Five Exciting iOS 14 Features

image credit: Apple WWDC 2020 Keynote

By Chand Bellur

July 6, 2020 at 4:22 p.m. PT

  • Apple demonstrated its newest mobile operating system, iOS 14, at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference.
  • iOS 14 offers radical new changes over its predecessor, with significant updates to the Home screen.
  • iOS 14 will likely be available to the public in mid-September of 2020.

iOS 14 Overview

iOS 14 is one of the most significant changes to Apple’s mobile operating system in years. First and foremost, a redesigned Home screen places usability above trendy fads. Unlike other mobile operating systems, which enable users to turn their devices into unusable monstrosities, Apple’s customization makes life easier. Changes to the UI, such as the automatic grouping of lesser-used apps, make it easy to keep a neat and efficient home screen.

Although iOS 14 expands on widgets first introduced almost a decade ago, they still pale in comparison to Android’s offerings. Critics contend that Apple doesn’t let the end user customize their device. Apple realizes, through market research and experience, that most consumers don’t care about customization. To this extent, widgets are still rather rigid in their implementation; however, Apple adds more freedom and options with iOS 14.

Other UI enhancements, such as Picture in Picture mode, are now available on the iPhone. It makes sense for this technology to reach the iPhone after the iPad. It’s not as useful on a small screen; however, many users will enjoy this feature.

Siri gets much more smarter with iOS 14. Boasting a new user interface, Apple packed Siri with more facts, so users avoid a trip to the web for answers to common questions. It also features a new translation app that can work offline.

There’s a lot packed into this release. With so many features, one could write a full-length book about the new technologies. In the spirit of keeping things simple, let’s take a look at the five coolest features in iOS 14.

App Library

The App Library is a pack rat’s dream. We all have a ton of apps, many of which we never use. Apple’s new Home screen manager allows users to sweep these apps under the rug. Simply uncheck the Home screens you don’t want displayed, and iOS 14 will generate an App Library for you.

Users access the App Library by swiping past the last Home screen. iOS 14 automatically groups and labels apps in folders using artificial intelligence. The App Library is a great way to eliminate Home screen clutter on your iPhone.

Smart Stack Widgets

Android fanboys are crying bloody murder, claiming that iOS 14 copies their beloved mobile operating system. They’ve got it all wrong, because Apple haters typically have never owned or used a modern Macintosh. Apple copied widgets from OS X — their own operating system. OS X had widgets before any smartphone existed, way back in 2003.

As with most technologies, Apple implemented widgets with care. They don’t allow third-party developers to take over the user experience completely. Instead, widgets have finite shapes and structures. This enables Apple to place widgets in an intelligent container they call the “Smart Stack”.

Smart Stack widgets only take up one small area of the Home screen; however, users can flip through multiple widgets in a virtual stack. This innovative design allows numerous widgets on a Home screen while using a minimal amount of screen space. After all, the screen is a scarce resource on a smartphone. If that’s not enough, the Smart Stack will automatically select the top-most widget, based on artificial intelligence.

Picture in Picture

Although the iPhone has a small screen, sometimes users need to watch a video while accomplishing other tasks. For example, a journalist could be watching a live event while taking notes on an iPhone.

Picture in Picture mode is nothing new to the Apple ecosystem. The iPad and Mac have offered this feature for some time. It makes sense to make the iPhone the last priority for Picture in Picture technology. It’s not a mainstay for iPhone users, but it may come in handy in some situations.

Although watching a smaller video on a small screen isn’t particularly exciting, listening to a video makes more sense. A more widespread use case may be listening to music on YouTube while completing another foreground task. iOS 14 Picture in Picture mode allows users to completely tuck the video window away, while the audio continues to play. Recent versions of iOS can play YouTube audio in the background; however, Apple’s new Picture in Picture mode makes this easier and should work with just about any video.

New Siri User Interface

Siri is much smarter in iOS 14. Loaded with facts, Siri is more competent with informational queries. Users won’t be sent to the Web or Wikipedia every time they have a question. Apple incorporated many facts from popular websites, making them accessible directly from Siri. While this robs Internet publishers of ad revenues, it also gives customers a better user experience.

One of the most notable changes to Siri involves its user interface. The days of the large Siri screen covering up your iPhone are over. Instead, Siri presents information in small Notification-style panels. While this may not be exciting to everyone, most people will notice and appreciate the new design.

Translate

Translation is nothing new to smartphones. There are dozens of translation apps — some free and some paid. The free ones typically gather data on users, selling it off to third-parties. Some of the paid ones do this as well. Most consumers have grown weary of surveillance capitalism, and Apple has taken note.

The Siri team created a new app for iOS 14 — Translate. This versatile app can translate spoken or typed text between 11 languages. It works with any combination of the supported languages. The best part is that Translate works entirely offline. That’s both amazing and useful. After all, cellular and WiFi options are often limited when we travel. Translate will work no matter where you are, connected or not.

Don’t Install iOS 14 Right Away

iOS 14 isn’t available as a public release yet. Apple will probably launch its iOS update in mid-September. With all of these exciting new features, some users are anticipating the update.

One thing I’ve learned as both a software engineer and Apple analyst is that the more software changes, the more defective it will be. iOS 14 is radically different from its predecessor. Although Apple has a solid reputation for quality releases, it’s best to avoid installing a major operating system update the day it’s released. If your iPhone is mission-critical, you may want to wait a few months.

Remember how buggy iOS 13 was when it debuted? Although Apple pledged that iOS 14 would be more about performance and bug fixes, they seem to have forgotten this promise. The product managers seem to have gotten their way, shoving in even more features.

This article doesn’t even scratch the surface of new features. iOS 14 completely overhauls Messages and offers new changes to CarPlay, the App Store, and many other apps and services. Given the amount of change, it’s best to let early adopters install the first version of iOS.

I’m sure millions of iOS 13 early adopters wish that they waited a few weeks or months before upgrading. Given that reverting to iOS 13 will be difficult and can only be done for a limited time if you adopt iOS 14 too early, you may end up with a defective operating system for weeks. Don’t get too excited about iOS 14. In time, it will be an excellent operating system; however, there will probably be some annoying bugs when it’s first released.

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