Apple iOS 14 was unveiled at WWDC20 in June, and it was made available on September 17 2020. Its launch is peculiar because it did not go live side by side with new iPhones as is usually the case. The new iPhone models for 2020 will probably see their premiere pushed back to October.
The list of new features in iOS 14 is long – much longer than the latest Android 11, which we reviewed recently, too.
Most importantly, however, the new v.14 expands the OS with two options that hold the potential to radically transform the way you interact with the OS. We are talking about the homescreen widgets and the app drawer – two staples of Android.
Widgets have been around for some time on iOS, but they were available only for the Today page. The Today page is still the place to find system widgets in iOS 14, but there are also the new homescreen widgets, which can be in one of three different sizes, and you can even have several stacked on top of each other.
The App Library is exactly what you think it is – this is a conventional app drawer, and it has automatic app sorting. And we all know this is the place apps come to die.
Other major additions include integrated Translate app compatible with Siri, pinned messages, better Maps, Picture-in-Picture mode, new privacy and accessibility features, and a few minor but important UI changes that may be coming a bit too late but are well appreciated.
The new iOS 14 also offers the so-called App Clips – this allows you to use the functionality of an app you don’t have installed within a small pop-up window. The phone makes a quick download from the store of the said app function, you use that function, and then you discard it away.
Apple has come up with more than 250 new features in iOS 14 – you can find the complete list on their website. As part of this review, we’ll explore the new iOS maturity that comes from both new and legacy features, and how it may change your iPhone experience. This article could be useful for both iPhone users and Android smartphone owners, which are considering a platform jump.
New feature highlights:
- Homescreen (stackable) widgets
- App Library
- App clips
- Picture-in-Picture support
- Compact Phone and Siri UI
- Change the default browser, email, and maps apps
- Tap on the back shortcuts
- Pinned messages and emoji search
- New Translate app
- New privacy options, mic/cam indicators, approximate/precise location
- YouTube 4K support
- Sleep mode
Room for improvement
- File management
- Media upload
The file management is intuitive and easy for some, and a nightmare for others. We can understand why Apple does what it does with files, but we still feel it can be done better for a broader audience.
And now, let’s take a closer look at the new iOS 14.
General iOS 14 interface
The iOS 14 focus falls on the new widgets and App Library, which will improve your experience should you decide to use them. It’s nice to see Apple has decided to make new features as optional as possible, instead of forcing them on you right away.
The rest of iOS remains mostly unchanged with some minor UI improvements across different system apps. New apps and features are available, too. But let’s start from the beginning.
The lockscreen on iOS14 remains intact – it’s one with the Notification Center and houses your notifications (privacy options area available), plus shortcuts for the torch and the camera. You can get past it via Face ID, Touch ID (where available), or PIN if you’ve opted for secure unlock.
Your apps usually populate the homescreen(s) and widgets – the leftmost Today page. Now there is also a rightmost page – the App Library.
A new option allows you to hide specific homescreens – you may have a page that’s full of games and hide when at work or hide the two pages of work apps when on vacation. You can’t opt-out of Today and App Library though.
Lockscreen • Homescreen • Homescreen • Today • App Library • Hide homescreens
You can continue to use iOS 14 the old way if you like and completely ignore the App Library. Unfortunately, there is no option to disable the App Library entirely.
If you update your iPhone to iOS 14, you’ll see nothing has changed. Until you start putting widgets on your homescreen(s), everything will be as it was pre-iOS 14 – nothing will be forced on you. Apps will be added on your homescreen(s), widgets will pop-up in Today.
Or you can decide to embrace the changes and go all in.
The new Widgets can be put on all homescreens and the Today page. There are three sizes supported by iOS 14 – 2×2, 4×2, and 4×4.
All available widgets at launch
You can stack widgets of the same size on top of one another (both in Today and Home). Then you can either enable smart rotate, and the OS will rotate them for you, or you can manually do it at any time by swiping up or down on the stack. We do like this idea of stacked widgets – it’s a real space saver.
Different widgets sizes • Widgets • Widgets • Stacked widgets • Stacked widgets • Settings
The App Library is an app drawer, which is always your rightmost homescreen pane. Apps are added automatically to the App Library upon installation. The sorting is also an automatic process, and you can’t edit the categories or move apps in different categories.
The App Library has a search bar at the top followed by all categories – Suggestions, Recently Added, Social, Utilities, Games, Productivity & Finance, Creativity, Entertainment, Information % Reading, Travel, Other, Shopping & Food, Health & Fitness, Education. We guess the app sorting depends on the App Store tags the developer has used upon uploading the apps.
The App Library has three settings only – Add new apps to Homescreen and App Library, Add to App Library only, and Show Notification Badges in App Library. That’s it.
The App Library is the place where you are going to ditch your least used apps to die. It’s inevitable.
We bet the Today page will slowly go away, but for now, it is an exclusive widget page. You put the same widgets and stacks you can on your homescreen(s). Here you can also use the old third-party widgets that haven’t been optimized yet for iOS 14. The old widgets come right after the new one, should you choose to use some of the new ones.
In time, we guess all developers will update their widgets to support iOS 14, and that will be the death of the Today as we know it.
The navigation gestures stay the same as they were on the iPhone X. Swipe upwards from the bottom line to close an app, swipe and stop midway for task switcher, swipe from the side of the screen for back and forward. You can also swipe on the line left or right to switch to your recently used apps instantaneously.
Gestures • Task Switcher • Moving between apps • Back • Closing an app
The Notification Center is summoned with a swipe from the left horn or the notch. The pane was unified with the lockscreen in iOS 11, and that’s why you can have different wallpapers on your homescreen and notification center.
The Control Center, which has customizable and (some) expandable toggles, is called with a swipe from the right horn. You can use haptic touch to access additional controls. And the battery percentage is also here.
Notification Center • Control Center
You can use the Haptic Touch on various app icons to reveal quick actions, if available. You can also use it for notifications, toggles, and in-app content pop-up or expansion (pictures, links, file descriptions, etc.). You can also use Haptic Touch on folders to rename them or see the apps inside that have pending notifications. And as usual – a pop-up preview of pictures, weblinks, messages, emails, notes, and photos is available.
There is a system-wide Dark Mode. You can enable it manually or schedule it from within Display Settings, and it switches to dark all-white backgrounds across iOS. The Dark Mode affects all system apps, but also apps that rely on system backgrounds. You can also check the option to darken the homescreen wallpaper when in Dark Mode.
Siri – Apple’s digital assistant – is used by 400+ million people monthly. You summon it by holding the ‘side’ key (the Power key). You can do all sorts of things with Siri – from questions and translations through setting up reminders and sending replies to messages to asking for reservations or tickets, directions, and whatnot.
Siri Shortcuts are available within a standalone app. There are so many things you can assign a shortcut to that it will take many pages to describe them. You can script almost anything available within iOS itself, a lot of stuff from within the system apps, and some advanced actions from any well-known apps such as YouTube or Facebook.
Another new feature in iOS 14 is the more compact Siri interface. Upon summoning Siri, you will see a small ball around the bottom, and your answer will be provided in a small pop-up window. This way, you can still see what’s happening in your active app.
The new Siri UI
This concludes our general UI exploration.
New or expanded apps and services
The so-called App Clips service is a major part of iOS 14 even though we are yet to see it in action. In the upcoming weeks and months, we will be seeing many popular apps adding support of App Clips.
An App Clip is a pop-up window where you can use a small part of an app that you don’t have installed on your phone without going to the App Store and downloading it. Basically, iOS 14 downloads this “clip” for you in real-time, you use the function, and then it goes away.
For example – you browse burgers in your browser, you see a place with nice burgers, you tap on a burger you want to order. A small pop-up window appears of, say, Foodpanda’s app where you can order the said burger without installing their app and making a proper registration. Same goes for taxis, bike, or scooter rentals, among others.
The Tap on the back is a new accessibility shortcut. It recognizes double and triple tap on the back of the phone, and you can assign whatever you like. We chose ‘Take a screenshot’ and ‘Control Center’, but it is really up to you. Overall, it has to be one of our favorite features in iOS14.
The Phone app is still the same but receiving a call while your phone is unlocked has become a much more unintrusive thing with the new compact UI.
Instead of pausing everything you were doing and throwing you the black call screen, now you get a small pop-up with Green and Red receivers and the caller ID. Nothing pauses, the screen doesn’t change. Well, that took ages to arrive, but we’re glad it’s finally here!
Compact phone UI
The Messages app has seen a few updates, too. You can now pin threads for quick access on top of the other messages.
The app also supports inline replies which can turn any message in a group chat into a sub-thread of its own.
Emoji search is finally available, too, and you will no longer scroll through hundreds of tiny emojis just to find the right one.
Messages with Pinned messages • Threaded reply • Emoji search
The Health app now offers a new feature called Sleep mode. It’s more like enhanced Do Not Disturb mode that combines the DND features with Wind Down, and finally – it sets the alarm for you. You choose your sleep target, and you get to configure the Do Not Disturb exceptions, the Wind Down time, and the locked apps.
If you have an Apple Watch or other smart accessory capable of sleep tracking (Xiaomi Mi Band 5 in our case), you will get detailed information about your sleep quality and sleep goals within the Sleep Mode part of the Health app.
Health app – Sleep mode
Another new feature is the 4K playback support within the YouTube app. By default, it runs on 1080p and 720p, but you can choose 2160p from options, if that’s your thing.
PiP or Picture-in-Picture mode is a very welcome and long-overdue feature in iOS. It does exactly what the name suggests – minimizes your currently playing video within a hovering pop-up over the iOS UI or other apps.
PiP is supported in Apple TV, Podcasts, Safari, FaceTime, iTunes, Home, YouTube, and any other third-party app that chooses to add support for it. And speaking of YouTube, PiP would work only if you are a paying YouTube Premium user.
Now, can we get PiP for Maps next, Apple? Pretty please?
Picture in Picture
Apple offers a brand-new Translate app, and it will try to make you ditch Google Translate. It supports conversation mode, which surely gives it an edge over Google’s and should make seamless translation of conversations in a foreign language.
But at its launch, the Translate app supports a limited number of languages, although they are some of the most popular ones across the globe – English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, and Russian.
You either write the text manually or tap the mic button and use the speech-to-text service.
The multimedia is handled by Apple’s default apps – Photos, Music, TV – and they are mostly unchanged since their iOS 13 versions.
The Photos tab has four different views – Years, Months, Days, and All Photos. Days, Months, and Years tabs use what the AI considers as best pictures at a glance, and this way, all the clutter gets filtered – you won’t see screenshots, notes, or even duplicates. When you scroll through your images in these three categories, all live photos and videos will play automatically (muted). Also, your best photos or videos will show in bigger thumbnails.
AI-powered search option and powerful photo and video edit modes are available, as usual.
The camera app has one minor but important change – you now have a proper Exposure control with the option to lock it as the default one until you reset it.
The Apple TV app is part of iOS 14, and it is your default video player local movies and shows you’ve added via iTunes. This is also the digital store for movies and TV shows, but it is also the place where you find the Apple TV+ streaming service.
Music has a new homescreen icon. It is the default player, and it relies heavily on Apple Music. But even if you decide not to use the streaming service, it can still do an excellent job if you have a few minutes to add your songs via iTunes. Realistically, adding music tracks via iTunes requires as few clicks as it would take to copy them via Windows Explorer so there is no overhead, but the requiring you to download and install iTunes in the first place can be offputting to Windows PC users.
Books is here for your documents, PDFS, and eBooks. Stocks and News are onboard. Safari is your default web browser, and it has a Download manager and some enhanced privacy options we will talk about in a minute.
Apple Maps will be bringing its new, enhanced mapping solution to the UK, Ireland, and Canada “later this year.” It adds cycling directions, complete with elevation info, and a new “avoid stairs” option for New York, LA, San Francisco, Beijing, and Shanghai.
The new EV routing will factor necessary charging stops along the way.
Guides let you discover restaurants, popular attractions and explore recommendations from “respected brands”.
The maps also show known speed cameras and red-light cameras.
Apple Pay is on board, of course, and Sign-in with Apple is pushed everywhere. You can use this to quickly sign into apps with your Apple account, authenticating with FaceID or TouchID (and with two-factor authentication included). Apple will send the app a unique random ID. If an app demands your email address, you can choose to give it your actual email, or a random one automatically created by Apple for you with built-in forwarding (and these throwaway emails are created on a per-app basis, so you can delete only one that’s associated with a specific app if you choose to).
New privacy features
The new iOS 14 comes with enhanced privacy features spanning across the entire operating system. You can now change some of the default Apple apps, get a rich privacy report from Safari, choose what photos to share with apps requiring Photos access, choose what type of location to share with apps requiring your location, and some fan-favorite dot indicators for microphone and camera usage. Let’s take a closer look.
With iOS 14 Apple allows you to change the default web browser and the default mail client. It’s not very intuitive how to approach this and, at the time of writing, there is a bug that reverts back to Apple’s system apps after each restart/shutdown.
Anyway, if you want to swap the default Safari or Mail, you need to go to the Settings and find the app you want to be your new default – say Chrome – open its settings, and you will notice the option to choose Chrome for your default web browser. Same for Mail and say, Outlook.
Now, if we could change the default Maps app, that would have been great, too.
Change default browser • Default browser • Default Mail • Default mail
Safari now offers the so-called Privacy Report. You can see it at any time by tapping the two letters on the address bar. It shows all the trackers that are following you across different websites and which one of these Safari has prevented from doing so.
Privacy report in Safari
And speaking about privacy, iOS 14 now indicates when your camera or microphone are in use. When there is a camera active, you will see a small green dot next to your cellular bars. If your microphone is in use – you’ll notice a small orange dot at the same place.
Camera indicator • Microphone indicator
Another new privacy change is when allowing access to your Photo library. You can now choose between Allow access to all photos, Select photos, and Don’t allow. The new option – Select photos – will make the app see only the photos you select and nothing else. Neat.
Finally, Apple has added one very clever option called Precise Location. Each app that is allowed to access the phone’s Location Services now has an additional option that is on by default – Precise Location. If you want to hide your exact location from an app for privacy reasons, just disable this option, and the app would only receive your approximate location instead.
Another privacy-related thing than is not new, but you may have forgotten about, is the option to remove location data from photos before sharing them. From the Photos app choose photos to share, then hit the Share button, and around the top of the screen, you will see Options. Hit it and disable Location.
Remove location in Photos before sharing
Apple has already introduced numerous privacy improvements with previous iOS updates, so the new ones are just a refinement of the old ones. But we still appreciate the new options.
Apple’s iOS has seen a ton of updates throughout the years adding new functions, features, reshaping the looks of the OS, and making everything more secure. The latest iOS 14 update is far from groundbreaking even if it holds the potential of making iOS look completely different with the new types of widgets.
So, the new widgets and app library are welcome additions, and we think the Today page should become optional from iOS 15 onwards until its retirement. The Notification Center could be improved a bit, too, while the Photos app should finally become smarter and do the sorting you are too lazy to do. Maybe Apple should rework the file management. Windows PC users, for one, would be more than happy to have a way of transferring files to Apple devices that doesn’t require downloading iTunes. But that’s wishful thinking
We liked where Apple is heading with the new iOS, and we hope to see even more long-overdue updates like the full-blown widgets and default app change options. The new iPhones are just around the corner, so you know what to expect from them software-wise. And we see no reason why you shouldn’t update your older iPhones right now.
Finally, something worth praising – the iOS 14 update is available for a broad range of iPhones starting with the iPhone 6s that came out back in 2015. Apple is keeping on its promise for five years of guaranteed updates, and despite all efforts by Google in recent years, Apple remains the only maker that can provide this today.