iOS 14: Some of my favorite features

Apple released iOS 14 Public Beta, giving users worldwide access to the next version of its operating system. I have been using the developer versions of iOS 14 since they were released and have been very happy with how well they have performed. I will say that what Apple talked about during the WWDC keynote just scratched the surface of what’s available in the new iOS, but several things stood out to me.

I’ve said before that there are a couple of things I look for with the introduction of new features—what problem they are solving and how easy they are to use or implement. Here are a few of my favorite features in iOS 14.

One of the most significant changes in iOS 14 is that you can configure the user interface to be your own. It’s customizable with widgets and the number of app pages you see—no longer will everyone’s iPhone screen look the same. But it’s more than just about looks; this is about functionality, which is critical to all iOS users.

I’ve been a fan of the widgets page in iOS since Apple first introduced them. It’s the first place I go in the morning to check out Apple News headlines to see what happened in the world while I was sleeping. One of the first things I did after installing iOS 14 is setting up a Smart Stack of widgets and putting it at the top of my Home Screen. A Smart Stack is a collection of widgets that can automatically rotate to show you relevant information when you need it.

When I open my iPhone in the morning now, the Smart Stack knows that I want to read Apple News, and it’s there waiting for me—I tap, and my news opens up. If you have your calendar in the stack, it will show upcoming appointments. If you regularly listen to podcasts or music during a particular time of the day, the stack will learn that and switch to that widget, subtly prompting you to listen.

As the name implies, these widget stacks are “smart” and will continue to get smarter based on how you use your iPhone. Allowing widgets on your Home Screen not only allows users to customize the look and feel of their device but also adds functionality to iOS that was previously not available.

Like many iPhone users, I have quite a few apps—not as many as some, but I have about six pages. That’s a bit unruly for me, so I searched for apps instead of flipping through pages trying to locate the one I want. With iOS 14, Apple allows users to determine how many pages there are, and the rest go into what’s called the App Library.

I embraced this right away. I only have one page now—the Home Screen. After that, I have the App Library, which contains all of my other apps separated into group folders. You can launch apps from the library or open a folder to see which apps are in a particular group. You can also search the App Library if you don’t notice the app you’re looking for at a glance. In my experience, the apps I need are usually right there, so I don’t even need to search for apps anymore.

My thinking is that my most used apps are on the Home Screen, under my Smart Stack. The second most essential apps have larger icons in the App Library and can be opened with a tap. Any other app that I may need, I can search for and launch that way. The one app screen plan has worked great for me so far.

While we’re talking about UI, I have to say that having Siri and incoming phone calls not take over your entire screen is a welcome addition to iOS 14. When you invoke Siri in the new OS, a small floating orb appears on the lower part of the screen, and when Siri answers your question, it shows as a banner on the upper part of the screen. That is perfect. Apple took a similar approach with phone calls—they now appear as a banner on the top of the screen instead of completely blocking you out.

It’s time to talk about Apple Maps. In the past couple of years, Maps has added many features that made it the only navigation app I need. The ability to recommended which lane you should be in during navigation was one of the last features I required in Maps. It’s especially important when traveling in areas outside of your hometown. That came a couple of versions ago and has made my travels much more straightforward.

However, one of my favorite things is to be able to add a stop during a trip. If you’re on the highway and you need to stop for gas or something to eat, you can ask Siri to find a gas station, and Maps will bring up a list and include how much time it will add to your trip. In the past, Maps would ask you if you wanted to end the current navigation, which of course, you don’t, although sometimes it would ask you to resume the current route. It was very inconsistent, but not anymore.

It would be impossible to talk about Apple and not look at privacy. I don’t believe there is any tech company that is more committed to a user’s privacy and security than Apple. They have proven that in the past, iOS 14 solidifies its importance to the company.

While some people are very conscious of how companies track them, many consumers are unaware of the level of tracking. Apple can’t necessarily change that, but that did take steps to make you more aware of what’s going on with the apps you use.

For example, the App Store will now include a privacy section for each app showing the user what information the app uses and how it will track them. Seeing this information will be a huge wake-up call for many users, but Apple is not saying you can’t download the app, they are only providing the information to help you make informed decisions. Of course, some users will happily share whatever information the newest social media app wants, but that’s their decision.

Apple will also ask permission before any app tries to track you across other apps or web sites. Again, you can say yes, but Apple is allowing you not to be followed by companies that may not have your best interests at heart.

I’m hoping that these privacy additions will help people make more informed decisions about what they choose to share with companies. Not everyone will think it’s important, but everyone will have the information they need to make the right decisions.

I have to say this—Memoji needs more long beards. Apple, this has to be a priority for the next release. Seriously.

I have given you a mere glimpse of what iOS 14 has to offer, but they are examples of how Apple is making its operating system more efficient and easier for its users. I haven’t been this excited or impressed by a version of iOS in a long time.