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iOS and iPadOS 15: The MacStories Review

A quieter release for even stranger times.

In my career as an iOS reviewer, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a response as universally positive and enthusiastic as the general public’s reception of iOS 14 last year. From the “Home Screen aesthetic” popularized by TikTokers to the incredible success of widgets and the resurgence of custom icons, few iOS updates managed to capture the cultural zeitgeist as globally and rapidly as iOS 14 did. The update broke out of the tech community and, perhaps for the first time in decades, made UI personalization a mainstream, easily attainable hobby. For once, we didn’t have to convince our friends and family to update to a major new version of the iPhone’s operating system. They just did it themselves.

The numbers don’t lie: five weeks after its release, iOS 14 was already set to surpass iOS 13’s adoption rate; in April 2021, seven months after launch, over 90% of compatible devices were running iOS 14. Which begs the obvious question: if you’re Apple, you’re planning to follow up on what made iOS 14 successful with even more of it, right?

Well, not quite.

With the world coming to a halt due to the pandemic in early 2020, Apple could have easily seized the opportunity to slow down its pace of software updates, regroup, and reassess the state of its platforms without any major changes in functionality. But, as we found out last year, that’s not how the company operates or draws its product roadmaps in advance. In the last year alone, Apple introduced a substantial macOS redesign, pointer support on iPad, and drastic changes to the iOS Home Screen despite the pandemic, executing on decisions that were likely made a year prior.

Surprisingly, iOS 15 doesn’t introduce any notable improvements to what made its predecessor wildly popular last year. In fact, as I’ll explore in this review, iOS 15 doesn’t have that single, all-encompassing feature that commands everyone’s attention such as widgets in iOS 14 or dark mode in iOS 13.

As we’ll see later in the story, new functionalities such as Focus and Live Text in the Camera are the additions that will likely push people to update their iPhones this year. And even then, I don’t think either of them sports the same intrinsic appeal as widgets, custom Home Screens, or the App Library in iOS 14.


It’s a slightly different story for iPadOS 15, which comes at a fascinating time for the platform.

As I wrote in my review of the M1 iPad Pro earlier this year, Apple needed to re-align the iPad’s hardware and software on two fronts. For pro users, the company had to prove that the new iPad Pro’s hardware could be useful for something beyond basic Split View multitasking, either in the form of more complex windowing, pro apps, or desktop-like background processes; at the same time, Apple also had to modernize iPadOS’ multitasking capabilities for all kinds of users, turning an inscrutable gesture-based multitasking environment into a more intuitive system that could also be operated from a keyboard. It’s a tall order; it’s why I’ve long believed that the iPad’s unique multiplicity of inputs makes iPadOS the toughest platform to design for.

Apple’s work in iPadOS 15 succeeds in laying a new foundation for multitasking but only partially satisfies the desires of power users. Apple managed to bring simplicity and consistency to multitasking via a new menu to manage the iPad’s windowing states that is easier to use than drag and drop. Perhaps more importantly, Apple revisited iPad multitasking so it can be equally operated using touch and keyboard. If you, the person reading these annual reviews, have ever found yourself having to explain to a family member how to create a Split View on iPad, tell them to update to iPadOS 15, and they’ll have a much easier time using their iPads to their full extent.

But after three months of running iPadOS 15 on my M1 iPad Pro, I can’t help but feel like power users will still be left wishing for more. Yes, iPadOS 15 brings extensive keyboard integration for multitasking with a plethora of new keyboard shortcuts and yes, the new multitasking menu and improvements to the app switcher benefit everyone, including power users, but iPadOS 15 is a foundational update that focuses on fixing the basics rather than letting the iPad soar to new heights.


While Apple is probably preparing bigger and bolder updates for next year, there are still plenty of features to discover and enjoy in iOS and iPadOS 15 – some that could still use some refinement, others that already feel like staples of the modern iPhone and iPad experience.

Let’s dive in.

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    Austin Mann Puts the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max Cameras Through Their Paces

    Specs only tell part of the story of new hardware. They’re important, but they only hint at what’s possible. Put that hardware in the hands of someone who can push it to its limits, and those hints of the possible become concrete examples of the actual. When Apple announced the iPhone 13 Pro, the stats suggested the device’s camera was poised to leap forward. Austin Mann’s review of the 13 Pro’s camera confirms it with a series of stunning photographs from Tanzania.

    One of the new Camera features I’m looking forward to most is the ability to take macro photos. Mann explains that:

    Although the iPhone 13 Pro still only has three lenses, the addition of macro capability is like adding a new lens altogether, and for the serious photographer I think it’s perhaps the strongest advancement in this year’s camera system.

    Macro is more than just improved focus distance. It offers a new way of seeing and opens up an entirely new world of photography and storytelling.

    Taken using Photographic Styles. Source [austinmann.com](https://austinmann.com/trek/iphone-13-pro-camera-review-tanzania)

    Taken using Photographic Styles. Source austinmann.com

    Mann also covers Photographic Styles, which he says allow for a relatively subtle shift of the look of photos without feeling like a flat image-wide filter has been applied, explaining when he’d use them even as a pro photographer:

    Of course, I’m usually shooting ProRAW on client projects, but there are times when I just want great looking images right now versus maximum processing control later. Photographic Styles will be perfect for that.

    Finally, I thought this insight about Cinematic mode was interesting:

    As I watched this piece, particularly the interview in Cinematic mode, it dawned on me that we’re moving beyond the world of just computational photography and into the realm of computational videography. The release of Cinematic mode marks another one of those fundamental shifts where software, unbounded by the limitations of hardware, has opened up entirely new possibilities in the creative process.

    From the reviews I’ve seen, Cinematic mode feels like early Portrait mode in terms of how well it works. Although there’s obvious room for improvement, Portrait mode has come a long way in recent years, and it’s exciting to think Cinematic mode may do the same too.

    As usual, Mann’s review is full of fantastic shots of the landscapes, people, and nature of Tanzania, which are beautifully shot and are excellent examples about what’s possible with the iPhone 13 Pro.

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    iPad mini Review: Small Wonder

    The iPad Pro, iPad Air, and new iPad mini.

    The iPad Pro, iPad Air, and new iPad mini.

    For the past week1, I’ve been using Apple’s sixth-generation iPad mini, which is officially launching this Friday. I’ll cut right to the chase: I’ve been waiting for this kind of iPad mini refresh for years, and the device absolutely delivers on all fronts. The new iPad mini fulfills my longstanding dream of an iPad Pro/Air-like device in a diminutive form factor, providing a highly portable experience unlike anything else in Apple’s lineup.

    The iPad mini was already in a class of its own; with this redesign, Apple has made the best small iPad I’ve ever tried – one that is a joy to use on a daily basis. Whether you’re looking for a companion device to your iPad Pro or a portable iPad to complement your Mac experience, this little iPad is worth the price of admission.

    The new iPad mini was the missing piece to my iPad workflow; now that I have it, I want to use it as much as possible.

    Let me explain.

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    watchOS 8: The MacStories Review

    We’ve come a long way from the Wild West of watchOS’ early versions. Changes in recent years have been thoroughly iterative in nature, suggesting that Apple believes that the platform has reached maturity. watchOS 8 heralds no deviation from this path, but as usual, a host of features bring new minor excitements for us to explore.

    Health and fitness are established pinnacles of any good watchOS update, and this year’s offerings include a new Mindfulness app, sleep tracking improvements, and expanded workout types. Since Complications can now communicate with Bluetooth devices, health and fitness data from Bluetooth accessories will be more accessible than ever.

    The usual host of first-party app updates are back this year too, with Home and Timers getting the most interesting changes. As for watch faces — another common source of easy feature additions — Apple seems to have dropped that ball this time around. Only two new faces are joining the ranks, and existing faces have remained stagnant.

    At the system level, text input has received some nice updates. While still a bit clunky, some of the strictest limitations have been lifted, making the Apple Watch useable in more situations where I would previously have never considered it. The always-on display in Apple Watch Series 5 and higher will be far more useful in watchOS 8 as well, as third-party apps are finally able to utilize it.

    Despite a lot of tidbits scattered throughout, watchOS 8 is easily the smallest annual update in the Apple Watch’s short history. This shouldn’t be a surprise given that we’re in the second year of a global pandemic, but it still feels disappointing.

    Hopefully next year Apple will devote a bit more time and effort to watchOS, but for now let’s dig into the new additions that we do have to explore. Despite the small size of watchOS 8, its features are all positive improvements, and it’s still the best iteration of the Apple Watch operating system to date.

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    iOS and iPadOS 15 Review Extras: eBooks, Shortcuts, Making Of, Obsidian Plugins, Safari Extension Beta, and AppStories Live

    Today, Federico published his iOS and iPadOS 15 review. The review has become the centerpiece of what is always a busy fall season at MacStories. It has also become a tradition that we release a wide variety of perks exclusively for Club MacStories members alongside Federico’s review.

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    DetailsPro: A Design Tool Made for SwiftUI [Sponsor]

    DetailsPro is the accessible, graphical tool for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac that brings your app designs to life with SwiftUI. The future of modern app design on Apple’s platforms is SwiftUI, and with DetailsPro, you can be up and running immediately, designing UIs without typing a line of code.

    DetailsPro uses a drag and drop interface to make designing app interfaces, widgets, and screens a completely graphical, natural experience. There are no multi-gigabyte downloads or any of the complexity you find in a tool like Xcode. Instead, DetailsPro focuses on your design first. The app is a fantastic way to learn core SwiftUI concepts in an environment that provides immediate feedback. There’s also a terrific DetailsPro community that offers in-app downloadable templates to learn, remix, or use as starting points for your own projects.

    When you’re happy with your design, simply export it to SwiftUI code to Swift Playgrounds or Xcode. That’s the sort of design pipeline that makes handing your work off to your developers simple while ensuring that the fidelity of your designs is preserved in the process.

    Built in SwiftUI itself by a former Apple Design Prototyper, DetailsPro is trusted industry-wide by designers at companies like Apple itself, Starbucks, Microsoft, Nike, and Porsche, and it’s easy to see why. DetailsPro brings sophisticated SwiftUIs to life quickly and easily in a way that feels like magic.

    If you’ve been looking for a way to get into designing with SwiftUI, your search is over. You can download DetailsPro today for free and use it with five files, but you can unlock unlimited files and upcoming features like versioning, reusable components, MapKit maps, and more for just $9.99/year or with a one-time payment of $29.99. That’s a fantastic price for an app that will save you time and simplify your design process.

    So, download DetailsPro today, and get started designing with SwiftUI.

    Our thanks to DetailsPro for sponsoring MacStories this week.


    MacStories Unwind: Apple Event Roundup, Epic Versus Apple, and Shazam

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    Sponsored by: Shake – Bug, Feedback, and Crash Reporting Tool for Your Mobile App

    This week on MacStories Unwind:

    MacStories

    Club MacStories

    • MacStories Weekly
      • A collection of John’s favorite Apple event moments
      • Accessorizing the new iPad mini
      • AppStories will be recorded live in the Club MacStories+ Discord community next Monday, September 20th at 5:30 PM Eastern

    AppStories

    Unwind

    • John’s Pick:

    AppStories, Episode 240 – A Look at the HomeKit and tvOS Updates Coming Soon

    This week on AppStories, we look at Apple’s evolving approach to the way HomeKit devices and entertainment features are incorporated into the company’s OSes.


    On AppStories+, Federico covers WidgetPod and Marvis Pro and John gives Federico Apple Maps homework and explains something fun he received in the mail.

    We deliver AppStories+ to subscribers with bonus content, ad-free, and at a high bitrate early every week.

    To learn more about the benefits included with an AppStories+ subscription, visit our Plans page, or read the AppStories+ FAQ.

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    Apple’s September 14, 2021 Keynote: By the Numbers

    As usual, Apple sprinkled facts, figures, and statistics throughout the keynote today. Here are highlights of some of those metrics from the event, which was held online from Apple Park in Cupertino, California.

    iPhone 13 Lineup

    iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini

    • 28% brighter display
    • 800 nits outdoors
    • 1200 nits peak brightness for HDR content
    • The A15 Bionic has 15 billion transistors and 6 cores, 2 high-performance and 4 efficiency cores, making it 50% faster (than the competition)
    • 4-core GPU that’s 30% faster
    • 16-core Neural Engine that handles 15.8 trillion operations per second
    • The Wide camera has a 12MP sensor, 1.7 µm pixels that gather 47% more light, a ƒ/1.6 aperture, a 7-element lens, and a 26mm focal length.
    • The Ultra Wide lens has a 12MP, a ƒ/2.4 aperture, 13 mm focal length, 5-element lens, and 120-degree field of view
    • The iPhone 13 mini gets 1.5 and the iPhone 13 gets 2.5 more hours of battery life than the iPhone 12 models they replace.
    • Storage is available in 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB

    iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max

    • 50% faster graphics
    • 1000 nits peak outdoor brightness and 1200 nits peak brightness for HDR content
    • 10 - 120 Hz screen refresh rate
    • Telephoto camera has a 77mm focal length and 3x optical zoom
    • Ultra Wide camera has ƒ/1.8 aperture, 6-element lens, and 92% better performance in low light
    • Wide camera has ƒ/1.5 aperture, 1.9 µm pixels, and up to 2.2x improvement in low light
    • The iPhone 13 Pro gets 1.5 and the iPhone 13 Pro Max gets 2.5 more hours of battery life than the iPhone 12 models they replace
    • Storage is available in 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB
    • .25 mm thicker than the iPhone 12 Pro models and slightly heavier

    iPads

    iPad mini

    • 40% faster CPU
    • 80% faster GPU
    • 8.3” display
    • 500 nits of screen brightness
    • 2x faster machine learning
    • 10x faster data transfers with USB-C
    • 5G delivers up to 3.5 Gbps download speeds under ideal conditions
    • 12MP camera with ƒ/1.8 aperture
    • 20W power adapter
    • .31” shorter than the mini it replaces and very slightly lighter

    10.2” iPad

    • 20% faster
    • 3x faster than the top-selling Chromebook
    • 6x faster than the leading Android tablet
    • 12MP camera with 122-degree field of view

    Apple Watch

    • 40% thinner borders
    • Up to 70% brighter in low power mode
    • WR50 water resistance
    • 33% faster charging than Series 6

    You can follow all of our September Apple event coverage through our September 2021 event hub, or subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.