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iOS 14 launches today, brings spatial audio and dynamic head tracking to AirPods Pro

TechRadar logo TechRadar 16/09/2020 Becky Scarrott
a bunch of different cell phones: iOS 14 launches today, brings spatial audio and dynamic head tracking to AirPods Pro © Provided by TechRadar iOS 14 launches today, brings spatial audio and dynamic head tracking to AirPods Pro

Big news, Apple fans: as if the recent announcement of a new iPad, iPad Air, Apple Watch SE and Series 6 wasn't enough, iOS 14 arrives today, at around 6pm UK time, (1pm ET, 1am ACT).

New features in Apple's free OS update (for the iPhone 6S and later) include redesigned Home Screen pages, a new compact design for Incoming Calls and Siri, App Clips (more on this below), greater control over Messages, new features in Maps, more transparency and control thanks to expanded Privacy features and –big news if you own a set of AirPods Pro headphones – an enhanced 3D audio experience for AirPods.

According to the Cupertino giant, the iOS 14 software update "reimagines the iPhone experience, delivering a major update to the Home Screen with beautifully redesigned widgets and the App Library, new ways to use apps with App Clips, and powerful updates to Messages". 

So what's in the update? Well, your device's Home Screen will look a bit different. New widgets (or bubbles of information) in the Home Screen promise to present timely info at a glance, which can be added in different sizes on any Home Screen page. Users can choose a 'Smart Stack' of widgets, which use on-device intelligence to surface the right widget based on time, location, and activity. For example, you might see the News widget in the morning, Calendar events during the day, and your Fitness summary in the evening. Home Screen pages can be customised too, to show apps and widgets for work, entertainment, sports and other areas of interest.

At the end of the Home Screen pages is the App Library, a brand new space that promises to automatically organise all of your apps into one view and intelligently surface apps that are helpful at that moment. 

Incoming FaceTime, phone calls and Siri interactions take on an all-new compact design too; one that promises to enable users to stay in the context of what they are doing. The real headline-grabber here is Picture-in-Picture support for iPhone (which Apple first implemented on the iPad way back in iOS 9, and most users have been desperate to see on the iPhone ever since), so users can now watch a video or take a FaceTime call while using another app. 

What of those App Clips? An App Clip is a small part of an app that is designed to be discovered the moment it is needed. App Clips are associated with a particular product or business, and load within seconds to complete a specific task, such as ordering a take-away meal or putting fuel in the car. These can be discovered by scanning a new Apple-designed App Clip code, through NFC tags and QR codes, or shared in Messages or from Safari.

Regarding Messages updates, iOS 14 users can pin conversations to the top of their messages list, keep up with lively group threads through mentions and inline replies, and further customise conversations by setting a group photo using an image or emoji. New Memoji options in Messages promise more inclusivity and diversity too, with additional hairstyles, headwear, face coverings and more.

Maps will now have new cycling directions, electric vehicle routing and curated Guides. Cycling directions should take into account elevation, how busy a street is and whether there are stairs along the route. Electric vehicle routing adds charging stops along a planned route based on current vehicle charge and charger types. Guides promises a curated list of interesting places to visit in a city, too.

More transparency is another promise. Users can choose to share their approximate location with app developers (rather than their precise location) when granting an app location access. Later this year, App Store product pages will feature summaries of developers’ self-reported privacy practices, and starting early next year, all apps will be required to obtain user permission before tracking.

Finally, AirPods and AirPods Pro gain "powerful capabilities" with iOS 14. Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking promises to bring a theatre-like experience to AirPods Pro. Apple claims that by applying directional audio filters and subtly adjusting the frequencies each ear receives, sounds can be placed virtually anywhere in a space to provide a more immersive listening experience.

Headphone accommodations, a new accessibility feature, boasts the ability to amplify soft sounds and tune audio to help music, movies, phone calls, and podcasts sound crisper and clearer too.

Another handy iOS14 feature being brought to the AirPods Pro is quick switching. As the name suggests, this allows the earbuds to switch automatically between multiple paired devices on the same iCloud account.

We can't promise exactly when iOS 14 will go live for you, but if you're desperate for the update it might be wise to put off any late meetings in the UK, keep your lunch hour free if you're in the US, or stay up really rather late if you're in Australia...

Still no official word on the iPhone 12 release date. But stick with us, you'll be the first to know.

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