Anyone reading a couple of recent reports on Apple’s iOS 18 plans might be forgiven for feeling a certain amount of confusion.
The first said that the company had paused all development of new features in iOS 18, macOS 15, and watchOS 11 in order to focus on bug fixes. The second said that Apple intends iOS 18 to be its biggest update for years …
The Snow Leopard suggestions
Some read the first piece to that this meant iOS 18 would be a “Snow Leopard” update – a reference to the macOS update which was focused more on bug fixes and refinements than flashy new features.
iOS 18, therefore, could be an update similar to the one that many experienced with Snow Leopard, which included practically 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
Gurman himself was quick to point out that he hadn’t said any such thing.
The likely reality of the one-week pause
Some also got the impression that this was an “all hands on deck, stop whatever you are working on and come help us fix the core iOS 18 code.” That idea never made sense.
A one-week pause is an incredibly short time, and the idea that every engineer in the company was suddenly being pulled in from disparate teams to work on big fixes in core areas of the code was even less plausible. It would take at least that long, if not longer, just to get up to speed with someone else’s code.
The reality, then, was almost certainly this …
It had been noted that a lot of recent code was more buggy than usual. Not dramatically so, else the pause would have been for 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 is to spend a week on their own code, or that of their own team, to focus purely 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 could result in a bit less time available at the tail-end of iOS 18 development, it probably doesn’t even mean that much. Bugs have to be fixed at some point, and the earlier that is done in the development cycle, the lower the risk 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 also needs to be extra-impressive because the iPhone 16’s hardware won’t have any major advances next year […]
Apple also faces a more daunting task with its 2024 software. After a few years of modestly sized updates to iOS, the next version of the iPhone and iPad software could be relatively groundbreaking.
Internally, Apple’s senior management has described its upcoming operating systems as “ambitious and compelling,” with major new features and designs.
This seems very credible, for three reasons.
First, because Apple is way overdue a major new update to iOS. iOS 14 gave us Home Screen widgets, which was the first completely new look to the icon-based look which we’ve had from, well, the launch of the iPhone. But since then?
Maybe focus mode counts as a significant update in iOS 15? Perhaps Live Text – though that had been available in third-party apps for some time. Beyond that, there were quite a few very nice enhancements – of 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 headline new feature.
iOS 16? If anything was a Snow Leopard update, this was it. I’m sure the dozen or so people who use Freeform were happy. Customizable Lock Screen was pretty. The new mix-and-match dictation system was probably the high point for me. But tent-pole feature? Umm …
iOS 17? I mean, interactive widgets and StandBy mode are nice. Autocorrect got a ducking big upgrade. But headlines? Not so much.
So yep, iOS 18 is certainly time for a headline or two.
Apple has to respond to dramatic AI developments sometime
I’ve defended Apple’s artificial intelligence record in the past. I’ve pointed out that Apple has been including significant AI features in iPhones for a great many years.
Apple has been at the forefront of AI-powered computational photography features, from Portrait Mode in the iPhone 7 Plus in 2016. (In reality, the company has been using AI photography longer than this, for general performance, but this was the first headline feature.)
Most of the company’s AI features since then have been focused on photography. Those developments aren’t particularly flashy, but they arguably make a massive different to the greatest number of people by seamlessly embedding AI capabilities into one of the most important things we do on a daily basis: capture memories.
But … it’s undeniable that AI capabilities have made a massive leap since then, in two areas in particular.
ChatGPT and other large language models are not as smart as they appear – and it would be dangerous for Apple to take Siri too quickly down that road – but at the same time, that kind of capability cannot be ignored. It has huge potential for HomeKit, for example.
Generative imaging – as seen in things like Midjourney, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, and Photoshop tools – is absolutely huge. You’d have no way to know it, but many of the photos you seen on 9to5Mac pieces use generative AI to expand the background to make them fit our 2:1 aspect ratio. This stuff isn’t just fun, it’s a practical, everyday tool for many of us.
Which brings us back to … it’s time
So however Apple might choose to use these new types of capabilities, it does have to do so at some point, and iOS 18 does again feel like time.
Of course, Apple will Apple – which is to say, it’ll do whatever it likes, 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 major development we hope it will be. But it would be … disappointing.
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