Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.
While new iPhones may be a ways down the road, thanks to pandemic-related delays, Apple still has a fresh version of its iPhone operating system for you to download.
The company is rolling out iOS 14, along with watchOS 7, as part of its fall product launch that began Tuesday with the announcements of a pair of new Apple Watches, iPads, an online fitness subscription and bundling options for existing services like Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade.
Along with a fresh look, the new iPhone operating system includes a handful of new features designed to declutter your growing app collection, while also better protecting your digital privacy and improving the company’s own maps and messaging applications.
The operating systems for both the Apple Watch and for iPads are getting updates, too. The new watch OS works with devices as old as the Apple Watch Series 3, but some features may not work with all models. The iPad update will work with models dating back to the iPad Air 2.
Here are tips for updating your iPhone to iOS 14, and a rundown of its most important new features.
First, Back Up Your Phone
Updates don’t always go perfectly, which is why it’s smart to back up your phone’s data before switching to iOS 14. If your data is deleted accidentally, you’ll be able to restore it from the backup.
You can back up your phone to the cloud or to your computer’s hard drive. Just make sure you have enough storage. When you sign up for iCloud, Apple gives you just 5GB of storage free. Most people have far more than that stored on their iPhones. If you need more space, you’re going to have to pay a little extra. For example, 50GB of storage costs 99 cents per month.
Ideally, you’ve set your phone to back up automatically on a regular basis. In addition to making the process a little easier when you want to update the OS, it also will keep you from losing all of your favorite photos and other files if your phone is lost or destroyed.
To see when your phone was last backed up to iCloud go to Settings > your Apple ID > iCloud > iCloud Backup. Once you’re there, you’ll have the option to “Back Up Now.” Go ahead and do that.
Then Go to Settings
Once the phone is backed up, tap the Settings icon > General> Software Update (the second item from the top). You’ll probably see a notification that an update is ready. If not, select Software Update anyway and your phone will search for it. Then just download and install it. This could take several minutes.
And don’t worry if you don’t see the iOS 14 update right away. Apple rolls these updates out in stages. Not everyone gets them at the same time.
If your phone battery isn’t fully charged, plug it in before you start. Upgrading takes a lot of juice. You’ll also need a few gigabytes of free storage to run the update, so start deleting stuff now if you need to.
According to Apple, iOS 14 is compatible with every iPhone dating back to the 6s. But smartphones have advanced quite a bit in the five years since that phone debuted. If you have an iPhone 6s, Apple says it may not have the horsepower to run every advanced feature.
What’s New in iOS 14
More organized look. It’s easy to let your homescreen get cluttered with way too many apps, making the ones you do use frequently hard to find. Apple’s new App Library feature will automatically organize them for you, shrinking what once were pages of apps into one screen.
Apps you’re most likely to use next will appear at the top, along with a grouping of your most frequently used apps, and any you recently downloaded.
Apple also has redesigned widgets. They’ll contain more information and be easier to access. You can pin them on any home screen, or view them in a “Smart Stack” that automatically appears at a certain time of day, or when you’re in a certain location. You’ll also be able to choose how big you want them to be.
Picture in picture. The ability to keep watching a video or stay on a FaceTime call while checking your email or texting someone at the same time should delight the multitaskers of the world. You’ll have the option of playing the video in a small window on your screen, or just running the audio in the background.
Smarter messaging. You’ll be able to pin your most important conversations to the top of your screen. And, when responding to group messages, you’ll be able to create conversation threads with inline replies. You’ll also be able to tag specific people in the conversation to make sure they see your message.
Looking for more Memoji fun? Apple’s adding new hair and headwear styles, as well as face-covering and age options.
Improved privacy. Later this year, Apple says, App Store product pages will feature easy-to-read summaries of each app’s privacy practices in order to give you a better idea about what you’re giving up if you download them.
Apple also is going to help you switch existing online accounts that you’re currently logging into with another service, such as Facebook or Google, to the option Apple rolled out last year. The company says its log-in option does more to protect your privacy.
Better maps. You’ll have the option to set your maps up for a cycling experience. They’ll take into account both bike paths and roads when planning your route, as well as warn you of big hills and stairs along the way.
The new maps app also includes electric-vehicle routing that will help you find compatible charging stations.
Conversation translation. Apple’s new Translation app will automatically detect which of 11 languages are being spoken and provide a real-time translation. Other devices have similar capabilities, but what makes Apple unique is that the translation takes place on the device itself, not on a cloud server. That means you don’t have to worry about your private conversations being sent to the cloud for processing.
More from Consumer Reports:
Top pick tires for 2016
Best used cars for $25,000 and less
7 best mattresses for couples
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2020, Consumer Reports, Inc.