Earlier this week, Zac outlined all of the hardware products Apple is likely to release as this year progresses. Just as important as those hardware releases, however, are the software updates that will accompany them.

We already know that Apple has iOS 11.3 planned for this month, but beyond that are major releases like iOS 12 and watchOS 5…

One thing to keep in mind is that it’s generally easier for Apple to keep details about software updates under wraps than it is to keep hardware details under wraps. With hardware, there’s a heavy reliance on supply chain partners, who can be hard to control. Software, however, is tested primarily within Apple itself where leaks are easier to contain.

Nevertheless, we still know a decent amount about what’s to come this year.


iOS 11.3

In the near future, Apple has its spring software releases on the way. Headlining those releases is iOS 11.3, which includes Apple’s new battery and power management controls.

As Tim Cook announced, iOS 11.3 gives users the option to disable iPhone throttling at the risk of unexpected shutdowns. Apple implemented this feature in response to the outcry from consumers when the company announced that it had been throttling older iPhones as their batteries aged.

In addition to the new performance management features, iOS 11.3 includes a set of new Animoji characters. Building on the characters introduced alongside the iPhone X last year, iOS 11.3 adds a bear, a dragon, a skull, and a lion. Remember, Animoji is exclusive to the iPhone X.

Furthermore, iOS 11.3 includes ARKit 1.5. As the first major iteration of Apple’s augmented reality platform, the update includes support for recognizing vertical surfaces, as well as more accurately mapping non-rectangular surfaces like round tables.

Business Chat is yet another new feature in iOS 11.3. Similar to the chatbot functionalities in third-party apps like Facebook Messenger, Business Chat is built-in to the Messages app and lets users communicate directly with businesses such as Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s, and Wells Fargo.

iOS 11.3 will also bring Messages in the Cloud to all users. This feature was originally teased for iOS 11’s initial release, but was seemingly delayed until now. Messages in the Cloud syncs message across all of a user’s devices, making it easier for users to manage their messages.

Rounding out the major updates in iOS 11.3 is support for medical records in the Health app. The update will allow users to see medical data from hospitals and other providers directly in the Health app. This is only the beginning of Apple’s health efforts, it seems.

iOS 11.3 includes the smaller features such as broader support for Music Videos in the Music app, Apple News improvements, HomeKit software authentication, and more.

AirPlay 2 was at one point available in iOS 11.3, but was removed in the most recent beta. It’s unclear what the future holds here.

iOS 11.3 is currently in beta testing and will be released this month.

watchOS 4.3, tvOS 11.3, macOS 10.13.4

Alongside iOS 11.3, Apple is testing smaller updates for Apple Watch, Apple TV, and Mac users. These updates aren’t anywhere near as big as their iOS counterpart, but still bring a few changes.

watchOS 4.3, for instance, includes a few minor interface tweaks. iPhone Music control has been restored in the Music app and you will be able AirPlay from iPhone to AirPlay speakers using Apple Watch controls.

There’s also a new charging animation in watchOS 4.3, while Nightstand Mode now will work in portrait mode in anticipation of the AirPower charging mat set for release this year.

tvOS 11.3 includes its fair share of enhancements, as well. Frame rate matching will come to the fourth-gen Apple TV with the update, whereas the Apple TV 4K was previously required for this year. Apple will also make it easier for users to manage privacy features with a new privacy explainer.

macOS 10.13.4 will also include a new privacy explainer, as well as the new ‘Ink Cloud’ wallpaper that was previously exclusive to the Mac Pro. Messages in the Cloud will also be available in macOS 10.13.4.

watchOS 4.3, tvOS 11.3, and macOS 10.13.4 are all currently in beta testing and should be available this month.

Later this year

iOS 12

Following the release of iOS 11.3 this month, attention will largely shift to iOS 12. While we don’t know everything that’s coming with iOS 12, a handful of reports have offered some interesting details.

First and foremost, iOS 12, alongside the corresponding macOS 10.14 release, is expected to include support for cross-platform applications. Bloomberg first reported this, explaining that it would make it so developers could maintain one application across both iOS and macOS

Specifics here remain unclear, but making it so developers could build one app for both macOS and iOS would likely be a breath of fresh air for the Mac App Store, which it desperately needs.

A designer mockup of iOS 12 branding

Meanwhile, both Bloomberg and Axios have reported that Apple has taken a step back recently on feature development for iOS, focusing instead on stability and bug fixes.

For instance, Apple is said to have put a refresh of the Home screen, CarPlay updates, and other new features on hold, allowing the software division to focus on broader improvements to stability and performance.

This is similar to the strategy Apple took with the Snow Leopard release of Mac OS X, which was widely praised for improvements to performance, stability, and general attention to detail. A stability-focused iOS release comes as Apple has faced increased criticism for a growing number of software bugs seemingly due to a lack of attention to detail.

Bloomberg corroborated the report from Axios, and added that Apple is still planning on a few tentpole features, including cross platform apps and new parental control features.

iOS 12 will include new parental control features, which Apple originally announced earlier this year after investors raised concerns about the wealth of information a child could access directly from iOS. While Apple hasn’t offered specifics about what new parental control features it has planned, it has teased that they will be “even more robust” for parents.

Reports have also indicated that Apple is testing a revamped iBooks application with a revamped application focused on curation, much like the App Store design introduced in iOS 11.

iOS 12 is also likely to include new health features. Apple has continually updated the health and medical records capabilities of the iPhone, so we shouldn’t expect that to stop anytime soon.

Elsewhere, one has to wonder if iOS 12 will include AirPlay 2. Ideally the feature will come before then, but if iOS 11.3 comes and goes without including it, iOS 12 feels like the next logical possibility.

Alongside iOS updates, we can now expect HomePod updates. HomePod runs a special version of iOS and should get updates just like any other platforms. Stereo support and AirPlay 2 are the two biggest HomePod feature updates we could see.

iOS 12 will likely be introduced in June at WWDC with developer and public beta testing commencing then. Expect a full public release in September alongside the new iPhones.

watchOS 5

Details about the rest of Apple’s major software updates are more unclear.

We’ve heard virtually nothing about what could be included in watchOS 5, but based on past updates, it’s easy to speculate. It’s likely that watchOS 5 will include a few new watch faces, giving users the option to expand their customization options.

Furthermore, sleep tracking seems like it will inevitably come to Apple Watch. Apple last year acquired the sleep tracking platform Beddit and sleep tracking remains one of the most oft-requested features for Apple’s wearable. While a slew of third-party apps offer the feature, an integrated solution would please many users.

New Apple Watch applications would also be incredibly nice. For instance, there’s still no Podcasts app on watchOS, which feels like a major limitation. Notes is also still missing and could be useful for dictating quick notes while on-the-go.

New fitness features are likely, as well. Apple has made it a ritual to add new tracking and motivational features with each new watchOS update.

Other than those, it’s hard to speculate too much about what watchOS 5 could bring to the table. It will be introduced in June at WWDC to developers, with a full release in the fall.

tvOS 12

For Apple TV users, the future is even more unclear. tvOS in general hasn’t evolved at a very fast pace, with tvOS 11 introducing relatively minor changes.

One pain point for Apple TV 4K users at this point in time is the lack of support for Dolby Atmos. While touted as a feature of the device last fall, Apple has only said it will add support at a later date.

As it expands its original content efforts, we should also expect Apple to make updates to tvOS to best showcase that content. It’s still unclear how Apple will package and sell that content, but the most likely solution seems via the existing TV app on iOS and tvOS.

tvOS 12 will be unveiled in June at WWDC to developers and released in beta form to developers and public beta users. A full release should occur in the fall.

macOS 10.14

Headlining the release of macOS 10.14 will almost certainly be the aforementioned cross platform apps feature. This in and of itself is a huge new feature for macOS users and developers.

With WWDC in June, we should expect Apple to showcase cross platform applications and give developers the next few months to update and optimize their applications with support for the feature.

Other than cross platform apps, we could see either a new TV app or updates to iTunes to support Apple’s upcoming original content. Furthermore, Hey Siri support has been rumored for the Mac and is certainly a possibility this year.

macOS 10.14 will be demoed and released to developer and public beta testers in June and released to all users in the fall.

Wrap up

Apple has a full year of software updates planned. At a time when the company is under growing fire for buggy releases, more weight than ever is on this year’s updates.

Despite that pressure, Apple’s software plans for 2018 are clearly just as ambitious as its hardware plans. Everything will kick off with the feature-rich iOS 11.3 update this month, with attention then turning towards macOS 10.14, iOS 12, watchOS 5, and tvOS 12.

What software features are you most excited to see? Let us know down in the comments!

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About the Author

Chance Miller

Chance is an editor for the entire 9to5 network and covers the latest Apple news for 9to5Mac.

Tips, questions, typos to chance@9to5mac.com