Is it weird that Apple’s release notes for iOS 16.4, iPadOS 16.4, and macOS 13.3 Ventura lead off with the fact they include 21 new emoji? The only appropriate response is to channel my inner teen by rolling my eyes and muttering, “Whatever.”
Apart from that, these updates, along with watchOS 9.4 and tvOS 16.4, provide some features that are welcome, if not world-changing, for most users. Unsurprisingly, HomePod Software 16.4 merely “includes performance and stability improvements.” I hope it addresses an increasingly common problem with our first-generation HomePods that causes them to go silent for a second or two before resuming playback.
If some of the changes I describe below sound compelling, I see no reason you should delay updating. On the other hand, if you would be doing so just to stay current with Apple’s security fixes, none of which are being exploited in the wild, you can wait a week to ensure there aren’t any unanticipated side effects.
Many of the changes apply to two or more of Apple’s operating systems.
For some people, Apple’s “Notifications for web apps added to the Home Screen” may be extremely welcome, but it requires some unpacking. There’s a W3C standard that enables websites to generate notifications outside the context of a page, and you’ve probably run across sites that ask to send you notifications. Although Safari—along with Brave, Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge—supports Web Push, that has been true only on the Mac until now.
With iOS 16.4 and iPadOS 16.4, Web apps you add to your Home Screen (tap Share, scroll down, and tap Add to Home Screen) can now display native notifications. That’s a big deal for Web apps like Discourse, the software we use for TidBITS Talk. Before this, it couldn’t trigger notifications of new posts on an iPhone or iPad. Notifications of TidBITS Talk messages might be overkill for most people, but I also use Discourse for the low-traffic Finger Lakes Runners Club discussion forum, where I do want to see immediate notifications.
Another welcome change in iOS 16.4, iPadOS 16.4, and macOS 13.3 is expanded support for duplicate-checking in Photos. The Duplicates album now detects duplicate photos and videos in an iCloud Shared Photo Library.
If you’ve wondered about those warnings about flashing lights before movies or TV shows, they exist to alert those with photosensitive epilepsy or other photosensitivity (such as a migraine trigger) that they should be careful. Apple has now gone further with iOS 16.4, iPadOS 16.4, macOS 13.3, and tvOS 16.4 with an accessibility setting that automatically dims video when flashes of light or strobe effects are detected. Look for Settings > Accessibility > Motion > Dim Flashing Lights on the iPhone and iPad, and in System Settings > Accessibility > Display on the Mac. On the Apple TV, I would expect the setting to appear in Settings > Accessibility > Display or Motion, but I can’t find it. Suggestions welcome.
All three of the major operating systems now provide VoiceOver support for maps in the Weather app.
Apple also fixed two bugs that affected the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Ask to Buy requests from children could previously fail to appear on the parent’s device, no doubt causing gnashing of little teeth. Those with Matter-compatible thermostats probably weren’t happy when their thermostats became unresponsive after being paired to Apple Home. Brr!
iPhone-only Changes in iOS 16.4
Perhaps most importantly, Apple says iOS 16.4 optimizes the Crash Detection algorithms for the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models. We’re at the tail end of the skiing season, but with luck, Apple will have eliminated the inaccurate warnings inundating emergency services near ski resorts. As we head toward summer in the US, we hope Apple also addressed similar problems at amusement parks (see “Roller Coasters Can Trigger Crash Detection in the iPhone 14 and Apple Watch,” 10 October 2022).
Although you might not notice this change, installing iOS 16.4 will give you Apple’s Voice Isolation feature for regular cellular calls (it was previously available only for FaceTime audio). It uses machine learning to block ambient noise and prioritize your voice. It should make you sound better to the people you call. I can’t find any switches for it in iOS 16.4—I presume it’s on by default.
Last and definitely least, in a fix I am inordinately fond of, Apple has finally figured out how to get the iOS release notes to display at a readable font size.
iPad-only Changes in iPadOS 16.4
Once again, Apple hasn’t done much that focuses on the iPad. The only two iPad-specific changes revolve around the Apple Pencil, with one new feature and one bug fix.
For those with the fourth-generation 11-inch iPad Pro and sixth-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro, Apple Pencil hover adds tilt and azimuth support so you can preview your mark at any angle before you make it in Notes and supported apps.
And for everyone else with an Apple Pencil, iPadOS 16.4 fixes a problem with responsiveness that could occur while drawing or writing in Notes.
Mac-only changes in macOS 13.3
The only Mac-specific feature in macOS 13.3 Ventura is the option to remove backgrounds in Freeform to isolate the subject in an image. Useful, I suppose.
Apple also added transliteration support for Gujarati, Punjabi, and Urdu keyboards—possibly indicating more focus on India as Apple looks to increase sales and manufacturing in the country. The new keyboard layouts for Choctaw, Chickasaw, Akan, Hausa, and Yoruba are probably just about doing the right thing in supporting Native American and African languages.
Finally, macOS 13.3 fixes a pair of bugs: one that could prevent trackpad gestures from working and another that caused VoiceOver to become unresponsive after using the Finder.
watchOS 9.4 receives only one general improvement: wake-up alarms are no longer silenced with the cover-to-mute gesture because it was too easy to cancel the alarm accidentally while asleep.
The remaining changes are location-specific. Cycle tracking with retrospective ovulation estimates and cycle deviation alerts is now supported in Moldova and Ukraine. Also, AFib History is now available in Colombia, Malaysia, Moldova, Thailand, and Ukraine.
As usual, there are numerous security updates. I suppose we should be grateful that Apple is addressing so many vulnerabilities, but it would be nice if there were fewer to start. Happily, Apple doesn’t identify any of these as being actively exploited in the wild.
- iOS 16.4 and iPadOS 16.4: 32 vulnerabilities
- macOS 13.3: 49 vulnerabilities
- watchOS 9.4: 16 vulnerabilities
- tvOS 16.4: 14 vulnerabilities
If you experience any issues with these updates, let us know in the comments!