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What to expect in iOS 18: AI, new look, redesigned stock apps, and more

iOS 18 ... coming this fall

The releases of iOS 18 and iPadOS 18 is shaping up to be Apple's biggest OS refresh in a decade. On top of expected machine learning and AI advancements, the stock apps and overall look will be getting a makeover.

A confluence of industry trends and Apple's own engineering efforts are coming together in a set of major updates later this year. Apple has been watching the rise of AI technology carefully, and working on it for years.

In 2018, Apple hired away Google's John Giannandrea, who was in charge of the search giant's Machine Learning division. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to advance Apple's efforts in that same area.

Apple has had lots of smaller-scale improvements in various areas of what the industry calls AI ever since. That said, 2024 looks to be the year that its AI efforts rise to the surface, just in time for powerful new hardware coming this fall.

At the same time, iOS and iPadOS 18 in particular will receive a major redesign and big updates to its core applications. The other OSes and the devices that run them will of course get these updates too.

All of these years-long efforts are coming to fruition across the second half of 2024. It promised to be a major year for Apple.

2024 is the year of Apple AI

One of the biggest user-facing changes is expected to be an improved Siri voice assistant.

Siri is expected to greatly improve its ability to answer random questions and requests, starting this fall. Apple has been working on an on-device Large Language Model (LLM) to help Siri understand requests better.

That said, of course some requests will require an internet connection in order to obtain the answer. For example, asking Siri "what's the current score in the Canucks vs Predators hockey game?" requires online updates.

Siri might now pull such results from the same sources Live Activites uses for its up-to-the-minute sports scores widget. Hopefully, the days of "I found some information on the web for you" as an answer are numbered.

Likewise, the next version of Safari is expected to gain a "browsing assistant" in this fall's updated OSes. It should help users find websites they are looking for, similar to a built-in search engine.

Apple has recently published research suggesting it is making big advances in machine learning. The A16 and M4 chips coming later this year are said to feature a substantially larger and more powerful Neural Engine.

In addition, Apple's AI researchers are sharing their findings with developers. This will help more applications leverage the improvements Apple is making to its future hardware.

2024 will bring a new OS with a new look

The overall look of iOS 18 and iPadOS 18 will get a redesign. Combined with new features in the standard apps, this is expected to mark the biggest iOS redesign since 2013's iOS 7.

Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has reiterated a previous claim that users will be able to place icons freely in iOS 18 and iPadOS 18. This would still use an invisible "grid," but would allow more flexible use of "empty space" by users.

This gives users even more freedom to place apps and widgets wherever it makes the most sense to them. Related apps can be placed together leaving a "blank space" on the page to separate them from other apps.

Apple has previously encouraged the use of "app folders" in iOS to gather related apps.

2024 is the year included apps get a big refresh

The debut of iOS 18 and iPadOS 18 this fall will also change the look and abilities of many if not most of the "built-in" apps. Stock apps slated for design changes include Notes, Mail, Fitness, Photos, and Calculator.

The latter app's new version will also be coming to the iPad for the first time.

An iPad displaying a calculator app with a dark mode interface on a gray background
The iPad will finally get its own Calculator app.

Previous reports have said that Notes will also be getting a substantial overhaul, making it a more complete product on par with competitors like OneNote. Expected changes include built-in audio recording, and integration with the improved Calculator app for a "Math Notes" feature.

Currently, Apple has a separate app for Voice Memos. That functionality will now be available in the regular Notes app as of iOS 18.

As with the existing Notes app, anything stored there can be synced across devices using iCloud.

Notes in iOS 18 will also be able to add calculations and symbols from the new Calculator app for the "Math Notes" feature. This should let users augment formulas and calculations with text and graphics.

Two smartphones displaying a voice recording app and a calculator app with the Notes app icon in the middle.
Voice Memos and Math Notes bring audio recording and calculations to iOS 18's Notes app.

The Maps app will also benefit from the expanded machine-learning capabilities of the forthcoming A18 chip. It has been hinted in code snippets that Apple will add custom route planning for users, among other features.

Currently, when users seek a route in Maps, the app offers a few variations to get from A to B. For various reasons, some users would like to craft a custom route out of parts of the various options. Maps in iOS 18 is expected to let you do that.

In a related development, CarPlay is also getting a serious upgradethat includes a new overall look. This is said to include the ability to use additional screens in some new car models.

However, older model cars will benefit from a new look and software experiences on the conventional single screen.

Fitness+ and Photos will also leverage both a redesign and the expanded AI abilities to customize their abilities to individual users. Apple's design for iOS and iPadOS 18 includes many primary components of AI within the software.

This means that older devices that can run iOS 18 and iPadOS 18 will also gain these app redesigns and improved software abilities.

Is Apple late to the game?

Apple has long been accused of playing "catch-up" to rivals in the area of AI features incorporated into its products. Microsoft and Google, to name but two, have functional chatbot-based search already up and running.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has rejected such claims. He has said that Apple has been rolling out features for several years that rely on machine learning and AI.

Cook recently pointed out to analysts that recent features, including Live Voicemail and Personal Voice couldn't exist without those technologies.

Features that have been long staples of other apps, like Predictive Text, have steadily improved in "learning" the preferred vocabulary of the individual user. Apple has generally approached AI as a way to enhance existing apps first.

It has expressed little interest in creating what amounts to "AI toys" users can play with online, as ChatGPT has done.

Apple has also had to find a path that combines AI with user privacy and security. This is a concern for Apple, and far less so for other companies that have leveraged the AI "trends."

These companies and others are currently being sued by content creators for unlicensed use of their products to "train" their AI engines. Apple, meanwhile, appears to have paid for content used for LLM training, and worked with creators to license content ethically.

Not just for the latest and greatest hardware

Of course, iOS and iPadOS get minor updates every year, as does macOS, watchOS, visionOS and tvOS. Starting with iOS 18, however, Apple plans to add major new abilities alongside fresh new looks to them all to thrill existing users, and attract new ones.

Naturally, Apple's software advances work best with the latest hardware. This will certainly be true of the combination of the A18 and M4 chips in the newest Apple devices along with iOS and iPadOS 18 and the other OS versions.

VisionOS 2.0 is expected to be released later this year as well, the first major update to Apple's latest hardware category. It seems likely that the hardware was built with AI use in mind, and that future visionOS updates will take further advantage of those abilities.

All that said, a lot of what we believe we know about iOS and iPadOS 18, macOS 15 and the rest remains to be seen. App improvements and refreshed designs should run perfectly well on older but still compatible iPhones.

Apple's existing chips have had Neural Engines in them for years now. That technology will be leveraged to a greater extent in iOS 18 and the others as developers explore more use of AI.

It's likely that Apple's next iOS release will continue to support at least the iPhone 11 and later. If you own an iPhone X or related models of that vintage or earlier, iOS 17 could potentially be the end of the line.

We'll find out more about what models will be supported at June's WWDC conference.

Apple's AI advances across 2024 should substantially enhance the company's legendary emphasis on its full integration of hardware with software. Existing apps on recent iPhones will get a fresh look and new capabilities, and set the stage for the next round of powerful new hardware.