Apple today released version 14.5 of iOS and iPadOS, a substantial update to the operating system for iPhone and iPad that debuted in September and introduced features such as Home Screen widgets, multi-column app layouts on iPad, compact UI, a redesigned Music app, and more.
Version 14.5 is the biggest – or, at the very least, most interesting – update to iOS and iPadOS we’ve seen in the 14.0 release cycle to date. That’s not to say previous iterations of iOS and iPadOS 14 were low on new features and refinements – it’s quite the opposite, in fact. Perhaps the pandemic and Apple’s work-from-home setup played a role in the company spreading new iOS functionalities across multiple releases throughout 2020 and the first half of 2021, but, regardless of the underlying reason, iOS and iPadOS 14 have evolved considerably since their public launch six months ago.
With iOS 14.2, Apple shipped the traditional “emoji update”, but was also able to include a redesigned AirPlay interface, face detection in AR, and a brand new Shazam integration in Control Center; with iOS 14.3, the company rolled out its new ProRAW photography API alongside support for the Fitness+ service, App Clip codes, and the ability to launch apps directly from Home Screen shortcuts; version 14.4, released earlier this year, saw the arrival of proximity-based music handoff for iPhone and HomePod mini alongside new options for Bluetooth settings and other performance improvements.
It’s difficult to tell whether some of these features were originally planned for a September release and got delayed because of the pandemic, or how many of these are Apple’s response to user feedback following the release of iOS and iPadOS 14, but one thing’s for sure: Apple hasn’t stood still over the past few months, and today’s iOS and iPadOS 14.5 are continuing the trend of major iOS and iPadOS updates released ahead of WWDC.
Let’s dive in.
Jason Snell, writing for Macworld about the new iPad Pro’s software limitations compared to its powerful hardware:
With the announcement of USB 4/Thunderbolt support on these new iPad Pro models, I’m thrown back to the past. In 2018, when Apple released the first iPad Pro with a USB-C port on the bottom, it didn’t update the software to read the entire contents of a thumb drive when you plugged it in. The hardware was willing, but the software was weak.
And here we are again. Thunderbolt adds even speedier connectivity, but for what? Faster photo and video imports? Okay, though once again, I’m reminded that Apple’s bread-and-butter pro media apps won’t run on these iPads.
Thunderbolt is great, but it’s difficult to take full advantage of it.
How about external display support? The new iPad Pros can drive even larger external displays, including Apple’s Pro Display XDR. Third-party video apps can take advantage of this to display high-resolution video and even some analytical displays. Which is great, but if you want to display the iPad interface itself, it’ll just be a pillarboxed mirror of what’s on the iPad’s own screen.
The last time a new iPad Pro’s hardware was so obviously more capable than its software demanded, we saw the debut of iPadOS seven months later. The 2021 iPad Pro’s hardware has created new low-hanging fruit for its software; I’d be really surprised if the second half of this story isn’t dropping in six weeks.
Today, Apple updated the Find My app to allow third-party products to take advantage of its network of devices to locate lost and stolen belongings from the app’s new Items tab. According to Apple’s press release:
“For more than a decade, our customers have relied on Find My to locate their missing or stolen Apple devices, all while protecting their privacy,” said Bob Borchers, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “Now we’re bringing the powerful finding capabilities of Find My, one of our most popular services, to more people with the Find My network accessory program. We’re thrilled to see how Belkin, Chipolo, and VanMoof are utilizing this technology, and can’t wait to see what other partners create.”
The Find My network program, which is part of Apple’s Made For iPhone program, allows accessory makers to hook into Apple’s Find My network to locate belongings securely and privately. Apple also said it is publishing a draft specification for chipset makers later this spring, so they can take advantage of the precise, directional capabilities of Apple’s short-range U1 chip.
Apple announced three initial partners who are incorporating Find My into their products. VanMoof is integrating the feature into its S3 and X3 e-bikes, Belkin is including it in its SOUNDFORM Freedom True Wireless Earbuds, and Chipolo is using Find My in its ONE Spot item finder. Find My’s integrations with these third-party products will work just like it does with Apple devices allowing users to do things like play a sound, locate items on a map, and put them in Lost Mode to lock them. Apple says all three partners’ products will be available next week, with more partnerships to rolling out soon.
Albums 4.0 is a beautifully designed, feature-rich app with more filtering and discovery tools than any other music app I’ve tried. The app is also opinionated, favoring album playback over individual songs or playlists. It’s the sort of focused, deep approach to music that Apple’s Music app doesn’t offer because it’s designed to appeal to a wider audience.
If you’re an albums-first music fan, you’ll love Albums. However, even if you prefer singles, playlists, and jumping around the Apple Music catalog as I do, Albums is worth checking out. The app’s powerful filtering opens up brand new ways to enjoy your music collection that any music fan can appreciate.
It just so happens that Federico and I are in the midst of an AppStories miniseries on music. This week we discussed how we listen to music and how it influences the services we use. Next week, we’ll cover third-party apps including Albums and many more. You can check out this week’s episode here:
Aaron Pearce, the developer behind some of my favorite HomeKit apps like HomeRun, HomeCam, and HomePass, has a new utility that is out today for the iPhone and iPad called HomePaper that solves a very specific problem: boring Home app wallpapers. The room and home settings of Apple’s Home app let you assign a photo or one of nine colorful backgrounds as wallpapers. The trouble is that photos of a room in your home are often too distracting to serve as wallpapers, and Apple’s other choices are too limited and similar to each other. That’s where HomePaper comes in.
Pearce’s app combines the best of both kinds of default Apple wallpapers by taking a photo, desaturating it, and overlaying a colorful gradient. You could do something similar in a photo editor, but HomePaper automates the process with a simple app that lets you experiment with different looks, arriving at one you like quickly and easily, the hallmark of a great utility. The result is an image that helps visually differentiate homes and rooms from each other like a standard photo would but with an additional burst of color and style.
HomePaper makes creating great-looking wallpapers effortless with a huge set of pre-built gradients that you can pair with an image in your photo library or by taking a picture with your iPhone or iPad’s camera. You can also pick the two colors for the gradient yourself using the iOS system color picker. When you’ve chosen or created a gradient you like, tap the download button in the bottom left corner of the screen to save it to your iCloud Photo Library, where it’s available to add to the Home app.
HomePaper is by far the simplest of Pearce’s apps, but it’s no less useful. I had settled on a single generic Apple-provided background that was the same for all my rooms because the choices didn’t inspire me to mix them up, and there was too much friction involved in creating my own. With HomePaper, though, I spent a few minutes snapping photos around my house and then applying gradients, achieving results that look great with minimal effort. The Home app looks nicer now when I open it, but it’s also easier to tell one room from another at a glance, which makes HomePaper a wonderful addition to my HomeKit apps.
HomePaper is free to download, allowing you to make one wallpaper. A $0.99 In-App Purchase unlocks the creation of unlimited wallpapers.
Jason Snell writing on Six Colors:
The more I use Shortcuts, the more I realize that in many ways, user automation on iOS has outpaced automation on the Mac. Let me give you an example: On iOS I built a shortcut to grab the contents of selected text in Safari and open the results in a text editor—converted to Markdown, with the title of the page set as the title and its URL set as a link. It’s not remotely the most complicated shortcut I’ve built, but it’s great—and has saved me a lot of time while improving the quality of my link posts…
I love it so much, I decided to build the same automation on the Mac. The results were ugly. My Keyboard Maestro macro forces Safari to copy the selected text to the clipboard, moves to BBEdit, opens a new window, pastes in the HTML, runs an HTML to Markdown Service on the selection, then runs an AppleScript script that cleans up the results. It’s ridiculous.
This is a fantastic example of something that I’ve experienced over and over to the point where I hesitate before trying to automate anything on the Mac. As Jason points out, Shortcuts isn’t exactly easy, but I find that I usually spend the most time figuring out the best approach to a problem rather than how to implement it in Shortcuts, which is automation at its best. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle that encourages me to experiment more with Shortcuts and use Mac automation less.
Betas of iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS are out today with some interesting features. Last week on World Privacy Day, Apple announced that App Tracking Transparency is coming in the spring, so it’s no surprise that iOS and iPadOS 14.5 include the feature. However, there are several other features coming in the next round of OS releases, as summarized by Rene Ritchie in this tweet:
Today, Apple released iOS and iPadOS 14.4, HomePod 14.4, watchOS 7.3, which introduce a limited collection of new features along with the usual bug fixes.
On the iPhone and iPad, the Camera app can now scan smaller QR codes, which is handy for those tiny codes that are often used on product labels. The Bluetooth section of Settings has been updated with an option to identify the type of device connected to your iPhone, so it knows when headphones are connected for the purpose of sending audio notifications.
HomePod 14.4 adds a few new features that work in concert with the iPhone’s U1 chip. There is new visual, audible, and haptic feedback when music is handed off from an iPhone to a HomePod mini. The update also provides personalized listening suggestions when an iPhone is placed near a HomePod mini that isn’t currently playing audio. Media playback controls also appear automatically when an iPhone is nearby without having to unlock it first.
I have done some very preliminary testing of the new HomePod mini features and like them a lot. The haptic feedback is a quick slightly sustained vibration that lets you know that the music is being transferred. The animation that slides into view from the top of the screen includes a terrific little animation too. Bring your iPhone close to your HomePod mini again, and a button appears offering to transfer playback back to the iPhone. It’s a good example of how small changes together can make a big difference in the quality of the user experience.
As we reported earlier today, watchOS 7.3 includes the new Unity watch face. The colors of the face are inspired by the Pan-African flag and its shapes change throughout the day as you move. The ECG app has been added in Japan, Mayotte, the Philippines, and Thailand for Apple Watch Series 4 and later. Irregular heart rhythm notifications are now available in those same countries, plus Taiwan too. Apple’s release notes also mention the new Time to Walk feature in the Workout app, but that actually shipped yesterday with a server-side update.
As I wrote in a recent issue of MacStories Weekly, the original Doodle Jump is one of my all-time favorite iOS games. This classic features an adorable doodle (officially dubbed “The Doodler”) bouncing its way up what appears to be a sheet of notebook paper. The beautifully simple controls consist of tilting your device to maneuver The Doodler and tapping your screen to fire projectiles at the monsters and UFOs that are trying to put an end to your adventure. The game is, at its core, an infinite runner. The higher you jump, the higher you score, and that’s Doodle Jump.
Doodle Jump’s initial release was in 2009 — an astounding 12 years ago this April. With so much time having passed since the original, I never really expected to see a sequel. This felt especially true to me since the original Doodle Jump absolutely still holds up after all this time. As it turns out though, Lima Sky — the development studio behind the game — wasn’t done with ideas for the Doodle Jump world. Last month, Doodle Jump 2 was released, and fans of the old game will not be disappointed.
Doodle Jump 2 is instantly familiar to anyone who has played the original. The controls haven’t changed at all, nor has the core idea of The Doodler bouncing its way to ever-increasing heights. However, the game’s art and animations have been completely revamped, with tremendous results.