By Nathalie Voit

Apple released iOS 15 on Monday, its latest software update for iPhones. iOS 15 introduces some major new features to iPhones, including the ability to make FaceTime calls to Windows and Android users, a new feature called “Focus,” and enhanced privacy protections.

The software update is compatible with all iOS 14-capable devices. The new upgrade can be downloaded on older iPhones back to the iPhone 6S, the first iPhone launched in 2015.

While Apple regularly introduces updates to its iPhones throughout the year, the annual software update is the most comprehensive, introducing the most extensive changes and add-ons. Some of the most impressive features of the new software are the powerful new privacy tools meant to help users better control and monitor third-party use of their data.

For example, in the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection prevents senders from using invisible pixels to gather sensitive information about users. The new feature makes it harder for senders to know when a user has opened an email and masks users’ IP addresses to prevent cross-site tracking from marketers.

Similarly, new tools like the App Privacy Report enable users to limit how much data is shared with each app. The report reveals how often an app has accessed personal data over the last seven days, including data from location, photos, camera, microphone, and contacts (domains typically granted third-party access via user permission).

Users can limit the data an app tracks in Settings. The report also reveals all third-party domains contacted by an app, enabling users to figure out who else may have access to their data.

Yet another privacy-related addition is the ability of Siri to process data with on-device speech recognition, meaning users’ audio requests no longer must be sent to an undisclosed data center for processing. According to Apple, the new installment confronts “one of the biggest privacy concerns for voice assistants, which is unwanted audio recording.” The thoroughly private experience makes for a smoother and faster Siri since requests can now be processed without an internet connection.

The new features arrive amid Apple’s ongoing efforts to market itself as a leader in the privacy sphere.

“Privacy has been central to our work at Apple from the very beginning,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. “Every year, we push ourselves to develop new technology to help users take more control of their data and make informed decisions about whom they share it with. This year’s updates include innovative features that give users deeper insights and more granular control than ever before.”

Apple is currently developing new device features targeting an array of mental health conditions like depression and cognitive decline. According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple has partnered with researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, and pharmaceutical firm Biogen to test whether sensor data that encompasses physical activity, sleep patterns, mobility, typing metrics, facial expressions, and more can be used to “tease out digital signals associated with the target conditions so that algorithms can be created to detect them reliably” in users.

The multinational technology giant hopes the project will become the basis of a successful launch into the booming digital health market.