Tech

iOS and iPadOS 14 review: iPhone transformation, iPad iteration

Enlarge / Siri in iOS 14, free from its full-screen shackles.Samuel Axon

For a couple of years now, weve heard that Apple kept putting off a big home screen overhaul for iOS as it struggled with improving its development process to reduce the number of bugs that ship with its big annual releases like iOS 12 or iOS 13.

After those delays, iOS 14 finally brings that home screen renovation to fruition. Apple has introduced home screen widgets in a variety of sizes, given users new ways to manage their apps, and introduced a non-home screen place to put installed apps.

If your first reaction to those features is that they sound a lot like Android, youre not wrong—but as usual, Apple has implemented them in its own way. So which is better for users—the recently released Android 11, or iOS 14, which hit devices only a week later?

Well, it used to be that Android and iOS were differentiated by features, and that's still partly true. But these days, their philosophies about data collection, privacy, on vs. off-device processing, and services are the more distinct differences.

By introducing some key features Android users have always enjoyed that iOS users were missing out on—like live home screen widgets and custom picks for default email and browser apps—Apple has further closed the gap on features, which shifts the comparison even more to the other stuff.

We wont name every single change here today, but well get into a whole lot of them while spending extra time on some of the most significant. Well also touch on what is—and unfortunately, isnt—on tap for iPad users this year. In total, there are a lot of changes in iOS 14—it might be one of the biggest updates of the past few years for iPhone software.

Table of Contents

Compatibility

Once in a while, Apples major new OS releases end support for devices that their predecessors supported. It happened just last year with iOS 13, which dropped support for the iPhone 5S, the iPad Air, and some other devices.

Fortunately, iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 are not among those cut-off releases. All devices that were supported by iOS and iPadOS 13 work just fine with iOS 14. Now, there's always the question of performance on older devices—Apple's track record has greatly improved on that front in recent years, but there was a stretch when it was a serious problem.

Fortunately, performance is OK on the lowest-spec supported devices. We did a deeper investigation on that last previously, so check that out if you're running an iPhone 6S or original iPhone SE.

Performance aside, heres the list of devices that are supported.

Supported iPhone models[hhmc]

  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6S
  • iPhone 6S Plus
  • iPhone SE (1st and 2nd generation)

Supported iPad models

  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation)
  • iPad Pro 11-inch (1st and 2nd generation)
  • iPad Pro 10.5-inch
  • iPad Pro 9.7-inch
  • iPad (5th, 6th, and 7th generation)
  • iPad mini (4th and 5th generation)
  • iPad Air (2nd and 3rd generation)

Supported iPod models

  • iPod touch (7th generation)

Devices used for this review[hhmc]

The screenshots, information, and impressions for this review were based on using iOS and iPadOS 14 beta 8 and the final public releases for both. For iOS 14, we used an iPhone X and XS, and for iPadOS 14, we used a 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro and an 8th-generation iPad. We did not test iOS 14 on an iPod touch.

A whole-new home screen (sort of)

Im not going to hold back: for years, the home screen on iOS has been awful. Its the worst part of a mostly otherwise great mobile operating system.

As of last years iOS 13, the iPhone home screen provided no clear way to surface information beyond the mere existence of an app. It offered no interactivity. It didnt offer enough flexibility in spacing or sizing app icons. And worst of all, the home-screen editing process—that maddening wobbling icon situation—was stupefyingly painful to use. Only blue shells in Mario Kart games produce more pained utterances of swear words amongst users of interactive software than that dreadful, infuriating wobbling icon mode. For years, this has tormented users with icons bouncing places you don't expect, disappearing to other pages, wrapping strangely, and accidentally merging into folders every step of the way.

Googles competing Android platform had developed good-enough (but still far from perfect) solutions to many of those problems years ago. Even Microsofts five-years-defunct Windows Phone (whose premature demise I still lament to this day) had a more sensical home screen than todays iPhones.

Last years iPadOS update introduced home screen widgets, a sort of pared down, less flexible version of the same concept in Android. It was a welcome addition, and it directly addressed the information surfacing problem I mentioned above. Still, it felt like a half measure, and it didnt come to iPhones—just iPads.

Widgets in iPadOS 13 from 2019.
Enlarge / Widgets in iPadOS 13 from 2019.Samuel Axon

This year, Apple has finally taken a scalpel to the iPhones home screen to a degree it hasnt since it introduced folders back in iOS 4—an entire decade ago. It has done this by expanding on some of those ideas from the release of iPadOS 13 last year and adapting them to the iPhones smaller screen.

Does iOS 14 get the home screen to where it needs to be from a company whose pitch is about ideal user experience? Im afraid not. But it might update the iPhone home screens grade from a D- to a C or even a B-, and thats progress.

Lets start with the most immediately visible new home screen feature, at least on the iPhone: widgets.

Widgets

Widgets were already available in another form—the Today view—in iOS 13. But now you can place them on any home screen page on your iPhone, and theres a lot of new functionality.

To edit and place widgets, you do a long press on the home screen to start editing said screen. From there, youll notice a + sign in the top-left corner of the screen. Tap that to bring up a panel that allows you to search and browse your available widgets.

This widget gallery has two views. When you first visit, you can find a preview of some suggested widgets. You can hold and drag these to place them on the home screen in their default size, or tap them to go through a brief size selection dialogue, then place them. Or you can tap the search field and type the name of the widget you want. Once it appears in the search results, you can tap it to be presented with some size choices for the widget.

Making a selection then drops the widget on your home screen, leaving you in edit mode so you can move the widget where you want it. You can also add widgets, as in iOS 13, to the Today view that you access by swiping right from your left-most home screen page.

Theres another major step forward here, too: you can create and customize stacks of up to 10 widgets. These stacks make optimal use of your home screen space by putting multiple widgets of your choosing in one spot; you can just swipe with your finger vertically across the stack to move between widgets.

Next up, theres the Smart Stack. With this stack, it will automatically rotate through the available widgets “throughout the day” to show what you most want to see at certain times. Theres a toggle option (labeled “Smart Rotate”) for each stack where you can enable this smart sorting or not.

Its similar to the already existing machine-learning-driven feature in iOS that shows you a handful of timing-specific app suggestions at the top of the screen when you start a search. Like other widgets and stacks, the Smart Stack comes in multiple size options. You can add multiple stacks (smart or otherwise) to any home screen page.

As with normal stacks, you can customize which widgets are included in a Smart Stack, too, either via an editing panel or by dragging widgets onto the stack on the home screen.

  • Let's go through some of Apple's Widgets included in iOS 14 on the iPhone. First up: the Weather app's small and medium variants. You can customize the widget to choose which location to show weather for. Samuel Axon
  • Here's the biggest Weather widget, which adds forecasts for upcoming days. Samuel Axon
  • Medium and small battery widgets. I found this widget particularly useful, given that it can also track your Watch or AirPods. Samuel Axon
  • The large widget gives more precise detail. Samuel Axon
  • Here's every iteration of the clock widget, which just shows you timezones. Samuel Axon
  • And these are both sizes of the Files app, which just shows recently opened files. Samuel Axon
  • Similarly, Music shows recently played songs. Medium and small widgets, here. Samuel Axon
  • This is the largest size for the Music widget. Samuel Axon
  • With Notes, you can either show recent notes within a folder (medium), a single note (small), or just a smaller widget for a single folder. Samuel Axon
  • The large widget gives you previews of the contents of your notes. Samuel Axon
  • Stocks is exactly what you'd expect. Samuel Axon
  • The large Stocks widget just shows more stocks. Samuel Axon
  • If you make heavy use of the TV app, the widget's not bad. It lets you resume recently watched shows with just one tap. Too bad Netflix still isn't part of it, though. Samuel Axon
  • This is the largest variant. Samuel Axon
  • The Fitness widget is nice to have if you're not wearing your Apple Watch. There's no large size for this one. Samuel Axon
  • There are a few Siri Suggestions options. From top to bottom: a medium general suggestions widget, a small one, and suggested apps. Apple uses machine learning to try and predict what you will need at certain times. Samuel Axon
  • The large suggestions widget. Samuel Axon
  • Screen Time offers what you'd expect, if you're an avid user of that utility. Samuel Axon
  • The large Screen Time widget. Samuel Axon
  • This is the Reminders widget (small and medium). Samuel Axon
  • The large Reminders widget. Samuel Axon
  • The Podcasts widget shows your recent podcasts, predictably. Samuel Axon
  • The larger variant of the Podcasts widget shows more recent podcasts. Samuel Axon
  • Here are the small and medium Calendar widgets… Axon
  • …and the large. Samuel Axon
  • The Photos widget is not very useful; it seems to just pick a random photo from your entire library to show you. Tapping the widget goes straight to the photo in the app. Samuel Axon
  • The large Photos widget. Samuel Axon

The Maps widget is almost useless. It saves you a single tap for searches by letting you open the app straight to a search field, but its not a live map on the home screen. It's basically just a giant icon that shows your current location—as if there was any doubt, in most cases. The 2×2 version doesnt even give you the quick search benefit.

Apple has made its own widgets for a whole bunch of apps, from Maps to Photos to Music to Stocks. Some—like Weather, Notes, or a widget that shows you the battery level of all your Apple devices—are pretty useful. Others, like Maps, dont have an obvious use case.

Its ultimately good to see these options introduced in this update. In the best examples, they solve iOS problem of forcing you to bounce constantly between apps to see any information—but none of the widgets that were available while we tested this offered much, if any, actual functionality.

Its not possible to declare a final verdict on widgets in iOS until weve seen support from third-party app developers, though.

Developer adoption and creativity, along with the flexibility and ease of use of the API, will be largely responsible for how useful (or useless) these widgets will be. As is already the case with various other developer-accessible places in the OS—notifications, Siri Shortcuts, haptic touch contextual menus—most will probably be pointless, but a few might end up being major boons for users of certain apps.

Most of Apples own widgets are not that useful, in my experience so far, but the company has given third-party developers the tools necessary to make some really powerful things.

Looking at the track record of those other examples like notifications, its a mixed bag. That said, since this implementation is similar in some respects to how Android has done it for years, there may be a fair bit of prior knowledge and experience that will go into making these widgets useful quickly from developers that have worked on both platforms—though there are certainly differences under the hood between how Android and iOS widgets work.

If developers make great use of widgets, they address some common complaints about the home screen—but not all. Luckily, Apple introduced another major feature—the App Library—to answer a few issues of a different nature.

The App Library

Many users of iOS install many dozens or even hundreds of apps these days, and some of them have long since given up on micromanaging their home screens. Thus, they live in a state of perpetual digital clutter.

Other users may have fewer apps, but they wish they could have even fewer. It has long been on my wishlist to be able to remove apps from my home screen—but not uninstall them—so I can access them in search when I need them once in a long while. But normally, I don't want them to clutter up my home screen all the time.

The App Library seeks to throw both of these user types a bone. It's exactly what it sounds like: a place where you can see every app you have installed. Pair that with the newly added ability to remove apps (or even whole pages of apps) from your home screen, and you have at least a partial solution for a lot of folks' frustrations with the way iOS has always handled apps and the home screen.

You reach the App Library by swiping to your rightmost home screen page, then swiping one more time. This brings you to the main view, where the apps are automatically sorted into folders by category. From this screen, you can tap an icon to launch the app, long-press it to access the apps contextual menu, or press and drag to get thrown back to one of your home screen pages where you can drop it in the grid wherever you wish. Unfortunately, you cant override iOS folder decisions in the App Library view, and the apps ordering within the folders seems to be based on how much you use said apps.

The interface is a little confusing. For years, iOS has trained users that tapping anywhere on an unopened app folder opens that folder. But these autogenerated folders in the App Library house icons of two sizes: big ones in three of the four quadrants of the folder, and a cluster of small ones in the bottom right.

  • The primary App Library view shows apps in auto-generated folders. Samuel Axon
  • This is the inside of one of those folders. Samuel Axon
  • This vertically scrolling alphabetical list appears when you tap the search bar. Samuel Axon

Tapping the cluster of small ones opens the folder up to a full-screen view like tapping a folder on the home screen, but tapping the part of the folder occupied by a big app icon… launches the app. Its something I got used to, but its inconsistent with the language Apple has previously established. After all, these App Library folders look just like the folders on the home screen—but they function differently.

You can also skip the categorized screen and tap on the search bar to see a different view. Touching that bar doesnt just start up a search query, it gives you a vertical, alphabetical list of every app installed on your phone with letters from A to Z arranged vertically on the right. Depending on this situation, this can be faster than my common practice of swiping for the search bar from the home screen and typing in the name of an app,

You can scroll up and down the list like you can in any other view like this in iOS, but you can also hold your finger on the vertical bar of letters to jump rapidly across the entire alphabet. I found this hugely useful, though you perplexingly cant do long-press actions on apps in the alphabetical view.

Holding your finger down on an app and dragging in any direction ejects you to the right-most homescreen page, app in hand. Its a little too easy to do this accidentally, which is a bit of a problem given that doing so automatically removes the app from wherever else it might have already been placed on your home screen pages. Many people will accidentally disrupt their carefully curated home screens because of this.

App Library is most useful for power users who have not just dozens but hundreds of apps installed, for minimalism-obsessed users who want a very small number of apps on the home screen pages at any given time but still want to keep others installed for occasional use, or for people who have long since given up on managing their home screens manually.

Mostly, I just imagine how powerful it would be if I could actually control the folder names and categories. But placing your trust in machine-learning-driven recommendations is a bit of a theme in iOS 14 overall.

Hiding apps and home screen pages[hhmc]

The existence of the App Library makes a long-requested feature practical: the ability to hide individual apps from the home screen while keeping them installed on the device.

You can still delete apps from your device the same way you could before, but now when you follow the process you used to delete an app in iOS 13, youre given a choice between deleting the app entirely or simply moving it to the App Library. You can drag it back into the home screen from the App Library later, and the app will still appear in searches or Siri responses and recommendations even if you don't.

  • You can remove an app from the contextual menu like you could in iOS 13, but… Samuel Axon
  • …now there's one additional step, a dialogue that asks whether you want to delete the app or relegate it to the library. Samuel Axon
  • This is the view for editing which home pages are visible, with all pages set to visible. Samuel Axon
  • And here it is with one unchecked, and thus invisible. Samuel Axon

You can also hide entire home page screens. To do this, you go into the edit home screen mode and tap on the dots at the bottom of the screen—the ones that represent your home screen pages—to bring up a screen where you can check or uncheck pages to show or hide them.

The worst thing about the home screen hasnt changed

Widgets, the App Library, and hideable apps and pages are good additions to iOS, and Im glad theyre here now. Android has offered similar capabilities since what feels like the dawn of time, and they work just as well here as they do on that platform.

But Apple still hasnt fixed the worst thing about managing the home screen: that painful-to-use “wiggle mode” approach to moving icons around. Further, you still cant place an icon at the bottom of the screen without one right before it—that is, the icons are still treated as a per-page, horizontally wrapping list. It would be so much nicer to be able to drop the apps into any slot into a grid at will, but Apple is still not offering this.

If anything, the addition of widgets makes this more frustrating because now you have four different sizes of objects to consider when moving things around, and the rules for how these wrap and interact with one another are not always sane. And because of all the different widget sizes, one misplaced app (which is so easy to do in wiggle mode) can have cascading effects, wrecking your entire layout. The ability to hide apps without deleting them helps with the clutter, at least.

So the iPhones home screen is generally more manageable than it was before; every change here is a good one. But, I still feel Apple has a ways to go before the frustration meter hits zero.

Less fullscreen, more compact UI elements

Throughout the operating system, Apple has replaced full-screen or large prompts with smaller ones that still allow you to see most of the other content on the screen. For example, receiving a call while you were using your phone used to launch a call answering dialogue in full screen, covering up your work. Now, its just a little strip at the top of the screen.

  • Now, invoking Siri just shows this image at the bottom rather than taking up the entire screen. Samuel Axon
  • Siri's answers to questions also generally use less space. Samuel Axon
  • The same principle applies to incoming voice and FaceTime calls. Samuel Axon

Likewise, summoning Siri only brings up the Siri icon at the bottom of the screen. Siris answers dont always take up the whole viewport anymore, either. Theres nothing to complain about with this change as far as I can tell—its a welcome tweak.

Picture-in-Picture

You can now play video content or view video calls in picture-in-picture mode in iOS 14. It works similarly to how picture-in-picture already worked in iPadOS, but its a feature on iPhones now, too. Further, the floating picture window is more flexible than it was in the prior version of iPadOS. You can still only move it to the four corners, but the size of the picture is more flexible.

To launch picture-in-picture, you tap an icon while viewing the video. It minimizes into a thumbnail of sorts, which you can drag around to the various corners of the screen with your finger. You can use the same pinch-to-zoom gesture you use in other places on the iPhone or iPad to resize it up to a bit over a third of the screen real estate, more or less.

  • You tap the PIP button in the top-left corner next to the X to go into picture-in-picture mode. (iOS blocks screengrabs of some content, so that's why the content is black here.) Samuel Axon
  • Here's the default size for picture-in-picture. Samuel Axon
  • This is big as I could make it. Samuel Axon
  • Here's a smaller size, swiped to a different corner. Samuel Axon
  • You can minimize the picture to get a clearer view of other content, and it leaves that bar on the side that you can touch to bring it back. Samuel Axon

Finally, you can swipe the picture to the right or left to hide it, except for one anchor that you can swipe on to bring the video back. To leave PIP and go back to the app the video originated from, you tap the video to bring up the controls and tap another icon to return to normal.

It works as well as it could on a screen this small. Its obviously no way to watch something immersive, but if youre just watching a YouTuber or a newscast, its nice to have. I found its especially useful for FaceTime calls.

Apple has also made an API for this feature available to developers, so apps like Skype or Zoom could support it, too. Not every app we tested worked with it just yet, though.

Search and Siri

As we wrote a few weeks ago, Apple is all-in on machine learning and AI these days, and much of that goes into search—which Im using here as a blanket term for both searches you enter in text fields across the OS or in apps, as well as voice interactions with Siri.

As a result, iOS 14 has a number of small, individual optimizations to how search and Siri work. Much of this is a continuation of stuff Apple was already expanding in iOS 13. For example, Apple has continued its quest to bring more useful in-app search to its various apps like Photos, Files, and Messages; and search and Siri support more general knowledge questions than before.

Further, Web searches are better supported, and Apple has made the user experience for typing in the names of apps to launch them a little clearer.

As usual, though, most of the big changes are Siri-related. Apple sometimes uses Siri as a blanket term for all kinds of search and suggestions across iOS, but were going to focus on some voice assistant-specific stuff now.

As noted earlier, both the invocation of Siri and Siris responses are presented in non-full-screen views now. In general, Apple has trimmed here and there to make Siri seem more integrated into the overall iOS experience rather than presenting Siri as a separate, additional layer as it was for a long time.

These changes make it easier to use Siri while browsing other content, which makes Siri much more practical to use. If youre trying to inquire with Siri about something youre reading about on a website, these days you can keep looking at the website while you go back and forth with Siri.

Apple added a grab bag of new things you can do, like cycling directions, sending audio messages, or sharing an ETA with a contact while driving. If youre one of the dozen or so people who owns a HomePod smart speaker (I kid, but only sort of), youll be pleased to know that Apple has introduced an API that allows third-party music services like Spotify to play nice with Siri on those devices.

Apart from the helpful design and user experience changes, this is not a tentpole update for Siri—iOS 14 just continues the iterative march from previous versions. There arent any big changes to how Siri works here. Given that Google Assistant is still generally a more effective virtual assistant, thats a little disappointing. Siri just doesnt seem like it was a primary focus this year.

New and updated apps

As is almost always the case, most of the changes in the new version of iOS are in the apps Apple ships with its devices. That's actually a little less true in iOS 14, since so much of Apple's effort went into those home screen features and design changes. But there's still plenty to talk about with tried-and-true iOS apps. Before we get into specifics, though, let's talk about a foundational change that affects two of the most commonly used types of apps.

The big news: Changing default email and browser apps

For the first time in the history of iOS, you can now change your default email or browser app to a third-party app that supports this feature. People who've used virtually any other platform surely find it baffling that it has taken this long for this to happen, and honestly, I do, too, despite the fact that not doing this was just so, well, very Apple indeed.

It's a change in philosophy that comes at a time when Apple has been iteratively turning iOS and iPadOS into more flexible, less limited operating systems. Today, the company's mobile operating systems can more easily work with other platforms and even replace desktop computers for more tasks. iOS is still by no means as flexible as Android, but this is a positive shift of the winds to be sure.

  • To switch default email or browser apps, you have to first visit the page in the Settings app for one of the apps that can be a default. (This is an odd flow, if you ask me.) Samuel Axon
  • After tapping "Default Mail App" on the previous screen, you can make your selection from the currently installed apps that support this. Samuel Axon

There's no one place in the Settings app where you pick the default—rather, you navigate to the Settings page for any app in a particular class (like Safari or Chrome for browsers) and find the switch at the bottom of the panel. Changing the default here changes it across the operating system. For an app to have this choice, and for it to appear in the list of choices, the developer actually has to support this option. Given the incentives to do so, I imagine almost all good email and browser apps will support it before long. And some, like Spark for email or Chrome for Web browsing, already do.

Messages

Messages hasnt gotten quite as much attention as it did in some other recent versions of iOS, but theres still some stuff to talk about. The majority of the changes relate to group text message conversations.

For example, youre now able to @ mention participants in the conversation just like you might on Facebook, Twitter, Slack, or Discord. And in tandem with that, you can configure busy group text conversations such that you only receive notifications when someone @ mentions you.

Along those lines, you can also reply directly and in-line to specific messages within a conversation and view all replies related to a specific message (again, this is similar to Twitter). If you want, you can even set a photo, Memoji, or emoji as the default image for a group conversation.

  • Tapping the options button and hitting Edit Pins lets you define your pins in Messages. Samuel Axon
  • Once you've selected the Messages you want to pin, they appear like this at the top of the screen. Samuel Axon
  • There's a new search field for emoji. Samuel Axon
  • Typing a query shows the results in the bar above the keyboard this way. Samuel Axon

These changes continue Apples approach of borrowing ideas to improve Messages from popular, youth-oriented third-party apps a year or two (or more) after said apps introduced them. My only complaint about these changes is that they took so long to happen.

Not much has changed outside of group messaging. You can now search emojis in the emoji keyboard, and the last thing to touch on with Messages (before we get into Memojis, anyway) is pinned conversations—which is just what it sounds like. You can tap the “…” icon near the top-right of your Messages inbox, then tap “Edit Pins” to pin up to nine conversations to the top of the inbox.

Memoji[hhmc]

Look, we know not everyone is all that excited about Memoji. But Apple sure is, because there are a ton of new styles and the like on display in iOS 14, including new hairstyles, new hats, face coverings, and other customization options.

  • Here's the dialogue for creating or editing your Memoji… Samuel Axon
  • There are a bunch of new customization options, including face masks. Samuel Axon

Also, Apple claims it has “revamped facial and muscle structure, [which] makes Memoji and Memoji stickers even more expressive.”

Joking aside, its actually really great to see Apple making such a concerted effort to make sure as many people from as many backgrounds, countries, and identities as possible are represented with Memoji. More choices are always good.

Maps

Maps got a lot of attention last year, with Apple rolling out a bunch of new data, maps, and features in key regions. This year's update is more iterative, with the company bringing some of those things to new regions.

The big Maps story in iOS 14 is that the app finally offers cycling directions—something Google Maps has offered for a long, long time. Like Googles app, Apple Maps will give special routes based on availability of bike lanes and other factors. Cyclists can opt to avoid busy roads or hills before beginning their routes.

The implementation seems solid, but cycling directions are not available in all cities yet—just Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Shanghai, and Beijing. Apple will likely add more cities in the coming months. If you have an electric car, you can also get specialized EV routes that account for charging stations and your vehicles range.

  • Starting a cycling route in Apple Maps. Samuel Axon
  • But cycling directions aren't available where I'm located in Chicago, or most other cities. Samuel Axon
  • You can browse Guides from Apple's content partners by searching for a city's name. Samuel Axon
  • This is the map view for a Guide. Samuel Axon
  • Each location in one of these Guides has a little editorial blurb. Samuel Axon

Maps now also offers Guides, which Apple has made out of the Collections feature introduced in a previous version of Maps (see our iOS 13 review for more on those). Making and sharing Guides works mostly the same as with Collections.

But the big evolution here is that Apple now offers curated Guides from content partners like Lonely Planet—most of them are city-specific. These are lists of locations of interest with editorial descriptions written by those partners. Theres nothing revolutionary here, but I suppose its convenient to have them right in the app rather than having to do a Web search to find the same kind of content.

Finally, heres a quick grab bag of additional changes in Maps:

  • The redesigned map is branching out to Canada, Ireland, and the UK
  • Maps will now show officially recognized congestion zones and related tolls in cities that have those (likewise with license-plate access zones in China)
  • You can see upcoming speed and red-light cameras on the map

Translate

There's just one big new app in iOS 14: Translate. It facilitates almost-live translation between two people using either typed or spoken statements. To start, 11 languages are supported: English (US and UK both), Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Russian.

The presentation and layout are generally similar to other translation apps that were already in the App Store—Apple is continuing its practice of making its own versions of popular third-party apps here.

Turning the phone in landscape mode switches to a side-by-side mode, and you can enlarge text in this mode so you can get someones attention when waving the phone around, if thats your style.

Of course, we dont always have access to reliable wireless service when traveling. Translate allows you to download the libraries for specific languages in advance, so you can get translations when you dont have signal.

  • Here's what you see when you first open the Translate app. Samuel Axon
  • You can input a phrase to be translated either with the keyboard or your voice. Samuel Axon
  • This is the result in portrait mode… Samuel Axon
  • …and in landscape. Samuel Axon
  • You can look up specific words in the dictionary. Samuel Axon
  • You can set phrases as favorites, or repeat phrases you've translated before. Samuel Axon
  • Here's the language list. Samuel Axon
  • You can download languages here for offline use, or you can toggle automatic language detection. Samuel Axon

In some cases where what you typed or said could be interpreted or translated multiple ways, a dialogue will pop up asking you for further clarification on what you meant before the translation is provided.

Sadly, I dont speak 11 languages fluently, so I cant judge the quality of all the apps translations. But I am conversational in Spanish as well as a native English speaker, so I was able to try it out between those two languages. As with many machine translation apps, its not perfect (though the dialogues confirming meaning can make a big difference compared to some other translation apps), but in a short time with Apple's solution, it seemed more or less on par with Googles machine translation—at least between Spanish and English.

Notes

There are a ton of alternatives to Apples Notes, but this built-in app remains popular—and not just with users who dont know how to switch to an alternative. While others pile on advanced features for power users (or strip features away for minimalism mavens), Notes has exactly the features that most people need. It keeps things focused and simple. Apple hasnt shaken things up here, but there is some iteration in Notes in iOS 14.

First up is the actions menu, which has a different look and layout. It also got one additional action: “Send a Copy.” This allows you to export the Note to another app, like Files, or to send the Note to a contact.

There are also some improvements to document scanning, slightly different stylings here and there, the newly added ability to long-press on the style button to make quick changes, and a new “Top Hits” section in the search field.

  • The new action menu in Notes, with the Send a Copy option. Samuel Axon
  • Top Hits in a search. Samuel Axon
  • You can long-press on the "Aa" and slide your finger to your style selection, saving you a tap or two. Samuel Axon

My personal favorite change to Notes is the removal of the background texture that has long plagued the app. Now, its just black on white in light mode, and white on black in dark mode. With this long-overdue change, Apple has finally removed just about all the skeuomorphism that dominated the OS so long ago.

Sure, its subjective. But I cant tell you how many casual users Ive talked to who said they wont use Notes purely because of how it looks. I still used Notes, but I always wished I could turn that background texture off. Now its just gone altogether… Im not shedding any tears over its departure.

Reminders

As I said in last years iOS 13 review, Reminders has some seriously stiff competition from third-party apps. I dont know many people who use Apples built-in app given the strength of whats out there from apps like Todoist.

But last year brought a big overhaul. In iOS 14, Apple is refining what it introduced there and—as usual—adding features that have long been central to popular third-party apps.

One of the most useful additions is the ability to mass-edit tasks by selecting them, then applying an action to all of them at once, like scheduling a time or moving them to another list. And speaking of scheduling a time, theres a new “Details” panel that, among other things, shows you a full calendar view for scheduling your Reminders. This is really nice to see, because it has frustrated me before how sluggish it is to try to schedule reminders in this app.

  • Suggestions are a bigger part of Reminders now. Samuel Axon
  • You can remove or resort Smart Lists. Samuel Axon
  • The new details panel gives you a nice big calendar to work with. Samuel Axon
  • There are more icons to select from when creating a list. Samuel Axon
  • You can bulk select tasks… Samuel Axon
  • …and take new actions with them. Samuel Axon

You could already bring other people into your reminder lists before, but now you can assign individual reminders to specific people, just like you can in a project management app or any number of third-party task management apps that are oriented around collaboration. I dont see teams using this over Trello or what have you, but its good enough for families or folks who are working on a short-term project like planning a party together.

When someone assigns a task to you, you have the option to decline it. But if its not declined, it goes into a smart list called “Assigned to Me.” Not everyone loves smart lists, though—some folks prefer to curate every list manually. Fortunately, iOS 14s Reminders lets you hide or re-sort these at will.

There are a few other little tweaks across the app, like exposing which lists reminders belong to in more places, including more factors in search results, suggestions to make reminders out of Mail messages, and broader emoji and symbols support.

App Clips

With App Clips, users can be presented with a minimally functional slice of an app from the App Store without needing to download it—for example, if a Web link or a listing in Maps guides them to a simple action like placing an order (Apple Pay is supported in App Clips) or a contact sends them a piece of content that is app-specific.

When Apple first announced it earlier this year, many people asked, "Why would this be useful?" I can think of a number of ways. A notable percentage of smartphone users dont download apps at all; this feature could make more services available to them. It can smooth communication between people using different apps and systems for things like to-dos, or App Clips simply makes things convenient for busy parents who are trying to get something done and dont have time to download and configure an app.

While App Clips can be convenient for some users, owners of big chain restaurants or delivery empires like GrubHub/Seamless are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries. I do worry features like this will continue to increase local businesses dependence on tech platforms to provide basic infrastructure. Your local independent grocer or brewery likely doesnt have the resources to develop and maintain an App Clips-ready app, so theyll probably turn to DoorDash and pay far too much to do so.

Those are the concerns. But of course, marketers, national or global chains, and big tech companies are going to love it.

  • You'll find App Clips links in places like this Maps listing for Panera. Samuel Axon
  • Tapping it first shows you this splash screen… Samuel Axon
  • …and you'll end up at this fully functional menu. Samuel Axon
  • You can check out with Apple Pay, since you otherwise might not want to share payment information with a temporary app, presumably. Samuel Axon
  • A link to the app that powered the clip appears in the App Library with this special dotted-line styling to invite you to download the real thing. Samuel Axon

There are very few examples to test right now, but the easiest one to try today is Panera. You just search for a local Panera on Maps and bring up its panel. From there, you can tap a button to start an order, which brings up a full-screen view that is, well, app-like.

It will also show you a little notification at the top inviting you to download the full app, and a link to the App Clip appears in the Recently Added smart folder in the App Library so you can find it later if desired. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a way to manually remove this from my App Library, so you just have to wait for it to cycle out as you use more apps or clips. I'm not a fan of that, but at least it's only in that one smart folder.

Developers have to build these Clips, of course. There are very few examples out there right now, in part because of Apples unexpected rush to push iOS out the door quickly last week.

Today, App Clips is one of the harder features to judge in iOS. Like some others weve already gone over, its going to depend almost completely on third-party adoption. As noted above, big brands will do it, others will either have to depend on big brands or wont support it at all. The one example we tested (Panera) was pretty useful, though, even if the App Clip was not very attractive-looking.

Privacy

As Android has come to dominate the smartphone marketplace in terms of market share, Apple has over the past couple of years found its competitive advantage: privacy.

Since Google's entire business model is built around data collection and advertising tech but Apple's is focused on direct sales of devices, services, and content, Apple can take a hardline stance on privacy that Google could never fully match. It's a sharp business strategy: align cuRead More – Source

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