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13 Features in iOS 15 That Don’t Work on Older iPhones

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Some of the best new features in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 are exclusive to newer devices. You'll need an iPhone or iPad models manufactured in 2018 or later to enjoy everything this update has offer.

Some of these updated functions require underlying hardware support, so only devices with at least the A12 Bionic chip can use them. Here's why, and which functions won't come to all iPhone models.

Why Certain iOS 15 Features Need the A12 Bionic Chip

Some iOS 15 capabilities, like the immersive walking directions, require plenty of processing power. To deliver a certain level of user experience and smoothness, certain features require a specific Apple chip. Targeting a precise chip simplifies development and ensures a consistent user experience across various iPhones and iPads.

iOS 15 requires at least an iPhone XS to enjoy the features that are optimized for Apple's A12 Bionic chip or later. For reference, the following devices use the A12 Bionic chip:

  • iPhone XS series (2018)
  • Phone XR (2018)
  • iPad Pro (2018)
  • iPad 6 (2018)
  • iPad Air 3 (2019)
  • iPad mini 5 (2019)

If your particular iPhone or iPad was manufactured in 2018 or later, you should be ready to use specific iOS 15 capabilities. But what exactly are the iOS 15 features that only work on newer devices? Here's a list.

1. Apple Maps: Immersive AR-Based Walking Directions

Three iPhone screenshots showing immersive augmented reality walking directions in Apple Maps on iOS 15

Apple Maps on iOS 15 brings immersive walking instructions in augmented reality (AR). You just scan the buildings and infrastructure around you with your device's camera to get detailed walking directions, including narrow turns and crosswalks.

When traveling on foot with a compatible device, AR-based step-by-step navigation certainly helps you get to your destination faster.

2. Apple Maps: Interactive 3D Globe

Promotional graphics showing 3D globe view on Apple Maps in iOS 15

iOS 15's revamped Maps app has a rich, interactive 3D globe that you can zoom and spin in any direction to "discover the natural beauty of Earth." It's a neat way to discover new areas, but you'll need an iPhone XS or later to use Maps' new globe view.

3. Apple Maps: More Detailed City Maps

Detailed city maps on Apple Maps in iOS 15

Apple's mapping solution on iOS 15 provides far more detailed maps in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and London. They come complete with roads, trees, buildings, and elevation all displayed with more information than before.

On top of that, major landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge are now rendered as 3D objects. Detailed city maps only show up if you have the A12 Bionic chip or later.

4. Computer Vision: Live Text

Apple's demo of Live Text in iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey at WWDC2

Arguably the best new iOS 15 feature, Live Text is your real-time OCR scanner for copying text from images and pasting them elsewhere. It can detect text from web images, your own photos, and live video feed in the Camera app. This awesome function works in real-time on any compatible device as mentioned earlier.

5. Photos: Visual Lookup

In iOS 15's Photos app, you can pull up an image to look up details on any recognized objects and scenes. This works on items like books, breeds of pets, popular art and landmarks, and more.

6. FaceTime: Portrait Mode

iOS 15 FaceTime Portrait mode on iPhone

Similar to portrait photography in the Camera app, Portrait mode is now available during FaceTime video calls to blur the background and make your face the focus.

Portrait mode on FaceTime helps make you look your best while hiding any garish details in the background. But to use it, you'll need an iPhone or iPad from 2018 or newer.

7. FaceTime: Spatial Audio

FaceTime Grid View

Spatial audio, a technique that allows you to hear audio as if it's coming from various directions, is now used in FaceTime. This is to create what Apple describes as "more natural, comfortable, and lifelike" calls.

iOS 15 uses audio effects to spread out participant voices; this makes it seem like each person's audio is coming from their position on the screen.

8. Siri: On-Device Personalization

iOS 15's Siri can learn a lot about you, like topics your read about. It then uses this to create personalized experiences without sending anything to the cloud. For instance, the assistant learns the contacts you interact with most to provide useful suggestions on the fly.

Siri intelligence also improves your iPhone's auto-correct function by learning new words you type.

9. Siri: On-Device Speech Processing

iOS 15 brings on-device processing for Siri commands.

In iOS 14 and earlier, before Siri can understand you, it must upload the audio of your request to Apple's servers where it's analyzed, parsed, and turned into plain text. On iOS 15, this speech-to-text processing is handled by your device instead.

On-device processing makes Siri run faster and boosts your privacy compared to server-based speech recognition. On the downside, turning text into speech in real-time is expensive in terms of CPU power, so this is yet another iOS 15 feature needing an iPhone XS or newer.

10. Siri: Offline Support

Siri in iOS 15 can set timers and alarms, change settings, send messages, handle calls, and more—all without an internet connection. This will be useful if you often go without Wi-Fi in areas with poor mobile coverage.

11. Universal Control Between iPhone, iPad, and Mac

An iMac, MacBook, and iPad sit on a table with Apple's Universal Control logo in the background

With Universal Control, you can use your keyboard, mouse, and trackpad across Macs and iPads without having to configure anything. Using it on your iPad requires a model powered by A12 Bionic, meaning you need an iPad Pro, iPad Air 3, iPad 6, or iPad mini 5 or newer.

12. Wallet: Home, Hotel, Office, and Car Keys

Apple is aiming to replace physical wallets with its Wallet app. In iOS 15, it supports digital keys for HomeKit-compatible home, office, hotel, and car door locks. This makes it easy to seamlessly unlock your home, corporate office, hotel, and car doors.

The eligibility of these features varies by device and location. Support for digital keys in Wallet is limited to iPhone XS and later, and remains unavailable on iPad. Furthermore, Apple notes that device requirements for the feature may vary by hotel and workplace.

13. Weather: New Animated Backgrounds

The more aesthetically pleasing Weather app on iOS 15 includes motion backgrounds with thousands of variations that Apple says accurately represent the sun position, clouds, and precipitation. These animated backgrounds require the A12 Bionic chip or newer.

The revamped Weather app in iOS 15 on iPhone

Other iOS 15 Feature Limitations

Owning a compatible iPhone or iPad is not a guarantee you'll have access to each of the above features—iOS 15 feature availability also varies by region.

For instance, sharing Health data and blood glucose analysis are US-only features for the time being. Similarly, air quality indices in the Maps app are currently limited to the US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, and a few other places. Ditto for the next-hour precipitation notification, which currently only works in the US, UK, and Ireland.

A handy support document on Apple's website will refresh when the update arrives to reflect the availability of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 features.

Features like HomeKit Secure Video may require a paid iCloud plan to function.

You also won't be able to use iOS 15 capabilities like embedded Siri without buying a compatible smart home appliance. Also, having Siri announce time-sensitive notifications is limited to the second-generation AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max.

Device requirements for features like adding physical keys to the Wallet app may vary by hotel and workplace. On top of that, a handful of features won't be implemented until after iOS 15 becomes available for public consumption later in 2021, including these:

  • Hide My Email: Randomized email addresses are coming in an update later in 2021.
  • Physical keys in Wallet: Support for physical keys in Wallet is also due after the iOS 15 launch.
  • ID in Wallet: Adding driver's license and state IDs to Wallet will launch in late 2021.
  • Detailed city maps: Much more detailed maps are hitting CarPlay later in 2021.
  • App Privacy Report: A new section in Settings is arriving later via an iOS 15 update.

A Worthy Upgrade, Even on Older iPhones

Lastly, keep in mind that iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 are still in beta. At this point, features are subject to change and can do so from one beta release to the next.

A good example of this is Safari's disarrayed interface, with negative user feedback prompting Apple to update the confusing tab setup in the third beta.

With a few more betas in the pipeline before iOS 15 is ready to go live, expect additional feature tweaks and under-the-hood changes. iOS 15 is scheduled to launch publicly sometime later in 2021, most likely ahead of new iPhones in September.

Image Credits: Apple

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