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[Correction: The final public build of iOS 14.5 has not yet been released, but is instead coming next week. Today’s updates are near-final Release Candidate developer betas for iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5, watchOS 7.4, and tvOS 14.5.]
Although Apple made no mention of it during today’s “Spring Loaded” event, it quietly slipped out iOS 14.5 not long after the event concluded, along with corresponding watchOS, iPadOS, and tvOS updates.
The release of iOS 14.5 was pretty much expected today, although it was less certain whether Apple would have anything specific to say about it on stage. It turns out, however, that the new release doesn’t offer anything especially surprising — we’ve already been through eight public betas — but rather just enables many of the products and services that Apple showed off today. Here’s what’s new.
Mask-Aware Face ID
Perhaps the most significant change coming to iOS 14.5 is the ability to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask — provided that you have an Apple Watch.
The feature has been available in public betas since early February, and it hasn’t really changed since then. You’ll need to specifically enable it, after which anytime your iPhone’s Face ID camera detects a face that’s wearing a mask, it will query your Apple Watch for permission to unlock your iPhone.
As long as you’re wearing your Apple Watch and have it unlocked and not in sleep mode, the feature should just work, and it works quite well. For security and privacy reasons, your watch has to be within 3–4 feet of your iPhone, and you’ll also get a haptic notification with a “Lock” button to lock your iPhone down if somebody else has picked it up and managed to unlock it without your knowledge.
AirTag and Find My
Naturally, iOS 14.5 will be required to support Apple’s just-announced AirTags, including support for Precision Location using the iPhone’s U1 chip, new privacy alerting features, and NFC-based Lost Mode.
Note that you don’t necessarily need iOS 14.5 to find other Find My network-compatible items, such as Belkin’s earbuds, Chipolo’s Bluetooth tag, or Van Moof’s e-bikes. These technically only require iOS 14.3 or later, even though they’re not expected to arrive until June.
Before you get too excited, however, it’s worth pointing out that the bulk of these — 200 of them — are to add all the possible new skin tone combinations for the couple kissing emoji and the couple with heart emoji, and then another 12 of them add gender-diverse “Person with Beard” emojis.
So, the only entirely new emojis in iOS 14.5 are Face Exhaling, Face with Spiral Eyes, Face in Clouds, plus Mending Heart and Heart on Fire. However, Apple has also put its own spin on some existing emojis, including taking the blood out of the syringe to make it more appropriate for vaccinations, and redrawing the classic Headphone emoji into a set of AirPods Max.
Apple has expanded Siri’s voice library to include more diversity, while also removing the former “male” and “female” labels. Voices options are now simply shown by number.
It’s also now possible to not only announce incoming calls with Siri, but also who is calling when wearing AirPods or Beats headphones, and even answer them with a voice response.
Siri can also now be used to initiate Group FaceTime calls by specifying a list of contacts or even the name of an existing Messages group, and you can also ask Siri to call your emergency contacts.
Sharing Lyrics in Apple Music
Apple Music users can now share their favourite lyrics via Messages, Facebook, and Instagram Stories.
When sharing via iMessage, recipients will even be able to play the exact snippet of the song without leaving the conversation.
Unfortunately, what’s not mentioned here is the rumoured ability to automatically select the appropriate playback app when making Siri requests. Originally heralded as a “default” music player feature, Apple later clarified that it was intended to allow Siri to more intelligently learn a user’s preferences and call up the appropriate options on a per-request basis. This is likely still a work in progress, however.
What Else Is New?
Here are a number of other smaller features packed into iOS 14.5 as well.
- App Tracking Transparency: You’ll now be prompted when an app wants to try to track you across other apps and websites, giving you the option to opt-out. This was originally announced for iOS 14, however Apple delayed it to give advertisers time to prepare. Despite ongoing controversy, however, Apple didn’t back down, and now with iOS 14.5 it’s finally arrived.
- Podcasts: While it stopped short of the Podcasts+ service that many were expecting, Apple did announce some interesting changes to its Podcasts app and service today, including Podcast subscriptions. The new iOS 14.5 Podcasts app ushers in some of these, including Show Pages, Top Charts, and popular categories in Search.
- News: Apple News gets a redesign for News+ subscribers to help them more easily find magazine and newspaper issues, and even download them for offline access. The Search experience has also been improved overall.
- Expanded Game Controller Support: iOS 14.5 now brings support for new Xbox Series X and Series S and Sony PS5 DualSense Wireless Controllers.
- AirPlay Streaming with Fitness+: You’ll now be able to stream Apple Fitness+ workouts to any AirPlay 2 enabled video device, such as a smart TV, although you won’t be able to see on-screen Activity Rings and other metrics.
- Reminders can now be sorted by title, priority, due date, or creation date. You can also print your reminder lists using AirPrint.
The iOS 14.5 release also fixes several bugs and other issues, including programs with Messages hidden by the keyboard, delete messages still showing up in Spotlight searches, Mail failing to load new emails, and more.