The initial iOS 14.4 beta includes a new feature that was first unveiled at the Apple iPhone 12 event. The new feature is specifically for the HomePod mini and its U1 Ultra Wideband chip, which enables spatial knowledge. An iPhone with a U1 chip can connect to Apple’s scaled-down smart speaker on iOS 14.4 in a new way. Check out the hands-on overview as we explore the updated Handoff experience and other iOS 14.4 beta versions and features.
What’s new in iOS 14.4 beta?
A new handover experience for the HomePod mini
The biggest new change, of course, is the new Handoff experience that comes with the HomePod mini. Unlike the full-size HomePod available a few years ago, the new HomePod mini is equipped with new technology, such as the Apple U1 Ultra Wideband chip. The U1 chip allows for spatial awareness, so an iPhone with this chip can benefit from richer interactions nearby with other products equipped with the U1 chip, such as the HomePod mini.
Apple has decided to elevate the Handoff experience, which previously relied on the precise placement of the iPhone near the HomePod. Compared to the logical interaction of the old method, the HomePod mini and iPhone 11/12, which run the latest iOS 14.4 betas, are able to create intuitive spatial interactions with each other.
Video: iOS 14.4 Changes and Features
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With previous Handoff interaction, users can simply hold their iPhone near the top of the HomePod to transfer audio or phone calls to or from the device. A small banner appears at the top of the iPhone screen to indicate that the Handoff was successful. Handoff is no longer tied to a small banner ad notification on top of the iPhone, but now users can enjoy the full card interface that appears when the iPhone gets closer to the HomePod mini.
How the new Handoff experience works
If a media player moves iPhone closer to the HomePod mini, you will feel that the device is running Taptic Engine. At first, the power feedback is fine, but as you approach your iPhone to the HomePod mini, the feedback speeds up. Along with force feedback, we also use visual sense. When it detects the proximity of an iPhone, the HomePod mini LED lights up. Moving closer, the intensity of the light increases.
At the end of iPhone, a visual notification appears in the form of a banner ad. The banner will display the name and location of the HomePod mini, as well as the HomePod glyph, thumbnail album art, artist, and song title.
Users have the option to simply tap the banner to manually call up the full-size Handoff interface, or move the iPhone closer to the HomePod mini, which automatically opens the Handoff interface. The new Handoff experience works with the Music app and other types of media sources such as YouTube. Phone calls can also be transferred with the new and improved experience.
The updated Handoff interface provides large album graphics, transport controls, volume controls and an AirPlay button to redirect audio. Tap the album art to open the iPhone audio source.
Music can be transferred in both directions – from the HomePod mini to the iPhone, or from the iPhone to the HomePod mini. THE Transfer to iPhone obsession Transfer from iPhone button appears at the top of the Handoff interface, but I have hit or missed the functionality so far.
The updated U1-compatible Handoff experience is still early, but promising. More importantly, it’s one of the first user features to take advantage of the U1 chip found in today’s iPhones. Although Apple said in a keynote speech on its iPhone 12 that the new Handoff experience will reach customers by the end of the year, it is unlikely that it will be able to deliver on that promise, given that this is only the first iOS 14.4 beta. However, it will be fun to watch this feature increase in the next few 14.4 beta versions.
Shortcuts application Set the Wallpaper action updates
A. Return Wallpaper setting operations in the Keyboard Shortcuts app were one of my favorite new features in iOS 14.3, and Apple not only kept it around in iOS 14.4, but is also actively improving it. In iOS 14.4 beta, users can now switch Perspective zoom for wallpaper with a handy on / off switch. This option allows users to enable or disable the parallax effect that appears on the wallpaper set by the Shortcuts.
VoiceOver Direct Touch applications
Finally, VoiceOver got a new Direct Touch Apps feature that allows VoiceOver users to directly control an app without the need for more interaction. A similar feature already exists for typing directly on the keyboard within applications, but it seems you need to go one step further and give VoiceOver users more flexibility within selected applications.
From my short hands-on time with Direct Touch Apps, it doesn’t seem like the service is completely baked, as Settings → Accessibility → VoiceOver → Rotor Operations → Direct Touch app app selection doesn’t catch you. As more betas appear, we’ll follow more details.
The new Handoff experience is a prominent feature in the original iOS 14.4 beta. We hope that more Apple devices will start using the U1 Ultra Wideband chip because it will allow such interesting new features. What do you think?
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