Apple’s Next Version of iOS Won’t Be a Stunner


Photo illustration: an iPhone is surrounded by stylized symbols.  Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo/Slate. Photo by Apple.
Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo/Slate. Photo by Apple.

Most of the time, Apple is relentless in its releases of new devices and the operating system that powers them, the better to keep pace with competitors like Android. But in 2018, it looks like the company may be slowing its pace of progress, at least on the OS front. According to reports from Axios and Bloomberg, Apple is delaying some features originally planned to debut this year in iOS 12 in favor of focusing on improvements centered around reliability and performance.

“For iOS 12, Apple has been working on additions like a redesigned home screen app grid, a multiplayer mode for augmented reality games, and a merger of the third-party applications running on iPhones and Macs,” Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman wrote, citing unnamed sources within the company. “While core features like the combined apps platform are still on schedule to be introduced this year, some flashier changes like the redesigned home screen will likely be held back until the 2019 software update.” Other features you likely won’t see in iOS 12 include a revamped photo management app and an update to Apple’s in-car user interfaces.

Even if you were counting on that souped-up photo app, there’s really only one reasonable response to this: Good.

At this point, there are fewer and fewer major features that our phones are lacking. Most of the “big” iOS 12 features Apple left on the cutting room floor—that we know of based on these leaks—were redesigns and upgrades of existing apps and utilities, rather than new features. Apple’s mobile operating system has finally reached something close to its full form. What Apple needs to spend time and resources on are improving its core functionality: making it smoother, more stable, and more secure.

Nothing makes that need more clear than the events that have transpired over the past two months. In December, we learned that Apple was intentionally limiting the performance of older iPhone models in an attempt to preserve battery life. Then in the new year, Spectre and Meltdown, two serious vulnerabilities affecting nearly every mobile and desktop chip on the planet, came to light. These two issues underscored one thing: We’ve been moving too fast. Both on the software front and on the hardware front, our demands on processors, and our expectations of what those processors can accomplish, have been too great. Developers and engineers have been able to keep up, but only by making compromises, whether in terms of processor longevity or cybersecurity, that made us all vulnerable.

Apple’s battery-related troubles, for example, are an indicator that the company has improved its OS year after year without giving enough thought to the demands its new capabilities would have on older devices’ chips and batteries. The result: Apple had to issue a patch to slow down some core functionalities so that device battery life would remain satisfactory. This isn’t acceptable. Greater considerations should have been made to ensure new versions of iOS run—without causing crashes and restarts—on older devices. Anything less is tantamount to planned obsolescence, a charge the company is going to have to fight in a litany of class-action lawsuits.

Spectre and Meltdown, meanwhile, are problems of no fault of Apple. In fact, Apple responded to the pair of threats quite quickly, issuing patches for Macs and iOS devices shortly after the vulnerabilities were made public. But now that we’re aware that these two issues have been plaguing generations of chipsets, it raises questions about what other sorts of threats may be lingering at the core of our personal devices. In slowing its march towards a bigger and better OS, perhaps Apple’s iOS developers and quality assurance engineers will have time re-examine old and new code for holes that could cause problems in the future.

If Apple took one year and focused solely on improving, patching, and tweaking existing iOS functions, it would be great for iPhone owners. But Apple has to come out with some new features, or risk losing visibility in the annual hype cycle and failing Wall Street investors. So of course there will be feature updates in iOS 12: Axios says you can expect upgrades to such areas as Apple’s augmented reality efforts, iOS’ parental controls, and its health-related initiatives. If you’re disappointed that iOS 12 won’t hold a bunch of new surprises, don’t be—when Apple has shored up the nagging little performance issues, reduced the number of inexplicable bugs (seriously, how did that iOS 11 letter “i” bug slip through the cracks?), and improved efficiency on older devices, you’ll be much happier in the long run.