Apple’s annual iPhone update, iOS 14, is finally here. As always, free download adds a handful of new features, tweaks and improvements to old and new iPhones.
Widgets on the home screen
For the first time in iPhone history, the home screen changes. You can now place built-in widgets on the home screen, along with app icons. Or you can delete the app icons completely and just have a wall of widgets.
Adding a widget to the home screen is easy. Just tap and hold an icon until it rotates (or tap “Edit Home Screen”; in the pop-up window). Then tap the plus sign (+) at the top left to open the widget browser.
Tap a widget to see its different styles and sizes, then tap “Add Widget” to place it on the Home screen.
You can move widgets in the same way as icons – just drag them where you want them. Some widgets are interactive, which means you can drag or tap them. Others only display information that is automatically updated, such as date, time or news.
Scroll to the bottom of the widget browser to see the different categories of available widgets. “Smart Stack” automatically rotates widgets to show you relevant information throughout the day.
An organized app library
You can also now see all your apps in the new app library at the end of your home screens (just keep swiping). Your iPhone now automatically organizes apps based on developer categorization, though you can still create your own folders if you want.
This means that you no longer need to keep every app on the home screen. If you want to hide one completely, just press and hold it, then press “Delete app.”
You can also hide an entire home screen with apps; just press and hold until all the icons are angled and then tap the dots at the bottom.
Want an even faster way to access your apps? Just drag down the home screen to reveal the search box and start typing.
Change your default email and browser apps
Apple finally lets you change your default email and browser apps on your iPhone. This means that web and email links are now opened in apps like Chrome or Outlook by default.
Unfortunately, an error in the release version of iOS 14 causes this setting to be reset when your iPhone restarts, but hopefully Apple is working on a fix.
Developers will need to update their apps to work with this new setting, so your preferred browser or email client may not yet work with iOS 14.
To change your default browser, launch the “Settings” app, then tap the app you want to use (like Chrome). Touch “Default Browser” (or “Default Mail Tap”) to set the app by default.
To return to Apple Mail or Safari, you can simply undo your changes.
RELATED: How to change your default browser on iPhone and iPad
Apple is consistently pushing for better privacy for its customers, and iOS 14 continues this trend. You can now choose to only share your “approximate” location with apps that request a GPS fix.
Press “Precise” to turn on “Approximate” in the popup window. You can also change your existing settings under Settings> Privacy> Location services.
A new orange indicator appears above the Wi-Fi connection icon at the top of the screen (see image below). This indicates that your microphone or camera is in use. If you see this when using an app, you can revoke permissions under Settings> Privacy.
Safari also has a new privacy reporting feature that shows which websites are tracking (or trying to track) you. Tap “AA” in the web field of a website to check it out.
Even if we track the subject, Apple next year will require all apps to get explicit permission from you before they are tracked.
Soon, expanded App Store descriptions will also come with more information about an app’s privacy practices. This is self-reported information and will be designed to be easy to read and understand. iOS 14 also makes it easier for developers to use the “Sign in with Apple” method for easy login, which anonymizes you, making tracking more difficult.
Apple has also added a new level of authorization for apps that want to scan your network for other devices, such as smart home gadgets and wireless screens.
One of the iPad’s best features is now also available on the iPhone. Videos in apps and on websites can now be found in floating windows, which you can move around the screen or collapse completely. To do this, create a video in full screen mode and then tap the Picture-in-Picture icon to open a new floating window. You can also do this on FaceTime calls.
While the window is displayed on the screen, you can drag it left or right to collapse it completely without pausing the video (or making a call). By tapping a video, you can pause it or rewind or fast-forward in 15-second increments. You can also pinch to increase or decrease the size of the window.
Unfortunately, not all apps support this feature. YouTube turns off background playback behind YouTube Premium, so you can not use this feature in the YouTube app.
To get around this, open YouTube in Safari.
RELATED: How to use Picture-in-Picture on iPhone
Less intrusive Siri and call overrides
Talking to Siri and receiving incoming calls is now less distracting thanks to compact overlays that no longer take up the entire screen. Calls drop from the top like a regular notification, while Siri appears at the bottom of the screen and delivers information in the boxes at the top.
This is not really a function, but more an improvement in the quality of life that makes it easier to answer or end calls.
Messages get an update
Just like WhatsApp, Messages now lets you reply to messages in-line. To do this, just press and hold the message you want to reply to, then tap “Reply”.
This works correctly if the recipient also has iOS 14 installed – otherwise your message will be sent as a regular reply without a quote.
You can also name participants in a chat to draw attention to a specific message. To do this, just type the at symbol (@) followed by the name of the contact; iOS will convert it to a blue mention.
With messages, you can now also pin conversations so that they are always at the top of the list. To do so, start “Messages” and leave any conversations you are in. Then swipe from left to right on a conversation, then press the yellow pin icon.
Captured conversations appear at the top of the screen in chat bubbles. To release one, just press and hold the chat bubble and then tap “Untouch”.
Another change is the option to use a photo or icon in a group chat. To do this, tap the conversation, then tap the names of the participants at the top of the chat. Under “Info”, you can tap “Rename and Photo” to add an image from the Camera or Photos apps, the emoji list, or any of Apple’s included icons. Touch the pen icon to add a handwritten name.
Use app features with app clips
With a new feature called App Clips, you can use almost instant, compact versions of apps without having to download the full version. App Clips can be used to scan App Clip or QR codes, NFC tags or via apps like Messages and Safari.
The intention is to let you do things like rent a bike quickly or pay a parking fee without having to deal with a lengthy download or registration process.
Because app clips are new, there are not many examples of them right now. It will probably take a few years before the feature actually starts.
Game Center is back
Apple removed the Game Center app in iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, but it was always alive and well behind the scenes. Now it once again has a special area under Settings> Game Center.
There you can manage your friends list, browse your achievements and customize your profile.
There are many improvements in iOS 14 (too many to list in a single article). Many of them are a bit hidden, like the new accessibility feature, Back Tap. You can find it under Settings> Accessibility> Tap. This allows you to double- or triple-tap the back of the device to access two new shortcuts.
You will also find the following new camera features:
- Better exposure compensation on newer devices
- Faster image processing
- Night mode enhancements on iPhone 11 or later
- Mirrored selfies, which you can enable under Settings> Camera
Have you ever spent too long looking for the perfect emoji? iOS 14’s emoji picker now also includes a search bar so you can quickly find the one you’re looking for.
Apple Maps also got an update with curated Guides for cities around the world (not that you will be using them much by 2020).
AirPods will also now switch devices automatically. This means that if you call on your iPhone and then download your iPad, your headphones automatically switch to your iPad.
AirPods Pro owners also get spatial sound: a new virtual surround sound feature with head tracking for immersive 3D sound. You will also receive notifications when your AirPods batteries start to run low.
The new Translate app (installed by default when you upgrade to iOS 14) has hands-free chat mode and offline translation features. The Home app will now suggest automations based on your connected devices. Your smart doorbells will also be able to identify people you have tagged in the Photos app.
Developers can also now make subscriptions divisible via Family Sharing (of course at their own discretion).
How do I download iOS 14?
iOS 14 is compatible with iPhone 6s or later, both versions of iPhone SE and iPad Touch seventh generation. It’s free to download, just go to Settings> General> Software Update on your device.
Before upgrading, however, you need to make sure you have an up-to-date iPhone backup stored on iCloud or your computer.