iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 preview: a first look at Apple’s latest software


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iOS 15 and iPad 15 are kicking off their public betas today, and after a few weeks with the developer betas of the new software, Apple’s OS updates feel like more of a grab bag of new features than ever before.

A major rethinking of either platform, this year’s updates are not. The two updates were clearly born in 2020’s norm-shattering pandemic. The feature list at WWDC and on Apple’s website wears last year’s remote-first influences firmly, from the heavy emphasis on FaceTime features to a better system for corralling notifications into “work” and “personal” buckets.

Of course, Apple’s release cadence and insistence on major updates coming just once a year means that some of these features are arriving in what will — hopefully — be a post-pandemic return to life this fall. So it’ll be interesting to see how things like SharePlay, one of the update’s marquee features, actually shake out once people have the option to watch movies and listen to music together in person again.

Other parts of iOS and iPadOS 15, like the overhauled Safari app or the new Maps app, feel like the kinds of more noticeable changes generally associated with Apple’s major software updates, but they’re sporadic.

The result is a software update that feels a lot quieter than Apple’s usual releases, one that — at least for now — looks to improve smaller things behind the scenes than rebuild things from the ground up.

The iOS 15 homescreen is largely unchanged from iOS 14.

FaceTime and SharePlay

The flashiest feature coming to the fall updates is SharePlay, a new Apple-wide system built on top of FaceTime for sharing TV shows, movies, music, and podcasts with friends and family even when you’re not in the same room. It’s also the most pandemic-inspired feature, an Apple product-based spin on the countless watch party apps and services that sprung up to replace movie nights over the past year.

SharePlay shows off how well Apple’s hardware and software services all work together: watching a TV show or listening to an album over FaceTime is seamless. But it also highlights the height of Apple’s…