At WWDC in June 2021 Apple announced iOS 15, the latest major update for the company’s iPhone operating system. iOS 15 eventually arrived on iPhone on 20 September 2021 and bought interface changes, security fixes and a raft of new features. If your iPhone supports the update, you can install it for free.
In this article we outline everything you need to know about the iOS 15 software update: details of the interface changes and new features coming to your iPhone – as well as features Apple is still working on that will arrive in later updates; the devices (both iPhones and iPods) that can install the new software; the latest version of the iOS 15 software, including beta versions; and any problems people are reporting.
What’s the latest version of iOS 15?
The new iPhone software update for 2021 is iOS 15. It arrived on 20 September. It is likely that Apple will soon issue it’s first update to iOS 15: iOS 15.1 is already being beta tested.
iOS 15.1 will be one of many updates. These point updates will enable Apple to add some of the previously announced features that didn’t make it into the final versions of iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and tvOS 15. For a few examples, read Eight iOS 15 features that will be missing at launch.
We explain how to install iOS 15 in a separate article.
What’s the latest beta version of iOS 15?
Apple runs a beta program for developers and the general public.
The first developer beta of iOS 15 was launched straight after the WWDC keynote in June 2021 and the Pubic Beta a few weeks later. There have been multiple versions of each beta since, and even though iOS 15 has now launched the beta versions will continue to be issued as problems and bugs are fixed.
Apple has already issued the first beta: iOS 15.1. This arrived on 21 September – one day after iOS 15’s launch. The second version of the iOS 15.1 beta was released to developers on 29 September. We run through what’s coming in iOS 15.1 here.
If you’re an app developer you can join Apple’s beta program and give it a try. The public beta program allows eager Apple fans to trial the software and help report any bugs before general release. Here’s how to join the beta testing programme. We also run though how to install the iOS beta on your iPhone.
What’s coming in iOS 15.1?
The following features have turned up in the latest beta, which will probably mean they will be included in the final version when it launches to the public – but Apple has been known to remove features before the final release if they are not yet ready.
Unlocking with Apple Watch fix – there have been reports that iPhone 13 owners are unable to use the unlock with Apple Watch feature to unlock their iPhone while wearing a mask. The beta version of iOS 15.1 is addressing this issue.
SharePlay – which was absent from iOS 15 despite being announced as a new feature in iOS 15 – is included in the iOS 15.1 beta.
Vaccination records – The update also adds the ability to add COVID-19 vaccination records to the Wallet app, although it’s not yet clear if this is US only or if it will be possible in the UK and elsewhere.
Lossless audio for HomePod – Apple had said that lossless audio support for Apple Music would arrive on HomePod with iOS 15, but despite being tested in the third iOS 15 beta, it was later removed. Now it seems that Apple is bringing it back. More information here: HomePod gets support for Lossless Audio (again.)
Bug fixes – It appears that Apple is attempting to fix some of the bugs in iOS 15 (which we run through in more detail in the next section). Bug fixes for a problem with AirPods Pro are included in the iOS 15.1 beta, for example.
Problems with iOS 15
Normally when Apple launches a new iOS we see complaints of battery drain issues, app crashes, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connection issues, and other problems. So it’s worth waiting for any issues to be ironed out before you install the latest update.
If that warning is too late for you look through the below to see if your issue is being experienced by others and if there is a fix or if it will be addressed in a future update to iOS 15.
Unlock with Apple Watch won’t work
Users who own an Apple Watch and an iPhone 13 are reporting that the unlock with Apple Watch feature does not work. Apparently some are seeing an error message “unable to communicate with Apple Watch” when they try to unlock their iPhone while wearing a mask. Apple is aware of the problem and we imagine is working on a fix. For now the company suggests that users stop using the feature until the issue is fixed.
AirPods Pro controls aren’t working
AirPods Pro users are reporting that they can no longer adjust the Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency settings using Siri. It appears that Apple is addressing this in the iOS 15.1 beta.
Problems with apps – including Spotify
Some third-party apps have stopped working since users updated to iOS 15.
Spotify has confirmed that its iOS app suffers from a iOS 15 bug that causes the phone to overheat and the battery to drain in just a few hours. As a result of the problem Spotify is currently not available on iOS 15. The developers are working on a fix.
Reddit users have reported that muting on the iPhone also mutes audio in the apps. As one poster put it : “I’ve always been able to listen to audio (on Instagram, and YouTube) when my phone is on mute, just by pressing the volume button, the audio would come up just fine.
But after updating to iOS 15, I have to unmute my phone in order to listen to audio on Instagram (Story, Reels, and Video posts) and YouTube.” There have been similar reports on Apple’s support pages.
We were able to recreate this: with mute on there was no sound, but once mute mode was turned off Instagram stories played sound again.
Issues with battery life
Slightly shorter battery life after a major iOS update is actually common and it’s not really a bug, it’s more a short-lived side effect of updating.
After updating to a new operating version it is normal for many processes to run in the background and for the system to re-index the data. This can seriously effect your battery life. But it should be short-lived. After a few days, expect the battery life of your iPhone to return to the usual level.
Not enough space
Many users have seen a message indicating that storage is almost full, even if there is plenty of free space left.
There are a number of complaints on Apple’s help pages, such as: “After iOS 15 update in settings telling me iPhone storage all most full but I have 15GB will not go away. Hard reset did not help.”
Users report that deleting large files does not seem to do anything and the error message keeps coming back. It may be a case of waiting for Apple to address the error in an update to iOS 15.
Too much space
On the contrary, in some cases more free space is also listed than the device has, for example, it can be said that an 256GB iPhone has 317.46GB of free space.
Confusion about Do Not Disturb
Apple has expanded Do Not Disturb in iOS 15. The feature is now part of the new Focus mode, which means it is possible to adapt Do Not Disturb settings depending on sets of circumstances.
However, Apple has removed one of the Do Not Disturb features – the ability to silence all incoming calls and notifications if your iPhone was locked. With this setting users could mute and hide all notifications just by locking their iPhone, then simply unlock the phone to see notifications on the screen.
The new Focus mode means that you either have all notifications or your notifications are silenced. Unlocking your iPhone doesn’t display them automatically.
Notifications not delivered
Some users are complaining that notifications from certain apps such as Outlook or Slack are not being delivered. Deleting and reinstalling the app can help, otherwise you have to wait for the updates from the developer.
App library reordered
App library came with iOS 14 and is a fairly fast way to access apps without searching for them on countless screens. However, iOS 15 seems to sort apps into different folders compared to what was the case with iOS 14.7. Especially the folder Last Added, which contains apps we haven’t used for a long time – even ones we have deleted.
iCloud+ storage can’t be updated
Some users have reported difficulties updating their iCloud storage, including from the free 5GB to the cheapest paid for option.
iTunes not working
Some iPhone users who have a PC are finding that iTunes cannot run because files are missing.
Here are all the devices that can install iOS 15:
- iPhone 6s
- iPhone 6s Plus
- iPhone SE (2016)
- iPhone 7
- iPhone 7 Plus
- iPhone 8
- iPhone 8 Plus
- iPhone X
- iPhone XS
- iPhone XS Max
- iPhone XR
- iPhone 11
- iPhone 11 Pro
- iPhone 11 Pro Max
- iPhone SE (2020)
- iPhone 12 mini
- iPhone 12
- iPhone 12 Pro
- iPhone 12 Pro Max
- All iPhone 13 models
- …plus the current iPod touch and the new iPod touch if and when it eventually launches.
This is great work from Apple, which has kept all the same compatible devices as on iOS 14 and even iOS 13. We discuss the iPhones that can install iOS 15 in more detail in a separate article.
However, you should remember that just because your iPhone can run iOS 15 doesn’t mean that you will get all the features. Read: Which iOS 15 features run on my iPhone to find out which iOS 15 features your iPhone supports.
New iPhone features in iOS 15
The iOS 15 segment of the WWDC presentation earlier this year was phenomenally dense, with dozens of upgrades and new features to cover. Here are the highlights.
Lots of changes are coming to FaceTime, Apple’s video-calling service.
Apple is adding Spatial Audio to FaceTime, which will make each participant’s audio contributions appear to come from the appropriate location on the screen. It’s also working to improve audio clarity with Voice Isolation, a mode which will use machine learning to identify and remove ambient noise – although you will also have the option to instead activate Wide Spectrum audio, to deliberately include background noise.
You get some new interface options, too. You can opt for Portrait mode, which as on stills photography will blur the background and draw attention to the subject. Or use the new grid view, for a better way of seeing all the participants in a group chat rather than foregrounding the speaker.
Apple is also responding, perhaps a little belatedly, to the world’s increasing reliance on video calling for work meetings. The company is letting iPhone users create FaceTime ‘meetings’ by generating a link that can be shared via email, iMessage and so on, or entering it as a Calendar entry.
Intriguingly, Apple also said that Android and Windows users will be able to join FaceTime meetings via the web.
SharePlay is a fascinating new feature that’s connected to FaceTime but deserves its own section. It’s essentially designed to let you flip out of a FaceTime chat using picture-in-picture, activate another app, and then have that app effect everyone on the call.
The most obvious application is music. You hop into the Music app without actually leaving the chat, pick a song, and then have that song plays for everyone. You can create a shared playlist and have everyone contribute tracks.
This also works for video – Apple said HBO Max, Disney+, Hulu, Twitch and TikTok are all on board – and extend the video you’re watching to your Apple TV for a larger screen. And SharePlay can be used for screen-sharing, for troubleshooting or showing off gameplay.
There’s a SharePlay API, so we’re fascinated to see what third-party app developers come up with for this intriguing feature.
We knew a little about this feature before the event, although we didn’t know it was going to be called Focus.
This allows you to create multiple bundles of settings for segments of your life. So you can create a work Focus status, and your availability, notification settings, and arrangement of apps and widgets on your Home screen will all be tailored to suit your work life. You can create another for when you’re sleeping, or for your recreational time. It’s the same sort of idea as Do Not Disturb While Driving, but extended to more contexts.
Another feature that could help you focus is Background Noise. This feature will deliberately generate background noise, including Ocean, Rain and River sounds. Read how to use Background Noise and play these sounds on your iPhone here: How to play Background Noise in iOS 15.
Photo search continues to improve. Spotlight search will pop up photos now, including searching for text displayed in the images.
This is connected to a feature called Live Text. If you look at a photo – either through the viewfinder, live, or in your photo library – a button will appear at the bottom right allowing your to activate Live Text. This will search for and highlight text in the image, allowing you to select, copy or interact with it – if it’s a phone number, for example, you can tap and then choose to call it.
Live Text will understand seven languages at launch.
The expanded intelligence of Photos is not limited to text, however. There will also be non-textual Visual Look Up, allowing you to query the breed of a pictured dog, for example, or the identity of a work of art or landmark.
None of this is new to the tech industry, of course, and Google Photos has proved itself adept at such computational feats in the past. But it’s a step forward for iOS.
Wallet is expanding its scope to include keys – this seems particularly handy for hotel keys and workplaces – and a general-use identity card which Apple says will be accepted in airports.
Weather gets a new design, lots of attractive new animations, and new climate maps.
Talking of maps, Apple’s Maps app is looking extremely appealing. It’s getting lots of additional road details in cities, such as turn lanes, bus, taxi and bike lanes, and pedestrian crossings. There’s an attractive nighttime view, too.
Transit directions will be more helpful, with notifications telling you when it’s time to disembark and an AR feature that reorients you when you come out of a station and don’t know which direction to walk.
Last but not least, iOS 15 brings a few features for AirPods owners, such as improved performance in the Find My app, a separation alert and the ability to read out high-priority notifications that are applicable to the context.
Updating your iPhone or iPod touch – assuming it supports the new software – is straightforward. You’ll simply have to open the Settings app, then go to General > Software Update, and wait to see if an update is available. Then follow the onscreen instructions to install it.
If you want to install an iOS 15 beta follow the steps below but be aware that a beta is unfinished, pre-release software, so don’t install it on your primary device – it’s likely to be buggy.
- Click Sign Up on the Apple Beta page and register with your Apple ID.
- Log in to the Beta Software Program.
- Click Enrol your iOS device. (If you signed up for a previous version’s beta last year you may need to uninstall the profile for that and then re-enrol for the new one.)
- Go to beta.apple.com/profile on your iOS device.
- Download and install the configuration profile.
- That will make the beta version available in Settings, under General > Software Update.
Finally, for a broader look at the year’s launches, read New Apple products coming out in 2021.