smart Stack widget, which tries to anticipate what I'm going to need at any given moment. I have a separate smaller Apple Music widget on the next screen
Con: Widgets are weird
Having completely reorganised my two home screens to make room for a 2x4 Smart Stack and a 2x2 Apple Music widget, I would warn any prospective widgeteers that it takes forever to get them just right. And once you're happy with the new layout, don't expect the headaches to end: you'll be amazed how used your brain will have got to the exact position of every app icon, and how difficult it will find it to imagine things any other way.
This leads into a broader point about any significant change to system interfaces: no matter how much more efficient they are now, you'll have to get over the initial bump in the road that is Being Used To The Old Way. This phenomenon can also be blamed for the continued prevalence of Qwerty keyboard layouts, and for the electoral systems in the UK and US.
Pro: App Library
Another change to your home screen arrives in the form of App Library. This is a dedicated area - a screen to the right of your last page - where you can see all of your app icons, organised by categories such as Entertainment and Creativity.
It's caused some confusion, as again evidenced by the number of people reading the explainer article linked above, but it has the potential to hugely streamline access to apps for people with large software libraries. It also helps with the muscle-memory issues I mentioned previously: if you're struggling to remember where all your apps are, just head over to the App Library. Before long you may end up relying on it completely, and hiding most of the other screens.
Con: Some apps may not be ready for iOS 14
It's generally a reasonable idea to hold off on updating iOS until a day or two after the new version appears. This gives you a chance to see if any particularly egregious bugs have been spotted (and for them to be patched)... and as an incidental bonus means you'll be downloading the update at a time when the servers are less busy.
This year I had particular reason, however, to tell readers not to install iOS 14 yet. It was all to do with the unprecedentedly short period of time between Apple announcing iOS 14's roll-out and it actually rolling out, which caught app developers off guard.
Some developers admitted that their apps wouldn't be ready for the launch; others said they personally were fine, but warned that other (and perhaps smaller) devs would struggle. The general consensus among the developer community was that even if iOS 14 itself was entirely bug-free, it was likely that multiple high-profile and many lower-profile third-party apps wouldn't work properly with the new platform, and would need more time before reaching the same level of reliability they offered under iOS 13.
The best part of a week has elapsed since I wrote that article, and the issue is less pressing now: with the full weight of the iPhone user base weighing down on iOS 14, bugs in major apps will have been quickly found and hopefully patched. And it's possible that the issue was overstated in the first place: I haven't found any deal-breaking bugs in any of the third-party apps I use.
But I stand by the advice that you should wait a few days before updating. And if there are any apps you rely on - very likely a completely different list to mine - it's still worth doing a little research: search online, check the maker's Twitter feed to see if any bugs are being reported, and perhaps even get in touch to ask if everything is ready for iOS 14.
Pro: It seems to work fine on older devices
Martyn Casserly, a regular Macworld contributor, uses an iPhone 6s in his day-to-day life, which is unlucky for a chap who'd quite like an iPhone 11 Pro Max if anyone is feeling generous, but extremely lucky for those of us who wondered how well the oldest compatible handsets would cope with iOS 14.
Martyn duly made the upgrade and wrote about his experiences. I'm pleased to pass on the news that it worked surprisingly well, with none of the slowdowns that iOS updates sometimes caused to older devices in the bad old days and most features working as advertised. Martyn points out, however, that his battery performance was already abysmal so any deficiencies in that area might not be noticeable in his case.
Con: There are a few bugs
There was one area where iOS 14 did not do what it's supposed to: after selecting an email app other than Mail and a web browser other than Safari to be the respective defaults, these selections were reverted the moment Martyn restarted his iPhone 6s. Not good.
This is a known bug, however, and doesn't appear to be anything to do with the iPhone 6s specifically. Because it's so widespread, Apple is sure to roll out a fix in the near future.
Pro: Customisable default apps at last!
And once that feature kicks in properly (and without wishing to minimise the disappointment that it doesn't seem to have been properly tested ahead of launch), it'll be the answer to the prayers of many iPhone owners. We've been asking Apple to let us choose our own default apps for years.
Quite aside from the simple convenience of being able to choose which apps do what on our iPhones, competition is good for a market, and healthy competition among software makers will lead to email and browser apps for iOS getting better and better. But until iOS 14 came along, any third-party browser would always be at a disadvantage, because a clicked link would default to Safari. It's hard to imagine that developing for iOS was a huge priority for most browser makers, and email app builders will now have added incentive to target Apple's famously lucrative platform.
Verdict: We recommend updating
With the caveat that it's worth a few minutes' research to see if each of your truly mission-critical apps is iOS 14-ready, we are now prepared to recommend that you update your iPhone to iOS 14.
App Library and widgets give us unprecedented control - in Apple's walled garden - over our home screens, and the ability to select our own default email and browser apps (from a list of approved choices, admittedly) will be fantastic... once it works as advertised.
The expected app compatibility issues seem less disruptive than anticipated, and older devices have shown no detectable drop in performance on the new OS.
Please note, however, that this is intended only as a guide to the biggest pros and cons to installing iOS 14. It's not a detailed list of everything that's changed.
We haven't even mentioned Translate, for instance, a new app that lets you, er, translate from one language to another. (Apple loves a literal name.) Early signs are promising, but we suspect this will be less transformative for the average iPhone owner than the new features outlined above because its niche was already filled - albeit arguably less well, or with weaker integration - by the free third-party app Google Translate.
And there are lots more additions like this. For more in-depth analysis, read our iOS 14 new features article.