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iOS 15 is here: Everything to know before you update your iPhone

Apple's new software is now available to download.

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Apple will let you upload digital ID cards to the Wallet app in iOS 15 -- eventually.

Apple/Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET
This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple.

Apple's iOS 15 has arrived. After Apple's iPhone 13 event last week, the tech giant revealed that iOS 15 would be generally available for free download on Monday, alongside iPadOS 15. At the event, we also saw four iPhone 13 models, new iPads and the Apple Watch Series 7 all debuted. 

Not to be confused with last week's release of iOS 14.8, which addressed a security issue, iOS 15 brings new features to several generations of the iPhone.

We got a first look at Apple's iOS 15 update at the company's virtual Worldwide Developers Conference in June, followed by a developer beta and then a public beta. (Here's how to download iOS 15 now, why you might want to wait to download iOS 15, and how to check if your phone can run iOS 15.) 

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While we saw a lot of new features arrive this spring and summer with iOS 14.5, iOS 14.6 and iOS 14.7, including being able to unlock your iPhone with Face ID while wearing a mask, stop apps from tracking you for advertising purposes and choose from four Siri voices, iOS 15 adds even more. New iOS 15 features include the ability to start FaceTime calls with Android userseasier sharing in iMessage and better directions in Maps. Keep reading for everything we've learned about iOS 15 so far, including when it will be generally released, how to download it and some of the biggest new features. 

iOS 15 release date: Sept. 20

Apple initially revealed iOS 15 at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference on June 7, as is typical. The new OS was first available for developers to test and became available to download as a public beta on June 30. 

At the iPhone 13 event on Sept. 14, Apple announced that iOS 15 would be generally available for free download on Sept. 20. 

This follows Apple's typical iOS release pattern, with the software typically arriving within a week of an iPhone launch event. 

And if you've been holding onto the same iPhone since 2015 or later, you will likely be eligible to receive iOS 15. Apple's iOS 15 is available on the iPhone 6S and every iPhone onward.

iOS 15 new features

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Apple's iOS 15 gets a bunch of new features.

Apple

Here are a few of the key new features that come with iOS 15, unveiled at WWDC 2021. (And here's an overview of all of the new features in iOS 15.)

FaceTime upgrades: Spatial audio, support for Android and Windows

FaceTime will offer spatial audio to make people's voices appear to come from their position on the screen, making your video chats feel more natural and lifelike. FaceTime will also start to look more like Zoom, allowing you to see all participants in a grid view, schedule calls and share links to calls that can be accessed via browser on Google Android and Microsoft Windows devices.

Read more: Fun FaceTime date idea: Try Apple's new SharePlay feature in iOS 15

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iMessage sharing features

iOS 15 adds some new iMessage sharing features for photos, news articles and playlists. When a friend sends you multiple photos over iMessage, they'll appear in a dynamic collage formation that allows you to swipe through them or tap through to view the whole bunch in your photos app. If you want to access the same photos later, you'll find them stored in a new Shared with You folder, as well as mixed in with your own featured photos and memories. You'll also find news articles and playlists shared through iMessage in new Shared with You tabs in your News and Apple Music apps. 

Apple Maps update: 3D street data, AR walking directions and weather warnings

Apple Maps gets an upgrade with more elevation data, road colors and driving directions, rich labels, 3D landmarks and improved night mode. In terms of public transportation, you can also pin nearby public transit stops and station information to your iPhone and Apple Watch devices, and receive automatic updates and notifications as you ride and approach your stop. When traveling on foot, a new augmented reality feature lets you scan nearby buildings in the area with the iPhone's camera to determine their precise position for more accurate walking directions, which are also presented in augmented reality.

Maps also could factor weather warnings into suggested routes in iOS 15. Redditor ChrisSDreiling, who spotted the update in iOS 15 beta 3, says Maps will let you know if there are flash floods on your journey, and suggest alternate routes to avoid the extreme weather. Although other types of weather alerts weren't mentioned in ChrisSDreiling's post, it will be interesting to see if more weather warnings will be added before the iOS 15 general release. 

Facial recognition selfies to validate digital ID cards in the Wallet app

At WWDC this spring, Apple announced that it will add ID card support for the Wallet app in iOS 15, allowing you to carry digital versions of government-issued identification cards like your driver's license on your iPhone. The ID feature isn't in the initial release of iOS 15 and it's still unclear how exactly it will work. (It will also only be for US users.) According to code uncovered by 9to5Mac in the iOS 15 beta 4 for developers, Apple could be using facial recognition selfies to validate your digital ID cards when adding them to your wallet. Some banking apps already use this selfie validation feature to authenticate users when logging on with new devices. 

How do you download iOS 15?

Now that iOS 15 is generally available, you likely got a notification from Apple letting you know you can update. Or you can do it manually, by going to the Settings app > General > Software Update and under the Also Available section, tap Upgrade to iOS 15

If you had already installed the iOS 15 beta on your phone, you can uninstall it before downloading the final version of the OS. Here's why you might want to wait before installing the full release of iOS 15.

For more, here's everything to know about the iPhone 13. You can also take a look at the cool new features for WatchOS 8, the best things about MacOS Monterey and check if your computer is compatible with the new MacOS.