As expected, Apple took the wraps off iOS 14 (and iPadOS 14) during today's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) opening keynote, revealing some very significant design changes to the overall iOS experience.
This time around, Apple focused less on tweaking the individual apps in iOS, choosing instead to work on a long-overdue reimagining of the iOS user interface, bringing some welcome improvements across the board. Read on for 17 really cool and exciting new features coming to iOS 14 and iPadOS 14.
An Entirely New Home Screen Experience
iOS 14 brings what is quite likely the biggest home screen redesign that Apple has ever added to iOS. Not since Apple introduced home screen folders over a decade ago have we seen such a significant change, and this year's update is going to be a serious game-changer.
Right off the bat, you'll no longer need to keep every single app floating around on your home screens or worry about squirrelling them away into folders. Instead, you'll be able to pull up a zoomed-out view of all of your home screens and hide the ones you no longer want to see just by unchecking them.
This will clear the way for the new App Library a new space that appears at the very end of your active home screen pages, offering automatic organization of your apps into what are effectively smart folders. At the top you'll see Suggestions and Recently Added, followed by the usual categories for things like games, productivity, entertainment, travel, and more. Apple Arcade games also get their own virtual folder.
Each category will present the most-used app as a larger icon that can be opened simply by tapping on it directly, without having to expand the folder, and this will be selected through the usual on-device intelligence, which will also be used to populate the Suggestions App Library folder, and bring up other apps that are most likely to be needed next.
A new app-specific search has also been added, showing you a full alphabetical list of every app on your device, similar to the Apple Watch app layout, except that you can also search through the list to quickly find a specific app you're looking for.
We hate to admit it, but this one really falls into the "finally!" category of changes to iOS. After all, Android has had home screen widgets for years — it's one of those things that some Android users like to mock iPhone users for lacking — while the best Apple was able to do previously was a "Today" screen that could be found to the left of the home screen, presenting a collection of relatively generic-looking widgets that could only be stored in that one place.
Well, in iOS 14 that's all changed. Apple is adding richer widgets that are available in different sizes and can be placed on any home screen. The Today screen is still there to the left of the first home screen, but widgets can now show up side-by-side on the Today Screen, or be dragged right off of it onto any home screen to be placed in the middle of your app icons.
Developers can also offer their widgets in multiple sizes, which can be previewed when adding a new widget to the Today screen or directly to a home screen, which can now be done with a new plus button that appears in the top-left corner of the screen whenever you're editing the home screen. This will show you a widget gallery that provides a preview of all of your available widgets, rather than just a static list, including all of the available sizes and designs for each one, so you can get a better idea of what you'll be looking at before you add it.
A new Smart Stack widget is also coming to iOS 14, which will allow you to drop on a special widget that can serve as a window to multiple standard widgets. Not only will this allow you to swipe through widgets to pick an appropriate one for the moment, but it can also use Siri intelligence to display an appropriate widget at different times of the day, such as showing your news and weather in the morning, calendar appointments during your workday, and entertainment options in the evening.
Picture in Picture
While the iPad has had picture-in-picture support for a long time, Apple is now bringing it to the iPhone too, letting you keep any video playing in minimized form as you navigate through other apps.
However, picture-in-picture videos are now going to be much more dynamic — they can be dragged around the screen and even resized, pinch-to-zoom is supported, and they'll stay in place between applications, and of course there are the usual set of on-screen controls to return to full screen, close the video, or pause, skip back, or skip forward.
What's even cooler, considering the limited screen real estate on an iPhone, is that you can also swipe a picture-in-picture window off your screen to one side, and it will keep playing audio in the background. You can then swipe from the edge to bring it back out, similar to how slide-over view works on iPadOS.
New Call UI
This may seem like a small thing, but another "finally!" change that's coming to the iPhone and iPad is a significant improvement to incoming call notifications. Instead of taking over the entire screen when incoming calls arrive — which Craig Federighi acknowledged is "not cool" — incoming calls will now show up as a notification banner at the top of the screen, just like any other notification.
You can then tap to answer or flick away the notification to dismiss the call, with no interruption or distraction to what you're currently working on. This will also work with every app that uses the CallKit UI, so whether it's traditional cellular phone calls, FaceTime calls, or Skype calls, they'll all use the new compact banner notifications.
Incoming phone calls aren't the only things that will no longer take over the whole screen. Siri has also been completely redesigned so that when you call up your virtual assistant, it will appear with a new compact design in the form of a floating Siri bubble at the bottom of the screen.
If you're asking Siri to do something that doesn't require any informational response, like opening an app, she'll just go ahead and do it. Otherwise, banner notifications that slide down from the top of the screen will be used to show information rather than a full-screen display.
On iPadOS, the new compact Siri design goes a step further, with results appearing above the Siri avatar in the bottom-right corner for easy reference. It feels a bit like shades of the old Microsoft Clippy, but there's no doubt it's going to be a far better user experience (and unlike the annoying talking paperclip, Siri will still only speak when spoken to).
Also, as with every new iOS version in recent years, Apple is improving Siri's intelligence, which will allow support for more complex questions, sending audio messages, and running speech-to-text dictation directly on-device rather than sending it to the cloud, providing faster performance, better accuracy, and most importantly, better privacy.
As part of Apple's Siri improvements, iOS 14 will also debut a new Translate app, offering native translation — completely on-device — between any combination of 11 different languages, including English, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Russian, and more.
The Translate app will not only allow for phrases to be translated on-demand, but will also feature conversational translation, allowing users to speak with each other in different languages. Putting the iPhone in landscape mode will enable "conversation mode" which will provide a side-by-side view of each language with a single microphone button. When a person speaks, the iPhone will intelligently detect which language is being spoken, automatically translating it to the selected language on the other side of the app.
Conversations, Groups, and Even More Memoji
Messages is one of the few individual apps getting significant improvements in iOS 14, bringing it up on par with some competing third-party messaging services while introducing a few new features in its own right.
Most of the changes have to do with group conversations, allowing users to pin important conversations to the to of the messages list so that they don't get lost in the shuffle of many ongoing chats. Apple has also redesigned how groups appear, allowing users to choose a theme image, with a cluster of individual user avatars appearing around it. In the chat list, the most recent commenter will appear to one edge of the main group avatar so you'll know who spoke last.
Apple is also adding inline replies to group chats, letting users reply to specific messages, and view threads either inline with the full conversation or focus on them separately. You'll also be able to use mentions to tag a specific user in a group chat, and choose to only get a notification for a group chat when you're actually mentioned.
Lastly, Apple is once again beefing up its Memoji by offering a whole collection of new customizations including new hairstyles, new headwear, and face coverings (e.g. masks), along with more age options. There are also three brand new Memoji stickers coming for hug, fist bump, and blush.
Guides in Maps
Apple Maps is the other major app improvement in iOS 14, which this year focuses on offering travel guides and more transportation options.
A new "Guides" feature will help users find great places to eat, shop, meet up with friends, or just explore new cities around the world. Like other Maps feature, Guides will likely be rolled out to only a few cities at first, and gradually expand as time goes on. Users will be able to save Guide pages and return to them later, and of course they'll automatically update as new places and tips are added.
Apple also noted that it plans to bring its full new detailed maps to the U.K., Ireland, and Canada later this year, offering richer detail and improved accuracy for users in those countries.
Advanced Cycling Directions
In line with its environmental goals, Apple is also adding new travel options that are better for the planet, with new cycling directions that will go a step beyond what most other mapping apps use — one of the rare cases where Apple is lapping competitors like Google Maps on a new feature.
While Google has had cycling directions for a while, Apple will add much more detailed information for cyclists, letting them know what their rides will be like. For example, directions will include details on elevation changes so that cyclists know if they can expect a challenging ride with step hills or an easy one with flat terrain. They'll also note whether there are stairs on the route and whether roads are quiet or busy. Turn-by-turn directions will advise cyclists when they need to dismount to cross streets or climb stairs, and routing options will allow the choice to avoid stairs altogether.
Due to the amount of detail that Apple will be putting into this one, it's only rolling out in New York City, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay area initially, along with several cities in China, although of course Apple promises that many more will be coming.
Electric Vehicle Routing
As another environmentally friendly feature, Maps will also provide routing information specific for electric vehicle owners, helping to eliminate range anxiety by not only picking a route with charging stations, but also factoring in elevation, weather, and your vehicle's current charge level to automatically recommend charging stops along your route.
Further, Maps will be able to identify what type of charger works for your car, so you'll only be routed to compatible stations, although initially this will only support BMW and Ford vehicles, although of course Apple plans to add more.
Drivers in China will also be able to securely store their license plate numbers on their iPhone and maps will let them know when they can enter congested areas based on their assigned license plate number.
CarPlay and Car Key
Apple has been enhancing CarPlay with each new iOS version for the past couple of years, and iOS 14 is no exception, with the in-car system gaining the ability to set wallpapers along with several new categories of apps that will now be enabled for CarPlay, including parking apps, EV charging apps, and even quick food ordering apps.
More significantly, Apple also formally announced the Car Key framework that we've been hearing about over the past few weeks, providing a demo of exactly how it will work. Not surprisingly, BMW is the first partner on board, where the technology will be coming to the 2021 BMW 5-series vehicles. It's anybody's guess at this point when we'll see it arriving in other vehicles.
For BMW, the technology will use NFC tap-to-unlock, and will apparently require the iPhone to be placed on the in-vehicle charging pad before starting the car. At least, that's how Apple demoed it.
The car keys themselves seem to work in much the same way as credit and debit cards do for Apple Pay — they're stored in the Secure Element, can be disabled remotely in the event your iPhone is lost or stolen, and even appear in Wallet alongside payment cards — although the main difference is that you'll be able to share them with other users via iMessage.
Sharing a car key will also allow you to choose to enable a restricted driving profile, such as you might do for a teen driver, at least in the case of the BMW implementation. This will probably vary with other auto manufacturers and the features that they offer in their vehicles.
Another small quality-of-life improvement that Apple is introducing in iOS 14 is App Clips, a feature we heard rumoured a few weeks ago that will allow users to quickly share and bring up micro-apps for various specific purposes without needing to download and install a whole app.
The idea here is to help users surface the right app at the right time for different purposes. App Clips can be triggered by scanning NFC tags or QR codes, accessed from place cards in Maps, web pages in Safari, or even shared via iMessage. They're designed for speed — developers have to keep them under 10MB in size — and provide only the basic necessary information in the form of a card that pops up over whatever screen the user is already on.
They're also designed to integrate with features like Apple Pay and Sign in with Apple to make the experience as fast and smooth as possible. For example, a user could use an App Clip to rent a scooter or order a coffee in a few seconds using Apple Pay without having to take the time to download a full app.
App Clips can include the option to download the full app, although this won't be at all necessary, and users can call up App Clips as needed without ever needing to clutter the Home screen with an app they otherwise might not need to have installed. App Clips can also be made to work for businesses that don't have their own iOS apps by directing users to sections of other apps, like a business' page in Yelp, for example.
All of the features coming to iOS 14 will of course be available in iPadOS 14, which for all intents and purposes is still just an extension of the core iOS experience that's better tailored for the iPad.
This means that iPadOS 14 will get the new Home screen features, the new widgets, the new Siri and call notification screens, and more. However, there will also be a few iPad-specific UI improvements.
Chief among these is the addition fo Sidebars to many of Apple's native apps (and presumably available to third-party apps as part of the iPadOS SDK). These sidebars provide a more macOS-like experience in apps like Photos, Notes, Files, and more, support improved navigation and even drag-and-drop support for organizing items.
iPadOS will also be getting more universal toolbar support at the top of apps, along with drop-down menus that can be navigated by tapping-and-dragging in a single motion to select an individual menu item.
Music on iPadOS
The iPad gets a redesigned Music app in iPadOS 14, not only gaining the new Sidebar (effectively making it more like its macOS counterpart), but also a brand new full-screen player that will show album art, transport controls, and lyrics in one single view.
Clearly one of Apple's design objectives for iOS and iPadOS this year is to prevent core UI features from taking over the entire screen. The incoming call interface and Siri have both been minimized, and on iPadOS, Apple is doing the same thing with Search, which will now much more closely resemble Spotlight on macOS — although Apple notably didn't use the word "Spotlight" in the presentation.
Instead of a search bar that pulls down from the top of the screen, the iPadOS search is going to appear as an overlay, so you'll still be able to see what's going on behind it, and the Universal Search has been rebuilt from the ground up to more effectively surface information across the entire iPadOS, whether it's apps, contacts, documents, or information stored directly in apps. Apple promises that navigating to a website from the new Search interface should be as easy as launching an app.
More Powerful Handwriting Recognition
iPadOS 14 takes Apple Pencil support to a whole new level by making handwriting recognition as powerful as working with typed text in a whole lot of cool new ways.
In practical terms, what this means is that you'll be able to take any handwriting jotted into apps like Notes on your iPad and select and manipulate that handwriting just as if it were a block of text. You can copy and paste sections of handwriting, move them around to insert more handwriting or text, and even highlight and change colours, and this can all be done using the same gestures that you would use with typed text. There's also going to be a "Copy as Text" option that will allow you to convert handwriting into typed text for pasting into another app. The standard iOS data detectors will also work for recognizing things like phone numbers and email addresses and making them tappable.
In addition, Apple is adding a new feature known as Scribble which will allow you to use the Apple Pencil to write in any text field on iPadOS and have it recognized as text. For example, you'll be able to write directly into a Safari text field to do a web search, or add new Reminders simply by jotting them down with the Apple Pencil. You'll even be able to delete words by scratching them out with the Pencil, and it can recognize Chinese characters too.
Lastly, Apple is also adding automatic shape conversion to allow hand-drawn shapes to be automatically converted into proper polygons, retaining the same size and angle that they were drawn at.
Spatial Audio for AirPods
This year's iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 updates will also bring Spatial Audio to the AirPods Pro, allowing users to get an immersive sound experience when watching content that's encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1/7.1 or Dolby Atmos.
This is actually even more magical than it sounds, since not only did Apple have to deal with the challenges of making spatial audio work on a single pair of earbuds, but it's also leveraging the accelerometers and gyroscopes in the AirPods, iPhone, and iPad to automatically remap the sound field according to your head motion and device position, so that sounds always appear to be coming from the correct direction regardless of where you turn your head or move your device.
In addition, Apple also promises that iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 will provide much more seamless switching of AirPods between devices, saving users the need to automatically reconnect their AirPods to a different device when moving between their iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac.