Big changes are coming to your iPhone this fall — here's how you can test them out now

Key Points
  • Apple released the public beta version for iOS 15 on Wednesday.
  • Users can now try out the new iPhone software that will be officially released in the fall. But it will be buggy, like all beta software, so proceed with caution.
  • Big changes in iOS 15 include FaceTime improvements, artificial intelligence that can decipher photos, and a feature that limits distracting notifications.

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Apple iOS 15

Apple released the public beta for iOS 15 on Wednesday, allowing iPhone owners to try out the new software if they have a device that came out in 2015 or later.

The public beta is a test version of the software that will come out this fall alongside new iPhone models. Like all pre-release software, it will have bugs, so users should be cautious about installing it on a critical device. It's best for technology enthusiasts who want to see what's coming before the general public and are willing to help Apple identify problems.

"The iOS 15 public beta is still in development, which means some applications and services may not work as expected and their data may not be backwards compatible. Be sure to back up your iOS device with iTunes before installing the software," Apple warns on its website.

Apple unveiled iOS 15 in June at its annual WWDC conference. Software engineers with a paid developer's account were able to install the beta software shortly afterwards.

The public beta version released on Wednesday no longer requires a developer account and is intended to get the public's help squashing bugs before an official release. Apple will release the official, final version of iOS 15 for everyone in the fall.

This year, iOS 15 has several major improvements, especially for its videoconferencing service, FaceTime, as Apple bolsters the social features on its platform.

Some of the big changes include:

  • FaceTime SharePlay allows users to watch shows on Disney+ or other supported apps over videoconferencing.
  • FaceTime links for Android and Windows users. Now iPhone users can FaceTime with people who don't have an Apple product by sending them a link.
  • iMessage improvements. Apple's text messaging app will be able to create a list called "Shared With You" that collects photos, news stories, and songs people text you and put them in one place to review later.
  • Artificial intelligence that can decipher photos. iOS 15 can now use machine learning running on the iPhone's processor that can identify animals, landmarks, plants, and objects inside photos. It also can search for text inside photos.
Apple's new Focus feature in iOS 15
Todd Haselton | CNBC
  • Limit notifications. A new feature called "Focus" will only allow notifications from specific, approved apps and people during work, sleep, or personal time. Other iPhone users texting after hours will see a message that says that notifications have been silenced, although for emergencies they can push the message through anyway.
  • App privacy. iOS 15 includes a new privacy report that tells you how often an app access the device's microphone, location, or phones home to a server.

How to install the iOS 15 public beta on your iPhone

If you're hungry to see and test these and other changes now, installing the public beta is easy, but not as easy as a typical iPhone software update.

  • Visit Apple's beta software site on your iPhone and sign up or sign in using your Apple account.
  • Sign up by selecting "enroll your devices" and agree to Apple's terms.
  • Pick the software you want to try out — Apple also released a public beta version for iPads.
  • Click the button that says "Download profile." Your phone will warn that it's trying to download a configuration profile. Approve it.
  • Go to Settings and click on the "Profile Downloaded" section at the top of the app to download and restart your phone.
Here are the biggest new iPhone features Apple announced Monday
Here are the biggest new iPhone features Apple announced Monday