In June 2021 Apple announced iOS 15, the latest major update for the company's iPhone operating system. In September 2021, Apple announced its release date. It'll bring interface changes, security fixes and a raft of new features - and best of all, if your iPhone supports the update, you can install it for free.
In this article we outline everything you need to know about the iOS 15 software update: when it will be released; the interface changes and new features coming to your iPhone; and the devices (both iPhones and iPods) that can install the new software.
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What's the new version of iOS called?
The new iPhone software update for 2021 is called iOS 15, as had already been confirmed by an explicit reference in the code for WebKit. This is hardly a surprise - although there have been rumours that at some point, Apple may switch back to the branding iPhoneOS (as the iPhone operating system was known until iOS 4 replaced iPhone OS 3 in 2010). It's a move that makes sense in the long term, given that the main other iDevice, the iPad, now has its own operating system.
When will iOS 15 be released?
iOS 15 will be released on 20 September 2021, as announced during the Apple iPhone Event on 14 September.
It's a bit too late to try out iOS 15 before then, but to have a chance to try out the next software update before it rolls out, you should sign up to Apple's Beta software programme, which gives you access to unfinished software builds. This comes with risks - the idea is that you'll be spotting and reporting bugs, of which there will be plenty - so you shouldn't install the beta on your main phone. It could become unreliable or even unusable.
We explain how to install iOS 15, whether the final version or the beta, in a separate section of this article.
Here are all the devices that can install iOS 15:
- iPhone 6s
- iPhone 6s Plus
- iPhone SE (2016)
- iPhone 7
- iPhone 7 Plus
- iPhone 8
- iPhone 8 Plus
- iPhone X
- iPhone XS
- iPhone XS Max
- iPhone XR
- iPhone 11
- iPhone 11 Pro
- iPhone 11 Pro Max
- iPhone SE (2020)
- iPhone 12 mini
- iPhone 12
- iPhone 12 Pro
- iPhone 12 Pro Max
- All iPhone 13 models
- ...plus the current iPod touch and the new iPod touch if and when it eventually launches.
This is great work from Apple, which has kept all the same compatible devices as on iOS 14 and even iOS 13. We discuss the iPhones that can install iOS 15 in more detail in a separate article.
However, you should remember that just because your iPhone can run iOS 15 doesn't mean that you will get all the features. Read: Which iOS 15 features run on my iPhone to find out which iOS 15 features your iPhone supports.
New iPhone features in iOS 15
The iOS 15 segment of the WWDC presentation earlier this year was phenomenally dense, with dozens of upgrades and new features to cover. Here are the highlights.
Lots of changes are coming to FaceTime, Apple's video-calling service.
Apple is adding Spatial Audio to FaceTime, which will make each participant's audio contributions appear to come from the appropriate location on the screen. It's also working to improve audio clarity with Voice Isolation, a mode which will use machine learning to identify and remove ambient noise - although you will also have the option to instead activate Wide Spectrum audio, to deliberately include background noise.
You get some new interface options, too. You can opt for Portrait mode, which as on stills photography will blur the background and draw attention to the subject. Or use the new grid view, for a better way of seeing all the participants in a group chat rather than foregrounding the speaker.
Apple is also responding, perhaps a little belatedly, to the world's increasing reliance on video calling for work meetings. The company is letting iPhone users create FaceTime 'meetings' by generating a link that can be shared via email, iMessage and so on, or entering it as a Calendar entry.
Intriguingly, Apple also said that Android and Windows users will be able to join FaceTime meetings via the web.
SharePlay is a fascinating new feature that's connected to FaceTime but deserves its own section. It's essentially designed to let you flip out of a FaceTime chat using picture-in-picture, activate another app, and then have that app effect everyone on the call.
The most obvious application is music. You hop into the Music app without actually leaving the chat, pick a song, and then have that song plays for everyone. You can create a shared playlist and have everyone contribute tracks.
This also works for video - Apple said HBO Max, Disney+, Hulu, Twitch and TikTok are all on board - and extend the video you're watching to your Apple TV for a larger screen. And SharePlay can be used for screen-sharing, for troubleshooting or showing off gameplay.
There's a SharePlay API, so we're fascinated to see what third-party app developers come up with for this intriguing feature.
We knew a little about this feature before the event, although we didn't know it was going to be called Focus.
This allows you to create multiple bundles of settings for segments of your life. So you can create a work Focus status, and your availability, notification settings, and arrangement of apps and widgets on your Home screen will all be tailored to suit your work life. You can create another for when you're sleeping, or for your recreational time. It's the same sort of idea as Do Not Disturb While Driving, but extended to more contexts.
Another feature that could help you focus is Background Noise. This feature will deliberately generate background noise, including Ocean, Rain and River sounds. Read how to use Background Noise and play these sounds on your iPhone here: How to play Background Noise in iOS 15.
Photo search continues to improve. Spotlight search will pop up photos now, including searching for text displayed in the images.
This is connected to a feature called Live Text. If you look at a photo - either through the viewfinder, live, or in your photo library - a button will appear at the bottom right allowing your to activate Live Text. This will search for and highlight text in the image, allowing you to select, copy or interact with it - if it's a phone number, for example, you can tap and then choose to call it.
Live Text will understand seven languages at launch.
The expanded intelligence of Photos is not limited to text, however. There will also be non-textual Visual Look Up, allowing you to query the breed of a pictured dog, for example, or the identity of a work of art or landmark.
None of this is new to the tech industry, of course, and Google Photos has proved itself adept at such computational feats in the past. But it's a step forward for iOS.
Wallet is expanding its scope to include keys - this seems particularly handy for hotel keys and workplaces - and a general-use identity card which Apple says will be accepted in airports.
Weather gets a new design, lots of attractive new animations, and new climate maps.
Talking of maps, Apple's Maps app is looking extremely appealing. It's getting lots of additional road details in cities, such as turn lanes, bus, taxi and bike lanes, and pedestrian crossings. There's an attractive nighttime view, too.
Transit directions will be more helpful, with notifications telling you when it's time to disembark and an AR feature that reorients you when you come out of a station and don't know which direction to walk.
Last but not least, iOS 15 brings a few features for AirPods owners, such as improved performance in the Find My app, a separation alert and the ability to read out high-priority notifications that are applicable to the context.
When iOS 15.0 finally launches to the public this autumn, updating your iPhone or iPod touch - assuming they support the new software - will be straightforward. You'll simply have to open the Settings app, then go to General > Software Update, and wait to see if an update is available. Then follow the onscreen instructions to install it.
If you want to install iOS 15 before then, you'll need to install a beta. This is by definition unfinished, pre-release software, so don't install it on your primary device - it's likely to be buggy.
- Click Sign Up on the Apple Beta page and register with your Apple ID.
- Log in to the Beta Software Program.
- Click Enrol your iOS device. (If you signed up for a previous version's beta last year you may need to uninstall the profile for that and then re-enrol for the new one.)
- Go to beta.apple.com/profile on your iOS device.
- Download and install the configuration profile.
- That will make the beta version available in Settings, under General > Software Update.
What a night! We've got masses of further reading if you want to know more about Apple's announcements.
For information about the other software updates on the way, visit our iPadOS 15, tvOS 15, watchOS 8 and macOS 12 news hubs. And read everything announced at the Apple iPhone Event, September 2021 for a general outline of the evening's excitement.
Finally, for a broader look at the year's launches, read New Apple products coming out in 2021.