Apple has been piling up the promises of late, adding Advanced Data Protection for iCloud and Apple Music Sing to the list of features that would ship by the end of this month. Earlier promises include the Freeform collaborative digital whiteboard, external display support for Stage Manager on M1 iPads, and the Apple Watch Race Route feature for competing against your previous workouts. All those features are now available in iOS 16.2, iPadOS 16.2, macOS 13.1 Ventura, watchOS 9.2, tvOS 16.2, and HomePod Software 16.2.
These are significant feature releases, and my usual advice for such major releases is to wait at least a week before updating. However, I suggest a quick update because the new versions block a WebKit-related vulnerability that Apple says may have been actively exploited in the wild “against versions of iOS released before iOS 15.1.” (In fact, Apple also released iOS 15.7.2 and iPadOS 15.7.2 to address this serious vulnerability and 16 others—update older devices soon.)
The main exception is the iPhone—if you updated to iOS 16.1.2, you’re protected from that vulnerability already and can hold off on installing iOS 16.2 for a bit if you want (see “iOS 16.1.2 Optimizes Crash Detection, Improves Wireless Carrier Compatibility,” 7 December 2022). Apple had delayed posting security notes for iOS 16.1.2 until now.
Top among the changes in iOS 16.2, iPadOS 16.2, and macOS 13.1 is the addition of a new bundled app: Freeform. It’s a digital whiteboard app designed for collaborative brainstorming that “helps users organize and visually lay out content on a flexible canvas, giving them the ability to see, share, and collaborate all in one place without worrying about layouts or page sizes.” Data optionally syncs to your other devices through iCloud.
I remain unsure of what to think about Freeform, and I hope to give it a try in the upcoming weeks. It’s not that I worry that Apple did a poor job (though Jason Snell found lots of rough edges) or that it will be difficult to use (but here’s the Freeform manual, just in case). Instead, it’s that a collaborative digital whiteboard seems like an odd choice to add to the overall Apple experience. Although Apple has recently been upping its game in this respect, collaboration has never been one of the company’s strong suits—Apple is, first and foremost, about empowering the individual, not the group. Digital whiteboarding tools are built into Zoom and many other videoconferencing platforms, which will likely remain far more popular for business and educational collaboration than FaceTime.
I also can’t say that I’ve ever seen anyone asking for a digital whiteboard from Apple, whereas it’s common to hear users pining for a consumer-level database along the lines of what people used in AppleWorks/ClarisWorks, early versions of FileMaker, and even HyperCard.
Perhaps I’m just being curmudgeonly because, for me, collaboration is primarily about written documents, with a soupçon of spreadsheets thrown in (I’ve become quite fond of building group-focused spreadsheets in Google Sheets in the past year). It’s also possible that Freeform will prove hugely popular with an audience of teens and young adults who don’t need serious collaboration tools but who enjoy larking around together on an infinite canvas. Give it a try and see what you think.
iOS 16.2 and iPadOS 16.2
- Advanced Data Protection: I won’t say it’s a game-changer for most people, but Advanced Data Protection for iCloud goes a long way toward addressing criticisms of Apple’s privacy position with iCloud. As I wrote in “Apple’s Advanced Data Protection Gives You More Keys to iCloud Data” (8 December 2022), the feature provides end-to-end encryption for many more iCloud data types, and if you’re concerned about breaches of Apple’s security or overreach by law enforcement, you should turn it on. Conversely, stick with Apple’s standard iCloud data protection (which encrypts all data in transit and on Apple’s servers, but using keys that Apple controls) if you have older devices that need to connect to your iCloud account but aren’t compatible with this set of OS updates. Remember that enabling Advanced Data Protection prevents Apple from helping you recover your iCloud account if you forget your password, so be sure to set up the Account Recovery options of adding a Recovery Contact, creating a Recovery Key, or both—at least one must be enabled to turn on Advanced Data Protection.
- Apple Music Sing: Karaoke for Apple Music subscribers on your iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. Alcohol not included.
- Game Center: The updates add SharePlay support to GameCenter for multiplayer games so you can play with people in a FaceTime call. Also, a new Activity widget lets you see what your friends are playing on your Home Screen.
- Home: Although Apple’s release notes merely list “improved reliability and efficiency of communication between your smart home accessories and Apple devices,” the big change for the Home app is a new Home architecture, which requires an intentional upgrade. Older devices that aren’t compatible with this batch of OS releases won’t be able to access the upgraded home, so hold off on the Home upgrade until you’re certain it won’t be a problem.
- Messages: A search in Messages can now find photos based on their content. Machine learning is your friend.
- Weather: Apple says that the Weather app will now display weather-related news articles associated with the current location. I can’t see any instance of this working yet, even in the parts of the US currently experiencing significant weather.
- iCloud Private Relay: If you have trouble with iCloud Private Relay preventing a website from loading properly in Safari, a new option lets you temporarily disable the service for a specific site. Tap the AA button in the toolbar, tap Show IP Address, and tap Continue.
- Notes: When collaborating with others in Notes, you’ll see live indicators as others make updates in a shared note.
- AirDrop: As rumored, Apple has tweaked AirDrop so it reverts from Everyone to Contacts Only after 10 minutes (the new label reads “Everyone for 10 Minutes”) to prevent unwanted requests to receive content. That’s not unreasonable, but the intent is brought into question by the fact that Apple first implemented it for iPhones in China, where protestors were using AirDrop to organize.
Several additional features are specific to the iPhone:
- Lock Screen settings: Apple added settings that let you hide the wallpaper or notifications when the Always On display is enabled for an iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max. I’ll be curious to try them; I’ve found that I don’t love the Always On display because it makes the iPhone more likely to catch my eye and distract me from what I’m doing. There’s also a new Show Photo in Library option when setting up the Photo Shuffle wallpaper.
- More Lock Screen widgets: New Sleep and Medications widgets for the Lock Screen let you view your most recent sleep data and quickly access your medication schedule. The latter strikes me as important, given that medication notifications are a little too easy to ignore (see “An Apple a Day: iOS 16 Medications Feature Provides Alerts, Logging, and Peace of Mind,” 7 October 2022).
- Live Activities for Apple TV: Sports fans will appreciate the new Live Activities for the Apple TV app, which lets you follow your favorite teams with live scores on the Lock Screen or Dynamic Island on the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. I’m still hoping Apple will add track & field and other major running races to its sports tracking.
The major promised iPad feature in iPadOS 16.2 is support for Stage Manager on external displays with M1 iPad models, including the fifth-generation iPad Air, the third-generation 11-inch iPad Pro and later, and the fifth-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro and later. Stage Manager supports displays with resolutions up to 6K (for your Pro Display XDR), allows drag-and-drop of files and windows from the iPad to the display, and lets you use up to four apps on the iPad screen and another four on the external display (see Julio Ojeda-Zapata’s “First Impressions: Stage Manager on the iPad and Mac,” 18 July 2022).
The only other iPad-specific change appears to be the addition of Tracking Notifications that alert you if an AirTag separated from its owner is nearby and has recently played a sound to indicate that it’s moving. In other words, if I understand correctly, the iPad can now alert you to AirTag stalking, just like the iPhone.
The updates fix a couple of bugs, one for both platforms that caused some notes not to sync with iCloud after being updated and an iPad-specific bug that could cause Multi-Touch gestures to become unresponsive while using the Zoom accessibility feature.
iOS 16.2 and iPadOS 16.2 also address 33 security vulnerabilities, presumably including the one that’s being actively exploited in the wild for those who haven’t already updated to iOS 16.1.2.
Update in Settings > General > Software Update.
macOS 13.1 Ventura
The release notes for macOS 13.1 Ventura are significantly shorter than for iOS 16.2 and iPadOS 16.2, and they are even shorter yet if you eliminate the changes that are common to all three, including Freeform, Advanced Data Protection, improved search in Messages, Participant Cursors in Notes, and the fix for notes not syncing properly.
That leaves just one improvement and one bug fix unique to Ventura:
- Find My: You can now find nearby AirTags, second-generation AirPods Pro cases, and Find My network accessories by playing a sound on them. I didn’t realize this wasn’t already possible, but it’s certainly welcome.
- No input: macOS 13.1 fixes a bug that caused the loss of keyboard and mouse input in some apps and games. I have no idea how common that bug was, but it would be insanely annoying, so the fix would be reason enough to update.
Unmentioned by Apple but noticed by Howard Oakley is the fact that macOS 13.1 restores the Network Locations feature to System Settings.
macOS 13.1 also addresses 33 security vulnerabilities, including the WebKit bug that was actively exploited.
Install the update in System Settings > General > Software Update, or use the Software Update Available notification in System Settings.
For entirely different changes, check out watchOS 9.2. Most notably, it delivers on earlier feature promises by introducing the Race Route feature that lets you compete against yourself by comparing earlier times in the Outdoor Run, Outdoor Cycle, and Outdoor Wheelchair workouts. And if you run on running tracks that the watch recognizes, the Outdoor Run workout automatically detects the location and provides track-specific metrics. As well it should, says the guy who coaches weekly track workouts.
Other changes in watchOS 9.2 include:
- New custom Kickboxing algorithm in the Workout app for more accurate metrics
- Noise app displaying when environmental sound levels are reduced now available with first-generation AirPods Pro and AirPods Max when using active noise cancellation
- Family Setup users can be invited to the Home app to control HomePod speakers and smart home accessories, and unlock doors with home keys in Wallet
- Accessibility support to visualize when Siren is in use on an Apple Watch Ultra
- Improved response time and accuracy of hand gesture controls for AssistiveTouch and Quick Actions
- Crash Detection optimizations on the second-generation Apple Watch SE, Apple Watch Series 8, and Apple Watch Ultra (presumably to avoid false positives people have experienced on roller coasters and ski slopes)
- Fix for a bug that caused the time to be displayed incorrectly immediately after dismissing an alarm in Sleep Focus
- Fix for a bug that caused interruptions to mindfulness sessions
There are 23 security vulnerabilities addressed in watchOS 9.2, but it wasn’t susceptible to the WebKit bug that plagued the other operating systems. In other words, don’t rush to update for security reasons. The other features seem worthwhile, though.
You can install watchOS 9.2 in the Watch app on your iPhone in My Watch > General > Software Update. Your Apple Watch must be connected to a charger and charged to at least 50%.
tvOS 16.2 receives more changes than the Apple TV’s operating system generally gets. Foremost are improvements to Siri, which can now recognize up to six different family members, work in a language other than the one your Apple TV displays (our son Tristan likes to talk to Siri on his iPhone in French while leaving the rest of the interface in English), and has more language support (Danish in Denmark, French and German in Luxembourg, and English in Singapore) to help users find shows and music.
Apple also enhanced the Apple TV’s support for Apple Music. It now provides real-time lyrics synced with music (ostensibly for singing along, but also useful just for figuring out what they say), and if you have a third-generation Apple TV 4K, you can also control the vocal volume, presumably for karaoke enthusiasts.
tvOS 16.2 addresses 26 security vulnerabilities, and although it’s hard to stress about an Apple TV being hacked, these fixes come courtesy of Apple’s operating systems sharing so much of their code.
You can install tvOS 16.2 by going to Settings > System > Software Update. Or just let it install on its own.
HomePod Software 16.2
Apple says nothing about this update beyond the fact that it “includes general performance and stability improvements.” It should install automatically soon enough, or, in iOS 16, you can touch and hold the HomePod’s accessory tile and select Accessory Details. Scroll down and tap the gear, and then tap Update.