Apple on Thursday released the first public beta version of iOS 14, the latest version of the iPhone operating system.
The software allows anyone with an iPhone that came out in 2015 or later to try out the software that will launch with iPhone models in the fall. It’s not the final, fully polished version of iOS 14 — that’s usually released in September.
The public beta enables users who want to see what changes Apple has made this year and access new features, such as a redesigned home screen with automatically updating widgets, automatically organizing apps, and a new Siri interface. Interested users can sign up for the public beta here.
This version of iOS isn’t for everyone — as beta software, it’s got bugs in it, and many users report these bugs to Apple so it can fix them before the official launch later this year. If you prize stability on your phone, you most likely want to wait until the fall release.
But if you’re curious or a tech enthusiast, it’s a good way to get ahead of some big changes coming to iPhones this fall. Here’s what’s new:
Redesigned home screen with widgets
The most prominent change: Apple has redesigned the phone’s home screen. Now, in addition to the grid of apps that hasn’t changed since the iPhone was first released in 2007, you can add “widgets,” or small little software programs with live-updating information about maps, photos, news, or anything a software developer decides to build.
There’s also a new panel when you swipe left at the home screen called App Library, which automatically organizes and sorts your apps for you, as well as provides a list in alphabetical order.
You can now watch a video or videoconference while you use another app. The picture-in-picture window can be moved and resized.
Less intrusive notifications for phone calls
In previous versions of iOS, when a phone call came in, it would take over the entire screen, even if you were doing something else. In iOS 14, it appears as a banner, like other notifications. The new notification also applies to FaceTime calls and third-party apps like Skype.
New Siri interface
Similarly, Siri no longer takes over the entire screen on an iPhone when you ask it a question. Instead, in iOS 14, Siri pops up from the bottom of the screen, and provides your answer as a banner notification.
iOS 14 will have a new built-in app, Translate, that’s able to translate conversations in real time when placed between two people speaking different languages. It’s similar to translation apps made by companies like Baidu, Google and Microsoft, but built right into the phone.
Web page translation in mobile Safari
Desktop browsers have offered automated web page translation for years, for when a user needs to get the gist of a foreign website. Now the features is available on mobile Safari.
New Memoji avatars
There are a lot of new customization options for Apple’s Memoji, its cartoon avatar program built into the iPhone, including a way to add a face mask (a very 2020 touch).
Apple has made a lot of tweaks to the text messaging interface on iOS 14. Users can now pin important conversations to the top of the feed, mention contacts inside group messages, and thread messages inside group messages.
Several of these features have been available on competing messaging apps like WhatsApp, and will help users control what they see in their messaging inbox.
The iPhone keyboard now has a search field just for emoji — instead of scrolling through hundreds of emoji for the specific smiley face you want, you can simply search.
Under the hood
There are lots of other changes to iOS 14 that are largely out of consumer sight, including new privacy features in Safari, better Siri suggestions and automation, and international features like redesigned keyboards for specific languages like Japanese.
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