All the Cool New Stuff in iOS 14.6, WatchOS 7.5, and macOS 11.4

Not bad for last year’s OSes

Key Takeaways

  • iOS 14.6 and macOS 11.4 add significant features. 
  • Apple’s iOS 15 announcement is only weeks away.
  • The best iOS 14.6 feature isn’t even on the feature list.
Closeup of someone holding a smartphone with the Apple Card Family Sharing displayed.

Unsplash / Mockup Photos

Just weeks away from the WWDC announcement of iOS 15, Apple has pushed out yet another feature-packed update for iOS 14, macOS Big Sur, and the Apple Watch. 

The curious thing about these updates—iOS 14.6, WatchOS 75, and macOS 11.4—is how similar they all are. In fact, outside of bug fixes, the main features are the same across all devices. Let’s get straight into it.

"All in all, this is a lot more than just a final spit-and-polish release before iOS 15 comes along."

Shared Apple Card

First up, you can now share your Apple Card with your family using—you guessed it—Apple Card Family. The new options show up across the devices, including the ability to pay and see transactions on your Apple Watch.

There are two kinds of accounts: Co-owners, and participants. Co-owners lets you share the account with, say, a spouse, and you both treat it like you would a normal credit card. Participants have fewer privileges, so you can use it for your kids. Anyone over 13 is allowed to be a participant, and you can set spending limits. 

You’ll find all these new features inside the Apple Wallet app. 

Podcast Subscriptions

Also new is support for podcast subscriptions in the Podcasts app. Now you can subscribe to paid podcasts with one click, just like subscribing to an app.

Three iPhones displaying the cover art for three different Apple Podcasts.

Apple

It’s a neat new feature for sure, and it lets you support your favorite podcasts with almost zero effort, which is exactly the amount of effort that leads to impulse buys. But you can only listen to these subscriptions in Apple’s own Podcasts app, and the podcasters, themselves, lose any direct relationship they may have with their audience. Worse, Apple takes a 30% cut, just like it does in the App Store. 

Lossless Apple Music

Also new in iOS 14.6 and macOS 11.4 is lossless music and Spatial Audio. Lossless is simply higher-quality streamed audio. It requires extra data to stream, but it also gives better sound—in theory. You can opt for CD-quality (or better, depending on the source recording), or you can go all out with a stream at 24 bit and 192 kHz.

This is an audio recording of such high quality that you cannot even play it back on any of Apple’s devices. You need to connect a separate digital-analog converter (DAC) just to play it. And needless to say, it will hammer your internet data plan.

One other note: none of these lossless options will work over AirPods. None of them. Lossless music requires these latest OS updates, but won’t be available until June. 

The other half of this is Spatial Audio, which brings surround sound to music. This could be nice for old Pink Floyd concerts, maybe, but may also go the way of quadrophonic vinyl and all the other 3D audio formats that litter audio history. 

Shorter Shortcuts

Users on Reddit discovered that Shortcuts run way faster in iOS 14.6 than in previous versions of iOS 14. Shortcuts—which are home-spun automations anyone can build in the Shortcuts app just by dragging blocks around—are executing in about a quarter of the time they usually take.

Woman using iPhone Apps

Getty Images Credit: d3sign 

For a short shortcut, this makes little difference. But for a shortcut that usually takes, say, 20 seconds to run, cutting it down to 4-5 seconds is a massive difference. Especially as the whole idea of Shortcuts is to streamline oft-performed tasks, and speed them up. 

I use shortcuts for all kinds of things, including some very complicated ones that process screenshots, resize them, and wrap them in the frame of the device they came from. In iOS 14.6, I have already noticed this speed increase, and it's very welcome.

All in all, this is a lot more than just a final spit-and-polish release before iOS 15 comes along. In fact, iOS 14.7 is already in beta. This is a great new trend from Apple. Instead of saving everything up for a once-a-year release, it has taken to adding smaller but significant features throughout the year.

And with all this still going on, one wonders what’s in store for iOS 15.

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