Hands On With Apple’s iOS 15 Beta: Still Room for Improvement

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As an Apple fan, I’m always eager to test out the beta version of whichever new iOS the company is releasing. It’s exciting to experience a refresh of a device I use all day every day, especially when the features included in that refresh are ones I’ve wished I had. (I’ll also admit being part of a beta program makes me feel special, even though signing up for Apple’s is incredibly easy.) My experience with iOS 15, however, has been rocky—even for an operating system in the testing phase.

Apple’s website lists a variety of shiny features that come with the newest iOS, including updated notifications, improved accessibility, a more informative Maps app, an updated FaceTime experience, and enhanced online privacy. (Our colleagues at PCMag have a full list of the best iOS 15 features.)

(Image: Apple)

As I read through Apple’s iOS 15 preview during the beta’s lengthy download, I looked forward to showing off Portrait mode during FaceTime happy hours with faraway friends, including—for the first time—those who have Android devices. I’ve long wished I could share my screen during FaceTime, and would soon be able to with SharePlay, which lets you watch TV, listen to music, or share content directly with whoever you’re calling. A new Focus mode mutes distracting notifications and lets you set boundaries for your mental wellbeing. And Live Text lets you scan words printed on objects in front of you and then translate or search for them in real time. My excitement grew with the progress bar on my download. 

But actually using iOS 15 has gradually tampered my expectations. SharePlay, one of iOS 15’s most anticipated features, isn’t yet available in beta and won’t become available to the public until sometime after the official release. Safari’s new ability to group tabs quickly proved useful for someone who insists on keeping recipes open that she’ll probably never use, but Apple’s decision to move the URL bar to the bottom of the screen (with the idea of making it easier to reach with one hand) made it less convenient, not more. Multiple people I’ve FaceTimed have said Portrait mode makes my image jumpy, as if I have a poor connection. The translate feature in Live Text rarely gets it right, showing me the original text where the translation should go in more cases than not. 

Beta systems have issues by definition. But some of the parts I’ve been most frustrated with have been on purpose, including iOS 15’s new URL bar placement and the way iMessage weirdly stacks photos corner-on-corner when you send just a couple of them at a time. (To be fair, the fanning that occurs when you send four or more photos feels more realistic and comfortable to use.) But the next iteration of the iOS 15 beta, beta 6, became available to developers Tuesday and will likely be released to the public in the coming weeks. According to MacRumors, beta 6 will resolve the URL bar issue by allowing users to choose where to place it.

The way photos stack in iMessage changes depending on exactly how many you send.

It’s unclear whether Apple will roll out additional betas after 6, and September is quickly approaching, which is when the company tends to roll out new operating systems and iPhones. For now, I’ll be an iOS 14 girl living in an—almost—iOS 15 world, patiently waiting for the ability to share on-screen memes with my FaceTime friends. 

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