By | November 14, 2023
Apple's iOS 18 Plans |  Tim Cook speaks in Apple Park

Anyone reading a couple of recent reports about Apple’s iOS 18 plans could be forgiven for feeling a bit confused.

The first said the company had paused all development of new features in iOS 18, macOS 15 and watchOS 11 to focus on bug fixes. The other said Apple intends iOS 18 to be its biggest update in years…

Snow Leopard suggestion

Some read the first bit to mean that iOS 18 would be a “Snow Leopard” update — a reference to the macOS update that was focused more on bug fixes and improvements than flashy new features.

iOS 18 could therefore be an update similar to the one many experienced with Snow Leopard, which contained virtually the same features as the Leopard version, but with bug fixes and performance improvements.

It was a popular analogy.

Mark said Snow Leopard! That’s a win in my book

The gourmet himself was quick to point out that he had said no such thing.

The probable reality of a week’s break

Some also got the impression that this was an “all hands on deck, stop whatever you’re working on and come help us fix the iOS 18 code.” That thought never made sense.

A week’s break is an incredibly short amount of time, and the idea that all engineers in the company were suddenly pulled from different teams to work on major fixes in core areas of the code was even less plausible. It would take at least as long, if not longer, just to get started with someone else’s code.

The reality was therefore almost certainly this…

It had been noted that much of the recent code was more buggy than usual. Not dramatically so otherwise the hiatus would have been longer than a week, but enough for Apple to conclude that something needed to be done to prevent the trend from continuing.

What engineers were asked to do was spend a week on theirs own code, or their own team, to focus solely on identifying and fixing bugs. Once that was done, they would—hopefully, with a little more care—continue their existing work.

While Gurman’s report suggested that this might result in a little less time available at the end of iOS 18 development, it probably doesn’t even mean that much. Bugs have to be fixed at some point, and the earlier it’s done in the development cycle, the less chance that fixing one bug will break something else.

Apple’s “ambitious” iOS 18 plans

Which brings us to the second report. Here’s what Gurman had to say:

The iOS update must also be extra impressive as the iPhone 16’s hardware won’t see any major advancements next year (…)

Apple also faces a more daunting task with its 2024 software. After a few years of modest updates to iOS, the next version of iPhone and iPad software could be relatively groundbreaking.

Internally, Apple’s top management has described its upcoming operating systems as “ambitious and compelling,” with major new features and designs.

This seems very plausible for three reasons.

It’s time

First, because Apple is well ahead with a major new update to iOS. iOS 14 brought us home screen widgets, which was the first completely new look at the icon-based look we’ve had since, well, the launch of the iPhone. But since then?

Perhaps Does Focus Mode count as a significant update in iOS 15? Maybe Live Text – although that had been available in third-party apps for some time. Beyond that, there were quite a few very nice improvements – among which I’d highlight dragging and dropping content between apps, unlimited dictation, and system-wide translation – but I’m not sure any of them really count as a new headline.

iOS 16? If anything was a Snow Leopard update, this was it. I’m sure a dozen or so people who use Freeform were happy. The customizable lock screen was beautiful. The new mix-and-match dictation system was probably the highlight for me. But tent pole function? Umm…

iOS 17? I mean, interactive widgets and standby mode are good. Autocorrect got a major upgrade. But headlines? Not so much.

So, yes, iOS 18 is indeed due for a headline or two.

Apple has to react to dramatic AI development at some point

I’ve defended Apple’s AI record before. I’ve pointed out that Apple has included significant AI features in iPhones for many years.

Whatever we may think of Siri these days, it was Apple that made the intelligent assistant a mainstream product back in 2011, with the launch of the iPhone 4S just over a decade ago.

Apple has been at the forefront of AI-powered computer photography features, starting with Portrait mode in the iPhone 7 Plus in 2016. (In reality, the company has been using AI photography for longer than this for general performance, but this was the first headline feature.)

Most of the company’s AI capabilities since then have been focused on photography. That development isn’t particularly flashy, but it arguably makes a huge difference to the greatest number of people by seamlessly embedding AI capabilities into one of the most important things we do on a daily basis: capturing memories.

But … it is undeniable that AI capabilities have made enormous strides since then in two areas in particular.

ChatGPT and other major language models aren’t as smart as they seem—and it would be dangerous for Apple to take Siri too quickly down that path—but at the same time, that kind of ability can’t be ignored. It has huge potential for HomeKit, for example.

Generative image processing – as seen in things like Midjourney, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion and Photoshop tools – is absolutely huge. You wouldn’t know it, but many of the pictures you’ve seen 9to5Mac bits use generative AI to stretch the backgrounds to make them fit our 2:1 aspect ratio. This isn’t just fun; it is a practical everyday tool for many of us.

Which brings us back to… it’s time

So however Apple may choose to use these new types of features, it will have to at some point, and iOS 18 feels like time.

Of course, Apple will be Apple – that is, it will do what it wants, and most of us will wait for new features rather than be tempted to abandon the ecosystem. Apple isn’t doomed if iOS 18 doesn’t turn out to be the big development we hope it will be. But that would be… disappointing.

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Image: Apple

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