iOS 15 beta review: Come on Apple, did you have to make it so complex?

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If you are eager to get your hands on iOS 15, Apple has made the iOS 15 beta available for the public to try out now. As with all beta software, this one is a bit buggy (although, not as bad as the iOS 14 beta), but that’s not the big issue. In my series of reviews of WWDC 21, I noted how the latest versions of Apple’s OS’ would involve a significant learning curve. Well, now that I got my hands on the beta, I can unfortunately confirm this is very much true.

There’s a lot to hate about the iOS 15 beta. It’s unnecessarily complex, and definitely much harder to use than previous iterations. Thankfully though, it’s not all bad news. There are some truly amazing updates hidden inside iOS 15. Here’s a roundup of everything I loved, and hated. 

Of course, most of these features won’t change between now the release of the final version, so we’ll just have to learn to live with them. That said, Apple has shown more willingness to listen to its customers and journalists in the past, so maybe it will reverse, or build on some of these features the next year. 

What’s to hate

Safari: Without a doubt, Safari is the worst thing about the iOS 15 beta. I don’t say this likely, but Apple has stripped away all the ease of use in favour of a cleaner interface. Gone is the quick button for Reader Mode, refresh and Share Sheet. If you want to access anything beyond tabs, there’s a unified new three dot icon.  If you don’t use Safari a lot, this shouldn’t be an issue, but as someone who heavily browses across devices, I find it frustrating that most key functions are now two to three taps away. It’s extremely cumbersome and time-consuming, which is the exact antithesis of Apple’s “it just works” motto. Safari will require the biggest learning curve to get used to, which it should not. 

Another issue is the location of the search bar, which for some strange reason Apple has decided to pop on the bottom of the screen. Is it easier for one-handed use? Yes. But the tradeoff is I often find myself swiping across tabs, when I intend to bring up the multitasker, or switch between apps. Even with my small thumbs, I often end up mixing the search bar with the app switcher bar, so I can only imagine how painful it will be for those with bigger fingers. 

All your key functions are now hidden in Safari on iOS 15.

Notifications: Apple did fix notifications, well sort of, with iOS 15. Once again though, it has inexplicably made a few odd choices. For one, your notification banners are now much smaller. Even though they include app icons/contact images, the overall size has shrunk by just enough to make it hard to read with a casual glance. If you already struggle with reading text on iOS, then this is going to be a big letdown.

Spotlight: I was actually very excited to try this out after WWDC, but once again Apple has sold itself short here. Spotlight is literally the only way I use my iPhone these days, to open apps, call contacts and do almost everything else. While the interface is impressive, Apple has made it a 2-step process to gain valuable information. For example, I need to find a friend’s address. On typing their name in, I get their contact card. I still need to tap that card to bring up all their information. Apple could’ve just presented it to me in the immediate interface, why do I need to go the extra step? Apple doesn’t do this in other cases. If I search for Joe Biden, I get everything from his spouse’s name to his social media links straight away. 

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Spotlight offers far more information, but a tap away for contacts in iOS 15. (Apple)

Photos: I love Apple’s photos app, but this year it just seems to have taken a step back. For one, people tagged in photos now show up as tiny bubbles, so small you could miss them entirely if you aren’t careful. I really miss the iOS 14 interface, when people were placed prominently below the photo. You could easily see, and interact with it there, but it’s going to be a bigger challenge with the iOS 15 beta. For some reason though, Apple decided to blow up the size of featured photos in the People album. It’s so huge, you can see only six favourites, and 12 other people at a time. It’s strange how Apple could shrink it in one place, and blow it up in another. 

What’s to love

Live Text: There’s only one way to say this – Apple really undersold Live Text at WWDC. Even in beta, this feature works flawlessly. I’ve been able to use it on all kinds of text, in all kinds of angles and fonts in photos and in the camera. It’s hands down the most impressive feature in the iOS 15 beta. I hope Apple can get it to work with other languages very soon, it would be a massive boon for international travellers. 

Shared With You: This one isn’t a very revolutionary feature, but it is damn useful. From songs to photos, Apple now prominently shows you content shared with friends which is pretty impressive. I’ve already managed to locate 10 photos I thought were lost, and several songs I was supposed to listen to, but never got around to. It appears in a very subtle manner, so it’s not in your face, but it is there if you want it. Shared With You is one of the many great examples of sticking with Apple’s ecosystem, and I love it!

Shared With You in iOS 15

Focus: The big highlight of WWDC, this is a hit-or-miss depending on how you use your iPhone. Focus is fantastic if you want to really avoid any distractions when working, or exercising. It takes a bit of effort to set up, but is totally worth it if you want the granular level of control over your notifications that it offers. I’ve found myself turning to WhatsApp and Instagram a lot less thanks to Focus, and am sure others will have similar experiences. It’s an efficient way to unplug, but only if you are willing to set it up. 

Memoji: Memoji is one of those little features I love to use as much as possible. I was disappointed with the limitations in previous iterations, but Apple has heard us! With the iOS 15 beta, you get a lot more stickers and editing options. It’s not as vast as Bitmoji, but I can see Apple getting there in a few years. I love that we finally get additions for clothing styles, but it is once again quite limited. Nonetheless, it’s a significant upgrade that I am sure Apple will build on.

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Memoji gets a lot of updates in iOS 15, including for clothing styles

There are still several features like SharePlay I am yet to test, but so far my experience with the iOS 15 beta has been mixed. Yes, there’s some good in there, but overall the interface is smaller and harder to use. That’s ok for me, but if you have a senior citizen who uses an iPhone, or someone with a smaller-screen device, some of these changes aren’t going to be easy to get used to. 

There’s no doubt iOS 15 improves on a lot of Apple’s technologies, but it comes at a significant cost. That’s not something I was expecting from Apple, for whom UI has always been of great importance. If nothing else, I hope they go back on Safari next year. It’s just downright inconvenient. 

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