October 2021

iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and tvOS 15 Now Available


Today is the day. Apple has released iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and tvOS 15. Apple’s servers will probably be slammed with all the traffic, and there may be first-day bugs. If you’re the sort who installs new operating systems right away, go ahead—the betas have been stable—but we recommend that most people wait at least a week or two. If you’re particularly upgrade-shy, Apple is finally allowing users to stick with iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, which will continue to receive security updates. Nevertheless, we always recommend upgrading eventually, when it’s convenient and sensible for you (see “Why You Should Upgrade (On Your Own Terms),” 4 September 2015).

iOS 15 and iPadOS 15

iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 offer a slew of new features. Here are the highlights:

  • Massively improved FaceTime, with many of the features you’ve become accustomed to in videoconferencing apps like Zoom
  • Shared With You collections in Messages, Photos, and other apps for bringing together content and links that people share with you
  • Focus, which is like a more customizable Do Not Disturb. You can create multiple Focuses that allow notifications only from specified apps or contacts.
  • Time-sensitive notifications (like reminders that go off at a particular time) that can optionally break through a Focus. Plus, notifications are now slimmer and have more prominent icons.
  • Notification summaries, which bundle notifications that aren’t time-critical and display them to you at set times during the day
  • Significant Safari changes, including the address bar moving to the bottom of the screen in iOS (so it’s easier to reach), Tab Groups, which let you organize tabs by topic or project, and voice search
  • Live Text in Photos, which lets you do things like copy text from photos or search for text in photos
  • New iCloud+ features, like Private Relay and Hide My Email
  • Redesigned Memories in Photos
  • A redesigned Weather app in iOS 15 that includes notifications for rain and other weather events. (Sadly and increasingly weirdly, Apple still has no Weather app for iPadOS. Maybe next year.)
  • More discoverable multitasking capabilities on the iPad, thanks to a Multitasking menu at the top center of every window and a shelf at the bottom that shows open windows within an app
  • App Library and Home screen widgets on the iPad. These features work just like they do in iOS 14, albeit with larger widgets on the iPad.
  • Quick Note, which lets you create a note with a swipe up from the corner of the screen on an iPad

iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 support the same devices as iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, meaning everything back to 2015’s iPhone 6s and 2014’s iPad Air 2. Kudos to Apple for continuing to keep these older devices on the train. However, some features require newer devices, specifically the A12 Bionic processor or later. See “The Real System Requirements for Apple’s 2021 Operating Systems” (11 June 2021) for details on those.

My new book, Take Control of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, covers these topics in detail, and we have articles planned to go in-depth on what we consider to be the most interesting features of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 in the coming weeks. I’ve been running these betas all summer, and they’ve been very stable for me. Nor have I heard about major problems from other beta testers. However, there could be subtle but problematic bugs that won’t become obvious until these operating systems are running on millions of devices.

Apple decided to delay some promised features for later releases:

  • SharePlay, which let you watch movies or listen to music with others over FaceTime
  • Screen sharing over FaceTime
  • Legacy Contacts, which let you designate someone to inherit your iCloud data upon your death. It was available in earlier betas (I even have my QR code printed out) but won’t return until later.
  • App Privacy Report. Apple apparently planned to delay this from the start. If it’s like App Tracking Transparency from iOS 15, I would expect it to arrive around iOS 15.5 or so.

You can install iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 in Settings > General > Software Update—you’ll likely need to tap Upgrade to iOS 15 at the bottom of the screen. On an iPhone 11 Pro, iOS 15 clocks in at 3.24 GB. On an old iPad Air 2, iPadOS 15 is only 2.43 GB, perhaps because it doesn’t include code for unsupported features.

iOS 15 update process

watchOS 8

The watchOS 8 update isn’t quite as exciting as iOS 15, but it still includes many nice improvements:

  • Better photo support, including Portrait mode watch faces, better Memories support, and easier sharing of photos
  • A redesigned Home app that better supports security cameras and scenes and displays status symbols for devices
  • The option to edit text with the Digital Crown
  • The capability to look up and share animated GIFs in messages
  • Find My apps for locating lost devices from your wrist
  • A redesigned Music app that makes sharing easier
  • A new Mindfulness app that replaces the Breathe app
  • The capability to track your sleeping respiratory rate

watchOS 8 update process

To install the update, which was 1.2 GB for an Apple Watch Series 4, open the Watch app on your iPhone and go to My Watch > General > Software Update. Remember that the download will take a while, after which the iPhone has to transfer the update to your Apple Watch through Bluetooth, which can take a couple of hours. Then, to install the update, the Apple Watch must have at least 50% charge and be connected to a charger. We recommend performing the upgrade at night.

tvOS 15

As usual, tvOS 15 didn’t get as much attention as the higher-profile operating systems. Apple delayed its main feature, SharePlay, for a future release. However, there are still a few welcome changes in tvOS 15:

  • A For All of You section in the TV app, which tries to suggest content your entire household will enjoy, based on your preferences
  • Shared with You, which displays shows and movies shared with you from Messages in iOS 15
  • Spatial audio support for AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, plus smart audio routing for AirPods
  • The capability to view multiple HomeKit cameras at once
  • Stereo sound when you pair two HomePod mini speakers to an Apple TV 4K

tvOS 15 supports the Apple TV HD and Apple TV 4K.

To install the update, go to Settings > System > Software Update, or just let it install on its own at some point in the future.

HomePod Software Version 15

Finally, Apple quietly released HomePod Software Version 15. In what seems like a slight change in iOS 15’s version of the Home app, an icon for Update Downloading appears at the top of the screen. Tapping it reveals more information about the update, revealing what’s new:

  • As noted above, you can now use the HomePod mini (by itself or in a stereo pair) with an Apple TV 4K.
  • Media playback controls now appear on your iPhone’s Lock screen when a HomePod mini is playing nearby.
  • You can use Siri on a HomePod to turn on and control an Apple TV.
  • Siri automatically adjusts its volume based on the room environment and how you’ve set the loudness.
  • You can ask Siri to control HomeKit devices at a specific time—”Hey Siri, turn off the kitchen lights in 5 minutes.”
  • If you have HomeKit accessories with Siri support, you can use them to control the HomePod.
  • If you have a security camera that supports HomeKit Secure Video, your HomePod can theoretically now alert you when a package arrives at your door.

HomePod 15 release notes

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