You can try iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 early if you don't mind the bugs

Warning: These aren't the finished versions coming this fall.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
5 min read
Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

Apple is releasing major new software updates in the fall for iPhones and iPads , and now you can download prerelease versions of them for a test-drive. Apple's new iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 public betas can be installed for free on any recent device, but be forewarned, there are bugs.

Apple unveiled its new software in June at its Worldwide Developers Conference, or WWDC, which was held entirely online this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite Apple's employees being forced to work remotely to avoid the spread of the virus, the company said they cooked up new features long requested by users and available on competing phones powered by Google's Android software. Those features include adding small widget programs on the home screen, the ability to change default email and web browser apps and picture-in-picture video for the iPhone while using other apps.

Watch this: iOS 14 public beta: How to install it now

"We're making it even more powerful and easier to use," Apple's head of software, Craig Federighi, said while announcing the new software. "This year, we spent time rethinking some of the most iconic elements of the experience on iPhone." 

Read more: How to download and install iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 public beta now

While the new features are fun to try, these public betas aren't meant for everyday use. The company frequently reminds people who download the software that it may contain errors, that it could suddenly stop working and that it could lose your data. Apple advises the adventurous people who still want to use it to install the beta software on a device that isn't "business critical."

Apple's public betas for iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 aren't the only software the company plans to make available ahead of its fall releases. Apple is also planning to offer its first public betas of the new WatchOS software for its Apple Watches and MacOS Big Sur for its desktops and laptops  later this month. The software can be downloaded from Apple's dedicated beta website, and will run on the iPhone 6S (2015) and up, the iPad Air 2 (2014) and the Apple Watch Series 3 (2017) and up.

Here are all the biggest changes coming to iOS and iPadOS so far.

Apple WWDC 2020 event

See all photos

iOS 14

Apple's iOS 14 for its iPhone and iPod Touch (yup, those still exist), was focused on adding features people have been asking the company to add for years, as well as refinements to make it easier to use. Aside from the widgets, ability to change default apps and picture-in-picture, Apple also added cycling directions and EV routing to Apple Maps, and a live translation app that helps people talk across 11 languages. The iPhone will also soon be able to be used as a car key for new vehicles, starting with this year's .

The company also made its existing apps easier to use. Its Siri voice assistant, for example, no longer takes up the entire screen when you're making a request. The company made its Messages easier to navigate, offering people the option to "pin" chats to the top of the app to more easily find them. And in group chats, Apple now allows people to create threaded responses, much like other popular business chat apps like Slack and Microsoft's Teams.


A different home screen.


Apple also said it wants to help small businesses build and market apps for their customers, with a new feature called App Clips. This new code lets companies print out a QR-code-like image that people can scan with their phones, bringing up a small interactive part of the company's app on their phone. Apple also worked with Yelp to allow businesses to create specialized apps for their businesses without much coding work. The feature is similar to Google's existing Android "instant apps."

The company will include new privacy features as well, including a warning at the top of the screen whenever an app is using the microphone or camera, and a list of any apps that recently did.

But perhaps the most popular feature may be how phone calls work. Now whenever anyone calls an iPhone running iOS 14, the call no longer takes over the whole screen, kicking you out of a game or fun read. Instead, phone calls will show up as a notification at the top of the screen, which people can flick away to ignore.


Apple wants to make it easier to take notes on the iPad.


iPadOS 14

Many of Apple's iOS refinements are coming to the iPad as well, including the improved maps app, messaging changes and less annoying calls.

Apple did announce some iPad-specific features, though, including a new "scribble" technology that recognizes handwriting from notes taken with the Apple Pencil on the screen. People will now be able to cut, copy and paste the text of their handwriting as normal typed text in other apps.

The iPad's search bar will also get an update, making it less obtrusive and more similar to its MacOS cousin, which searches apps, the web and inside documents.

WatchOS 7 and MacOS Big Sur

Apple's public betas for the newest software for the Apple Watch and Mac aren't coming until later this month, but when they do, they'll include some new features as well.

WatchOS 7, for example, includes the ability to track dance workouts, which Apple said requires special programs that understand how the wrist-worn device is changing position during different types of movements. The Apple Watch also includes a new sleep tracking feature, which uses its sensors in a different way to track how soundly or restlessly you sleep throughout the night.

People will also be able to share watch faces they've made with each other, opening the door for companies to offer specialized watch faces too.

Apple Big Sur splash screen

Apple's next version of MacOS is called Big Sur.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The company also included a new feature to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, helping people wash their hands with an onscreen countdown and taps to the wrist to help remind people how long they should be scrubbing.

MacOS Big Sur, meanwhile, is getting a lot of features similar to those in iOS 14, including the revamped maps, the translation app and the refined messages functions. The company is also making devices running MacOS look more like iPhones and iPads, down to similar looks for the settings feature.

Apple plans to release its new software in the fall, alongside an expected new iPhone with a different look and 5G wireless networking. Apple also said it'll start offering new computers powered by chips it designed, a shift away from manufacturing giant Intel, whose microprocessors have powered Macs since 2006. 

Watch this: MacOS Big Sur: Check out these 5 great new features now