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 RayomeManaging 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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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.