For the first time since the Apple Watch was released in 2015, Apple will allow the general public to beta test the latest watchOS operating system over the summer, months ahead of its official release. But for now, Apple is opening the public beta gates to three other operating systems — iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14 — to let iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV users play with their new features, with macOS 11 and watchOS 7 temporarily remaining in the “coming soon” camp.
Discussed in more detail within our hands-on guide, iOS 14 includes some of the most significant Home screen changes in the history of Apple’s iPhone platform, updating the classic icon grid with the ability to insert semi-customizable widgets that occupy the space of four, eight, or sixteen app icons. The same widgets are also available in iPadOS 14 for Apple’s tablets, but are not as of yet capable of being integrated directly into the icon grid.
Both OSes also include significant improvements to the Messages app, refinements to the Safari browser, and additional Maps features, including support for bike transportation planning. iPads now get more common access to sidebars, enabling developers to offer slide-out lists of additional app screens rather than simple tab-like buttons, while Apple Pencil users can now use Scribble, an OS-level system with handwriting recognition and far better control over written or drawn input.
tvOS 14 is a comparatively smaller update, focused on Picture in Picture functionality for a wider array of apps, multiuser support for gaming, and HomeKit surveillance camera integration for quick checks outside or inside the house. Apple TV 4K users also gain 4K AirPlay video sharing support from iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 devices and the ability to play back YouTube videos in 4K.
Also known as Big Sur, macOS 11 includes a major overhaul of the Mac’s Finder, including newly shaded icons, redesigned windows, and a collection of ideas — such as Control Center — borrowed from earlier iOS and iPadOS releases. watchOS 7 adds a new tachymeter-based watch face, a hand washing timer, and improvements to the prior Workouts app, now renamed Fitness. It also includes basic sleep tracking functionality, as well as a reminder to recharge the depleted watch at some point after you wake up.
The new iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS 14 public betas are available now on beta.apple.com for free after registration with Apple. They appear to be based on the same developer beta code that was released this Monday as “beta 2,” which has proved generally stable, though users may experience issues with iPhone FaceTime calling and Messages synchronization, among other hiccups. Apps that ran properly on the last version of Apple’s device-specific operating systems generally work fine in the betas, but Mac users may experience non-trivial Safari problems, as well as finding that certain apps terminate immediately rather than loading properly.