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Apple WWDC 2021’s biggest announcements: iOS 15, watchOS 8, iPadOS 15 revealed

The biggest iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Mac software update news from Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference 2021.

iPadOS 15 logo on an Apple website seen displayed on a smartphone screen with an Apple logo

Apple has teased a slew of software updates that will soon become available for its line-up of devices, including the iPhone and iPad.

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The under-the-hood tweaks were revealed on June 7 during the opening keynote of its Worldwide Developers Conference (or #WWDC21 in the realm of social media), showcasing new features that will be hitting the devices later this year.

There was no hardware unveiled – so don’t expect any new information about the iPhone 13 or a shiny new MacBook – but the technology giant still provided glimpses of the upcoming iOS 15, watchOS 8, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey.

Here’s what you need to know from the event. On the hunt for an Apple device? Be sure to read our Best iPhone 2021 guide and our expert reviews of the new range: iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Software update news from Apple WWDC 2021

Apple iOS 15

The iOS 15 software is the next significant upgrade for iPhones. The public beta will be available to users next month, downloadable at beta.apple.com, while the full free iOS 15 update will emerge around autumn for iPhone 6s and later.

  • Notifications have been given a redesign – with Apple upping the size of a contact’s photo or app logo to help make them much easier to see. It will also arrange notifications by priority, pushing the most relevant to the top. This witchery will be based on how a user interacts with apps and AI.
  • The video calling software FaceTime update adds spatial audio to better highlight where voices are coming from on the screen, and a portrait mode now helps users blur their background while keeping themselves in focus.
  • SharePlay can be used on FaceTime calls to share content across devices – iPhone, iPad, and Mac – with any users on a call. That means users can listen to music or watch videos at the same time. It works with Apple TV, too, meaning channels like Disney+ and HBO Max are also integrated.
  • Safari has been given a new look – with a new tab bar at the bottom of the screen helping with multitasking. Users can now save tabs and access them across their iPhone, iPad, or Mac using a feature called Tab Groups.
  • The Maps app has received some love – enhancing the amount of detail in cities and adding road colours. Drivers will be shown a 3D perspective while navigating, while anyone on foot will be able to hold up their iPhone to their surroundings and get directions aided by augmented reality.
  • The weather and Notes apps have also been given an overhaul. Weather has more data, animations and layouts that change based on the real-time conditions, while Notes has added tagging to help with categorisation.
  • An enhanced privacy tool called App Privacy Report lets iPhone users check up on what apps have been granted permission to their GPS data, photos, camera, microphone and more over the past week. A great transparency addition.
Apple iOS 15 features shown on iPhones
Apple iOS 15 features shown on iPhones
Apple

Apple watchOS 8

Anyone with an Apple Watch strapped to their arm will be excited to hear that the next update – watchOS 8 – will launch in public beta next month. The full upgrade will surface in Autumn for Apple Watch Series 3 devices or later. It will work when paired with an iPhone 6s or later, providing the phone is running iOS 15.

There was a range of new software enhancements announced during WWDC21, including a new Portraits watch face that brings over photos shot on the iPhone and crops them to be shown on the wearable. The Photos app had been given a fresh look and navigation options – and Memories now sync with the watch.

New workouts have been added: Tai Chi and Pilates. They are supported by heart rate and motion tracking. The Breathe app is re-named as Mindfulness, offering an experience called Reflect that’s for mini-meditation sessions.

Apple said watchOS 8 would be able to track sleeping respiratory rate, the number of breaths taken per minute, and collate this data into the iPhone Health app.

In addition, the smartwatch will receive new enhancements to messaging – with users given the option of adding trending GIFs via a simple word or phrase. The new software updates can also add a user’s Contacts app to an Apple Watch.

If you are interested in picking up an Apple Watch or looking to compare existing models read our in-depth reviews of the Apple Watch 6 and Apple Watch SE.

Apple iPadOS 15

Apple’s iPads will get a boost in the form of iPadOS 15, and it will be available in public beta in July 2021. It will launch for everyone in Autumn,  for iPad mini 4 and later, iPad Air 2 and later, iPad 5th gen and later, and all iPad Pros.

Despite an increasing amount of overlap between software, Apple still separates its tablet experience from the iPhone and desktop operating systems.

The new iPadOS 15 software will enhance multitasking on the tablet – often an issue on such devices – by using a new menu that lets users launch a split view with a single tap. This also gives quicker access to the home screen, while a shelf display means that apps with multiple open windows are within easy reach.

Much like the new updates with the iPhone’s iOS 15 – the iPad FaceTime app will also receive new integration with Apple’s SharePlay. This lets users share their screens to listen to music, browse the internet or watch content in tandem.

The Translate app is now coming to iPads, with an automatic feature that knows when a person is speaking and translates their words in real-time. For anyone wanting to use their tablet for work, Apple said a “universal control” feature means a mouse and keyboard can be connected with no setup required.

Browsing the Safari app on the iPads should get better, too, with Apple teasing an updated tab design that shows more of a website on screen. While it’s all fairly incremental – the updates will only help to improve the overall tablet experience.

Interested in reading more about the existing Apple iPad range? Read our expert reviewer’s thoughts about the Apple iPad Air (2020) and the Apple iPad Mini.

The new iOS 15 running on an iPhone and iPad
The new iOS 15 running on an iPhone and iPad
Apple

Apple macOS Monterey

The next Mac desktop software is titled macOS Monterey and will be available in a public beta in July 2021 before releasing in full later this Autumn.

Like on iPads and iPhones, Safari will use “Tab Groups” as a new way to manage together tabs, and these will sync between Apple devices. The Safari browsing experience has been enhanced, showing more of a website page when scrolling, and open tabs will also take on the same colour of the website design.

A new Mac feature inside Notes – Quick Note – lets users make notes and links on any app or website. FaceTime is receiving the same SharePlay upgrades as the iPhones and iPads, while an AirPlay to Mac feature lets users share content from their smartphone or tablet to the desktop display, be it a video or a podcast.

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For more tech news, reviews and guides – including our round-up of the best iPhones – head to the RadioTimes.com Technology section. Looking for a tech deal? Be sure to check out our ongoing coverage of Amazon Prime Day 2021