iOS 18 Guide: Privacy-protecting cloud AI and custom emojis

Every year, Apple announces the new version of iOS at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June. It then enters a beta testing period (first for developers only, then for the public) before being released in September, around the time the new iPhones go on sale.

We don’t expect the process or timeline to change this year, but that’s about the only thing we can count on being the same as years past. When it comes to iOS 18 itself—its features and changes—the rumors and leaks point to what might be one of the most consequential iPhone software updates in years.

What follows is a summary of rumors and leaks, but bear in mind that the final product may not quite resemble what you read here. Information about upcoming Apple products is often unreliable, and even when it’s accurate, plans change. That said, this is what we think we know so far.

Updated May 29: A new report in The Information highlights how Apple will use its own hardware to perform AI operations in the cloud without being able to access customer data. We also have a little info about Apple using AI to generate custom emojis.

iOS 18 release date: When will iOS 18 arrive?

For the last 10 years or so, the new version of iOS has been released in September, typically in the second or third week. We haven’t heard anything to suggest this year will be any different, so here are the last five years of release dates for reference:

  • iOS 17: September 18, 2023
  • iOS 16: September 12, 2022
  • iOS 15: September 20, 2021
  • iOS 14: September 16, 2020
  • iOS 13: September 19, 2019

Prior to its general release, Apple will make a developer beta available immediately after the WWDC keynote in June followed by a public beta in early July. It will go through several betas—with some features being added, changed, and dropped—before the main release in September.

iOS 18 compatibility: Which iPhones will get iOS 18?

We haven’t heard any specific rumors about which devices will be compatible with iOS 18, but the prevailing assumption is that all the phones that got iOS 17 will get iOS 18. That means everything from the iPhone XR and XS or 2nd-generation iPhone SE up through the iPhone 15, and of course, the iPhone 16 that will be introduced this fall. Here is a list of all the iPhones that support iOS 17:

  • iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro, iPhone 15 Pro Max
  • iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro Max
  • iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max
  • iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone SE(2nd gen or later)

It’s likely that some of the coolest new features will not be supported on the older phones, because they lack the hardware necessary (a powerful enough Neural Engine or GPU to run AI stuff, or enough RAM). This is typical of new iOS releases.

iOS 18 rumored features: The biggest iOS update…ever?

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has reported extensively on iOS 18 development, and claimed in his Power On newsletter that, “the new operating system is seen within the company as one of the biggest iOS updates — if not the biggest — in the company’s history.”

There will be major new AI features, we expect lots of ambitious updates and changes beyond just stuffing AI into everything.

An all-new Siri

The most visible theme of iOS 18 is said to be AI. Specifically, generative AI, which Apple has been slow to bring to market while products like ChatGPT, Bard, CoPilot, Dall-E, Stable Diffusion, and others have taken the tech world by storm.

There has been a huge push inside Apple to build a generative AI technology stack, and we’ve seen Apple publish papers on a number of topics like a new large language model called Ajax, object reference called Ferret, new speech recognition models, and much more.

Siri is said to be getting a big “Generative AI” overhaul, using new large language models and other advanced AI to take it to the next level.

The new Siri is said to be more “conversational” and natural, with features that “help users in their day-to-day lives.”

AI everywhere

Siri’s not the only place Apple is said to be incorporating new advanced AI. We don’t have all the details yet, but Apple is said to have an edit to bring advanced AI features to as many of its products as it can. Apple Music playlist generation is one oft-cited area, and so is code generation in Xcode, AI features in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, and more.

Apple is expected to follow a hybrid approach, performing many AI tasks on-device for better privacy, security, and responsiveness, but also employing cloud-based AI for bigger tasks that can’t run on an iPhone. And there’s a reason to believe that Apple could dive into the generative AI pool as well, with lots of gen-AI research published by Apple researchers recently.

In March, it was reported that Apple is talking with Google about including its Gemini AI in iOS 18, though in what capacity, nobody really knows.

Another report claimed that Apple is buying AI tech from Baidu in China, though that is likely to be used in China only (Google and OpenAI’s gen-AI products are not available in China).

In late April, Mark Gurman once again reported that Apple is in talks with both Google and OpenAI about supply some AI technology for use in its upcoming OS.

Nicolás Álvarez on X (formerly Twitter) posted about finding some back-end code that suggests a couple of new features: Safari browsing assistant and encrypted visual search.

According to tipster Mark Gurman, the many AI features will run entirely on-device, with no cloud processing.

Apple is said to be building a large-scale cloud AI infrastructure using its own M2 Ultra chips and M4 chips, which will use the secure enclave to create a “black box” of customer data, making it very hard for any hacker to get access to anything in a breach. Even Apple would not be able to link any data or processes to specific customers, making it impossible for them to do things like turn over customer data to government agencies and such. It sounds like the intent is to build a system where cloud AI processing is almost as secure and private as on-device processing.

Apple is said to be using generative AI to create custom emojis using the text you type, which would match Apple’s emoji style but depict almost anything you want. It is unclear if this would be a system-wide feature or limited to iMessages.

A more customizable Home screen

Several reports claim that Apple will allow greater personalization of the Home screen, including allowing users to place icons anywhere on the grid, allowing spaces between them. Currently, icons can be reordered or put into folders, but always fill the screen from left to right and top to bottom.

This “put icons wherever you want” feature is something we’ve wanted from Apple for many years, and has been a staple of many Android phones seemingly forever.

RCS support

Late in 2023, Apple announced what seemed to be the unthinkable: RCS support is coming to iPhone. Yes, Messages will still be a lock-in for default texting and no, iMessage isn’t going anywhere. But the “green bubbles” will be RCS not SMS, when texting with other RCS-supporting devices.

The catch? It’s not coming until “later in 2024” which almost certainly means iOS 18, if not iOS 18.1 or 18.2. When it arrives, you’ll finally get things like read receipts, full-size images and videos, typing indicators, and more when you send messages to people with Android phones.

New accessibility features

According to MacRumors, Apple is planning several new accessibility features for iOS 18, including Adaptive Voice Shortcuts, which will let users turn on or off specific accessibility features using a custom phrase, and Live Speech, which lets users type what they want to say and have it read out loud on phone calls or video meetings, will get the ability to add saved phrases to categories.

The report also lists five macOS apps that will get support for custom font sizes, though since font sizes work differently in iOS, this feature may be limited to macOS.

App updates

Beyond AI features, Apple will of course update the features and interface of a lot of its built-in apps. There haven’t been a lot of leaks about that stuff yet, but we have hear from an AppleInsider report that the Notes app will get support for voice memos and proper mathematical formula notation.

In the Q&A section of an April newsletter, Mark Gurman said Apple plans to overhaul many apps including Notes, Mail, Photos, and Fitness, but did not say what the changes would be.

Some of the rumored updates to apps include:

  • Calculator – An all-new calculator app with history sidebar, conversions, and iPad support.
  • Fitness – This has been rumored to get an overhaul but no specifics have been mentioned.
  • Freeform – A new “scenes” feature will let users quickly get to specific areas of a whiteboard.
  • Health – This has been rumored to get an overhaul but no specifics have been mentioned.
  • Mail – This has been rumored to get an overhaul but no specifics have been mentioned.
  • Maps – Custom routes and topographic maps are two of the rumored new features.
  • Messages – Adding RCS support, and using gen-AI to better auto-complete messages.
  • Music – A new gen-AI feature to create custom playlists. Smart Song Transitions. Passthrough (related to Spatial audio).
  • Notes – Support for proper mathematical formulas and embedded voice memos. Auto-transcription and summarization of voice memos.
  • Pages, Numbers, Keynote – Apple’s iWork suite is supposed to get gen-AI features to help make slides, write faster, and so on.
  • Photos – This has been rumored to get an overhaul but no specifics have been mentioned. We expect new AI-powered editing features at least.
  • Safari – New features include a search assistant and page summarizing, “web eraser” to persistently remove parts of web pages, and a new quick-access menu.
  • Shortcuts – New capabilities to create more powerful Shortcuts, perhaps even using AI to help create Shortcuts that do the tasks you want them to.
  • Voice Memos – Real-time transcription of recordings and AI-enhanced auto summary.

Vision Pro influence

Apple’s visionOS interface introduces more than a few new interface elements, most notably circular home screen icons. A rumor from the Israeli news site The Verifier claims “Apple is working on bringing elements from the visionOS operating system of the Vision Pro glasses into the iOS 18 and iPadOS 18 updates.” That could mean huge changes are coming to iOS—after all, it’s been more than a decade since the last major redesign shook things up in iOS 17.

MacRumors reports that the Camera app may see some design changes. The changes are subtle and won’t drastically change where controls are located, but the Camera app looks more like the one in visionOS.

Source : Macworld