How iOS 14.5 Makes Your Life Easier

Unlock with Apple Watch changes the game

Key Takeaways

  • iOS 14.5 brings new Siri voices, Apple Watch unlock, and new privacy features.
  • Companies that spy on you for a living, like Facebook, hate that you can now choose to block their trackers.
  • Even the Podcasts app has gotten a revamp.
Someone using an iPhone with a desk and laptop in the background.

freestocks / Unsplash

iOS 14.5 is out for the iPhone and iPad, and it’s a massive update with a ton of new features. But there are two standouts—unlocking while wearing a face mask, and app-tracking blockers. 

The iOS 14.5 update is almost big enough to count as iOS 15, but iOS 15 will have to wait a few months until Apple’s WWDC in June.

The 14.5 update brings improvements to maps, adds Siri voices, and includes important new privacy controls that are so good that Facebook is terrified. But let’s start with the feature that will affect most people in everyday life: Unlock iPhone with Apple Watch.

"For me, the Apple Watch Unlock capability is the favorite one for iOS 14.5," Viktor Páli, product manager of Craft, told Lifewire via direct message. "Makes my life easier outside during these times."

Unlock iPhone with Apple Watch

All modern iPhones unlock via Face ID, which doesn’t work when you’re wearing a mask. A common workaround is to downgrade the iPhone’s passcode to a less-secure numeric PIN. Now, if you also wear an Apple Watch, you can use that to unlock your iPhone—just like you can with the Mac.

It works like this: First, Face ID tries to unlock as usual. If it detects that you're wearing a mask, it will switch to Watch unlock. This is almost instant. It feels as fast as the first-generation of Face ID.

An iPhone and an Apple Watch demonstrating the unlock with watch feature used to unlock an iPhone while wearing a mask.

Apple

When this happens, the Watch will give a haptic bump, and the screen will show a message with a button to instantly re-lock the iPhone. 

It’s less secure than the usual Face ID set up, but Apple has mitigated most breach possibilities. Watch unlock only works if the phone and watch are very close to each other, and that haptic warning is effective. And this feature only unlocks the phone. It cannot be used to authenticate Apple Pay, App Store purchases, or secure settings. But, of course, you can use the Apple Watch itself to pay in stores. 

This feature is, as they say, a game-changer. I’ve been using it since the early iOS 14.5 betas, and it has gotten faster and more reliable. 

Apple Tracking Transparency

This is the other headline feature in iOS 14.5. App Tracking Transparency is pretty simple in concept. If an app wants to track your internet usage, your location, or any other private information, it has to ask first.

That’s it. A notification will pop up on-screen, asking you if you want to let that app track you. You can also disable all tracking preemptively in the Settings app. 

"From a user perspective, I think my favorite feature has to be the App Tracking Transparency—it gives me great pleasure to deny all apps the permission to track me, and I’m happy Apple is going to be enforcing this," iOS and Mac app developer James Thomson told Lifewire via direct message.

An app on an iPhone showing the tracking transparency of iOS 14.5.

Apple

Advertisers use tokens to track you across different websites and apps. Some app developers take money in exchange for adding these third-party trackers. Those developers may also collect your location data and pass it on or sell it.

"If it means apps can’t as easily monetize your private data anymore, then I’m all for it," says Thomson. "Perhaps it will lead to a resurgence in paid apps, where the financial transaction is in the open."

Apple hasn’t disabled or blocked these trackers. It just asks you if you want to allow them. Facebook is so scared that this precious source of private data will dry up that it took out full-page newspaper ads last year. Meanwhile, Google has come up with its own alternative, which builds tracking into its Chrome browser

Siri Voices

Siri has gotten some new voices, and they sound great. More importantly, Siri no longer defaults to a male or female voice. New users will have to choose a voice when they set up their device. And that’s not all. The voices are no longer labeled as male or female. Instead, they are listed as Voice 1, Voice 2, and so on. 

Some may ridicule this change, but it’s not about the "gender" of a computer. It’s about our societal gender biases, in general. Our expectations of people, based on their gender, will surely color our attitudes to our virtual assistants.

By defaulting to a female voice in the US, does Siri encourage us to think of women as subservient, or as assistants rather than bosses? Probably. 

Default Music Player

In iOS 14.5, you can choose a third-party music player app as your Siri default. The first time you ask Siri to play a song, it will first ask you in which app you want to play it. Then, it will remember this choice for future requests. 

An iPhone displaying a prompt to choose a music service when you ask Siri to play a song.

Apple

It’s a small convenience, but a welcome one. It would be nice if we could set the default apps for other file types, but this is better than nothing. It may also be more for Apple’s benefit than ours.

Apple is dealing with antitrust investigations and is engaged in a trial with game maker Epic over Apple’s App Store lock-in. This addition might only be a virtual fig leaf to cover Apple’s shame, but who cares? We got a nice new feature out of it. 

City Charts

There have been a few changes in the Music app, like sharing lyrics to Messages or Instagram, and some new interface tweaks. But the most fun new feature is City Charts.

An Apple phone displaying City Charts in Apple Music.

Apple

These are daily updated playlists of the most-played songs in over 100 cities around the world. The charts aren’t as diverse as you’d hope—Justin Bieber is currently the top song in many, many cities. But if you’re a fan of overproduced, bland chart music, you’re in for a treat. 

Other Features

As mentioned at the beginning, this is a huge update with a slew of tweaks and additions, from new emojis, to incident reporting in Apple Maps, a revamped Podcasts app with premium subscriptions, new Shortcuts, and support for AirTags.

Apple seems to be settling into a new rhythm for iOS releases. First, a major new version was announced at WWDC in the summer, then released to the public with new iPhones in the fall.

Then, in the spring of the following year, another big update. Last year’s iOS 13.4, released in March, brought trackpad and mouse support for the iPad, as well as the launch of the Magic Keyboard for iPad

"Perhaps it will lead to a resurgence in paid apps, where the financial transaction is in the open."

So what does that leave for iOS 15? iOS and iPad OS development has, in recent years, followed a leapfrog cycle, with either iPhone or iPad getting a major update every second year.

Last year, the iPhone got home-screen widgets and the App Library for keeping things tidy. This year it’s the iPad’s turn. 

iPad OS 15 may revamp the entire iPad UI to allow it to take better advantage of its absurdly powerful hardware. The iPad’s capabilities have outstripped its software since the 2018 iPad Pro, and this year’s new M1-based iPad Pro just widens the gap.

Hopefully, we’ll at least get the iPhone’s home-screen widgets, but what if Apple goes really crazy? We could get a desktop, and actual application windows, at least when connected to an external monitor. Here’s hoping.

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