Apple unveils iOS 14, featuring widgets and several app upgrades

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Apple just unveiled details of iOS 14.
Image: Apple

It’s safe to say that iOS 13 has been troublesome at best. The latest iPhone software has been plagued by bugs and other issues. Fortunately, its replacement is slated to arrive this fall. During Monday’s virtual WWDC, Apple unveiled iOS 14 and showed off some long-awaited features.

One of the biggest changes is the inclusion of widgets. While Android users have had access to these handy bits of software for some time now, iPhone users will get to experiment with them when iOS 14 rolls out. Meanwhile, the latest OS update features plenty of other changes to get excited about.

Widgets Finally Arrive on iOS

Sometimes, it’s nice to see snippets of an app on your home screen without having to actually open the app. That’s exactly why widgets were invented. They allow users to snap helpful features to their home screen and are customized based on the functionality of different apps.

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Widgets have been a staple of Android, but Apple has hesitated to add them to iOS. That’s partially because it has long valued a clean, simple look on its home screens. While widgets allow users to customize their device, they can detract from a phone’s organized look.

Nonetheless, they are coming to iOS 14. The OS update will allow users to add widgets not only to the Today view but also to their home screen. Like Android, iOS 14 will feature a “widget gallery” where users can find, add, and customize their widgets.

Apple also plans to introduce “Smart Stack,” a widget that automatically shows relevant apps based on what time it is. For instance, it might show breaking news headlines in the morning, places to eat at lunchtime, and travel times around rush hour.      

They will take some getting used to, but iOS users should enjoy the extra functionality that widgets offer.

Less Obtrusive Viewing

Another complaint that Apple users often have is that using certain features—like accessing Siri or receiving Facetime calls—is very obtrusive. Apple is setting out to address those concerns in iOS 14.

Siri will no longer take over the entire screen. The digital assistant will now appear in a small overlay near the bottom of the screen as an animated icon. Siri will also be able to send audio messages rather than just transcribing a dictated text.

In the same vein of being less obtrusive, incoming phone calls and FaceTime calls will appear as a much smaller pop-up. For users who like to ignore those calls, the lack of a full-screen takeover is refreshing.

If these features seem a bit familiar, that might be because they closely resemble how Android handles the same tasks. When the Google Assistant is summoned, it appears in a small tab at the bottom of the screen. Meanwhile, incoming calls appear in a pop-up at the top of the device.

It appears that Apple is taking style cues from Android with iOS 14. The update will bring iPhone users some overdue features that Android users have come to love.

That includes a new “App Library.” It functions very similarly to Android’s app drawer, allowing users to hide apps from their home screen without uninstalling them. The new feature includes smart grouping, which pools related apps together automatically.

New App Introductions

Unsurprisingly, iOS 14 will include some new apps and noteworthy changes to existing ones. Perhaps the most exciting is Apple’s Translate app, which will be built-into the operating system. Once again, it is similar to a Google product (Google Translate) and allows users to easily swap text between languages. When it launches, the app will support 11 languages (English, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Portuguese, and Russian).

For those who don’t want to actually download a full app, Apple is launching a feature called “App Clip.” It allows users to access small parts of an app in a snappy, card-based format without installing it. App Clips are launched by a new QR-code format that’s triggered with a visual code and an NFC transmission.

For example, a user could pull up a coffee shop’s rewards program at the counter by scanning the code. They could then use Sign In With Apple to avoid making a new account and be able to access a rewards card without downloading another app. Notably, App Clips will work with Apple Pay and can be accessed through the new App Library.

Optimized Everyday Apps

Alongside the new features noted above, Apple is rolling out an array of updates to some of its core apps with iOS 14. Messages, Maps, CarPlay, and Home are getting new capabilities.

The updated version of Messages allows users to pin contacts and conversations to the top of the app for quick accessibility. There are also new Memoji accessories—including a face mask. Finally, group chat users will be able to thread conversations and mentioning a certain person will ping them with a notification.

Apple Maps is getting some noteworthy upgrades as well thanks to integrations from services like Zagat and AllTrails. It will also have better support for cyclists with bike-specific features for several major cities. Meanwhile, a new EV (electric vehicle) Routing Feature helps electric car owners track the battery life of their vehicle and find charging stations along a route. At this point, it isn’t clear if the feature will work with all electric cars or only certain models.

CarPlay is slated to receive support for custom wallpapers and new app categories. iOS 14 will also bring support for NFC car keys with some models. BMW’s 5 Series will be the first vehicle that’s compatible with the feature.

Finally, the Home app is getting support for “Adaptive Lighting.” This will allow the lights in a smart home to automatically adjust their color and temperature throughout the day. Facial recognition for HomeKit security cameras is also rolling out alongside iOS 14.

When Will iOS 14 Arrive?

All said, iOS 14 is packed with new features and upgrades that make it much more user friendly and customizable. While it loses some of the simplicity that Apple is known for, most users are now familiar enough with the operating system that it doesn’t matter.

Apple says that iOS 14 is “coming this fall.” As such, there isn’t a hard date for when the updated OS will start rolling out to devices. Professionals in the Apple Developer Program have access to a developer preview starting Monday. Meanwhile, a public beta is going to begin in July.

iOS 14 will be available for users on the iPhone 6S and up. That means any device that supports iOS 13 will be able to upgrade to the newest OS. Considering the many pitfalls of iOS 13, that’s exciting news.

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