iOS 15 review: Forget quantity, Focus on quality

Every year, Apple releases a major update to its operating systems for the iPhone and iPad that sets the stage for a year of changes to come.  This year, iOS 15 brings new FaceTime and Messages features, tweaks to existing apps and notifications, and most notably, a new way of managing apps and notifications called Focus.

Frankly, this is a relatively modest update compared to what we saw last year. That’s amplified by the fact that some key features that Apple initially announced in June haven’t made it into the initial release of iOS 15. But today we’ll be exploring whether a modest update means a bad one. Should you bother to upgrade to the new version of iOS when it’s mostly a tune-up and a fresh coat of paint?

Supported devices

Sometimes Apple cuts support for an older iPhone model or two with the release of a new version of iOS. But that’s not happening this time; iOS 15 supports all the same phones as iOS 14 did last year. The same goes for iPadOS and its supported tablets.

Here’s the full list of supported devices for both iOS 15 and iPadOS 15. (We’re focusing on the iPhone in this article, but we’ll publish a short addendum that turns to the iPad in the next few days.)

Supported iPhone models

  • iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max
  • iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini
  • iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini
  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6S
  • iPhone 6S Plus
  • iPhone SE (1st and 2nd generation)

Supported iPad models

  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation)
  • iPad Pro 11-inch (1st and 2nd generation)
  • iPad Pro 10.5-inch
  • iPad Pro 9.7-inch
  • iPad (5th, 6th, and 7th generation)
  • iPad mini (4th and 5th generation)
  • iPad Air (2nd and 3rd generation)

Supported iPod models

  • iPod touch (7th generation)

Feature limitations

While iOS 15 can be installed on all of the above devices, a handful of specific new features and improvements only work on certain iPhones. Here’s the list.

iPhones with A12 chip and later

  • FaceTime: Portrait mode
  • FaceTime: Voice isolation
  • FaceTime: Spatial audio
  • FaceTime: Wide spectrum mode
  • Maps: Interactive globe
  • Maps: Detailed new city experience
  • Maps: Immersive walking directions
  • Weather: Animated backgrounds
  • LiveText
  • Siri: On-device speech processing, personalization, and performance enhancements
  • Siri: Offline support
  • Keyboard: On-device and continuous dictation

iPhone 8 and later

  • Health: Walking steadiness

iPhone 7 and later

  • Music: Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking

Devices used for this review

The screenshots, information, and impressions contained in this review were based on using iOS 15 RC and iPadOS 15 RC, as well as the public releases for both. Devices used included iPhone XS, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, and the 2021 11-inch iPad Pro. We did not test iOS 15 on an iPod touch.