iOS 15: What's in Apple's Latest iPhone OS and Its Updates

We walk you through Apple's new mobile operating system, new features, how to download and more.

Alison DeNisco Rayome Managing Editor
Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
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Alison DeNisco Rayome
5 min read

Apple will let you upload digital ID cards to the Wallet app in iOS 15 -- eventually.

Apple/Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 are here. Both followed the tech giant's "California streaming" event in September, 2021, where Apple announced four iPhone 13 models, new iPads and the Apple Watch Series 7. If you haven't downloaded Apple's new operating system yet, you can do it now for free and get access to upgrades for FaceTime, iMessage and more. (Here's how to get your phone ready to run iOS 15.) 

Our first look at Apple's iOS 15 update came at the company's virtual Worldwide Developers Conference in June, followed by a developer beta and then a public beta. The new OS came a week after Apple released iOS 14.8, which addressed a security issue and brought new features to several generations of the iPhone.

New iOS 15 features include the ability to start FaceTime calls with Android userseasier sharing in iMessage and better directions in Maps, and more continue to roll out with the release of iOS 15.2, 15.3 and 15.4. Keep reading for everything we've learned about iOS 15 so far, including how to download it and some of the biggest new features. 

iOS 15 release date: Sept. 20

Apple initially revealed iOS 15 at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference on June 7, 2021, as is typical. The new OS was first available for developers to test and became available to download as a public beta on June 30. 

At the iPhone 13 event on Sept. 14, Apple announced that iOS 15 would be generally available for free download on Sept. 20. This means you can download the new operating system now if you haven't already (here's how). 

This follows Apple's typical iOS release pattern, with the software typically arriving within a week of an iPhone launch event. 

And if you've been holding onto the same iPhone since 2015 or later, you will likely be eligible to receive iOS 15. Apple's iOS 15 is available on the iPhone 6S and every iPhone onward.

iOS 15 new features


Apple's iOS 15 gets a bunch of new features.


Here are a few of the key new features that come with iOS 15, unveiled at WWDC 2021. (And here's an overview of all of the new features in iOS 15.)

FaceTime upgrades: Spatial audio, support for Android and Windows

FaceTime offers spatial audio to make people's voices appear to come from their position on the screen, making your video chats feel more natural and lifelike. FaceTime also starts to look more like Zoom, allowing you to see all participants in a grid view, schedule calls and share links to calls that can be accessed via browser on Google Android and Microsoft Windows devices.

Read more: Fun FaceTime date idea: Try Apple's new SharePlay feature in iOS 15

iMessage sharing features

iOS 15 adds some new iMessage sharing features for photos, news articles and playlists. When a friend sends you multiple photos over iMessage, they'll appear in a dynamic collage formation that allows you to swipe through them or tap through to view the whole bunch in your photos app. If you want to access the same photos later, you'll find them stored in a new Shared with You folder, as well as mixed in with your own featured photos and memories. You'll also find news articles and playlists shared through iMessage in new Shared with You tabs in your News and Apple Music apps. 

Apple Maps update: 3D street data, AR walking directions and weather warnings

Apple Maps gets an upgrade with more elevation data, road colors and driving directions, rich labels, 3D landmarks and improved night mode. In terms of public transportation, you can also pin nearby public transit stops and station information to your iPhone and Apple Watch devices, and receive automatic updates and notifications as you ride and approach your stop. When traveling on foot, a new augmented reality feature lets you scan nearby buildings in the area with the iPhone's camera to determine their precise position for more accurate walking directions, which are also presented in augmented reality.

Maps also could factor weather warnings into suggested routes in iOS 15. Redditor ChrisSDreiling, who spotted the update in iOS 15 beta 3, says Maps will let you know if there are flash floods on your journey, and suggest alternate routes to avoid the extreme weather. Although other types of weather alerts weren't mentioned in ChrisSDreiling's post, it will be interesting to see if more weather warnings will be added. 

Facial recognition selfies to validate digital ID cards in the Wallet app

At WWDC this spring, Apple announced that it will add ID card support for the Wallet app in iOS 15, allowing you to carry digital versions of government-issued identification cards like your driver's license on your iPhone. The ID feature isn't in the initial release of iOS 15 and it's still unclear how exactly it will work. (It will also only be for US users.) According to code uncovered by 9to5Mac in the iOS 15 beta 4 for developers, Apple could be using facial recognition selfies to validate your digital ID cards when adding them to your wallet. Some banking apps already use this selfie validation feature to authenticate users when logging on with new devices. 

iOS 15 updates since launch

Since iOS 15's release, Apple has released a few updated versions of the operating system to the public and to developers. Here are some of the biggest features Apple has added since iOS 15 launched.

iOS 15.2

Released in December, 2021, iOS 15.2 brought some bug fixes as well as features some iPhone users have been asking for. One feature to be added is the ability to search within an Apple Music playlist. People who have an iPhone 13 Pro or Max were also Macro Controls to take advantage of the phone's ultrawide lens. The biggest feature to be added though is the App Privacy Report. This report shows what data and sensors each app can access, network activity for those apps and other privacy-related data. The iOS 15.2 update is available for everyone to download.

iOS 15.3

Apple released iOS 15.3 in early January to the public, and the update fixed several security flaws, including a Safari bug that lets websites you visit see your browsing history and other personal data. The update also resolved some security vulnerabilities within ColorSync, iCloud and other software. 

iOS 15.4

The latest iOS update was released to the public on March 15 and included the ability to unlock Face ID while wearing a mask and glasses. It also added Universal Control and new emoji. The update came with new safety-focused changes for Apple's AirTags and the emergency call shortcut "call with five presses" was made optional, among other features.

How do you download iOS 15?

Now that iOS 15 is generally available, you likely got a notification from Apple letting you know you can update. Or you can do it manually, by going to the Settings app > General > Software Update and under the Also Available section, tap Upgrade to iOS 15

If you have already installed the iOS 15 beta on your phone, you can uninstall it before downloading the final version of the OS. Here's why you might want to wait before installing the full release of iOS 15.

For more, here's everything to know about the iPhone 13. You can also take a look at the cool new features for WatchOS 8, the best things about MacOS Monterey and check if your computer is compatible with the new MacOS.