Apple announced iOS 14 at the WWDC keynote. I tried out the developer beta version to get an early look at what’s coming to our iPhones in the fall.
On Monday, Apple launched iOS 14 at an online keynote for its annual Worldwide Developer Conference. The latest iPhone operating system includes new customizations for the home screen, picture-in-picture video, better widgets, a new Siri interface and App Library, a new way to organize your apps.
The final version of iOS 14 will be released in the fall alongside the heavily rumored iPhone 12. But I got my hands on the developer beta of iOS 14 and was able to try out many of the features including the Translation app, Back Tap, new group Messaging options, and new Memoji customizations, which include the option to add a face mask.
The iOS 14 home screen is the same, but also different
At first glance, an iPhone 11 running iOS 14 doesn’t appear to be any different. All of my apps are right where they were in iOS 13. But a simple swipe to the right reveals a page called the App Library, which organizes all my apps in one place.
It would be easy to compare the App Library to the Android app drawer. But Apple has put its own twist on things by grouping apps into categories. Twitter, Instagram, and similar apps are grouped together under the Social category, for example.
The groups look like large app folders but there’s no need to open one up to get to an app. You simply tap the app and go. Groups with more than four apps, have mini app clusters. You can tap them to expand the cluster and then tap the app you want.
When you open the App Library search bar, an alphabetical list of all your apps appears. So between Siri, search, your home page and the options on the App Library page there’s now a bunch of ways to find and open your apps in iOS 14.
Widgets can be pinned to your home screen
With the announcement of iOS 14, Apple now has three forms of apps: There are apps, widgets based on those apps and App Clips. That last one I’ll talk about momentarily. In iOS 13, widgets showed up in the Today View page to the left of the home screen. But now you can pin widgets directly on your home screen. You simply long-press on the screen, tap the plus button, and the Widget Gallery pops up.
The Widget Gallery is a mix of suggested widgets as well as a list of apps that have a widget you can install. Obviously, since this is the developer version the only widgets are currently for Apple apps.
Each widget comes in three sizes: small, medium and large. Widgets have a fixed width that lines up with app columns on the home screen. So you can’t put one in the middle of your screen. Having widgets that are different sizes integrated among my apps makes the iPhone home screen look contemporary and compelling. And let’s acknowledge there is definitely a Windows Phone tile vibe going on, which isn’t a bad thing.
Widget stacks and the Smart Stack
Perhaps one of the coolest customizations on the home screen is a widget stack. You create one simply by dragging one widget on top of another that’s the same size. To view the widgets in a stack, you swipe up or down, which brings a different one to the top.
Who would have thought widgets could be so exciting in 2020? And before you comment, I know Android did widgets a long time ago. But it’s lazy to dismiss iOS 14 widgets simply as a copied feature, especially since Apple’s put its own spin on widgets with what’s called a Smart Stack.
iOS 14 creates a Smart Stack of widgets based on the apps you use the most and the time of day you use them. So if you use the Maps app regularly after work, that’s when that widget will be at the top of your Smart Stack. If you always check the weather in the morning, then that’s one the top when you wake up. Your iPhone curates your Smart Stack for you. I’m excited to see how this will work after I’ve spent more time with iOS 14.
I’m sure many people will never touch a widget or Smart Stack in their lives and will never be the wiser, which is why Apple’s implementation is savvy. In one sense, nothing’s changed on your home screen. But in another, so much is different.
App Clips are basically mini apps for your iPhone
iOS 14 brings an entirely new way for you to interact with an app. It’s called App Clips and is aimed at apps that aren’t on your iPhone. Essentially, an App Clip is a mini app with limited functionality as determined by the app’s developer. The idea is you don’t have to take time or phone space to download an entire app and instead you can have a fast experience.
During the WWDC keynote, Apple showed off a customer signing up for a rewards club at a coffee shop via an App Clip. QR codes and NFC can trigger an App Clip. But you can also send them via a friend for ordering food, or find one for a business in Maps.
If developers widely adopt App Clips, it could help keep your iPhone decluttered and change your relationship with apps.