iOS 15 adds all the little features that were missing

The release of iOS 15 should be a major event for mobile operating systems. And yet, this year, there’s no breakthrough feature or overarching theme that makes this release stand out. Apple has focused on quality-of-life updates as well as new features for its own apps.

The result is a solid update that is not going to be controversial. Some people are going to take advantage of the new Focus feature. They’ll spend a lot of time customizing their phone to make it as personal as possible. Other people are just going to miss or dismiss the new features.

This year’s update is also a bit different because you don’t have to update to iOS 15. If you’re fine with iOS 14, Apple won’t force you to make the jump to iOS 15. You’ll still receive security patches. Some people will simply dismiss iOS 15 altogether.

It seems like a small change, but it actually says a lot about the current state of iOS. Apple considers iOS as a mature platform. Just like you don’t have to update your Mac to the latest version of macOS if you don’t want to, you can now update at your own pace.

Also, iOS should be considered as a mature platform for app developers, so iOS 15 adoption will be slower than usual as people won’t necessarily update to iOS 15 right away. Apps should potentially work on older iOS versions for longer.

Of course, users will “update” to a new version of iOS when they buy a new iPhone and replace their old iPhone. But Apple has people who pre-ordered the iPhone 13 and will get iOS 15.

Image Credits: Apple

Focusing on you instead of your phone

One of the biggest changes in iOS 15 is the ability to change your Focus from Control Center. It’s a surprisingly powerful feature with a lot of options and tweaks. I would say it doesn’t feel like an Apple feature.

But it’s definitely one of the most interesting features of iOS 15. Chances are you spend a lot of time with your phone, and your device requires a lot of attention from you. With this new feature, it reverses the balance and puts you back in charge.

“Do Not Disturb” users are already quite familiar with the idea that you can silence notifications when you don’t want them. If you want to keep using “moon mode” with iOS 15, you don’t have to change anything.

But you can now create additional Focuses. By default, Apple suggests a few Focuses — Work, Sleep, Driving, Fitness, Gaming, Mindfulness, Personal and Reading. Each Focus is customizable to your needs and you can create new Focuses from scratch.

When you turn on a specific Focus, it basically blocks notifications by default. You can then add people and apps so that notifications from those people and apps still go through. App developers can also mark a notification as time sensitive so that it always goes through. I hope they won’t abuse that feature.

There are three more settings that you can activate. First, you can optionally share that your notifications are currently silenced in Messages and compatible third-party apps. Second, you can hide home screen pages altogether. Third, you can hide notifications from the lock screen and hide badges from the home screen.

Focus gets particularly interesting when you realize that you can couple specific Focuses with automation features. For instance, you can automatically turn on “Sleep” at night or you can automatically turn on “Work” when you arrive at work.

Power users will also have a lot of fun setting up a Focus and pairing it with a Shortcut. For instance, you could use Shortcuts to open the Clock app when you turn on Sleep mode. You get it, this new feature has a lot of depth and beta users have just started scratching the surface.

Image Credits: Apple

Update all apps

With iOS 15, Apple has improved nearly all the default apps. Some additions are definitely nice improvements. Others have been a bit more controversial.

Let’s start with the controversial one: Safari’s design has been updated. But what you saw at WWDC in June doesn’t look at all like what’s shipping today. Essentially, Apple has listened to feedback and changed the user interface of its web browser during the summer.

By default, the address bar is now at the bottom of the screen, right above the row of buttons that let you open bookmarks, share the current page or go to the previous page. I think it works better. But if you really don’t want the address bar at the bottom, you can move it back to the top of the screen.

Other than that, Safari changes are all good improvements. For instance, the browser now supports traditional web extensions. It’s going to be interesting to see if popular Google Chrome extensions eventually come to Safari. Another nice new feature is the ability to create tab groups and find your tab groups from your other devices.

FaceTime has become a versatile video-conferencing service. You can now create links, share them with friends and add them to calendar invites. For the first time, people who don’t own an Apple device will be able to join FaceTime calls from a web browser. There’s also a new Zoom view… I mean, grid view.

Unfortunately, the big new FaceTime feature is not ready for prime time just yet. SharePlay, the feature that lets you sync audio and video playback with your friends, is going to be released later this Fall.

The Weather app has also been redesigned. It is now packed with a lot more information, such as precipitation maps, next-hour precipitation notifications and a new UV index. It has become a solid alternative to third-party weather apps. I still use Snowflake, but differences are smaller and smaller.

Messages is now better integrated with other Apple apps. Whenever someone sends you an article, a photo album, a podcast or a song, you’ll see those recommendations in Apple’s other apps — Apple News, Photos, Apple Podcasts, Apple Music, etc. Once again, this is a nice addition in my testings but it’s not going to change the way you use your phone.

Apple Maps is getting better and better, especially if you live in San Francisco. If you haven’t used it in a few years, I encourage you to try it again. It’s now a solid alternative to Google Maps.

Some cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and London, are receiving new detailed maps with 3D buildings, bus lanes, sidewalks and more. It feels like navigating a video game given how detailed it is. The app has also been redesigned with new place cards, a new driving user interface and settings in the app.

Photos is also receiving a bunch of improvements. Every year, the company is refining Memories. I’m not sure a ton of people are using this feature, but it’s better than before. There is now more information if you swipe on a photo as well, such as the shutter speed and lens that were used.

But the biggest change to your photo library is that you can now search for text in your photo; iOS is scanning your photos to find text and save it for Spotlight searches.

Similarly, you can now point your camera at text and select text from there. It is incredibly convenient if you’re looking for the restaurant address on the menu and want to share it with a friend or if you’re traveling and you want to translate some text.

Image Credits: Apple

Tips and tricks

There are a ton of small changes that make iOS 15 better than iOS 14. Let me list some of them:

  • If you have a compatible home key, hotel key, office key or ID card, you can now add all of those to the Wallet app.
  • You can share some health data with someone else. It can be useful if you’re living far away from your loved ones or if you want to update your healthcare team.
  • If you pay for iCloud, you’re now an iCloud+ user. In addition to storage, you get additional features: iCloud Private Relay, which is available as a beta feature, lets you browse the web with increased privacy; Hide My Email lets you create randomly generated email addresses to create new accounts around the web.
  • Similarly, if your family is using iCloud for their email addresses, you can now set up a personal domain name and set it up in iCloud.
  • iOS uses on-device speech recognition, which means you can dictate text much faster.
  • But that’s not all, iOS processes some Siri requests on your device directly, which means that you can start a timer, set an alarm or change the music instantly. It has changed the way I use Siri.
  • You can add an account recovery contact in case you get locked out of your iCloud account. This is important to convince more people to use two-factor authentication.
  • Talking about two-factor authentication, Apple’s built-in password manager called “Passwords” can now save 2FA details and auto-fill 2FA fields. It works pretty much like 2FA in 1Password.
  • You can set up a legacy person for your Apple ID. I encourage you to look at that feature carefully. I’ve talked with several persons who couldn’t get their loved one’s photos after they passed away because Apple couldn’t just hand out the photos.
  • Apple has added tags to Reminders and Notes. You can also @-mention people in Notes.

As you can see, the list of changes in iOS 15 is quite long. But it’s up to you to decide whether you want to update to iOS 15. When Apple added cut, copy and paste with iPhone OS 3, it was an obvious decision. I personally like the new features and it was worth updating. And I hope this review can help you decide whether to update or not.

iOS 15 is now available to download

Apple has just released the final version of iOS 15, the next major version of the operating system for the iPhone. It is a free download and it works with the iPhone 6s or later, both generations of iPhone SE and the most recent iPod touch model. iPad users will also be able to update to iPadOS 15 and watchOS 8 today.

The biggest change of iOS 15 is a new Focus mode. In addition to “Do not disturb,” you can configure various modes — you can choose apps and people you want notifications from and change your focus depending on what you’re doing. For instance, you can create a Work mode, a Sleep mode, a Workout mode, etc.

There are many new features across the board, such as a new Weather app, updated maps in Apple Maps, an improved version of FaceTime, and more. Safari also has a brand-new look.

The new version of iOS also scans your photos for text. Called Live Text, this feature lets you highlight, copy and paste text in photos. It could be a nice accessibility feature as well; iOS is going to leverage that info for Spotlight. You can search for text in your photos directly in Spotlight and it’ll pull out relevant photos. These features are handled on-device directly.

Paid iCloud users have been upgraded to iCloud+. In addition to more storage, iCloud+ subscribers get a handful of new features. iCloud Private Relay, which is available as a beta feature, lets you browse the web with increased privacy. Hide My Email lets you create randomly generated email addresses to create new accounts around the web. iCloud email users can also switch to a personal domain name.

The update is currently rolling out and is available both over-the-air in the Settings app, and by plugging your device to your computer for a wired update. But first, back up your device. Make sure your iCloud backup is up to date by opening the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad and tapping on your account information at the top and then on your device name. Additionally, you can also plug your iOS device to your computer to do a manual backup in Finder or iTunes for Windows (or do both, really).

Don’t forget to encrypt your backup in iTunes. It is much safer if somebody hacks your computer. And encrypted backups include saved passwords and health data. This way, you don’t have to reconnect to all your online accounts.

Once this is done, you should go to the Settings app, then ‘General’ and then ‘Software Update.’ You should see ‘Update Requested…’ It will then automatically start downloading once the download is available.

Roku debuts new Streaming Stick 4K bundles, software update with voice and mobile features

Weeks after Amazon introduced an updated Fire TV lineup that included, for the first time, its own TVs, Roku today is announcing its own competitive products in a race to capture consumers’ attention before the holiday shopping season. Its updates include a new Roku Streaming Stick 4K and Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ — the latter which ships with Roku’s newer hands-free voice remote. The company is also refreshing the Roku Ultra LT, a Walmart-exclusive version of its high-end player. And it announced the latest software update, Roku OS 10.5, which adds updated voice features, a new Live TV channel for home screens and other minor changes.

The new Streaming Stick 4K builds on Roku’s four-year-old product, the Streaming Stick+, as it offers the same type of stick form factor designed to be hidden behind the TV set. This version, however, has a faster processor, which allows the device to boot up to 30% faster and load channels more quickly, Roku claims. The Wi-Fi is also improved, offering faster speeds and smart algorithms that help make sure users get on the right band for the best performance in their homes where network congestion is an increasingly common problem — especially with the pandemic-induced remote-work lifestyle. The new Stick adds support for Dolby Vision and HDR 10+, giving it the “4K” moniker.

Image Credits: Roku

This version ships with Roku’s standard voice remote for the same price of $49.99. For comparison, Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick Max with a faster processor and speedier Wi-Fi is $54.99. However, Amazon is touting the addition of Wi-Fi 6 and support for its game streaming service, Luna, as reasons to upgrade.

Roku’s new Streaming Stick 4K+ adds the Roku Voice Remote Pro to the bundle instead. This is Roku’s new remote, launched in the spring, that offers rechargeability, a lost remote finder and hands-free voice support via its mid-field microphone, so you can just say things like “hey Roku, turn on the TV,” or “launch Netflix,” instead of pressing buttons. Bought separately, this remote is $29.99. The bundle sells for $69.99, which translates to a $10 discount over buying the stick and remote by themselves.

Image Credits: Roku

Both versions of the Streaming Stick will be sold online and in stores starting in October.

The Roku Ultra LT ($79.99), built for Walmart exclusively, has also been refreshed with a faster processor, more storage, a new Wi-Fi radio with up to 50% longer range, support for Dolby Vision, Bluetooth audio streaming and a built-in ethernet port.

Plus, Roku notes that TCL will become the first device partner to use the reference designs it introduced at CES for wireless soundbars, with its upcoming Roku TV wireless soundbar. This device connects over Wi-Fi to the TV and works with the Roku remote, and will arrive at major retailers in October where it will sell for $179.99.

The other big news is Roku’s OS 10.5 software release. The update isn’t making any dramatic changes this time around, but is instead focused largely on voice and mobile improvements.

The most noticeable consumer-facing change is the ability to add a new Live TV channel to your home screen, which lets you more easily launch The Roku Channel’s 200+ free live TV channels, instead of having to first visit Roku’s free streaming hub directly, then navigate to the Live TV section. This could make the Roku feel more like traditional TV for cord-cutters abandoning their TV guide for the first time.

Image Credits: Roku

Other tweaks include expanded support for launching channels using voice commands, with most now supported; new voice search and podcast playback with a more visual “music and podcast” row and Spotify as a launch partner; the ability to control sound settings in the mobile app; an added Voice Help guide in settings; and additional sound configuration options for Roku speakers and soundbars (e.g. using the speaker pairs and soundbar in a left/center/right) or in full 5.1 surround sound system).

A handy feature for entering in email and passwords in set-up screens using voice commands is new, too. Roku says it sends the voice data off-device to its speech-to-text partner, and the audio is anonymized. Roku doesn’t get the password or store it, as it goes directly to the channel partner. While there are always privacy concerns with voice data, the addition is a big perk from an accessibility standpoint.

Image Credits: Roku

One of the more under-the-radar, but potentially useful changes coming in OS 10.5 is an advanced A/V sync feature that lets you use the smartphone camera to help Roku make further refinements to the audio delay when using wireless headphones to listen to the TV. This feature is offered through the mobile app.

The Roku mobile app in the U.S. is also gaining another feature with the OS 10.5 update with the addition of a new Home tab for browsing collections of movies and shows across genres, and a “Save List, which functions as a way to bookmark shows or movies you might hear about — like when chatting with friends — and want to remember to watch later when you’re back home in front of the TV.

The software update will roll out to Roku devices over the weeks ahead. It typically comes to Roku players first, then rolls out to TVs.

Facebook warned over ‘very small’ indicator LED on smart glasses, as EU DPAs flag privacy concerns

Facebook’s lead privacy regulator in Europe has raised concerns about a pair of ‘smart’ Ray-Ban sunglasses the tech giant is now selling. The glasses include a face-mounted camera which can be used to take pictures and short videos with a verbal cue.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) said Friday that it’s asked the tech giant to demonstrate that an LED indicator light also mounted on the specs — which lights up when the user is taking a video — is an effective way of putting other people on notice that they are being recorded by the wearer.

Italy’s privacy watchdog, the Garante, already raised concerns about Facebook’s smart glasses — but Ireland has an outsized role as a regulator for the tech giant owing to where the company’s regional base is located.

Facebook announced what it couched as the “next step” on the road to making a pair of augmented reality ‘smart’ glasses a full year ago — saying initial specs would not include any AR but announcing a multi-year partnership luxury eyewear giant Luxottica, as it seemingly planned for a pipeline of increasingly feature-loaded ‘smart’ eyewear.

The first Facebook Ray-Ban-branded specs went on sale earlier this month — looking mostly like a standard pair of sunglasses but containing two 5 MP cameras mounted on the front that enable the user to take video of whatever they’re looking at and upload it to a new Facebook app called View. (The sunglasses also contain in-frame speakers so the user can listen to music and take phone calls.)

The specs also include a front mounted LED light which is supposed to switch on to indicate when a video is being recorded. However European regulators are concerned that what the DPC describes as a “very small” indicator is an inadequate mechanism for alerting people to the risk they are being recorded.

Facebook has not demonstrated it conducted comprehensive field testing of the device with a view to assessing the privacy risk it may pose, it added.

“While it is accepted that many devices including smart phones can record third party individuals, it is generally the case that the camera or the phone is visible as the device by which recording is happening, thereby putting those captured in the recordings on notice. With the glasses, there is a very small indicator light that comes on when recording is occurring. It has not been demonstrated to the DPC and Garante that comprehensive testing in the field was done by Facebook or Ray-Ban to ensure the indicator LED light is an effective means of giving notice,” the DPC wrote.

Facebook’s lead EU data protection regulator goes on to say it is calling on the tech giant to “confirm and demonstrate that the LED indicator light is effective for its purpose and to run an information campaign to alert the public as to how this new consumer product may give rise to less obvious recording of their images”.

Facebook has been contacted with questions.

It is not clear whether Facebook engaged with any EU privacy regulators during the design of the smart glasses.

Nor whether or when they might launch in Europe.

The specs sent on sale in the US earlier this month — costing $299. The price to Americans’ privacy is tbc.

Over the years, Facebook has delayed (or even halted) some of its product launches in Europe following regulatory concerns — including a facial tagging feature (which it later reintroduced in another form).

The launch of Facebook’s dating service in Europe was also delayed for more than nine months — and arrived with some claimed changes after an intervention by the DPC.

There are also ongoing limits on how the Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp can share data with Facebook itself in Europe, again owing to regulatory push back. Although plenty of data does still flow from WhatsApp to Facebook in the EU and — zooming out — scores of privacy complaints against the tech giant remain under investigation in the region, meaning these issues are undecided and unenforced.

Earlier this month Ireland’s DPC did announce its first decision against a Facebook company (under the EU’s GDPR)  — hitting WhatsApp with a $267 penalty related to transparency failures. However the DPC has multiple unresolved complaints against Facebook or Facebook-owned businesses still on its desk.

In January the Irish regulator also agreed to “swiftly” resolve a (pre-GDPR) 2013 complaint against Facebook’s data transfers out of the EU to the US. That decision is still pending too.

As offices come back, ATMO launches air monitoring device claiming to give COVID-risk score

Way back in 2015 we covered the launch of the Atmotube, a small, innovative, portable air quality monitor which went on to receive a number of awards after its CES debut.

Since rebranding as ATMO, the company, co-founded by Vera Kozyr, is now launching the Atmocube, an indoor air quality monitoring system for businesses and enterprises. This new product is positioned far more for the post-COVID era, where air quality inside offices is going to be vital, and this time, instead of being small and portable (although that earlier product is still sold), the Atmocube will be prominent and visible in order to give office workers peace of mind that their air quality is good.

The key to this is measuring CO2 levels, which the Atmocube displays on its screen along with other metrics.

The device has up to 14 sensors measuring various environmental parameters such as CO2, formaldehyde NO2, PM1 (small airborne particles), PM2.5, ozone and others, and other environmental parameters, such as relative humidity, temperature, atmospheric pressure, ambient noise, light levels and color temperature.

The company says this new device also calculates the Airborne Virus Transmission Score — based on the levels of particulate matter, humidity and CO2, and says it comes up with a “score” that estimates the probability of transferring virus diseases in closed spaces. Obviously, that’s probably something that would need independent testing to verify, but it is the case that the WHO advises that COVID-19 can be transmitted in poorly ventilated and/or crowded indoor settings.

Kozyr said: “Air pollution is dangerous because it can affect you and your health even if you don’t notice it. We aim to help people know what they’re breathing and make changes as a result. As businesses return to the office, they need a tool to make information about indoor air quality transparent and accessible to their employees. Most air quality monitors are designed to be hidden away, so we set out to create a device with a more transparent interface that would highlight HVAC performance safety and create trust between occupants and building owners”.

ATMO is by no means the only player in the space of course, as it’s joined by AirThings, Awair Omni and Kaiterra.