As iOS 15 quickly approached, I wanted to take some time to look at my favorite iOS 14 features and examine how they have held up over time. Are there obvious areas for improvement? See our iOS 14 rewind review when we take another look at the software that powers the iPhone, and remember to subscribe 9to5Mac on YouTube for more coverage.
Compact telephone interface
The compact phone interface is something I immediately fell in love with when I first tried it, and it is still one of my favorite iOS 14 features to this day. Incoming phone calls no longer steal focus from the current app or website I̵
With the compact phone interface, incoming calls are presented as a banner alert at the top of the screen. This design allows you to continue a current task uninterrupted, while deciding how to handle the incoming call.
Long-term verdict: The compact phone interface is a very useful feature, and I can not believe it went over a dozen iOS releases without it. As acknowledged, I sometimes feel that the compact phone interface and iPhone’s proximity sensor are not on the same page, causing occasional problems with accidental touch input. Have you had a similar experience with the compact phone interface? Let me know in the comments.
Video: iOS 14 rewind review
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Select default browser and default email app
The ability to choose a default browser is great for those of you who like to use alternative browsers such as Firefox, Microsoft Edge, DuckDuckGo, Brave, Opera, etc.
In addition to choosing a default browser, iOS 14 also lets users set their preferred email app. As third-party browsers, there is no shortage of third-party email clients for iOS. Some of the popular email clients include Outlook, Gmail, Spark, Airmail and Newton Mail.
Long-term verdict: Standard app functionality was a bit slow out of port, and there were issues with the selected apps going back to stock Mail and the Safari app after rebooting. There was also a problem with “mailto” links not working properly for users who had a default browser set to Safari. Both of these issues were eventually resolved via an iOS update.
In future updates I will see the default app functionality that can be selected directly via the Mail and Safari settings, instead of having to go to the settings of the app you want to set by default. I also want to see Apple remove the confirmation dialog when you press mailto: links that take you to a third-party email app.
These issues aside, the ability to set both standard email and browser apps is a feature that iOS users have complained about having for years, and it is finally possible in iOS 14.
App clips are light, smaller parts of an app that are instantly available when you need them. With a weight of 10 MB or less, app clips can be downloaded quickly to access parts of an app when you have not already downloaded the primary app. An app clip can allow you to demonstrate the first level of a game, or quickly access the menu and ordering interface while at your favorite restaurant.
You can access app clips directly from a Safari app banner, via QR-style App Clip tags that can also contain an NFC tag, via links in the Messages app and on Place Cards in the Maps app. App Clips also works with Apple Pay, Sign in with Apple and has a handy link to download the entire application.
Long-term verdict: App clips are ideal for use while out, but the COVID-19 pandemic limited the visibility of the feature. When things open up completely, app clips have the potential to increase in popularity.
Related video: iOS 14 top features
Picture in picture
The addition of Picture in Picture is something I have wanted for many years on iOS. Picture in Picture, previously only available on iPhone via a popular jailbreak tweak, was one of the main reasons I always looked forward to jailbreaking my iPhone. Now available by default in iOS 14, Picture in Picture gives you the ability to watch video content while browsing the web, sending text messages, and more.
Long-term verdict: In the real world, Picture in Picture has been a disappointment to me, but the blame lies with the developers ** cough ** Google ** cough ** who refuses to support it. For example, YouTube TV, my go-to streaming TV app, lacks Picture in Picture support. Even worse, standard YouTube, although capable of using Picture in Picture using solutions, does not really play well with the feature. This is obviously not Apple’s fault, but Google has decided to limit or outright refuse to support Picture in Picture. At the very least, companies like Netflix are doing the right thing.
Improvements to privacy
There are many privacy-centric improvements mentioned in iOS 14, but the following three stand out to me the most:
Approximate site support
Instead of giving an app access to the exact location, users now have the ability to establish an approximate location. This feature protects your privacy by offering a wider location, while still positioning yourself in the general area.
Only access selected images
Instead of giving an app access to your entire photo library, you can now restrict photo sharing to specific photos you choose.
App Privacy Labels
The App Store app privacy label allows users to provide deeper insight into how an app uses your personal data.
Long-term verdict: iOS 14 is a big gain for consumer privacy, but there are improvements that can be made. First, I would like to have the opportunity to make approximate placement default global selection, instead of having to manually select it every time my location is requested by a new app. I also want the ability to give apps access to entire album albums, instead of having to select individual photos one by one. The individual photo choice is cumbersome, making it less likely that people will actually use it.
Home screen enhancements
One of the biggest additions to iOS 14 is the ability to add or remove entire home screen pages in just a few taps. Thanks to the new app library in iOS 14, it is also possible to remove individual apps or entire folders from the home screen, while keeping them installed on the iPhone.
Long-term verdict: Being able to edit pages in iOS 14 gives users more control over the home screen experience, and this feature has held up well. However, I wish the page editing interface had more customization options to quickly move apps and folders between pages, and to rearrange the order of the pages.
Related video: 250+ iOS 14 features
The app library is a local place where all the apps installed on the iPhone can be found. Apps are automatically sorted into preselected categories that work in the same way as folders, but users have no control over category names or how apps are sorted. The app library also has the ability to search for a specific app and see all the apps in an alphabetically sorted list.
Long-term verdict: I like the idea of the app library, first and foremost because it’s what makes some of iOS 14’s improvements on the home screen possible, but it’s largely a mixed bag. After using the App Library for the past nine months, I find that Apple’s auto-sorted categories can often be difficult to analyze on the go. I much prefer the alphabetically sorted list that appears when you tap the search box, and I wish there was an option to only show this list of apps when using the App Library.
Improvements to the music cover
Several of the Music app enhancements are visual upgrades, such as the color-matched now-playing interface that matches the album graphics. The new now-playing interface is very similar to Spotify, and gives a more interesting visual flair to the stock Music app.
But perhaps the best new addition to the Music app in iOS 14 is the inclusion of AutoPlay, which happens to be another Spotify feature. AutoPlay resumes music playback when you reach the end of the music queue, and provides continuous playback that is themed around the previously played songs.
Long-term verdict: The music app in iOS 14 is one of iOS ‘best new software updates, although much of it was influenced by Spotify. What’s even better is that the upcoming release of iOS 14.5 will provide even more improvements to the Music app, such as the ability to share lyrics, updated pop-up menus and a new swipe gesture interface to quickly manage your game queue.
Given the ability to set default email and browser programs, it is a sharp omission that you cannot set a default music player. iOS 14.5 addresses that issue, albeit in a kind of weak way. In iOS 14.5, Apple uses Siri intelligence to select music services based on listening behavior. If you ask Siri to play a song, it may ask you what service, such as Spotify, you want to use for playback. Unfortunately, there is still no dedicated setting to configure a standard music service permanently.
The ability to quickly search an ever-growing cache of emoji characters is surprisingly useful. This iOS 14 enhancement helps me become more productive and creative when engaging in conversations.
Long-term verdict: In future versions of iOS, Apple can make emoji even better by letting users create emoji favorites, or disable emoji characters and categories they never use. That said, I’m happy with the addition of emoji search. Instead of having to swipe through pages and pages of characters I never use, the new search interface makes it super easy to find the exact emoji I’m looking for.
Related video: top iOS 14 hidden features
iOS 14 brought widgets to the main iPhone home screen for the first time, and this greatly affected users’ customization. There are many standard modules in iOS 14, but it was the availability of third-party home screen modules, especially those that provided aesthetic customization, that provided waves with iPhone users.
iOS 14 widgets brought a whole new class of apps, such as Widgetsmith, which paved the way for extensive home screen customization. Combined with a more friendly icon theme capability, also made possible in iOS 14, the look of the home screen has never been more customizable or more versatile on a stock iPhone.
Long-term verdict: Combined with the new iOS 14 home screen controls and the app library, widgets are another great way to change the look of your iPhone. Hopefully, Apple builds on this momentum and allows more widget sizes and deeper widget interactivity right from the home screen.
By and large, the release of iOS 14 has been a huge success, and Apple has addressed many issues of concern, while providing the kind of fan services that make this release a favorite among Apple users. I think iOS 14 has more than lived up to its first billing, and is one of the best iPhone software releases in its great history.
Of course, there are many things that Apple can fix, as I have outlined through this review, that can make the iPhone experience even better. Here, we hope that Apple addresses at least some of these concerns in the upcoming release of iOS 15.
What are your long-term thoughts on iOS 14? Do you agree with my observations and comments? Feel free to leave a comment below with your input.
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