iOS 14 rewind review – a look back at the top features [Video]

With iOS 15 quickly approaching, I wanted to take some time to revisit my favorite iOS 14 features and examine how they’ve held up over time. Are there obvious areas for improvement? Watch our iOS 14 rewind review, as we take another look at the software that drives the iPhone, and be sure to subscribe to 9to5Mac on YouTube for more coverage.

Compact phone interface

The compact phone interface is something that I instantly fell in love with upon first trying it, and it remains one of my favorite iOS 14 features to this day. Incoming phone calls no longer steal focus from the current app or website that I’m viewing, which is a huge improvement over how iOS handled incoming phone calls prior to iOS 14.

With the compact phone interface, incoming calls are presented as a banner notification at the top of the screen. This design allows you to continue a current task, uninterrupted, while deciding how to handle the incoming call.

Long-term verdict: The compact phone interface is a highly useful feature, and I can’t believe went over a dozen iOS releases without it. That acknowledged, I sometimes feel like the compact phone interface and the iPhone’s proximity sensor aren’t on the same page, causing occasional issues with accidental touch input. Have you had a similar experience with the compact phone interface? Let me know in the comments.

Video: iOS 14 rewind review

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Choose default browser and default mail app

The ability to choose a default browser is great for those of you who like to use alternative browsers like Firefox, Microsoft Edge, DuckDuckGo, Brave, Opera, etc.

In addition to choosing a default browser, iOS 14 also allows users to set their preferred mail app. Like third-party browsers, there is no shortage of third-party mail clients for iOS. Some of the popular mail clients include Outlook, Gmail, Spark, Airmail, and Newton Mail.

Long-term verdict: Default app functionality was a little slow out of the gate, and there were issues with the selected apps reverting back to the stock Mail and Safari app after reboots. There was also an issue with “mailto” links not working properly for users that had their default browser set to Safari. Both of these issues eventually got fixed via an iOS update.

In future updates, I’d like to see default app functionality directly selectable via the Mail and Safari preferences, instead of having to visit the preferences of the app that you’d like to set as default. I’d also like to see Apple remove the confirmation dialogue whenever tapping mailto: links that take you to a third-party default mail app.

Those issues aside, the ability to set both default mail and browser apps is a feature that iOS users have been clamoring to have for years, and it’s finally possible in iOS 14.

App Clips

App Clips are lightweight, smaller portions of an app that are instantly available when you need them. Weighing in at 10MB or less, App Clips can be downloaded quickly to access parts of an app when you don’t already have the primary app downloaded. An App Clip may allow you to demo the first level of a game, or quickly access the menu and ordering interface while at your favorite restaurant.

You can access App Clips directly from a Safari app banner, via QR-style App Clip codes that can also incorporate an NFC tag, via links in the Messages app, and in Place Cards within the Maps app. App Clips also work with Apple Pay, Sign in with Apple, and feature a convenient link to download the full application.

Long-term verdict: App Clips are ideal for using while out an about, but the COVID-19 pandemic limited the feature’s visibility. Once things fully open back up, App Clips have the potential to increase in popularity.

Related video: iOS 14 top features

Picture in Picture

The addition of Picture in Picture is something that I’ve been wanting for years on iOS. Picture in Picture, which was previously only available on iPhone via a popular jailbreak tweak, was one of the main reasons why I always looked forward to jailbreaking my iPhone. Now available by default in iOS 14, Picture in Picture allows you to watch video content while simultaneously browsing the web, send text messages, etc.

Watching Spiderman while reading Twitter

Long-term verdict: In real world usage, Picture in Picture has been a bit of a disappointment for me, but the blame lies at the feet of the developers **cough** Google **cough** that refuse to support it. For example, YouTube TV, my go-to streaming television app, outright lacks support for Picture in Picture. Even worse, standard YouTube, while capable of using Picture in Picture by means of workarounds, doesn’t really play nice with the feature, either. Obviously this is not Apple’s fault, but Google has made the decision to limit or outright refuse to support Picture in Picture. At least companies like Netflix do it right.

Privacy enhancements

There are many privacy-centric enhancements featured in iOS 14, but the following three stand out to me the most:

Approximate location support

Instead of giving an app access to your exact location, users now have the option of establishing an approximate location. This feature protects your privacy by providing a wider location scope, while still placing you in the general area.

Only access selected photos

Instead of giving an app access to your entire photo library, you can now limit photo sharing to designated photos of your choosing.

App Privacy labels

The App Store’s App Privacy labels feature empowers users by providing deeper insights into how an app uses your personal data.