If you’ve been itching to take iOS 14 for a spin, you need wait no longer, as Apple officially released the first public betas yesterday, making it available to anybody who wants to install it on their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It was also accompanied by corresponding public betas of macOS and tvOS, and although watchOS 7 is also expected to join the public beta program for the first time this year, it looks like we’ll have to wait a little bit longer before that shows up.
That shouldn’t be too disappointing, though, as there’s plenty of stuff in iOS 14 (and iPadOS 14) to keep you busy until the watchOS 7 beta comes to the party, and naturally, we’ve already jumped in to take a closer look. Read on for 8 cool things worth digging into in the new iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 betas.
How Do I Get It?
Firstly, you might still be wondering how to get your hands on the public beta, and the good news is that it’s really quite simple. Head over to beta.apple.com and sign up if you haven’t already, and then follow the instructions to enroll your devices in the program. Once you've done that, the iOS 14 public betas will show up just like any other iOS update.
Keep in mind, however, that even if you were part of the iOS 13 public beta you’ll need to re-enroll your devices by installing new configuration profiles, otherwise you’ll still be stuck on the iOS 13.6 beta.
Note as well that Apple is actually calling this “public beta 2” even though there never was a prior public beta. We’re assuming this is just to keep the numbering consistent with the developer betas. The public betas have always been the exact same builds that developers get, just released a couple of days later, but in the past Apple numbered them differently, leading to some confusion (for example, public beta 1 would otherwise be developer beta 2).
Quickly Clean up Your Home Screen
The biggest change to come to iOS 14 is a whole new home screen experience, and it really is a game-changer. Of course, if you like the home screen the way it is, you don’t need to learn anything new — it will keep working pretty much like it always has — but if you’re installing an iOS 14 public beta, you’re not likely doing it just to have the same old experience as before.
Perhaps the coolest part of the new home screen is the widgets, which we’ll get to in a minute, but the new App Library also means that you’re no longer stuck having to uninstall apps completely to declutter your home screen. Apps can live solely in the App Library, which you’ll be able to find by swiping past the very last home screen, which means that you won’t be distracted by those apps that you rarely open but still want to keep around.
If you have a lot of these sort of apps, this probably means you’re going to want to get them off your home screen and living solely in the App Library, and while you can do this on an individual app basis — just “delete” the app like you would in iOS 13 and you’ll be given the choice to simply remove it from the home screen instead of actually deleting it — but there’s an even faster way if you want to do this with a whole bunch of apps.
Moving Multiple Apps
It’s not a well-known feature, but you can already move multiple app icons around as a group or “stack” in iOS 13, which has always been handy for sorting several apps into folders or simply moving them to another home screen, saving you the trouble of doing it one at a time.
The trick behind this is to take advantage of multi-touch gestures: simply tap and hold to enter edit mode as you normally would and then begin moving a single app icon to start the process. Once you’ve “picked up” that app icon and begun moving it, you can then tap on other app icons to add them to the “stack,” and you’ll be able to move them all together. This can even be done across multiple home screens — just swipe left or right to move to another screen, and continue tapping more apps to add them to the pile.
You can then move the stack of apps you’ve selected to another home screen, or drop them into a folder all at once. However, in iOS 14, you can also swipe over the App Library at the very right-hand side of your home screens, and just drop them right there. They’ll be removed from your home screen entirely, but you’ll still be able to find them in the App Library.
Note that you don’t need to worry about where you drop them in the App Library either — iOS 14 automatically categorizes apps, so they’ll go into the appropriate places automatically, even if you’ve picked up a bunch of apps from different categories. So you just need to scroll to that screen and release your finger.
Sadly, it’s not (yet) possible to do this with entire app folders, so you’ll have to open the folder and add each of the apps to your pile individually, although again you can still swipe left and right within the folder to keep on collecting apps, and then drop them en masse into the App Library. If you clean out a folder, it will automatically disappear as well once you’ve done this.
There’s no doubt that support for actual bonafide widgets on the home screen is the biggest change to come to iOS 14, and while some would argue that it’s long overdue (and they’d be right), Apple has taken the time here to do a good job of implementing it.
As soon as you install iOS 14, the original “Today” screen found to the left of your first home screen will be populated with the new-style widgets to give you a taste of them, but don’t worry, your original widget arrangement remains in place further down, and you can just remove or adjust these new ones if you don’t want them there.
More significantly, however, you can put any of these widgets onto any of your home screens, simply by picking them up and dragging them on as you would any other app, which will drop the widget onto your home screen exactly as it appears on the Today screen. Your app icons will automatically flow around the new widget, and if you like you can even set up individual home screens made up entirely of widgets, with no app icons at all.
Note that apps will have to be updated for iOS 14 to offer widgets that can be placed on the home screen, so while all of your older widgets will still show up on the Today screen, you can’t move these onto other home screen pages right now — they remain stuck on the Today screen until developers begin releasing the iOS 14 versions of their apps, which of course won’t arrive until after the public release of iOS 14 in the fall.
More Widget Styles
If you want more customized widgets, however, you’ll need to add them instead from the new plus button that appears in the top left corner when editing a home screen. This will give you a complete list of the widgets that are available, with some suggestions and previews, and tapping on one will let you choose which of the three sizes you want it to appear in.
However, for some widgets you may find there’s more to select than just the sizes. For example, Apple’s News widget lets you choose to either show a widget containing today’s top news, or pick a specific topic to follow. Also, not all widgets are available in all sizes.
Some widgets will also let you customize what info they show, but you’ll have to do this after you’ve added them to your home screen. Tapping and holding on a widget will bring up a context menu, much like it does for an app, and if an “Edit Widget” option appears you can configure additional options, such as choosing what news topic to show for the topical News widget, or what location to use for the Weather widget.
There’s also a special widget, which Apple calls the "Smart Stack” which will display multiple widgets in a single panel. This is a medium-sized widget by default, and Apple promises that it will also update to show you the most appropriate information during different times of the day, such as displaying your morning news feed when you wake up, and your calendar when you’re ready to start work.
However, you can also create a stack for any set of widgets that are the same size simply by dragging them on top of each other, just like you would to create a folder of apps. The widgets will merge into a stack and you can swipe up and down to see the different ones, and it will even act like a Smart Stack too. Tapping and holding to bring up the context menu for a stack of widgets will offer an “Edit Stack” option to let you reorganize the widgets that are in the stack, remove any you no longer want there, or turn off the “Smart Rotate” option to stop it from behaving like a “Smart Stack.”
Scribble Away with Apple Pencil on Your iPad
If you’re a fan of the Apple Pencil, iPadOS 14 is going to change the game entirely, to the point where you may not need to reach for your keyboard nearly as often as you used to.
This is all thanks to a new handwriting recognition feature that Apple is calling “Scribble.” We actually saw Apple’s first baby steps into this feature on the Apple Watch a few years ago, letting users jot out quick text message replies with their fingers instead of their voice, but on iPadOS 14, it’s all grown up, and it’s very cool.
iPadOS 14 will offer to take you through a tutorial as soon as it detects your Apple Pencil after the update, but you can also access the same tutorial from the Apple Pencil section in the iPadOS Settings app.
Basically, this feature will let you write with the Apple Pencil, in normal handwriting, in just about any text field — even on web pages. We were able to not only use it in the Safari address field, but even within the search field on Amazon’s home page, and it recognizes both print and script style handwriting, so it’s pretty amazing what Apple has done here. This isn’t like the days of the Newton where you had to learn a specific handwriting style — Scribble lets you write as you normally would and then turns that into straight text.
It also goes beyond handwriting as well, with Apple Pencil gestures to erase words or whole lines of text by “scratching them out,” selecting text by drawing a circle around it, and even gestures for inserting new text or joining and breaking up words. It’s one of these features that have to be experienced, and we’d recommend budgeting for an Apple Pencil when iOS 14 comes out — chances are you’re going to want one once you’ve tried Scribble.
Enter Dates and Times Quickly
There’s a small but welcome quality of life improvement in iOS 14 when it comes to how dates and times are handled. For the past 13 years, Apple has relied on a scrolling date and time picker, which worked like a bunch of wheels in an old-school combination lock to let you choose month, day, year, hour and minute. While this scrolling date/time picker lost its skeuomorphic roots back in iOS 7, the essential design remained, and in our opinion it’s begun feeling a bit long in the tooth.
How many times have you wished you could just type in a time, or pick a date from a calendar view instead of having to “dial-in” the information? Well, in iOS 14, you finally can. While Apple has touted this as a new feature in the Reminders app (which has gotten a very nice design refresh overall), it’s actually a system-wide change for any app that relies on the system-level date and time picker. For example, the iOS 14 Calendar app, which hasn’t changed in any other significant way, now also sports the new picker, although we suspect third-party apps will need to be updated for iOS 14 before they can take advantage of it.
Basically, this now means that when choosing a date and time, you’ll see an actual calendar view to pick the date, and a numeric keypad to punch in an exact time. Tapping on the month and year will bring up the older style scrolling picker just to help you quickly choose a different month/year, but the actual date selection will be done in a normal calendar view.
Easy HomeKit Automations
HomeKit is without a doubt the most powerful and feature-rich home automation platform available among the major players, but sadly much of that power has previously been hidden under the hood and never fully explored.
For example, you may not even know that HomeKit lets you do things like automatically turn off all of the lights when only the last person actually leaves home. Or that you can actually have one accessory trigger another, such as making sure your garage door is closed when you turn off your porch light, or turning on your lawn sprinklers when you turn off your bedroom lights to go to bed.
iOS 14 aims to bring some of this to the forefront, offering up suggested automations for each of your individual accessories to let you easily enable them with a single tap while also triggering some more creative thinking. For example, a garage door opener may offer quick switches to enable it to be automatically opened when the first person arrives home, while a light that’s in the same room as a motion sensor would offer options to automatically integrate it to turn on and off based on when motion is detected. You can even pause your HomePod or Apple TV when the last person leaves your house.
In addition, each accessory page will now prominently show you which home automations are enabled for that accessory, letting you see at a glance what else is affecting it without having to dig into your HomeKit Automations screen.
Apple has also beefed up the HomeKit options in the iOS 14 Control Center, which now presents a collection of buttons for scenes and accessories that change based on the time of the day and your normal routine.
Search out Your Favourite Emoji
If you’ve ever struggled to find just the right emoji, you’ll appreciate the fact that iOS 14 will now actually let you search them out by name. While there were workarounds for this previously, such as entering a word and hoping that iOS would let you automatically convert it, actually being able to search directly in much easier and more intuitive.
Like most things Apple does, it’s also pretty easy to use. Bring up the emoji keyboard and you’ll now see a search field above it. Tap on that, and you’ll get the normal keyboard back, with a scrolling horizontal line of emoji above it. Type in a word and the displayed emoji will be filtered to only those that match and you can then tap on one to insert it.
That said, the user interface is a little bit tricky right now, since Apple has to deal with the problem of focus. For example, when you tap and drop an emoji into the text field in an app like Messages, the focus still remains in the emoji search line, so you’ll need to either switch back to the main keyboard or tap on the text field manually if you want to keep on typing your message, or even to delete the emoji you just added. Of course, this is also just the first public beta, so Apple will undoubtedly tweak this before iOS 14 gets released later this year.