Enlarge /. Siri in iOS 14, free from its full-screen shackles.

Samuel Axon

For several years now, we've heard that Apple has postponed a major overhaul of the Home Screen for iOS because it struggled to improve its development process to reduce the number of bugs that shipped with its large annual releases like iOS 12 or iOS 13 will .

After these delays, iOS 14 finally realizes the home screen renovation. Apple introduced home screen widgets of various sizes, opened up new ways for users to manage their apps, and introduced a home screen place for installed apps.

If your first reaction to these features is that they sound a lot like Android, you are not wrong – but as usual, Apple implemented them in its own way. So what's better for users – the recently released Android 11 or iOS 14 that hit devices just a week later?

It used to be the case that Android and iOS were differentiated according to function, and that is still partly true. Today, their philosophies of data collection, privacy, processing on and off the device, and services are the more obvious differences.

By introducing some key features that Android users have always enjoyed that iOS users missed – like live home screen widgets and custom choices for standard email and browser apps – Apple has bridged the functionality gap further closed, which makes the comparison even more relevant to the other things.

We're not going to cover every single change here today, but we'll cover a whole host of changes as we spend additional time on some of the most important ones. We'll also go into what's available for iPad users this year – and what's unfortunately not. Overall, there are many changes in iOS 14 – it could be one of the biggest updates to iPhone software in recent years.

Table of Contents

compatibility

Every now and then, Apple's new major operating system releases end support for devices that were supported by their predecessors. It only did so last year with iOS 13, which ended support for the iPhone 5S, iPad Air, and a few other devices.

Fortunately, iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 are not among those cut-off versions. All devices supported by iOS and iPadOS 13 will work fine with iOS 14. Now the question always arises as to how older devices perform – Apple's track record in this regard has improved a lot over the past few years, but there has been a period of time when this was the case was a serious problem.

Fortunately, performance is fine on the lowest spec devices. We have already carried out a more detailed investigation into this. Check this out if you're using an iPhone 6S or an original iPhone SE.

Aside from performance, here is a list of supported devices.

Supported iPhone Models

  • 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 inches
  • iPad Pro 9.7 inches
  • 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)

Equipment used for this review

The screenshots, info, and impressions for this review were based on the use of iOS and iPadOS 14 Beta 8 and the final public releases for both. For iOS 14 we used an iPhone X and XS and for iPadOS 14 we used a 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro and an 8th generation iPad. We haven't tested iOS 14 on an iPod touch.

A whole new home screen (kind of)

I won't hold back: the home screen on iOS has been terrible for years. It's the worst part of a mostly otherwise great mobile operating system.

Starting with iOS 13 last year, the iPhone home screen didn't offer a clear way of displaying information beyond the mere existence of an app. It didn't offer interactivity. It didn't offer enough flexibility in the spacing or sizing of app icons. Worst of all, the editing process on the home screen – that crazy situation with jiggling icons – was startlingly painful. Only blue seashells in Mario Kart games produce more painful utterances of swear words for users of interactive software than this horrible, angry wobble symbol mode. For years this has plagued users with icons that ricochet off places you weren't expecting, disappear on other pages, weirdly wrap up, and accidentally merge into folders at every step.

Years ago, Google's competing Android platform had developed sufficient (but far from perfect) solutions to many of these problems. Even Microsoft's Windows Phone, which had been defunct for five years (whose untimely death I still lament), had a more sensual start screen than today's iPhones.

Last year's iPadOS update introduced widgets for the home screen, a kind of pared-down, less flexible version of the same concept in Android. It was a welcome addition and directly addressed the information surface issue mentioned above. Even so, it felt like a half done and didn't come to iPhones – only iPads.

Widgets in iPadOS 13 from 2019. "src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/iPadOS-header-640x480.png "width =" 640 "height =" 480 "srcset = "https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/iPadOS-header-1280x960.png 2xEnlarge /. Widgets in iPadOS 13 from 2019.

Samuel Axon

This year, Apple finally brought a scalpel to the iPhone's home screen in a way it hasn't seen since the introduction of folders in iOS 4 a whole decade ago. This was achieved by expanding some of these ideas from the iPadOS 13 release last year and adapting them to the smaller screen of the iPhone.

Is iOS 14 getting the home screen from a company whose pitch is an ideal user experience to where it is needed? I'm afraid not. However, the iPhone home screen note may update from D to C or even B and that is a step forward.

Let's start with the fastest-seen new Home Screen feature, at least on the iPhone: widgets.

Widgets

Widgets were already available in another form – the Today view – in iOS 13. Now you can put them on any home screen page on your iPhone, and there are plenty of new features.

To edit and place widgets, long press the home screen to start editing the screen. From there you will see a + sign in the top left corner of the screen. Tap it to bring up a window where you can find and browse your available widgets.

This widget gallery has two views. The first time you visit you will find a preview of some suggested widgets. You can hold and drag these to place them on the home screen at their standard size, or tap them to go through a brief size selection dialog and then place them. You can also tap the search box and enter the name of the widget you want. Once it shows up in the search results, you can tap it to reveal some size options for the widget.

When you make a selection, the widget is placed on your home screen so that you are in edit mode and can move the widget where you want. You can also add widgets to the Today view you access like in iOS 13 by swiping far left to right from the home screen.

Again, there's another important step forward: you can create and customize stacks of up to 10 widgets. These stacks make the most of the space on your home screen by putting multiple widgets of your choice in one place. You can simply slide your finger vertically across the stack to switch between widgets.

Next up is the smart stack. This stack will automatically cycle through the available widgets “all day” to show you what you want to see most at specific times. For each batch there is a toggle option (called "Smart Rotate") that allows you to enable this smart sorting or not.

It's similar to the pre-existing machine-learning feature in iOS that shows you a handful of time-specific app suggestions at the top of the screen when you start a search. Like other widgets and stacks, the Smart Stack comes in multiple sizes. You can add multiple stacks (smart or otherwise) to any home screen page.

As with normal stacks, you can also customize which widgets are included in a smart stack, either via an edit box or by dragging widgets onto the stack on the home screen.

  • Let's go through some of the widgets made by Apple in iOS 14 on iPhone. First of all: the small and medium-sized versions of the weather app. You can customize the widget to choose which location to show the weather for.

    Samuel Axon

  • Here is the biggest weather widget that adds forecasts for the days ahead.

    Samuel Axon

  • Medium and small battery widgets. I found this widget particularly useful as it can track your clock or AirPods as well.

    Samuel Axon

  • The large widget provides more precise details.

    Samuel Axon

  • Here's every iteration of the clock widget that only shows time zones.

    Samuel Axon

  • And these are both sizes of the Files app, which only shows recently opened files.

    Samuel Axon

  • Likewise, Music Shows shows recently played songs. Medium and small widgets here.

    Samuel Axon

  • This is the largest size for the music widget.

    Samuel Axon

  • With Notes, you can either view recent notes in a folder (medium), a single note (small), or just a smaller widget for a single folder.

    Samuel Axon

  • The large widget gives you a preview of the contents of your notes.

    Samuel Axon

  • Stocks are exactly what you'd expect.

    Samuel Axon

  • The large stocks widget only shows stocks.

    Samuel Axon

  • If you use the TV app heavily, the widget isn't bad. You can resume recently watched programs with just one tap. It's a shame Netflix is ​​still not one of them.

    Samuel Axon

  • This is the largest variant.

    Samuel Axon

  • The fitness widget is nice when you're not wearing your Apple Watch. There is no big size for this one.

    Samuel Axon

  • There are a few options for Siri suggestions. From top to bottom: a medium widget for general suggestions, a small widget and suggested apps. Apple uses machine learning to predict what you will need at certain times.

    Samuel Axon

  • The widget for great suggestions.

    Samuel Axon

  • Screen Time is what you would expect if you are an avid user of this utility.

    Samuel Axon

  • The big screen time widget.

    Samuel Axon

  • This is the reminder widget (small and medium).

    Samuel Axon

  • The big reminder widget.

    Samuel Axon

  • The Podcasts widget shows your recent podcasts predictably.

    Samuel Axon

  • The larger version of the Podcasts widget shows newer podcasts.

    Samuel Axon

  • Here are the small and medium sized calendar widgets …

    Axon

  • … and the big ones.

    Samuel Axon

  • The photos widget isn't very useful. It just seems to choose a random photo from your entire library to show you. Tapping the widget takes you directly to the photo in the app.

    Samuel Axon

  • The big photos widget.

    Samuel Axon

The Maps widget is almost useless. You save a single tap for searches by being able to open the app directly in a search field. However, it is not a live map on the home screen. It's basically just a giant icon that shows your current location – as if there were doubts in most cases. The 2×2 version doesn't even give you the benefit of a quick search.

Apple has created its own widgets for a whole range of apps, from maps to photos to music to stocks. Some – like weather, notes, or a widget that shows the battery level of all Apple devices – are very useful. Others, such as B. Cards, have no obvious use case.

Ultimately, it's good to see that these options were introduced in this update. In the best examples, they solve iOS's problem of forcing you to constantly switch between apps to view information. However, none of the widgets that were available during the test offered much, if any, actual functionality.

However, it is not possible to make a final judgment on widgets in iOS until we have received assistance from third-party app developers.

Developer acceptance and creativity, as well as the flexibility and ease of use of the API, are largely responsible for how useful (or useless) these widgets will be. As with various other developer-accessible places in the operating system – notifications, Siri shortcuts, context menus for haptic touches – most will likely be pointless, but some could be a huge boon to users of certain apps.

In my experience so far, most of Apple's widgets aren't that useful, but the company has provided third party developers with the tools needed to create some really powerful things.

If you look at the track record of these other examples like notifications, it's a mixed bag. However, since this implementation has been similar to Android for years in some ways, developers who have worked on both platforms may need some prior knowledge and experience to get these widgets useful quickly. Under the hood, there are certainly differences between how Android and iOS widgets work.

When developers make extensive use of widgets, they address some common home screen complaints – but not all. Fortunately, Apple introduced another important feature – the App Library – to answer some other kinds of problems.

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