iOS 14 is the biggest software update to ever come to iPhone — and there’s a lot to get excited about. From a completely new home screen (with widgets, finally!) to much-needed improvements to iMessage, a brand-new translation app to more immersive AirPods, we’ve rounded up all the best new features to get you prepped and ready.
Note: iOS 14 is supported on the iPhone 6s and later, which is every iPhone that has been released in the last five years.
1. The Home screen now has widgets, finally.
iOS 14 delivers the biggest redesign of the iPhone's Home screen, and the chief reason for that is widgets on the Home screen. This is something that Android smartphones have been able to do for years (and iPads as of more recently), and they allow your favorite apps, like Calendar, Photos, Podcasts and Weather, to display more information directly on the Home screen. Widgets come in three sizes: small, medium and large.
Not every app can be come a widgets (or be able to put in “Widget mode”). However, many of Apple's first-party apps can, like Calendar, Photos and Fitness. Additionally, Apple is working with third-party app developers so that more apps have widget experiences. Since these Widgets will take up more real estate, your Home Screen won’t have the same, neat app gridlock look, for better or for worse.
2. Stacks of widgets.
Apple also introduced a feature called Smart Stack. It’s a widget just like the others, except it houses multiple apps instead of just one that you can swipe between. For example, you can place the Smart Stack on the Home Screen and then swipe between various apps like Calendar, Fitness and Mail, without leaving the Smart Stack widget. The neat thing is that the Smart Stack widget is intelligent enough to learn which apps you use at different times of the day, and display them at that exact time.
3. You now have an App Library.
App Library is a new feature that basically helps you organize and find all of the apps on your iPhone. The all-new App Library page automatically organizes all your apps into folders based on what they do. For instance, all your streaming apps (i.e Netflix, Hulu and Apple TV+) will be in a folder located “Entertainment,” while your social media apps (i.e Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat) could be put in a folder called “Social.” You will be able to get to the all-new App Library by swiping all the way from the right from the Home screen.
Secondly, the App Library can display all your apps in an alphabetical list. It’s similar to the Apple Watch’s “List View” mode, which organizes the apps in an alphabetical list on your Apple Watch, which is a great alternative to the honeycomb that is “Grid Mode.” Both organization methods of App Library simply make it easier to find the apps you’re looking for.
4. Call notifications are different (in a good way).
When you get an incoming call in iOS 14, instead of seeing a message that takes up your entire iPhone screen, the message only takes up a sliver of your iPhone — sort of like you’re getting a push notification. The idea is that if you’re in the middle of doing something on your iPhone, you can simply swipe the call notification away and not disrupt your workflow. These small call notifications work with normal phone calls, FaceTime calls and calls from third-party apps like Skype or Slack.
5. Picture-in-Picture for calls and other videos.
iOS 14 adds a bunch of new multi-tasking and productivity features, and one of the most important is picture-in-picture. It essentially allows you to watch a video from video-playing apps while doing other things in other apps. The video appears as a small floating screen over the other apps you’re using. You can move this small video player around your screen or off it completely while still listening to the audio.
6. iMessage changing messages forever.
iOS 14 is introducing a feature called “inline replies” to messages. It essentially allows you to create threads or sub-conversations within a group text like you can in many more robust chat applications like Slack. Inline replies will allow you to respond directly to a specific message within a group chat without appearing as the “bottom” or “most recent” message. You can also tag people within the group chat so they’ll be able to see a message within one of these inline replies. It’s going to take some getting used to, but it’s also going to make group chats be way less chaotic.
7. You can now hide Home Screen pages and apps.
In iOS 14, you have the ability to hide Home Screen pages and apps completely. This is designed to clean up your Home Screen pages and keep the apps that you need–but-never-use, like third-party companion apps for headphones and smart home gadgets, out of sight and out of mind. You’re able to initiate a “jiggle mode” by long-pressing on any app, selecting the “…” at the bottom of the screen, and then you’re going to be able to hide Home Screen pages or individuals apps. Instead of living on a Home Screen page, these hidden apps only live in your App Library.
8. A new Translate app.
Apple is finally adding a dedicated Translate app to your iPhone with iOS 14. It's able to do both text and voice translations of 11 different languages. There will be a conversation mode that will allow you and somebody of a different language to communicate in real-time. There’s also an offline mode where you can download languages ahead of time, which is obviously ideal if you’re traveling off the grid in a foreign country. It’s nothing that Google Translate hasn’t been able to do for years, but it’s good that they’re finally going to be mainstays of the iPhone.
9. A more helpful Siri.
In iOS 14, Siris allow you to use voice commands to record and send audio messages to your friends. Additionally, Siri has a new compact look when you summon it, similar to the new calls on iOS 14. There is also a widget called Siri Suggestions that you can add to your Home screen, which intelligently suggests different things (such as it’s time to start a workout, order coffee from the Dunkin app, or start up a podcast) based how you use your iPhone every day.
10. The AirPods experience, elevated.
Your AirPods or AirPods Pro can support multiple Bluetooth connections. But with iOS 14, they're smart enough to know which device you’re using, be it an iPhone, iPad or MacBook, and automatically switch to that device’s audio. For instance, if you’re listening to a Spotify playlist on your iPhone, but then play a YouTube video on your MacBook, the playlist stops playing and you’ll hear the audio of the YouTube video on your computer. No more dealing with Bluetooth Settings.
The other big update is just for the AirPods Pro. It’s called “Spatial Audio” and it allows AirPods Pro to play way more immersive 3D sound. It utilizes the built-in accelerometer in the AirPods Pro to know exactly where your head is positioned in relation to the screen you’re watching, and it’ll then adjust the audio accordingly. It supports 5.1-channel, 7.1-channel and Dolby Atmos audio, meaning your AirPods are able to deliver the most home theater-esque experience possible.
11. App Clips saves you from downloading unwanted apps.
App Clips is a really interesting new feature coming that enables to you use third-party apps without actually downloading them. The idea is that, currently, there are a number of apps on your iPhone that you’ve had to download just to use once — to pay for a parking spot, rent a car, or order food from a specific restaurant — and then they just take up space. App Clips is compatible with Apple Pay and Sign in with Apple, and it’s going to allow you to use these third-party apps just by scanning a QR code or a specific App Clip code. iOS 14 is adding other features to declutter or hide things from your Home screen, but App Clips takes it a step further by preventing you from having to download the extra app bloatware.
12. There's a new invisible button
iOS 14 gives your iPhone another "very Android" ability and it's called a "back tap." Essentially you can turn the back of your iPhone into an invisible button that you can double or triple tap to initiate a certain action. These actions include taking a screen shot, summoning Siri or lock the screen. It's off by default, but you can turn it on and enable specific actions by opening Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Back Tap.