iOS 14: Overview
Apple announced iOS 14 for the iPhone at WWDC 2020. It’s inarguably one of the biggest upgrades in years, radically changing how the iPhone’s Home screen works while introducing a number of major features, apps, and functionalities for the very first time. It also brings numerous other usability improvements and tweaks to native apps across the board, making the overall experience on the iPhone better than ever before.
Furthermore, iOS 14 ranks high among the best privacy-oriented updates to the iPhone, with a slew of features that allow for increased transparency in regards to how apps function on your device. The latest OS upgrade for the iPhone even brings multiple accessibility improvements geared toward the hearing impaired.
Let’s take a closer look at the various additions, improvements, and tweaks that iOS 14 introduces below.
1. Home Screen Improvements
Resizable Home Screen Widgets
In iOS 14, widgets are no longer relegated to Today View. Instead, you can now add them directly to the Home screen itself, where they will then reside among the rest of the traditional app icons. To make things even better, widgets come in an array of sizes — small, medium, and large — that you can easily switch between before inserting them, depending on how much information you want available at a glance.
For example, the smaller-sized Weather widget can display weather-related data for any given moment, while the larger and medium-sized widgets show information for different times of the day and for each day of the week respectively— the larger the size, the more space you must devote to a widget on the Home screen.
iOS 14 also lets you add a Smart Stack of widgets to the iPhone’s Home screen. As the name suggests, it comprises a stack of widgets that will automatically rotate depending on usage patterns. You can, of course, edit the Smart Stack and scroll through the list of widgets manually whenever you want.
The App Library is another new addition to the iPhone that groups all installed apps within a single screen — you can access it by swiping to the left of the final page within the Home screen. The App Library categorizes apps by type (Social, Productivity, Entertainment, etc.), lets you search for apps, and can even display apps in list form (swipe down to switch views).
To the top of the App Library, you get two special categories — Suggestions and Recently Added. Suggestions will suggest apps for use at different times of the day (courtesy of machine learning) while Recently Added provides quick access to recently installed apps.
You can also remove apps from the Home screen — without deleting them — and instead use the App Library to access them. iOS 14 even lets you install and add new apps directly to the App Library instead of having them show up on the Home screen.
Hide Home Screen Pages
Widgets and the App Library aside, iOS 14 now lets you hide Home screen pages. This allows for better management of your Home screen.
If you have lots of apps installed that resulted in multiple Home screen pages, for example, you can simply add essential apps to the first Home screen slide, hide the rest of the Home pages, and use the App library to access the rest of the apps instead — which is then just a single swipe away.
2. New Additions
App Clips are an amazing new addition in iOS 14 that completely does away with the need to install full-sized apps for one-off menial tasks. Consider an App Clip a toned-down version of the complete app that only requires 10MB of storage space, but with almost all core functions. They also support Sign in with Apple and Apple Pay integration so that you can quickly pay for that coffee or parking without wasting time.
App Clips can be installed by tapping on NFC tags, scanning QR codes, using relevant browser links, and so on. They will also delete automatically after 30 days.
The iPad sported Picture-in-Picture support for quite a while, but you can now take advantage of the functionality on your iPhone as well. This is a huge deal since you can now effectively multitask on your iPhone even while you are in the midst of, say, a FaceTime video call. You can quickly drag the tiny Picture-in-Picture pane to either four corners of the screen, resize it to three different sizes, and even hide it whenever you want.
Picture-in-Picture works across a number of native and third-party apps such as Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu, and so on. It also works while playing full-screen videos in Safari — simply exit to the Home screen to trigger Picture-in-Picture mode.
New Translate App
In addition to the built-in translation module in Safari, iOS 14 also comes with a brand new translation app — simply named Translate. It sports support for 11 languages (English, Spanish, Japanese, etc.) and allows for both text and voice translation.
The Translate app even sports a Conversation mode — hold the iPhone in landscape mode to split the app user interface screen in two, and you can converse with a foreign individual and have the app seamlessly detect and translate both languages.
Apple has also made the Translate app extremely private, where you can choose to download languages locally and have translations processed completely offline.
Introducing Car Key
Apple announced Car Key alongside iOS 14, a feature that lets you turn your iPhone (or your Apple Watch) into a virtual car key. You can unlock your car by tapping the door handle with NFC and turn on the ignition by placing the iPhone on a reader or wireless charger. And to top that off, it’s also possible to share keys with others via Messages — shared car keys can also carry restrictions, such as limits to acceleration and top speed.
Apple also unveiled the next generation of digital car keys based on Ultra-Wideband technology for spatial awareness delivered through the U1 chip, which will allow users to unlock future car models without removing the iPhone from their pocket or bag and will become available next year.
That said, Apple apparently doesn’t want to wait around till iOS 14 made its way this fall to introduce Car Keys to the public — the Cupertino-based tech giant will release the feature ahead of schedule with the iOS 13.6 update.
3. Major UI Improvements
Compact & Smarter Siri
Siri has profoundly changed in the way she functions in iOS 14 with an all-new design. Instead of annoyingly hijacking the entire screen whenever you invoke her, she will now show up a swirling orb to the bottom of the screen, listen in while you speak, and respond with compact notifications. She can also answer silently in Silent Mode, but still speak out aloud if you start off with ‘Hey Siri.’
To top that off, Siri is much smarter now and comes up with more facts and answers to queries. You can also ask her to record and send audio messages or share your E.T.A. with others.
Compact Call Notifications
Just like Siri, iOS 14 will no longer display incoming call notifications in full-screen mode. Instead, they will show up as banners to the top of the iPhone screen with controls to accept or decline. This applies not just to cellular calls, but also for those that you receive over FaceTime and third-party VOIP apps such as Skype, WhatsApp, or Viber.
4. System App Improvements
At first glance, the Messages app in iOS 14 looks practically the same, but there are numerous under the hood improvements. You can now pin up to nine conversation threads to the top of the screen, perform inline replies and mentions to cut through the noise in group chats, and set images or emojis as group photos.
A new Notify Me option, enabled via the Messages Settings, will also bypass muted conversations and send you notifications whenever someone mentions you in a group chat. You can also add a Filters menu to the Messages app that smartly organizes conversations based on categories such as Known Senders, Unknown Senders, Promotions, Transactions, and Junk.
The Camera app in iOS 14 has received a significant under-the-hood revamp. You can now shoot photos 90% faster at up to 4 frames per second compared to before. The iPhone also processes photos a lot quicker so that you can get in more shots every second. When shooting videos, the Camera app also lets you change the resolution and frame rate right from within the app itself.
Older iPhones that include the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max have also received the ability to shoot QuickTake videos — previously, this was only possible on the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max. It’s also possible to perform QuickTake videos using the Volume Down button and Burst photos with the Volume Up button.
Other additions include the ability to lock exposure compensation values for an entire camera session, an improved Night mode capture experience on the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max, and selfie mirroring where photos on the front-facing camera will show up similar to how they appear on the viewfinder.
Apple’s native web browser also allows for improved transparency while surfing the internet with the inclusion of a Privacy Report, which lets you view blocked trackers over a period of 30 days. It also monitors saved passwords against data breaches and notifies you of any compromised login credentials.
To make things even better, Safari now sports an integrated translation module that lets you translate foreign web pages without having to resort to using workarounds. Once the stable release of iOS 14 hits this fall, Safari should also start featuring seamless Face-ID and Touch-ID logins in supported websites, allowing for a much secure password-less experience. Check out this list for a complete rundown of all Safari-related features in iOS 14.
5. Core System Enhancements
Set Default Browser and Email Client
For the very first time, iOS 14 introduces the ability to switch default browsers on the iPhone. That’s right — you can now assign a third-party browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge in place of Safari to function as the default. This also extends to email clients, where you can set Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, Edison Mail, etc., as the default email app on the iPhone.
Find My ‘Other’ Devices
The Find My app in iOS 14 no longer restricts you to locating Apple devices only. Apple has released a draft specification that allows third-party accessories and products to participate in a ‘network accessory program,’ which means that it’s now possible to use the Find My app to discover other important non-Apple devices as well.
Improved AirPods Functionality
Starting iOS 14, AirPods now sport the ability to automatically switch to the device in use at the moment. This helps you avoid having to manually connect to them whenever you swap back and forth between an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac. The iPhone also displays a notification whenever your AirPods fall to 10% of the remaining battery, giving you sufficient heads up to start charging them.
Additionally, AirPods of the Pro variant allow for an immersive surround-style audio experience when connected to an iOS 14 device. Dubbed Spatial Audio, the technology behind this feature continuously monitors the position of your head and recalibrates audio output accordingly.
6. Enhancements to Other Native Apps
iOS 14 gives you even more reason to embrace the native Apple Maps app with a number of improvements. Maps now let you effectively plan cycling routes due to the inclusion of bike-friendly lanes, paths, and roads. The same goes for electric vehicles, where it’s possible to calculate the E.T.A. by taking charging stops into account. Maps also notifies you of congestion zones in major cities, allowing you to plan routes around them if needed.
That aside, the Maps app comes with a host of real-time details — for example, it lets you know whenever you approach speed cameras or red-light cameras along a route, complete with information on where individual cameras are located. The app is also more reliable, providing accurate locations and orientations even in urban areas with poor GPS connectivity.
The Shortcuts app in iOS 14 is now improved and streamlined, categorizing shortcuts based on functionality. For example, shortcuts that work in the Share Sheet or Apple Watch can be filtered out by tapping the relevant smart categories underneath the My Shortcuts tab. It’s also possible to create new folders and categorize shortcuts manually. The Shortcuts app also sports a number of new automation trigger types — these include Email, Sleep, Message, Battery Level, Close App, and Charger.
The Photos app in iOS 14 comes with improved filtering and sorting options. Zooming in and out of image thumbnails is also much smoother and immersive. Furthermore, you can set any photo in an album as its thumbnail — simply tap and hold an image, and then tap Make Key Photo.
The Photos app now sports a new action menu when visiting certain categories and albums. Start by tapping the ellipsis icon to the upper-right corner of the screen, and you get to perform a host of tasks such as sharing multiple photos straight off the bat, adding photos from other albums, filtering items by type, and so on.
Other noteworthy features include automatically stabilized Live Photos, the ability to add captions to photos, and Memories with better selections, music tracks, and transitions.
The Reminders app got a huge redesign in iOS 13. This year, iOS 14 ramps things up by providing a new quick option to add reminders (without having to dive into a specific list first), smart suggestions for capturing new reminders quickly, and the ability to edit multiple reminders at once. Members with shared lists can also assign tasks to each other to make it easier to split up assignments. Furthermore, you can select emojis as list icons — previously, it was limited to a few icons only.
That aside, the Reminders app features improved search capabilities, allowing you to quickly bring up entries by searching for people, locations, or reminder notes. There’s also an improved calendar picker that makes it much easier to select dates and months.
The Music app has received a moderate makeover. It replaces the For You tab with Listen Now, which now appears first within the navigation bar to the bottom, and provides improved suggestions by learning and evolving the more you use Apple Music. The Music app is now also better at generating searches, allowing better access to filtering controls and improved suggestions.
Other noteworthy improvements include the ability to invoke Siri during music playback — similar to how Alexa works with Amazon Music. The Music app also continues playing matching tracks after the end of a song or playlist, which may take some getting used to. Furthermore, you receive haptic feedback in the Music app whenever you use the playback controls.
The Voice Memos app in iOS 14 comes with smart folders that intelligently categorizes your recordings. It also lets you create folders to organize recordings manually, and even lets you mark recordings as ‘favorites.’ To top things off, Voice Memos now offers a new Enhance Recording feature to improve the sound quality of recordings with just a single tap.
The Home app supports on-device Face Recognition for compatible video doorbells and cameras that can identify friends and family. You can also define Activity Zones within any camera’s view that then notifies you if motion is detected within the area. Furthermore, Adaptive Lighting for compatible HomeKit-enabled lights can help adjust the color temperature automatically throughout the day.
In iOS 14, the Home app also has expanded controls in the Control Center for quick access to accessories and scenes.
New CarPlay Features
In iOS 14, CarPlay comes with new app categories such as third-party parking, EV charging, and quick food-ordering. It also sports improved Siri supports, where you can send audio messages and share ETAs with others. It also sports a horizontal start bar to the bottom of the screen in cars with a portrait display. Furthermore, existing audio, messaging, and VoIP apps can also utilize improvements to developer APIs to offer a better CarPlay experience. Check out a complete list of CarPlay features here.
You will find small UI tweaks throughout the Files app on iOS 14. For example, the menu that brings up the Document Scanner and Edit options now shows up from the top and not from the bottom. There’s also a unified menu that groups together options ranging from creating new folders to changing view modes. The Files app also sports support for encrypted APFS volumes.
7. General Improvements & Features
iOS 14 comes with numerous general improvements and features. We’ve hand-picked the best of the lot below — you can also check the complete 100+ iOS 14 feature list here.
iOS 14 adds a new search interface to find specific emojis that you are looking for. Enter a commonly used word such as ‘heart’ or ‘smiley face’ and you will be presented with relevant emojis to choose from.
Watch YouTube in 4K
iOS 14 includes Google’s VP9 codec, which means that you can finally stream YouTube in full 4K glory. Here’s hoping that Apple won’t remove the codec from the stable release in September.
Jiggle Apps From Anywhere
It’s now possible to jiggle your apps by long-pressing any vacant area on the screen. Previously, you had to tap and hold an app to start jiggling them.
New App Downloads Location
With iOS 14, you can choose to add new apps either to the Home screen or the App Library during the installation process itself.
Top Hits in Notes
The native Notes app sports improved search capabilities, with a new Top Hits section that displays the most relevant results prominently from the rest.
FaceTime Eye Contact
Apple brings back last year’s Attention Awareness feature (which was only present in certain beta versions) and re-introduces it as Eye Contact. As the name suggests, FaceTime will automatically adjust the video feed in a way as to make it seem as if video call participants are looking directly at each other instead of at their cameras.
Change Screenshot Opacity
When you take a screenshot, the markup screen lets you change the opacity of an image. Just tap on the ‘+’ icon, select Opacity, and use the slider for adjustments. Perfect for emphasizing annotations in noisy screenshots.
Wake/Lock for Flip Covers
iOS 14 now supports wake/lock functionality when used with flip covers. The iPhone will automatically wake or lock when you open or close the cover respectively.
New Audio UI During Calls
iOS 14 has tweaked the user interface to switch audio devices during calls. In iOS 13, it used to pop-up from the bottom.
The Bedtime Mode in iOS 13 is now replaced by the new Sleep Mode in iOS 14. You can set your sleep schedule in the Health app, and it will automatically turn on Do Not Disturb during that time.
Wind Down is related to Sleep mode. It reduces distractions and helps you relax before going to bed. You can set a time to enable Wind Down before starting Sleep mode.
Notification Badges in App Library
By default, the App Library doesn’t display notification badges. However, you can enable them by heading into Settings > Home Screen. Quite useful if you only plan to use the App Library on the iPhone.
When you search for apps, contacts, or websites in Search, the results come back with bigger and bolder fonts for easier reading. Even better, Search will pick the closest matching suggestion, letting you launch it directly by tapping Go on the onscreen keyboard.
Up-to-Date Weather Data
With iOS 14, the Weather app and widget keep you up to date on severe weather events. It also provides a new next-hour precipitation chart that shows minute-by-minute precipitation.
Game Center ID in App Store Account
The App Store now displays the Game Center ID in the Account section, letting you quickly check your gaming stats, achievements, friends, and friend suggestions.
New Time and Date Picker
In native apps, iOS 14 features an updated date and time picker that is much easier to use with less scrolling involved.
Back Button History
Long-pressing the Back button on any native app will reveal your history, helping you quickly jump back to previous pages.
New Health Features
The Health app supports several new data types for health records, mobility, symptoms, and ECG, complete with a new Health checklist for health features that matter the most. It also helps reduce headphone levels once you’ve reached the recommended weekly dose as per the World Health Organization.
Bluetooth Banner Notifications
When using Bluetooth, iOS 14 now showcases a small banner notification whenever a device connects to the iPhone. This eliminates the need to go to the Control Center to review devices that got connected.
Third-Party Family Sharing
In iOS 14, Apple now allows third-party subscriptions to support Family Sharing.
Disable Share Sheet Suggestions
iOS 13 started displaying suggested contacts within Share Sheets. If you didn’t like that, you can now disable them by going to Settings > Siri & Search, and then turning off the toggle next to Share Sheet Suggestions.
Updated Color Picker
You can now select colors with even more precision while annotating screenshots, images, and documents with the Spectrum and Slider tabs.
Search for Apps in Storage Menu
iOS 14 lets you filter apps by name in the iPhone Storage screen (accessible via Settings > General). Incredibly useful when you’ve got lots of apps installed.
Stack Widgets on Top of Another
If you have multiple widgets on the Home screen and want to reduce the clutter, simply long-press a widget and drag it over to another one. That way, you can create stacks of widgets on the home screen.
Create Dumb Stack
You can stop the Smart Stack of widgets from automatically rotating your widgets — long-press the Smart Stack, tap Edit Stack, and then turn off the switch next to Smart Rotate.
Up Next in Podcasts
The Podcasts app in iOS 14 now contains an updated Up Next section that will bring up recommendations (based on your listening history) from shows that you haven’t subscribed to yet.
Revamped Image Picker
iOS 14 comes with a revamped image picker for faster searching and selecting when accessing your photos through other apps.
Long-press to Hide Alerts
In the Messages app, iOS 14 adds a ‘Hide Alerts’ option to the quick actions menu, accessible when you long-press a pinned or unpinned conversation thread.
Guides in Apple Maps
Guides in Apple Maps provide a curated list of interesting places to visit in a city, created by a selection of trusted resources. Guides are a great way to discover hot new restaurants, find popular attractions, and explore new recommendations from respected brands. You can also save Guides for offline usage — if the guides get updated with new information, Maps will update saved Guides accordingly.
Rename Bluetooth Devices
You can now rename any Bluetooth device connected to your iPhone by heading into the Bluetooth options in the Settings app.
8. Privacy Features
Web browsing in general is more transparent and secure due to the inclusion of new Safari features such as the Privacy Report, password monitoring, and the ability to sign in with biometrics. However, iOS 14 also comes with an array of additional features that improve your privacy in general.
App Store Transparency
The App Store in iOS 14 sports a new section labeled App Privacy for all listed apps, which reveals the exact forms of data used to track you. This helps you make better decisions as to which apps you should install on your iPhone. You can also use the information to take appropriate measures to prevent privacy-invasive apps from tracking you all the time.
iOS 14 notifies you whenever an app reads data from your clipboard. This is a seemingly insignificant yet vital improvement to user privacy. Since the introduction of the iOS 14 Beta, a number of popular apps such as TikTok and LinkedIn have already been caught in the act of reading the clipboard for no obvious reason.
In addition to Safari’s password monitoring capabilities, iOS 14 comes with the Security Recommendations panel (accessible via Settings > Passwords) that alerts you of compromised, duplicate, and commonly used passwords. Where possible, it also allows you to upgrade existing login credentials to Sign in with Apple.
Upgrade to Sign in with Apple
Apple introduced Sign in with Apple last year, which allows you to privately sign into apps and websites — for example, Sign in with Apple lets you use an anonymized email address while masking the real thing to preserve privacy. With iOS 14, you can upgrade existing login credentials to Sign in with Apple as well.
The Cupertino-based tech giant provides developers with an API that helps support the transition. You can check the Security Recommendations screen and shift to Sign in with Apple for apps or websites that incorporate the feature.
iOS 14 provides even more transparency whenever apps access the camera and microphone of your device using colored status indicators. A green-colored dot indicates an active camera, while an orange-colored dot reflects a live microphone. You can also view the name of the app using your camera feed or microphone audio by bringing up the Control Center.
Local Network Privacy
Apps can’t connect to or ping other devices — and track you that way — within a local network without your permission anymore. Unless an app really needs to find and communicate with other devices to function properly, there’s simply no reason to provide this permission. You can manage this feature by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Tracking.
Precision Location Tracking
iOS 14 brings a new feature to manage apps that make use of aggressive location services. Dubbed Precision Location, the feature lets you determine between an app having your exact location or an approximate location. You can enable or disable Precision Location for apps by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services.
Limit Access to Photos
Certain third-party apps require permission to your photos library to read or write images. iOS 14 limits potential privacy implications by limiting access to select photos or albums, making it much safer to use third-party apps on your iPhone and iPad. You can configure photo library permissions by visiting Settings > Privacy > Photos.
Permission to Track
Apps now require your explicit permission to start tracking you across apps and websites. You will receive a notification that provides you with the option to allow or restrict any app from tracking you. You can also manage permissions by heading over to Settings > Privacy > Tracking.
Mask MAC Address
iOS 14 comes with a nifty Wi-Fi security feature that prevents network providers from tracking your iPhone or iPad. Enabled by default, the Use Private Address setting within the Wi-Fi settings of any connection helps your iPhone and iPad throw out randomly generated MAC addresses. This serves as an anti-tracking measure whenever you connect to different Wi-Fi networks.
9. Accessibility Features
iOS 14 comes with a handful of new accessibility settings, mostly geared toward the hearing impaired, that allows for an improved experience on the iPhone.
When enabled, Headphone Accommodations will prompt the iPhone to amplify soft sounds for more clarity on any headphone with an H1 chip.
Reduce Loud Sounds
Dubbed Reduce Loud Sounds, this feature will automatically lower the headphone volume over any specified decibel level. If you are sensitive to loud sounds or want to protect your hearing, go to iPhone Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Reduce Loud Sounds to activate the feature.
Sign Language Prominence
Group FaceTime calls will automatically give more prominence to the tiles of any person using sign language.
Sound Recognition actively listens and notifies you of certain sounds — fires, sirens, certain animal sounds, or even general household sounds. You can completely customize the exact sounds that you want to be notified of (go to Settings > Accessibility > Sound Recognition), and even add a toggle to the Control Center to switch the feature on or off.
Back Tap Function
In iOS 14, you can double-tap or triple-tap the back of the iPhone to access UI elements and functionalities such as Home, the app switcher, Notification Center, Siri, and more. It’s buried inside the iPhone Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Back Tap. The good news — back tap even works with a case on.
10. iOS 14 Compatible Device List
Apple dropped support for the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 6 series with iOS 13 in 2019. However, with iOS 14, Apple has not dropped support for any of the older iPhones. In other words, you can install iOS 14 on all iPhones that run iOS 13, dating way back to the iPhone SE.
- iPhone SE (2nd generation)
- iPhone 11 Pro Max
- iPhone 11 Pro
- iPhone 11
- iPhone XS Max
- iPhone XS
- iPhone XR
- iPhone X
- iPhone 8 Plus
- iPhone 8
- iPhone 7 Plus
- iPhone 7
- iPhone 6s Plus
- iPhone 6s
- iPhone SE
- iPod touch (7th generation)
11. iOS 14 Beta
Apple started seeding the iOS 14 Public Beta on July 9th, 2020. If you want to try out the many features in iOS 14, you can enroll in the Public Beta program and install the iOS Public Beta on your iPhone right now.
While beta releases are generally buggy, the iOS 14 Public Beta is surprisingly stable with less intermittent crashes and bugs compared to previous iOS betas. Your experience, of course, may differ, so it’s best to back up your iPhone to a Mac or PC before you decide to proceed. You can find all the bugs in iOS 14 beta reported so far here.
Check out this guide for a complete walkthrough of installing the iOS 14 Public Beta on the iPhone.
12. iOS 14 Release Date
Following the opening keynote of WWDC 2020, Apple released the iOS 14 Developer Beta, and then followed up the Public Beta two weeks later. Apple hasn’t divulged a timeframe for subsequent releases, but it is likely for the Cupertino-based tech giant to follow a similar schedule for iOS 14 as it has for previous iOS releases.
What this means is that the stable release of iOS 14 could arrive in September alongside the iPhone 12 lineup. But due to concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s always the chances for the actual release date to get pushed further back to October.