In what may be the final feature releases of Apple’s non-Mac operating systems before the end of the year, the company today rolled out iOS 14.2, iPadOS 14.2, watchOS 7.1, HomePod Software 14.2, and tvOS 14.2. Although none of the new features are ground-breaking, many fill in small integration gaps in the overall Apple ecosystem.
Although we generally encourage caution when it comes to installing updates, you should plan to install the iOS, iPadOS, and watchOS updates soon because they address three serious security vulnerabilities that are being exploited in the wild. The HomePod Software and tvOS updates will install on their own in a bit; the only reason to install them manually is if you want their new features right away.
With a release just ahead of the new iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max, along with the HomePod mini, all of which became available to order on 6 November 2020, the new iOS 14.2 is packed with updated features. Most notable among them is the promised support for Intercom for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and CarPlay—at its launch in HomePod Software 14.1, Intercom worked only with HomePods (see “Apple Releases iOS 14.1, iPadOS 14.1, HomePod Software 14.1, and tvOS 14.0.2,” 20 October 2020).
To use Intercom on an iPhone, you must first enable it in the Home app. The Home app will prompt you to set it up when you next launch it (the first three screenshots below), so you can learn the necessary Siri command and set when Intercom notifications are delivered to the device you’re using. You can also adjust this setting (and avoid using certain HomePods) by tapping the Home icon in the upper-left corner, choosing Home Settings from the menu, and then tapping Intercom (the rightmost screenshot below).
Once everything is set up, you can ask Siri to “tell” or “Intercom” along with your message. If you give Siri a destination HomePod or other device, only that device will get the message; otherwise, it will be broadcast to all devices in the “home.” You can also tap the new Announce icon in the upper-right corner of the Home app. You’ll be prompted to record your message. Tap Done when you’re finished.
Other features in iOS 14.2 include:
- Window dressing: iOS 14.2 includes over 100 new emojis, including new animals, ninjas, food, and faces, and it adds eight new wallpapers in both Light and Dark Mode variants. You can find them in Settings > Wallpaper > Choose a New Wallpaper.
- Loud headphone alerts: iOS 14.2 alerts you if your headphones are too loud and might damage your hearing. You can find this setting in Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Headphone Safety. There are two settings: one for Headphone Notifications and another for Reduce Loud Sounds, which analyzes headphone output and reduces any sounds over a decibel level you specify.
- People recognition in Magnifier: The Magnifier feature can use the LiDAR sensor in the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max to detect nearby people and report how far away they are. Steven Aquino explained the utility of the feature to blind and low-vision users in Forbes. To use Magnifier in iOS 14, you first need to enable it in Settings > Accessibility > Magnifier. Previously, you had to access it from an Accessibility Shortcut, but a Magnifier app now appears in the App Library. (See “iOS 14’s App Library: The FAQ,” 9 September 2020.)
- Improved HomePod/Apple TV audio: We’re not sure why this is in the iOS 14.2 notes, but if you connect a HomePod to an Apple TV, you can now get surround and Dolby Atmos audio output, which should be a substantial improvement.
- iPhone 12 Leather Sleeve with MagSafe support: The update adds support for this upcoming case from Apple, though we’re not entirely sure what it entails.
- Optimized AirPods charging: As it has done with the iPhone and Apple Watch, Apple has tweaked AirPods charging to lengthen the lifespan of the battery. (We presume iOS 14.2 includes a firmware update for the AirPods.)
- COVID exposure notifications statistics: You can elect to provide these exposure notifications to local public health authorities, without exposing your personal information, along with the fact (but not the location) that you’ve traveled outside your active region in the last 14 days.
The iOS 14.2 update also fixes a number of issues that could:
- Throw apps out of order on the Home screen dock
- Black out the Camera viewfinder when launched
- Make the Lock screen passcode keyboard miss touches
- Cause Reminders to default to past times
- Make the Photos widget fail to display content
- Have the Weather widget display Celsius even when set to Fahrenheit
- Cause the next-hour precipitation chart in Weather to be wrong
- Let Voice Memos recording be interrupted by incoming calls
- Black out the screen during Netflix video playback
- Cause Apple Cash payments to fail when invoked through Siri
- Crash the Watch app
- Prevent Workout GPS routes and Health data from syncing between iPhones and Apple Watches
- Show Not Playing in the CarPlay Dashboard even when audio is playing
- Keep devices from charging wirelessly
- Disable Exposure Notifications when restoring an iPhone from backup or using iPhone Migration to set up a new iPhone
The iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 updates share 24 CVE entries detailing security fixes, three of which are being exploited in the wild.
You can download the iOS update, which weighs in at 1.4 GB on an iPhone 11 Pro, in Settings > General > Software Update, through the Finder in macOS 10.15 Catalina, or using iTunes in earlier versions of macOS.
As usual, iPadOS 14.2 gets a subset of the changes in iOS 14.2, except for two camera-related improvements aimed solely at the recently released fourth-generation iPad Air.
- Scene Detection in the Camera app uses intelligent image recognition to identify objects within a scene and automatically improves the photo.
- Auto FPS in the Camera app automatically reduces the frame rate when recording video to improve low light capture and optimize file size.
These improvements fall squarely into the “Huh, that’s nice” category, although we suspect it will be impossible to know when they’re in play—photos and videos should just be a little better.
Although the change list for watchOS 7.1 is short, there are a couple of bug fixes that may be particularly welcome. In terms of features, there’s only one that’s available to everyone: the option to be notified when your headphone audio could impact your hearing. Sadly, it’s not your mother yelling at you to “Turn that music down!” Plus, Apple Watch users in the Republic of Korea and Russia gain support for the ECG app and irregular heart rhythm notifications.
More interesting are the two bugs that Apple says it fixed. One resolves an issue that prevented some users from unlocking a Mac using the Apple Watch, something that’s particularly frustrating once you’ve become used to your Mac unlocking automatically. The other addresses a problem that made the screen dark on a wrist raise for some Apple Watch Series 6 users.
watchOS 7.1 is a 371 MB download for an Apple Watch Series 4. To install the watchOS 7.1 update, open the Watch app on your iPhone and go to My Watch > General > Software Update. Remember that the watch must be on its charger and charged to at least 50%
Unusually, a tvOS update has actual new features that merit a mention in release notes. tvOS 14.2 lists two: HomePod home theater and support for the Apple One bundle of services (see “Apple Subscriptions Expand with Apple Fitness+, Apple One Bundles,” 15 September 2020).
For those for whom an Apple TV 4K is a significant part of your home theater system, the HomePod home theater support will let you connect one or two HomePods to the Apple TV 4K to get stereo, surround sound, and Dolby Atmos audio. All you’ll have to do is put your updated HomePod (or a HomePod stereo pair) in the same HomeKit room as your Apple TV using the Home app in iOS 14.2 or iPadOS 14.2. (The feature doesn’t support the Apple TV HD or other AirPlay-2 enabled speakers.)
To do that, open the Home app, enter settings for both the Apple TV 4K and the HomePod and make sure the room settings are identical. Otherwise, it won’t work correctly, even if they’re in the same physical room. The second we added the HomePod to the same HomeKit room as the Apple TV 4K, we were asked if we wanted to use the HomePod as the default audio output. You can change this later on the Apple TV in Settings > Video and Audio > Default Audio Output.
It also appears that both the Apple TV and HomePod must be in the same HomeKit room for Dolby Atmos to work. In our testing, there was a notable improvement in audio quality once we did so.
To install the tvOS 14.2 update, go to Settings > System > Software Update, or just let it install on its own if you’re not interested in HomePod home theater or Apple One.