While iOS 15 was announced at WWDC 2021 in June 2021, it went through significant changes before it was released on September 20. The update focuses on three aspects - staying connected, finding focus with productivity, and privacy.
Apple didn't stop with the launch of iOS 15 though, as since then iOS 15.1 through to iOS 15.6 have also arrived, adding new features and fixing a whole lot of bugs.
Below we've detailed all of the key features found not just in the initial iOS 15 release, but also in these smaller updates.
And if you're struggling to update to iOS 15, we've created a guide to help you update your iPhone to the newest software.
iOS 15: cut to the chase
- What is it? The latest big update for iOS
- When did it come out? September 20, 2021
- How much does it cost? It's free
iOS 15 release date
Apple announced after the event that iOS 15 was to be released on September 20, four days before the release of the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro, which it did.
Make sure to back up your device just in case before updating to iOS 15, and follow our guide for how to get iOS 15 on your phone.
Of course, while we’re talking about iOS 15 here, iPadOS 15 also arrived for your iPad.
That's not the end of it though - there's now an update to iOS 15.3 available, with iOS 15.4 thought to be landing imminently.
iOS 15 supported devices
As Apple's main section on iOS 15 states, the update works with an iPhone 6S and above.
However, if you're wondering which features are missing from an older iPhone on iOS 15, we've created a guide that delves deeper into this.
Note that any device that can get iOS 15 will also be able to get iOS 15.x, with iOS 15.3 being the latest release at the time of writing.
iOS 15: FaceTime improvements
Apple has brought new features to FaceTime in iOS 15, with a focus on making it easier to connect with family and friends, while improving the audio and visual quality.
Spatial audio can be used with an iPhone XS and above, which means 3D audio gives the impression that your recipients are in the same room as you.
Voice isolation now focuses on your voice only, and blocks out any other ambient noise. There's also Wide Spectrum, which focuses on you and the environment around you.
There's also Grid View, which shows a group call, alongside Portrait Mode now able to be used, where the background is now blurred and focuses on you.
There's also FaceTime links, which can generate a link to help plan a call, similar to how a Google Meet link works, and can be accessed by others who have an Android or Windows device.
iOS 15: SharePlay
SharePlay is also new in iOS 15, where you can share music, watch TV shows and movies, alongside sharing your screen, so you can show a recipient how you use a certain app.
You can also extend SharePlay to an AppleTV, which is helpful especially for a movie. This is also an API, so an app can work with this very soon.
Supported services such as Disney+, Twitch, ESPN, TikTok and more are using SharePlay for iOS 15 and above.
However, SharePlay is being held back for a future release of iOS 15, perhaps iOS 15.1.
iOS 15: Messages
Another massive improvement to iOS 15, group chats now gain collages, as a way to easily display multiple images.
Shared with You in the News app shows what your friends have shared with you, such as links, and they can be easily copied into a Messages chat. It's also available in Safari, Music and more apps.
There's also statuses, which look very similar to WhatsApp and other messaging apps.
You can even mute notifications in group chats if you wish, individually. So if you want to mute for an hour or for a day, now you can.
iOS 15: Notifications
After many refinements over the years, notifications are now redesigned for iOS 15. Notification Summary is here, where these can be scheduled to appear at certain times, or even by Apple's own machine learning algorithms.
Do Not Disturb is also part of the improvements here, with it showing for your friends and family if they have it switched on themselves.
Focus is also another feature for Notification Summary, which recommends you on your lock screen to let you know of certain apps, dependant on your calendar and even your location.
iOS 15: Safari
Apple's web browser has seen a big redesign in iOS 15, with extensions being carried over from macOS, to the iPhone.
The address bar is now at the bottom, with gestures to easily switch between different tabs and go back to a full screen view, alongside a pull to refresh web window, similar to refreshing your mail or even your tweets, now in Safari.
There's also a new home screen, which you can customize to your liking and even choose your own photos.
Many buttons that were accessible are now hidden behind a button, so this user interface may change as we receive new betas in the coming months.
During the beta period, Safari saw a lot of design changes, which has now resulted in a design that more reflects iOS 14, with some small design improvements.
You can have the address bar to be at the top as before, or at the bottom so you can easily reach your thumb.
iOS 15: Live Text
You can now take a photo of text, and it will highlight it, and then copy it into a document, or even translate it. If you have any previous photos that displays any information, you can also use LiveText here, it's not exclusive to any photos you take on iOS 15.
This is a direct competitor to Google Lens and looks to be very convenient if you take many photos or you have a holiday booked.
iOS 15: Photos
Photos are now in Spotlight suggestions, so you can look for someone in particular who are in a photo you've recently taken.
There's also improvements to intelligent Photos called Memories, where it creates new slideshows and carousels of photo collections with music, and it even shows the music being played during this.
iOS 15: Apple Wallet
Apple Wallet has seen another improvement in iOS 15, with CarKey gaining U1 support, which allows you to unlock your car, or even open your trunk.
There's also the ability to enter your workplace or home with Wallet, and soon, hotels such as Hyatt will be enabling this feature for iOS 15 enabled devices.
Identity cards such as driving licences (rolling out in the US) will also be viewable in Apple Wallet, with TSA enabling security checkpoints soon.
iOS 15.1: SharePlay
SharePlay was supposed to land with iOS 15, but it got delayed and launched as the headline feature of iOS 15.1 instead.
This allows users to stream films and shows or listen to music while on FaceTime calls and have the content in sync for everyone, and it also includes a screen sharing feature.
This sort of thing would have been ideal during the peak of the pandemic when most interactions were distanced, but even now we can imagine it being a handy feature for a lot of people.
iOS 15.1: ProRes
This is a video recording format, and while it’s not new, this is the first time a smartphone has been able to record in the format. It’s designed to be visually lossless (though it’s technically compressed), and it’s also less intensive on your computer’s CPU than formats like H.264 and H.265 when editing.
However, ProRes files take up a lot of space, and for that reason you’re limited to recording in 1080p at 30fps if you have a phone with just 128GB of storage, but for other models ProRes tops out at 4K quality at 30fps.
To enable ProRes once you have iOS 15.1, just head to the Camera section of the main Settings app, and select ProRes under the Formats option.
iOS 15.1: Auto Macro toggle
A smaller camera feature added as part of iOS 15.1 is the option to disable the Auto Macro mode found on the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. Currently these phones will automatically switch to the ultra-wide lens when you get close to something, as this lens powers the macro mode and can focus from just 2cm away.
So in most cases it’s the best lens for the job if you’re getting in close, but there may be occasions where you’d rather use a different lens, and if you disable Auto Macro then you’ll have the choice.
iOS 15.1: Lossless audio and Dolby Atmos for HomePods
When used in combination with HomePod 15.1, iOS 15.1 allows you to play lossless audio and Dolby Atmos with Spatial Audio support through the HomePod or HomePod mini. These features are already available on other Apple devices, so they’re overdue really.
iOS 15.1: Covid-19 vaccination records in the Health and Wallet apps
iOS 15.1 allows users to add their Covid-19 vaccination records into the Health app. Once done, you should also be able to add a vaccine card to the Wallet app, which will include a QR code that can be scanned by any business or organization that you want to prove your vaccination status to.
That said, these features will only work if your healthcare provider has opted in and implemented them. It seems like at the moment it’s limited to providers that use Smart Health Cards, which are only currently used by select US states and vaccination centers.
iOS 15.2: App Privacy Report
Arguably the main feature of iOS 15.2 is App Privacy Report. This lets you see how often each app makes use of the permissions you've granted it (such as location or camera access). It will also show a breakdown of their network activity.
iOS 15.2: Legacy Contacts
Another big iOS 15.2 feature is the addition of Legacy Contacts. This lets you get your digital affairs in order by registering one or more people as trusted contacts who will be able to access your Apple ID, iCloud account and iPhone data after you pass away.
iOS 15.2: Hide My Email in the Mail app
iOS 15.2 allows iCloud Plus subscribers to create random email addresses directly from the Mail app when crafting a message. This is handy any time you don't want to give out your real email, as messages to them will be forwarded to your main address, and these random addresses can be deleted whenever you want.
iOS 15.2: Improvements to Find My
With iOS 15.2 there's also a new feature in Find My, dubbed ‘Items That Can Track Me’.
This will let you see nearby unknown items that can communicate with Find My, with the main goal of the feature being to detect items that are tracking you without your knowledge or consent. Once located (and you can even make them play a sound), Find My can also instruct you on how to disable them.
A 'Help Return Lost Items' option meanwhile lets you locate nearby items that might be lost, and help get them back to their owner.
iOS 15.2: Communication Safety in Messages
With the new Communication Safety feature, the Messages app can detect if there's nudity in a message that has been sent or received, with the image then being blurred and the child being warned - and having to manually confirm that they want to see or send the image.
There will also then be an option for the child to contact a parent through the app - however this will be up to the child to do. The parent won't automatically be alerted.
iOS 15.4: Face ID with a mask
With iOS 15.4, Apple finally added full support for Face ID while wearing a mask, as it can now scan just part of your face to identify you.
This is less accurate and likely less secure than when using Face ID without a mask, and you can choose not to enable this feature if you want to keep Face ID as secure as possible, but it's certainly a convenient change.
iOS 15.4: new emoji
iOS 15.4 also added 37 new emoji, along with 75 skin tone variations, so you're more likely to be able to find emoji that feel representative of you.
iOS 15.4: anti-stalking measures
If you're an AirTag user, then with iOS 15.4 a warning will be added when setting one up, to let users know that tracking someone unknowingly is illegal. The update also gets rid of the annoying unknown accessory alerts through clearer identification of devices.
iOS 15.4: a new Siri voice
There's a new English-language voice for Siri included in iOS 15.4. This is a female voice with a US accent.
iOS 15.5: improvements to Apple Cash
With iOS 15.5, Apple Cash users can now send or request money via the Wallet app. It's a small change but a potentially useful one for some users.
iOS 15.6: more control of live sports in the TV app
iOS 15.6 mostly includes bug fixes, but alongside those there's also a new feature for the TV app, which allows you to restart, pause, rewind, and fast-forward live sports games that are already in progress.
Other features in iOS 15
As shown in its breakdown of all iOS 15 features, the magnifier is now back when you highlight text, making it much easier to see the letters and words that you want to manipulate.
The weather app is now redesigned, taking advantage of the Dark Sky acquisition from last year, with more detailed and more accurate weather, with high-resolution weather maps to see the state of the weather around you.
There's now notifications for when rain or snow is about to occur in the next hour, and you can even mute certain cities that you've added from within the app, to control the amount of alerts you may get from however many cities you've added.
The Maps app sees some useful improvements in iOS 15, with new details for commercial districts and buildings. Elevations and a refreshed color scheme has also arrived, with landmarks being particularly highlighted.
Drivers are also gaining a refined look when setting routes from one destination to another, making it even easier to look at highway interchanges and upcoming traffic conditions.
You can now create favorites to your transit routes, so you can make sure of your commute, and even when you're in the subway, Maps will track your progress, and let you know of the next stop.
Widgets have seen more improvements in iOS 15, with new ones for Find My, Game Center, App Store Today, Sleep, Mail, and more.
With Shortcuts now available on macOS Monterey, it also means that any you create or edit can now be synced to your iPhone on iOS 15, so you can carry on the work on your Mac.
There's plenty of small features that users are already discovering now that iOS is available.
Your DualSense or Xbox Controller can now have their rumble features be used when playing a game in iOS 15, so your games can be much easier to control if there's a plethora of controls that are covering your iPhone's touch screen.
When selecting a date and time for when you're setting an alarm, or an event in Calendar, you can now scroll through these times as you could in previous iOS releases. Now, you have the choice of scrolling or typing in the date and time you need to add.
You can now pull to refresh in the redesigned Safari, alongside muting notifications in an app or a Messages thread for either an hour or a day, similar to how you can mute chats in WhatsApp.
With drag and drop now in iOS 15, you can select a photo from Files, and drop it into an email for example, making it much easier to share your files and photos between applications.
iOS 15.2 also has a bunch of smaller features, such as a new look for Notification Summary, tweaks to the TV app, more options for how to trigger the Auto Call feature of Apple’s Emergency SOS call service, the ability to manually select when macro mode is enabled on the camera, a new Apple Music Voice Plan, and enhanced maps for some cities when using CarPlay.
There are all sorts of bug fixes too. For example, one big one in iOS 15.1 is a fix for a bug that prevents some users from using the Unlock with Apple Watch feature, designed to let iPhone users who are wearing masks bypass Face ID.
How do I install iOS 15?
If you have an iPhone 6S and above, go to Settings > General > Software Update and you will be able to download and install Apple's latest update for your iPhone.
Which iPhone can update to iOS 15?
Any iPhone from the 6S and upwards is eligible to be updated to IOS 15, including both models of the iPhone SE.
What's the main features for iOS 15?
Apple are focusing on productivity for this year, with Focus redesigning how and when notifications will appear, alongside being able to join in a FaceTime call with a web link, similar to Google Meets.
Get daily insight, inspiration and deals in your inbox
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the TechRadar team.
Daryl had been freelancing for 3 years before joining TechRadar, now reporting on everything software-related. In his spare time he's written a book, 'The Making of Tomb Raider', alongside podcasting and usually found playing games old and new on his PC and MacBook Pro. If you have a story about an updated app, one that's about to launch, or just anything Software-related, drop him a line.