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November 13 update below. This post was first published on November 12, 2023.
The next iPhone is almost a year away, but even so, current issues within Apple may affect what’s coming, or even when. This is put no more strongly at the moment than “won’t noticeably postpone” the release, but we’ll see what happens in the coming months.
According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman in his latest Power On newsletter , in late October, Craig Federighi took the decision to freeze development of iOS 18. Federighi heads up software engineering, and apparently decided to “debug the software and improve performance” rather than develop the software further.
This is happens rarely, Gurman says. Well, it takes courage to do such a thing, but sorting problems and ousting glitches now is time well spent, rather than letting them affect quality later on.
Gurman points out that the iPhone 16 series hardware will be similar to the iPhone 15, he believes, so snappy new software will be even more important. If that’s true—and we’ve already heard rumors of new buttons on the iPhone 16 Pro Max which suggest it’s not quite right—then this pause is worth its weight.
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And it would make sense given that it’s iOS 18 that is likely to promise the integration of generative AI capabilities into Apple devices, according to recent reports . Gurman also claims that’s the case, saying: “The next generation of Apple’s software—iOS 18 and other operating systems due next year—is even more critical than usual. The company is racing to catch up with Google and OpenAI in generative AI, and iOS 18 is poised to bring such technology to the iPhone.”
This isn’t the first time this pause has happened, though. Apparently, it last took place in 2019, when Apple changed its software development procedures.
The moment has been taken, it seems, at the point that Apple hit an early milestone in the development cycle, having completed internal versions of “the biggest new features”. A good time to take stock, then.
According to Gurman, there are four such milestones before Apple reveals what it’s been working on to the world at the company’s June event, the World Wide Developers Conference.
So, will this week of glitch removal delay the release of the next iPhones, which need to have the new software on day one? Gurman doesn’t seem convinced, saying, “As of right now, the one-week stoppage probably won’t noticeably postpone the ultimate release of the software. At worst, it will give Apple a little less time at the end of the development cycle to eliminate any last-minute glitches.”
By “noticeably postpone,” I’m guessing he means that Apple could release the iPhones a week later than it intended: after all, it won’t announce the date until late August next year.
And, as he says, there’s good news in this development hiatus as, “the move shows Apple is taking quality as seriously as ever.” He also goes on to say that Apple’s senior management have high hopes for iOS 18, and the relevant software versions for iPad, Mac and Watch, as well, describe the updates as “ambitious and compelling.”
Which is something we can all look forward to.
November 13 update. Mark Gurman’s report has certainly caused some strong reactions. The most eloquent of these has come from Ben Lovejoy at 9to5Mac . He pointed out that some people were confused because two of Gurman’s reports seemed at odds with each other. One, talking about a pause of development of new features in iOS 18 to sort bugs, was read by many to mean the next software was something of a journeyman release, focused just on bug fixes and not on new features.
But Gurman also said that execs were saying that iOS 18 would be the biggest iPhone software update in years. Do the two go together?
The confusion arose, as Lovejoy explains, because some thought this meant iOS 18 would be like Snow Leopard, the macOS update which followed Leopard and offered refinements and fixes rather than big steps forward. But no, Gurman quickly pointed out, he never said that. In a post on X , Gurman clarified: "To be clear: I never reported iOS 18 would be a strictly “Snow Leopard” or performance-focused release. That and Apple delaying development of the new operating systems to focus exclusively on squashing bugs are two unrelated ideas. It will still be a packed update.”
Lovejoy also understands that the week’s pause mentioned above didn’t mean wholesale repurposing of every engineer’s work to fix issues in the core of the software. Instead, they would spend that week on their own code, finessing it and fixing bugs, before continuing.
And the 9to5Mac story persuasively articulates how iOS is due a big update and describes iOS 16 this way: “ If anything was a Snow Leopard update, this was it. I’m sure the dozen or so people who use Freeform were happy.” I’m not sure I quite agree, but I see where he’s coming from.
All of which suggests we can look forward to a big update next fall.