As expected, Apple announced the next major revision to its phone operating system at its WWDC 2020 virtual developer conference. And as usual, the new iOS is full of features big and small.
This story will be periodically updated, and we will break down everything you need to know about iOS 14: the significant features and changes, the beta test, the release date, and how to install the beta. Here is what awaits you when you update your iPhone to the latest version of iOS this fall.
Update 08/06/20: Apple has released Beta 4 of iOS 14 to public beta testers. It adds a TV app widget, support for the contact tracing API, improved on-device search, and restores 3D touch.
A new home screen with the App Library
Apple is finally changing the iOS home screen! With iOS 14, you’ll be able to actually remove apps from your home screens, and even eliminate entire screens.
Your apps will all remain in a new App Library, a page that is one swipe beyond your final home screen.
The App Library automatically groups all your apps together into big folders that show the most recently used apps within. You can search for apps with a search box at the top, see automated suggestions in the upper-left box, and recently used apps in the upper-right box. Folders will also be automatically organized by categories, like Social, Health & Fitness, etc.
It is a great way to clean up your iPhone’s home screen without losing access to all your stuff, and it is the most significant change to the iPhone’s home screen in years.
New Widgets on the Today view and home screen
Widgets have been available on iOS for years, living in a simple vertical list of full-width boxes on the Today screen (that screen to the left of your first home screen).
With iOS 14, Apple will completely overhaul the widgets experience. The new widgets can have more information and a bunch of new sizes, but most importantly, they can be dragged right off the Today view and onto your home screen.
A single “Smart Stack” widget lets you swipe through your commonly used widgets, and can even be set to automatically show you the widget you’re most likely to need throughout the day.
A whole new Siri interface
Siri’s full-screen takeover will finally become a thing of the past. When you trigger Siri in iOS 14, it will simply show the Siri “blob” at the bottom of your display, and a lot of the results will show as a rich notification at the top of your screen.
There are lots of other Siri improvements coming to iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, so we have a separate article all about them.
Once only available on iPad, picture-in-picture mode is finally coming to iPhone with iOS 14. When watching a video or talking on a FaceTime call, you can swipe back to the home screen and the video will continue to play in a little box, allowing you to keep using your iPhone for other things.
You can move the box around, or swipe it off to the side to become a little tab, with the audio continuing to play.
App Clips lets you use mini-apps on the spot
Apple is introducing a whole new class of application called App Clips. These are little micro parts-of-apps that allow you to use specific Apps without having to download, install, and sign in to a big app to do one simple thing.
A developer creates an App Clip when they make their app, making sure the experience is under 10MB in size so it downloads and opens quickly. Developers are encouraged to use Sign In with Apple and Apple Pay so you don’t need to log in or create accounts.
So next time you tap your phone to a parking meter and need to use an app to pay, or want to earn points for your purchase at a coffee shop, you might be able to use a simple little card at the bottom of your screen to make it happen instead of downloading and configuring a full-sized app.
As a user, you’ll trigger an App Clip via the web, Maps, Messages, NFC tags, or QR codes. Apple is making a new “App Clip code” that will let you know one is available.
App Clips will show in the App Library, and show an app icon surrounded by a dotted line. You can re-access the App Clip this way, or easily download the full app.
Major Messages improvements
Messages is arguably the most important mobile app in Apple’s arsenal. Apple is adding some big features to Messages across iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.
You can now pin up to nine conversations, keeping them at the top of your Messages stack. That is a relief to anyone who has a lot of different conversations going, or just gets a lot of two-factor authentication codes over SMS.
Group conversations are getting a lot better, too. You’ll see images of everyone who is in the group, with the most recent people first, and can give groups a name and its own image, too. You can reply to messages in-line, so its easier to know that you’re replying to the thing Mike said four messages ago, instead of Carol’s more recent reply. And you can direct a message to a single person when you mention them by name, and even set Messages only to notify you when your are mentioned.
Apple is not making any huge fundamental shifts with Memoji in iOS 14, but it is adding a lot more options to make it easier to express yourself.
There are seven new hairstyles, 16 new pieces of headwear, three new memoji stickers, face coverings and an expanded range of ages.
Memoji have been refined with new facial and muscle structure to make them more expressive, too.
Maps is going to have to keep improving for years in order to earn back a good reputation, but Apple is well on its way to making it a great experience for everyone.
The last year saw the rollout of new map data to the entire United States, and they’ll come to more countries later this year. They really do make a massive difference in the usability of the Maps app.
Also new this year are cycling directions that can take into account elevation changes, bike lanes, and stairs. Maps will show the location of known speed cameras and red light cameras, route you around congestion zones in cities that have regulated traffic areas, and can provide specialized electric vehicle routing. That latter feature lets you add your electric vehicle to your iPhone and let you keep track of things like your current charge, and show compatible chargers on route to your destination.
The Maps app will help you find places to visit in major cities with a new Guides feature. Apple is working with major third-party travel companies to provide guides to landmarks, sightseeing, restaurants, hotels, shopping, and other activities.
Apple typically saves major camera improvements for new iPhone models, but it is bringing a number of very welcome improvements to the Camera app in iOS 14.
To begin, the Quick Take video mode enjoyed by the iPhone 11 (press and hold the shutter button in Photo mode to take a video) will come to iPhone XR and iPhone XS. And all iPhones will get the ability to change video resolution and frame rate in the Camera app, rather than digging into the Settings app.
On iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, there is a small steady guidance indicator when taking Night Mode shots.
In addition to the single-shot exposure lock, there is now an exposure compensation slider that lasts for an entire session whether taking photos or videos.
Maybe the thing everyone will notice most is much faster shot-to-shot performance. On an iPhone 11 it’s up to 90 percent faster, time to first shot is up to 25 percent faster, and Portrait shot-to-shot is up to 15 percent faster. There is an option in Settings to prioritize faster shooting, at the expense of making it take just a tiny bit longer before the photo is processed.
Default email and browser apps
With iOS 14, you’ll be able to designate third-party apps to be your default email or browser. You can currently run other browsers and email apps on iPhone, but when you open a link or email address, it will still open Safari or Mail.
With iOS 14, when you click on a link or email address, it will open the app of your choosing instead. Finally!
It’s unclear to what extent this will work with Siri, however.
On “supported devices,” FaceTime calls get a bump in quality, up to 1080p.
While it won’t affect many people, here’s a cool application of AI technology: If you’re in a group FaceTime call and someone is using sign language, your iPhone will detect it and make that person more prominent.
And do you remember how iOS 13 had a neat feature where it would tweak your eyes to make it look like you were looking at the camera, instead of down at your display? That “eye contact” feature never ended up shipping, but it’s back in iOS 14.
The dictation feature is now better and works entirely on your device, but that is not the big-ticket item. The big-ticket item is that the emoji picker now has a search bar, just like it does on the Mac. Finally!
Apple takes privacy very seriously, and has included several important new privacy features in iOS 14.
You can give apps your approximate location instead of your exact location (perfect for a weather or sports app), for example. When an app asks to access your photos, you can select specific photos to give it access to, instead of your whole library.
While an app is accessing your camera, a little green dot will show in the status bar. There’s an amber dot for when your microphone is accessed. Because some apps ask for permission to access your camera or microphone for legit reasons, but then watch or listen to you when you’re not expecting it.
The App Store will now show detailed privacy information about each app before you download it, too.
Apple is also making it easier for you to switch your app logins to Sign in with Apple, if the developer wishes to support it.
The Translate app
Apple’s got a new first-party app called Translate, and it’s basically the Apple version of the popular Google Translate app.
Just pick two languages, hit the microphone button, and the app will listen to your voice and provide text and voice translations. You can even download many languages to your device and it’ll work entirely offline.
Apple is updating the Arcade tab in iOS 14 to show you the games your Game Center friends are playing, quickly access games you played recently (even if it was on a different device), and make it easier to find and sort through all the Arcade games.
The in-game Game Center dashboard is enhanced, too. You can more easily see your profile, your friends, and track your achievements.
Apple keeps expanding its augmented reality tools for developers, even if it isn't making a lot of impressive features for users yet.
ARKit 4 tools let developers place Location Anchors so an AR object can occupy a specific place in the real world. Like a virtual sculpture in a public square.
What’s more, any device with an A12 Bionic chip or later can do facial tracking with the front camera, even if it is not a TrueDepth module—this could mean that Animoji and Memoji are coming to more devices.
There is a new Depth API that lets developers build 3D mesh environments and per-pixel depth information on the latest iPad Pro with its LiDAR scanner. Presumably these features will be important on future iPhone Pro models, too.
Safari is faster than ever in iOS 14, and more secure, too. You can access privacy reports for websites, and Apple will monitor saved passwords to see if any have been involved in recent data breaches.
Safari on iOS can even translate entire webpages without visiting a third-party service. Just tap the translation icon and it’ll translate compatible pages into English, Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Russian, or Brazilian Portuguese.
Apple’s car interface has a host of small but welcome improvements. There are new categories of apps allowed, including EV charging, parking, and food ordering apps.
You can ask Siri to share your ETA with someone, and it will send them a Message that lets them track your progress en route to your destination.
There are new developer tools for audio, messaging, and VoIP apps, which should allow developers to make better experiences in those app categories.
Oh, and your CarPlay interface can have a background wallpaper now, too.
Apple’s one of the first to bring a standardized version of digital car keys to your iPhone (Manufacturers like Tesla have had their solutions for some time).