Earlier than expected, Apple’s new updates to their OSs - iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS - were released today. You can update right from your settings on your Apple devices. They are all packed with new features, some front and centre, some under the surface.

While many new features might be cool, not all are immediately going to change the way you use those devices.

So after living with the betas for a couple of months, here is a list of five new features to use straight away in which you’ll immediately find a benefit. Plus some honourable mentions for others at the end.

Image of Photos widget in iOS 14
The Photos widget reminds you of great memories. Like getting soaked in a raft. 

photos widget

New in iOS 14 are widgets, the most significant change to the Home Screen since folders. Apple’s widgets vary in quality and the real treats will come with third party apps. However, I love the Photos widget. It’s simple but very effective.

The idea is that it displays a new picture every few hours picked from your library. It might be one from last week. It might be one from 10 years ago. The great thing about this is that you can glance at it and remind yourself of great memories without having to browse through your library. It often prompted me to look at more pictures from that moment in time. During this time of staying at home and not mixing with friends and family much (if at all), it’s nice to get those memories several times a day. I have my Photos Widget at the top of my Today View, easily accessed and frequently seen. Perfect.

Screens showing iOS 14 Wind Down feature.
iOS 14 Wind Down

wind down

With the new watchOS, Apple has introduced sleep tracking. Along with this, they’ve created a new ‘Wind Down’ feature where your phone and watch will dim their screens, turn off notifications, show you your alarm for the next day and give you access to various shortcuts you can specify. Starting to give yourself a break from your devices as you ‘wind down’, ready for bed is very important. It allows your brain to get ready for sleep and helps you disconnect more. This new feature works really well. It helps you set a routine and also enables you to prepare for tomorrow. I did a post on some Wind Down Shortcuts I created which you can access here. Have a try; it’s a great feature.

Image of the Hand-washing feature on Apple Watch
Washing all those germs off with the help of your Apple Watch

hand wash detection

With the current pandemic raging across the world, this new feature is very beneficial. However, I think it’s a great feature nevertheless, reminding you to wash your hands properly and not just give them a rinse after the toilet, which is a bad habit to have.

It works the same as workout detection. You start washing your hands, and it detects you are doing this, beginning a 20-second countdown. Like the workout detection, it will start the timer from when it first identified it. So while the timer might not begin until 5 or so seconds into your wash, it will then only show 15 seconds left. There is also a reminder when you get home to wash your hands.

Some may find this annoying and intrusive, and if you do, you can turn it off. However, I’ve thought the opposite, and it’s improved my hand-washing routine a lot. It’s simple and brilliantly implemented in the way Apple often excels.

Image of scribbling on iPadOS 14.
Scribbling on iPadOS 14. If only my handwriting was this nice.

scribble

New to iPadOS is the scribble feature. This allows you to write anything into a text field, anywhere on the system, with the Apple Pencil. While this might not change everyone’s routine, if you use the pencil a lot, it will. Imagine if you’re drawing something and you get a message. Just pull down on that alert and scribble your reply, send and dismiss—no pulling up the keyboard and awkwardly tapping your response. What’s remarkable about this feature is how good it is at recognising your handwriting. I have pretty terrible cursive, and it recognises it every time.

You can also use scribble in Notes where you can write something, then select it and copy the text into a text box in another app, the scribbles converting from handwritten text to typed text. It really is one of those wow features.

Image of Messages in iOS 14
Messages in iOS 14. I have no idea who these people are. I am also not in a band.

messages

Messages has fallen behind a fair bit to WhatsApp in terms of features and useability over the last few years, which is a shame. In terms of looks, it’s the better looking of the two, and I would prefer to use it if it had more features.

Well, the new update introduces several features that bring it almost up to WhatsApp. If you’re a regular user, it’s going to up your game.

Proper group creation, inline replies, mentions and a beautifully implemented pinned conversations feature all improve the experience. Now if only they could make it cross-platform!

honourable mentions

Compact UI finally means that not only do your incoming calls not take over your whole screen, but other parts of the system like Shortcuts and Siri answers simply pop down from the top, alert style. Nice!

Picture in Picture on the iPhone is finally here! Not much more to say. It’s great. Let’s hope YouTube implements it.

Spacial Audio on AirPods is impressive. It only works on iPhones and iPads for now but wow does it sounds great. If you’re watching a Dolby Audio show (like anything on TV+), it’s very immersive!

Audio switching between devices works brilliantly. Often without you even realising. For example, I had my AirPods Pro connected to my iPad but wasn’t using them. I started playing a podcast on my iPhone, and they instantly switched over and started playing the podcast through my AirPods.

Default apps will be great. Being able to set Spark as my default email client will be beneficial indeed. Apple is so late with this feature, but it’s finally here.

Privacy is again improved on the new OSs, particularly iOS and iPadOS. While Apple has disappointingly delayed the blocking of cross-app tracking for a few months, when it arrives, it will be fantastic. App makers and websites do not have a right to your data and this, coupled with the website reports on what Safari blocks will hopefully push back on this disease.