The 5 best new features in the iOS 15 update


iOS 15 is out and available to download for free. Photo courtesy of Apple

Apple has pushed out iOS 15 to the masses, and if your phone runs iOS 14 then it’ll be able to handle the new software too. Everything since the 2015 iPhone 6S is eligible for the upgrade.

After you’ve downloaded and installed the new OS version, it might not seem as though a huge amount has changed, but iOS 15 is packed with plenty of new features to explore. They’re designed to make your iPhone safer, more capable, and easier to use.

1. Find your Focus

Open up Settings in iOS 15, and you’ll see a new entry in the main list: Focus. It works like a supercharged upgrade on Do Not Disturb, enabling you to create several DND profiles, each with different rules for various parts of the day. You can also share these rules across other devices, so your iPad and MacBook can function under your specifications.

Do Not Disturb already does a good job muting alerts and distractions when you need it, only allowing important contacts and messages to come through. However, what is or isn’t important might change depending on what time it is or where you are.

[Related: macOS Big Sur has an annoying Do Not Disturb bug. Here’s how to fix it.]

That’s where Focus comes in. Open up the Focus feature from Settings and you can configure rules for Fitness (when you’re at the gym), Sleep (when you’re in bed), Driving (when you’re on the road), and others. Tap the + (plus) icon in the top right corner to create your own.

For each of these profiles, you can choose which contacts and apps can come through the wall of notification silence. You’ll also be able to set Focus profiles to turn on automatically at a certain time, for example, or when you get to a certain location.

You have other options too, like Focus Status, which shares your status with your contacts in certain apps like Messages; Home Screen, which determines how the profile affects notification badges and home screen layouts; and Lock Screen, which determines how the profile affects what you can see when your phone is locked.

2. Schedule notification deliveries

The problem with notifications is that they can interrupt us whenever they want—whether it’s a request from a colleague, updates from our favorite store over email, or our fitness app reminding us that it’s time for a daily run. The flood of alerts can be pretty incessant.

iOS already includes notification management tools, but iOS 15 goes even further and gives you the option of delaying less important alerts so that you can check them at a time that suits you.

To set it up, open Settings, and choose Notifications and Scheduled Summary. At the top, you’ll be able to set when to receive the bundled notifications: You can have up to 12 daily summaries set to arrive at the times of your choosing.

If at some point you can’t wait for your next summary to come, switch on the Show Next Summary option and you’ll be able to see the notification build up before it pops up on your screen. This won’t distract you, though, as you’ll only be able to access it if you specifically go to the Notification Center to check.

At the bottom of the Scheduled Summary settings screen, you get to choose which app notifications are included in this summary and which ones you see as they come in. You want to pick the least time-sensitive ones for this, and any apps that won’t ever include any urgent alerts.

3. Scan Live Text

Once you install iOS 15 on your iPhone, it will be able to recognize and process text in photos saved to your device, and also any text you see through the Camera app. Depending on what the lens captures, you’ll have various options.

If you see a phone number on a sign, for example, you can point your iPhone camera towards it and call the number from a pop-up context menu. If there’s an email address on a business card, you can send a message to it with just a tap.

The feature is called Live Text, and to try it out you just need to open up the Camera app or the Photos app on your iPhone. In the Camera app, look for the Live Text button (it’s the one with three horizontal lines inside a frame) in the bottom right-hand corner, which appears when the phone detects written words—tap it to select the text in the frame.

If you open up a picture that has text in it in the Photos app, you simply press and hold on the text to select it. As with text selection in any other app, you can use the blue handles at the edges of the selection to include more or fewer words.

A number of options then pops up on the screen, depending on what’s in front of the camera or in the image. You might see an option to Copy the text somewhere else, Share it to another app, or Translate it if the words are in a foreign language. If the system recognizes a phone number, you’ll get FaceTime and Contacts options too.

4. Group tabs in Safari

Safari gets a range of updates with the arrival of iOS 15. First of all, the tab bar moves to the bottom (swipe up to see all your open tabs), and the start page gets more customization options (including the ability to set your own background image).

However, perhaps the most useful Safari upgrade is the introduction of tab groups, which let you save bunches of tabs together. You can group them around a particular topic, or a specific time of day, so work versus leisure, for example.

Tap and hold on any link on the web, then choose Open in Tab Group to move the link into a group—you can either add it to an existing group or create a new one. Alternatively, tap and hold on the address bar to add the current page to a tab group.

You can also add pages to tab groups from the tab overview screen—just tap the tabs button on the bottom right to see it. Tap and hold on a thumbnail to see the Move to Tab Group option, and again you can create a new tab group or use an existing one.

To find and manage your tab groups, open the tab overview, then tap Tabs at the bottom of the screen. It will have a number next to it, indicating how many tabs you have open. From here, you can switch to different groups, or use the Edit button to create new ones or delete the ones you have.

5. Check up on app privacy

iOS has always scored highly when it comes to putting restrictions on what apps can and can’t do. You can already take control over how much access an app has, for example, and how often it’s able to make use of it.

With iOS 15, you get more of an insight into how apps are using permissions such as location and camera access—if a particular app is using its privileges more than it should, or at unusual times, you’ll know about it.

[Related: Take control of your apps’ permissions]

Open up Settings and pick Privacy, then go to Record App Activity to turn it on and off. When it’s been active for a week or more, you’ll be able to download a summary by tapping Save App Activity.

You can save the file that you get to your phone or to iCloud, or you can open it with another app. Unfortunately, it’s in a JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) language that’s difficult to decipher unless you’re a developer, but if you open the file in a text editor you should be able to make sense of some of the details.

Apple has promised to roll out a more user-friendly App Privacy Report screen in the near future, so keep an eye out for it. This will break down all the details of how your apps are behaving without you having to save a file.