First, the details you care most about: The official developer beta for iOS 14 is available today. Regular people will be able to sign up for the public beta next month, and iOS 14 proper will launch this fall. If you’ve been following Apple at all over the past few years, this should be the least unsurprising announcement the company had.
As for what you’ll find in iOS 14…
Managing the way-too-many apps you’ve installed on your iPhone
iOS 14 now comes with a brand-new area at the end of your Home screen’s pages that makes it a lot, lot easier to organise your many apps. You’ll get automatically curated categories in this App Library that highlight your top apps (but can be expanded to show everything), as well as suggestions of apps that your device thinks you’ll want to use above others and a special category for your most recently used apps.
Even better, you’ll now be able to hide app pages, too, so you can finally prune your iPhone down to just two pages (or so) of apps you absolutely want to see — and dump everything else to your new App Library page. Oh, and App Library comes with a search bar, too, that also shows your apps in A-Z order when you tap on it.
Say hello to little, medium, or large widgets
Ah, widgets. It seems like every major operating system developer has dabbled with good ol’ widgets, and they are now making their triumphant debut on iOS. I love the implementation, though, for two reasons. First, you’ll be able to resize widgets to give you more data for that which you most care about within your Today view.
More importantly, you’ll be able to drag widgets from Today directly onto your iPhone’s pages. So, if you really, really want to be able to mess with your favourite music player the second you unlock your iPhone, it’ll be there. And if you’d rather get as scrolling news feed, or the weather, or whatever, those will be there, too.
Apple also debuted a new “Smart Stack,” which is kind of like a universal widget. It’ll select what it thinks is most relevant to you at any particular time, and you can swipe through different widgets directly on it if you’d like to see something else.
Distract yourself Multitask with Picture-in-Picture
I can never quit you, Netflix/Hulu/Quibi/wherever you watch videos. And now, on iOS 14, I don’t have to. You’ll now be able to keep watching whatever it is you were watching by moving your video from its app to a new picture-in-picture box. You can resize the box by pinching and move it around your iPhone’s screen to wherever you’d like. It’ll stay pinned to your display while you switch between other apps — perfect if you’re trying to reply to your chatty friends while watching your favourite show. You can even swipe away your video and keep listening to your audio, in case you temporarily need your full display for another app.
Siri won’t eat up your entire damn screen anymore
Virtual assistants are well and good, but I don’t need to see a giant screen of black and a “What can I help you with?” whenever I try to summon Apple’s. The company seems to agree, as Siri will now eat up only a tiny portion of the lower half of your iPhone’s screen whenever you ask it for help. Additionally, Siri now processes dictation directly on your device — a bit more privacy for those concerned that what they’re saying might go live on a server somewhere.
This same “compactness” will also apply to your phone calls, too! Goodbye, gigantic “answer or decline” screen; hello svelte notification popping down from the corner of your screen.
Siri will also power a brand-new Translate app that supports 11 different languages (for now), works offline, and allows you to run a “conversation mode” in landscape when you’re trying to talk to someone else.
Keep track of your sprawling Messages conversations
As part of Apple’s update to its Messages app, you’ll now be able to pin your most important Messages conversations within the app — useful, if you have more friends than me. (You do.) Within these chats, you’ll be able to reply inline to anything anyone says, and typing out a person’s name within the group will allow you to hit them with a “mention.” That’s important, because you’ll also be able to mute extra-chatty conversations, save for those moments when someone calls you out by name.
In other words, Messages has basically turned into my default Slack setup. And that’s great.
You’ll be able to assign unique images to conversations — again, for better management — and an icon-driven listing of everyone in said conversation, where each person’s icon is sized by how recently they participated (larger = chattier), will appear at the top.
Oh, and since it’s Apple, you’re getting even more Memoji now: more hair and headware styles, the ever-important COVID-19 face coverings, new age options, and new actinos for hugging, fist-bumping, and blushing.
Apple Maps is better for bikers and battery-conscious EV drivers
Among the many tweaks to Apple Maps that the company is making, the app will now pack in dedicated, automatically updating guides to show you things you can do wherever you happen to be (or want to go). If you, like me, get all sorts of anxiety trying to plan out the best trip to a brand-new location, these should help get you started with a few must-dos.
If you prefer to bike to where you’re going instead of drive, the updated version of Apple Maps will now come with a dedicated option for cycling directions. You’ll be able to see which routes are quieter or busier (and select accordingly), and Apple Maps will warn you when said route requires you to carry your bike somewhere or really haul arse on a vertical incline. In fact, now that the app shows you the elevation gain over your trip, you can decide, “No, San Francisco’s streets are not for me” before you even strap on your helmet.
Similarly, if you’re a proud owner of a fancy electric vehicle, Apple Maps will now take into account your car’s estimated range and suggest charging stops along your route — with chargers compatible for your car — when you’re planning to drive somewhere. Goodbye, range anxiety. Now all you’ll have to deal with is pondering how many people are going to potentially pack a charging station and turn your brief road trip into a day-long affair.
Unlock your next car with your phone
Apple talked a bit about CarPlay during its keynote, but its minor updates for the app experience pale in comparison to the feature that everyone saw coming: digital car keys. If you have a car which supports this feature — spoiler: you don’t, since the 2021 BMW 5-series will likely be the first to support it — you’ll be able to unlock and start your car simply by having your NFC-enabled iPhone within range.
More importantly, you’ll be able to assign a car key to anyone you want — any other iPhone owner, that is. And you can restrict their ability to access your car in various fun ways, which your kids are sure to love. Apple plans to support digital car keys in iOS 13 and iOS 14, which is great! All that’s missing are…the multitude of cars, and/or some fancy way to integrate this setup into your ageing, 7+ year old gas-guzzler.
Get the bare essentials of an app with App Clips
Because services, Apple is also debuting App Clips. These are small, quick app experiences — less than 10MB in size — that pop up whenever you need to use an app that you might not have downloaded to your iPhone. An App Clip can be summoned any number of ways, including NFC tags, QR codes, web links, links in Messages, links from Maps, et cetera. They won’t clutter your home screen, but you’ll be able to make purchases (if you’re using Apple Pay) and log in quickly (if you’re using “Sign in with Apple”) to experience an app’s essential elements. And if you then need the full app, downloading it is as easy as a few taps.
Basically, App Clips help you do the most basic tasks — like, say, renting one of those annoying scooters you see littering the footpaths everywhere — without forcing you to fumble through the App Store, wait for a full app to download over 4G, and try to remember your login credentials (or create new ones). And, hey, this might even help you reduce your installed app count from 8 pages’ worth to…six (until you take advantage of the aforementioned Home screen organizational tweaks, that is).
Data privacy, nutritional labels, and the App Store
I’m surprised at this one, given how heavily Apple curates what developers can show on an App Store product page for their apps, but Apple will now require all apps to self-report their data collection practices. And a brief list of what data a developer collects, as well as what data it’s sharing with other companies, will appear directly on each app’s product page (when you scroll down a little bit to find it). While this won’t necessarily stop app developers from trying to learn everything and anything about each of their users — nor will a lot of users probably even notice this change — every little bit helps when it comes to data privacy.
As for that “nutritional labels” bit, that’s the metaphor Apple used to announce the new addition. You should know what’s in your food; you should also know what’s in your apps (as much as Apple, or the developers, are willing to share).