iOS 14: here are 8 quality of life features that are coming to your iPhone

Ng Chong Seng
Lifestyle contributor

In case you haven’t heard, Apple has earlier made many software announcements at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC 2020).

While all the operating systems that are powering Apple’s current devices will be updated starting this fall, the one that gets the most attention is iOS 14 — because that’s the one that iPhone uses.

Here’s a list of top new features you must know.

Widgets on the Home screen

You can add widgets to the Home Screen. (PHOTO: Apple)

Currently, the iPhone already shows you widgets — nuggets of information from your apps — in the Today View when you swipe right from the Lock screen, the Home screen or the Notification Centre.

But come iOS 14 in Q4 2020, you can also put widgets front and centre on your Home screen. These widgets are resizable and you can put them anywhere, even in between rolls of standard app icons.

If you don’t like the idea of too many widgets cluttering your Home screen, you can also add what Apple calls a ‘Smart Stack’. Based on your most frequently used apps, this dynamic widget will surface different info at the time when you need them most.

Picture-in-picture

A new compact design for receiving calls, asking Siri questions and watching videos. (PHOTO: Apple)

Yes, Android has since 2017 supported picture-in-picture (PiP) for video and it’s also available for the iPad — but this is a first for the iPhone.

With PiP, you can continue to watch videos (including FaceTime video calls) while you access other apps on your phone. Activating this mode is as simple as swiping to go to the Home screen when the video is playing.

The video will always be in a pinned overlay window, which means it won’t be obscured when you open other apps. You can move the overlay to other parts of the screen and pinch to zoom, too.

A smarter and less annoying Siri

At the moment, Siri jumps out at you and takes over the whole screen when you invoke it — but come iOS 14, it will sport a new compact interface that shows you, say, results at the top of the screen just like a banner notification.

The digital assistant is also packing a few new smarts. In addition to using more web sources to give you better answers, you can now summon it to record and send audio messages.

Of course, you can continue to send text messages with keyboard dictation, which uses the same speech recognition engine as Siri. Better yet, dictation now runs on-device, so you don’t have to worry that there’s a server somewhere in the cloud eavesdropping.

A new Translate app

The new Translate app will come in handy during trips. (PHOTO: Apple)

It’s common for Apple to introduce a new built-in app or two with each major iOS release, and iOS 14 is no different. This time around it’s Translate, an app designed to help users translate conversations between languages.

A useful app to have during overseas trips, Translate has a Conversation mode that puts the original text and translated text on each side of the screen when you hold the handset in landscape mode. The speakers will also play the translated audio, which is great for accessibility. More importantly, Translate doesn’t require an internet connection and all translations are done on-device.

At launch, Translate will support 11 languages: English, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Portuguese and Russia. Yes, Google Translate supports 103 (or 59 in offline mode) — but one step at a time, yeah?

And speaking of translations, the Safari browser can also now translate websites in seven languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Russian, and Brazilian Portuguese. If Safari is able to translate a page, you’ll see an additional Translate option when you tap on the two A’s on the left of the address bar.

Pinned conversations and inline replies in Messages

The native Messages app has gotten several improvements in iOS 14 but my favourite is the ability to pin conversations (up to nine) to the top of the list. If you use Messages as much as I do and have dozens of active conversations, it’s time to pop the champagne.

Another important addition is inline replies. This means you can now reply directly to a specific message in a group convo. You can see replies in the full timeline but you can also zoom into their own thread. There’s also a Mention feature that lets you direct a message to a specific person in the group; and you can further set it up so that you only get notifications when your name is mentioned.

Naturally, what’s a new version of iOS if there aren’t new Memoji customisations. iOS 14 includes more than 20 new hair and headwear styles, as well as new age options and face coverings.

Default email and browser apps

iOS 14 now lets you set a default email app that isn’t Apple Mail and a web browser that isn’t mobile Safari.

It’s unclear how this is being done on the user’s end, though I presume there would be a few buttons you need to push first in the Settings app.

Again, these are baby steps that I hope signal further opening up down the road. For instance, wouldn’t it be great if we could also change the default calendar and maps app?

Digital car keys

Digital car keys let you securely unlock and start your car with just an iPhone or Apple Watch. (PHOTO: Apple)

On top of payment cards and passes, iOS 14 allows you to add digital car keys to the Wallet app. Based on NFC technology, this means you can now unlock and start a car using just an iPhone (iPhone XR or newer) or Apple Watch (Series 5 or newer). It even works for up to five more hours after your iPhone’s battery is depleted.

Regarding security, the digital car keys are stored on the device’s Secure Element, the same security chip that protects your Apple Pay information. Sharing keys with friends or family is safer and easier too since there are no physical keys to pass around; and you can even tailor controls and create restricted driving profiles when you share them.

Here’s the caveat: you do need a car that supports this feature. So far, the only car that’s confirmed to have it is the 2021 BMW 5 Series.

AirPods automatic device switching

One nice thing about the AirPods is that once you’ve paired them, they’re available for selection on all your Apple devices signed into the same iCloud account. The problem is: you’ve to manually choose the earbuds in Control Centre whenever you move from one device to another.

With iOS 14, AirPods can now switch between iPhones automagically. This seamless switching also works on the iPad, Mac and Apple Watch as long as they’re updated to iPadOS 14, macOS Big Sur and watchOS 7 respectively.

But it’s not just the AirPods — the Powerbeats, Powerbeats Pro and Beats Solo Pro headphones also support this feature. The only AirPods to miss out is the 1st generation AirPods.

iOS 14 is slated to arrive this fall. It’s compatible with iPhones all the way back to the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. It also works with the iPhone SE (both generations) and the iPod touch (7th generation). A public beta will be available to iOS users next month.