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Report: iOS 9 will bring new security features, improve legacy device support

A new report by 9to5Mac provides some insight into Apple’s plans for iOS 9, expected to debut at WWDC early next month. As previously reported, iOS 9 will focus primarily on stability and optimization, however this new information reveals some new details about some of the features and improvements Apple is working on, particularly in the areas of security and legacy device support.

A new security feature, dubbed “Rootless,” is expected to significantly improve iOS security at the kernel level by preventing even “root” level administrative access to certain protected files on Apple devices. Sources have also indicated that Rootless will be a major deterrent to jailbreaking on iOS, making it much more complicated to hack iOS devices and install unauthorized apps. Apple is also said to be working on leveraging iCloud Drive for more of its back-end services. Services such as Notes — which currently uses IMAP to store notes on an email server — and the CalDAV-based Calendar and Reminders are being re-architected to store their data directly in iCloud Drive, which will provide better end-to-end encryption and faster and more reliable syncing services. A new “Trusted Wi-Fi” feature is also under development to improve security by allowing iOS devices to more transparently connect to specific, authorized wireless routers, although it’s unclear whether this last feature will be incorporated into iOS 9 or pushed back until a future point release or beyond.

In contrast to earlier reports which speculated that iOS 9 could possibly drop support for all but 64-bit devices, Apple is apparently optimizing iOS 9 to run more efficiently on older iPhones and iPads, even going so far back as the iPhone 4S and original iPad mini. The company is said to have restructured its software engineering process to ensure older hardware is better supported with iOS updates, building a “core version” of iOS 9 targeted at older devices and enabling features individually, as opposed to the former approach of building iOS 9 for newer devices and then disabling features to try and improve performance.

Report: Apple to bring Apple Watch font to iOS 9

Apple plans on bringing its own San Francisco font seen on Apple Watch to iOS 9 and OS X 10.11, 9to5Mac reports. The font will replace Helvetica Neue, which debuted in iOS 7 in 2013. Though the San Francisco font was developed “specifically for legibility,” the idea to bring the font to iOS appears to have a mixed reaction within Apple — the report claims that higher-ups believe the font will help “iOS and OS X to avoid becoming stale,” but also notes that some Apple engineers don’t like the font, “which may look particularly rough on non-Retina screens.”

Apple releases third iOS 8.4 beta to developers

Apple has released its third beta of iOS 8.4 to developers, continuing to focus on the new iOS Music app. Featuring a build number of 12H4098c, the release is also accompanied by a new Xcode 6.4 beta to support the new APIs and development environment. The release notes for this latest beta indicate both improvements and limitations in App Extensions, the iTunes Store, Siri, Videos, and WatchKit, as well as with the new Music app. The new Music app appears to continue having a long list of issues that remain to be addressed, with limited progress since the first beta, although the language of several has been softened from phrases such as “does not work” to “may not work” suggesting that Apple is perhaps slowly working on improvements in these areas.

Twitter CEO hints at larger Spotlight integration

During yesterday’s quarterly earnings call, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said his company is working on injecting more tweets into the Spotlight feature on iOS and OS X. Spotlight already displays information from Twitter when users search for specific Twitter handles or certain hashtags, but how the search prioritizes hashtags is unclear. A search for hashtags including terms already occurring in a user’s stored messages can return no Twitter results at all, and even when a hashtag search produces results from Twitter, the results don’t match up with the same search in the iOS Twitter app. Costolo said Twitter is “working with Apple to surface great Twitter content and accounts directly in Spotlight Search on iOS and OS X, that also makes it easier and quicker to find great things on Twitter.” No timeline for the added integration or information about how it will function within Spotlight was offered. [via 9to5Mac]

Apple releases second iOS 8.4 beta to developers

Apple has released its second beta of iOS 8.4 to developers, a release that continues to focus on Apple’s new Music app introduced in the original iOS 8.4 beta. Featuring a build number of 12H4086d, the release is also accompanied by a new Xcode 6.4 beta to support the new APIs and development environment. The release notes for this latest beta indicate both improvements and limitations in App Extensions, CarPlay, App Store, iTunes Store, MFi GPS accessories, Videos, and WatchKit, as well as with the new Music app. Notably, the list of limitations in the Music app remains the same as in the first beta, suggesting that the development process may be proceeding more slowly than expected.

Apple planning to release new iPod touch later this year?

Apple may be gearing up to release a new iPod touch model this year, according to a new report from Apple Insider. Citing “a source familiar with Apple’s future product plans” the report indicates that a new iPod touch would likely be a fall release, and may retain the same four-inch screen size as the current model, although that part of the information was less definitive. Based on the previous iPod touch release, it seems likely that a new iPod touch would feature specifications in line with older iPhones, rather than breaking new ground, although it’s unclear whether Apple would choose to align it with the 2013 iPhone 5s or the 2014 iPhone 6 in terms of design, features and capabilities.

While the first three iPod touch models saw annual updates, the fourth-generation iPod touch was released in 2010 alongside the iPhone 4 — and with the same A4 CPU — but received only the addition of a white model the following year when the iPhone 4S debuted. The fifth-generation iPod touch, originally released in 2012 at the same time as the iPhone 5, mimicked the general design and screen size of its iPhone counterpart but used the A5 processor from the prior year’s iPhone 4S. Apple made an unusual addition to the lineup in 2013 with a less-featured 16GB version, but then reversed course the following spring, releasing a new 16GB model that had feature parity with the larger capacity models, while dropping prices across the board. Throughout this, however, the basic specs of the fifth-generation iPod touch remained the same as when it first debuted, despite many hoping that a larger capacity model would appear, particularly in light of Apple’s elimination of the iPod classic and release of 128GB capacity iPhone models last fall.

YouTube app won’t work on older Apple TVs, versions of iOS starting in May

Google has announced that the YouTube app will cease to function starting in May for iOS devices running an OS older than iOS 7 — this likely refers to the older Apple-developed YouTube app that was discontinued in iOS 6. The change also impacts second-generation and older Apple TV units, which won’t be able to access YouTube starting in May unless Apple chooses to provide a software update for the older model. Users of the YouTube app on these older devices are already seeing a video notifying them of the change, but the app is still functional for now. In early May, users will only see the notification video, and will be unable to access any video content through the app. Google’s support page has directed users of older iOS versions to visit YouTube’s mobile site to view videos. Notably, Google’s official YouTube app for iOS remains listed as compatible with “iOS 6.0 or later”, so it’s unclear why iOS 6 users may be unable to access YouTube unless Google simply plans to drop iOS 6 support in the native iOS app.

Apple releases iOS 8.4 beta to developers, with new Music app

Less than a week after the public release of iOS 8.3, Apple has already begun the developer beta cycle of the next iOS update, with the release of the first iOS 8.4 beta to registered developers. As expected, iOS 8.4 appears to focus primarily on a redesigned Music experience to pave the way for Apple’s upcoming streaming music service, with a number of significant changes to the built-in Music app, paralleling some iTunes features such as Now Playing, Mini Player, and support for adding to and managing the Up Next queue.

The Music app redesign is apparently being overseen by Trent Reznor, the creative head at Beats Music, who has reportedly been working on a secret project at Apple since at least last fall. This first iOS 8.4 beta, featuring a build number of 12H4074d, is also accompanied by an Xcode 6.4 beta to support the new APIs and development environment, and notes about a dozen limitations with the new Music app at present.

It is expected that most of these are just issues related to the new Music app not being entirely finished in this first beta, and the app experience should improve through the remainder of the beta cycle.

Apple releases iOS 8.3 beta 4

Apple has released its fourth beta of iOS 8.3 to registered developers; it’s the second beta in the new iOS Public Beta program. This latest beta features a build number of 12F61 and details few changes in the release notes from the prior beta, with minor issues related to CarPlay, WatchKit, Spotlight and UIKit.

As with the third beta released earlier this month, this latest update is once again accompanied by a new beta build of the Apple TV Software, although it is unclear at this point what has changed in that particular version as Apple TV betas are generally not accompanied by release notes.

FREAK security flaws still present in popular iOS apps

Apple’s iOS 8.2 eliminated the FREAK security flaw in Safari, but FireEye researchers found a handful of popular iOS apps are still vulnerable to attack even when running on iOS 8.2. Hundreds of others still connect to vulnerable HTTPS servers, leaving them open to attack when running on iOS versions lower than iOS 8.2. Shopping, medical and finance apps were all mentioned as possible targets in FireEye’s plea for app developers to remedy the lingering issues.

Device able to access iOS 8.1 through brute-force attack

A new device allows users to access a locked device running iOS 8.1 through a brute-force attack, even with the “Erase data after 10 attempts” setting on, according to security company MDSec. The IP Box — available in England for £200 (about $293) — bypasses Apple’s security measures by cutting the iPhone’s power after each failed attempt at guessing the PIN, shutting down the phone before the attempt can be logged in flash memory. This method allows the device to break a four-digit PIN in approximately 111 hours. The vulnerability could be the issue noted in CVE-2014-4451 and addressed in Apple’s iOS 8.1.1 update, but MDSec recommends users create a “sufficiently complex” password rather than a simple PIN to protect their data regardless. [via Daring Fireball]

Microsoft to bring Cortana to iOS

Microsoft plans to bring Cortana, its Windows phone personal assistant technology, to both Apple and Android devices, Reuters reports. The company is reported to be developing an advanced version of its Siri competitor based on an artificial intelligence project it has dubbed “Einstein.”  Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, has been more aggressively opening up the company’s software to non-Windows platforms, eschewing Microsoft’s traditional approach of forcing customers into using its Windows operating system. Cortana debuted on Windows phones last year, and will be coming to the desktop with Windows 10 later this year. According to people familiar with the project, Microsoft also plans to release a standalone iOS app version of the technology. New technology in Cortana to be rolled out this fall is expected to incorporate more advanced features, such as the ability to read and understand e-mail and more accurately anticipate user needs, rather than simply responding to requests as Siri does.

Apple releases iOS 8.3 beta 3 to developers (Update: iOS 8.3 Public Beta also released)

Apple has released its third beta of iOS 8.3 to registered developers, following the public release earlier this week of iOS 8.2 to support the upcoming Apple Watch. This latest beta features a build number of 12F5047f and details few changes in the release notes from the prior beta, with minor issues related to CarPlay, WatchKit, and LTE Voice. As expected, this beta also adds the Apple Watch app and related settings that were introduced earlier this week in iOS 8.2. This update is also accompanied by a new beta of the Apple TV Software, although it is unclear what has changed in that particular version as Apple TV betas are generally not accompanied by release notes.

Despite reports that Apple would release a public beta of iOS 8.3 around this time, there has been no indication from Apple of a public beta program starting as of yet — as with previous iOS betas, iOS 8.3 beta 3 remains available to registered developers only.

Update: The iOS Public Beta program is now available at Apple’s Beta Software Program site. Some of the information in the FAQ appears to have been updated to include instructions for backing up and installing on iOS devices, but the ability to actually register for, download, and install the beta version does not yet seem to be available for all users.

Apple releases iOS 8.2

During today’s “Spring Forward” event, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that iOS 8.2 is being released today. The new update includes an Apple Watch app that will provide access to the App Store for the new wearable device, as well as the ability to configure settings, transfer apps to the Apple Watch, and even watch information and preview videos on the Apple Watch before buying one. iOS 8.2 is expected to be available for download through the normal software update mechanisms later today.

Update: iOS 8.2 includes a patch to remedy the FREAK security flaw.

Apple releases iOS 8.3 beta 2 to developers

Apple has released a second beta of iOS 8.3 to registered developers, continuing its parallel iOS 8.3 beta cycle which started earlier this month alongside the iOS 8.2 betas. This latest beta features a build number of 12F5037c and details few changes in the release notes from the prior beta. According to a report last week, Apple plans to begin releasing public betas with iOS 8.3 sometime in March; this second developer beta is likely the last for this version prior to the beginning of the public beta cycle.

Report: Apple to release iOS public betas

Apple plans to begin releasing new versions of iOS as public betas, according to a new report by 9to5Mac. Intended to help eliminate bugs from upcoming iOS versions before general release, the model will follow the one used by Apple for OS X Yosemite last summer — a public beta cycle that will begin following the early developer betas, running in tandem with the developer program up until general availability of the new operating system. The report notes that Apple intends to begin the new program with the release of the upcoming iOS 8.3 update as a public beta in March, aligned with the third developer beta release of that version; iOS 9 will also allegedly follow a similar schedule to last year’s OS X Yosemite releases, with an announcement at WWDC and the beginning of the developer beta program, followed by a public beta in mid-summer, and the normal final release in the fall. The iOS public beta program is expected to be limited to 100,000 users “in order to maintain a higher level of exclusivity.”

Apple extends two-step verification to FaceTime, iMessage

Apple has extended its two-step verification feature to include authentication of FaceTime and iMessage logins, The Guardian reports. First introduced in early 2013, Apple’s two-step verification requires users to enter a verification code that appears on a trusted iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch when signing in with their Apple ID and password, providing an extra layer of protection against compromised or hacked passwords. The security feature has been enabled for direct iCloud account features since its introduction, although other services continued to only require a standard password for access.

Apple raises size limit for Apps to 4GB

Apple has announced that developers can now submit applications up to 4GB in size to the App Store, an increase from the prior 2GB limit. This will allow developers of media-rich apps and games to include more content directly within their app, as opposed to using over-the-air downloads — a process that some developers previously relied on in order to provide content beyond that which could be included in the App Store download itself. The announcement notes that the cellular network delivery size limit of 100MB remains unchanged, however, meaning that larger apps will need to either be downloaded over Wi-Fi or synced via iTunes.

iPhone theft decline attributed to Activation Lock feature

iPhone thefts have been dropping dramatically in at least three major cities since Apple introduced its Activation Lock feature in 2013, Reuters reports. Specifically, the number of stolen iPhones in San Francisco has reportedly dropped by 40 percent, while the number of iPhone thefts in New York has dropped by 25 percent, and smartphone theft in general has dropped by half in London. The drop is believed to be a direct result of the anti-theft features that Apple added to iOS 7 in September 2013, which effectively “locked” an iOS device to its owner, preventing a stolen device from being used without entering the original user’s Apple ID and password. Supplementing the “Find My iPhone” feature introduced by Apple some time ago, the new Activation Lock feature essentially turns a stolen iPhone into a useless brick, reducing the motivation for theft. With smartphone theft now accounting for half of all crimes in cities like San Francisco, several U.S. states are considering laws mandating the use of similar “kill switches” in smartphones — California passed a smartphone “kill switch” law last year that has yet to go into effect. While Samsung and Google have added a similar feature, only Apple currently has it setup to be enabled by default.

iOS 8.4 already in development?

In addition to the iOS 8.3 beta released earlier today, a new report from 9to5Mac indicates that Apple has also begun development on iOS 8.4 in parallel. Codenamed “Copper,” iOS 8.4 is expected to be released sometime after the Apple Watch debuts, and sources indicate that support for Apple’s upcoming streaming music service may also be incorporated into this release.

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