While leakers expected Apple to announce a next generation MacBook Pro (wrong) alongside macOS Monterrey, iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 (right), the company kept the biggest news offstage and it fundamentally changes how all iPhone users will safeguard their phones moving forward.
08/06 Update: further digging into iOS 15 has now discovered another key security upgrade that Apple chose not to mention on stage. Spotted by Macrumors, Apple has quietly added a built-in Password Authenticator with autofill which looks set to replace third party apps like Authy and, most notably, Google Authenticator. Given Apple has also used iOS 15 to become the first phone maker to introduce support for a driver’s licence or State ID directly in the iPhone’s Wallet app, these additional protections are necessary. They are also joined by tentpole features Apple announced on stage, including Intelligent Tracking Prevention when browing, Mail Privacy Protection which hides your IP address to disable email tracking and an App Privacy Report which reports how often apps access your location, camera, photos, microphone and contacts every week. Combined with the separation of security updates for iOS 14, Apple has introduced some game changing user protections this year.
“iOS now offers a choice between two software update versions in the Settings app. You can update to the latest version of iOS 15 as soon as it’s released for the latest features and most complete set of security updates. Or continue on iOS 14 and still get important security updates until you’re ready to upgrade to the next major version.”
Having reviewed iOS updates for the best part of a decade, I can tell you this is huge. For the last 14 years, Apple has made iPhone owners choose between stability and security. Here are two examples from the most recent iOS updates:
Yes, some users will always rush to the latest iOS update regardless, but for many the need to be cautious about their phone’s performance has unfairly forced them to be reckless with its security. This is unlike almost all rival operating systems, with the likes of Android and Windows separating security updates from feature-based upgrades (source 1, source 2).
Consequently, this is a massive deal for both Apple and its users. It’s a radically different way to advance iOS and it fulfils a promise the company had been hinting at for some time when issuing sporadic updates to iOS 12. It is objectively superb news.
And yet one question remains. While users who choose to stay on iOS 14 will now continue to receive the latest security updates (historically often a smart move), will the same benefit be offered to iOS 15 upgraders if they choose to sit out some subsequent iOS 15 updates? I have contacted Apple and will update this article when/if I receive a response.
09/06 Update: Apple has confirmed to me that only users who stay on iOS 14 will receive the latest iOS 15 security updates, for users who upgrade to iOS 15 they must keep updating their phone to each new release to receive security updates. This creates something of a strange double standard, where cautious upgraders will be better served camping out on iOS 14 than jumping early to iOS 15 then skipping updates. It’s a curious decision which means users on iOS 15 will again be forced to choose between risking the stability of their phone in exchange for timely security updates. Come iOS 16, Apple really needs to match its rivals and separate feature upgrades and security updates into dedicated releases.