iOS 18: Rumored features, supported devices, and more

iOS 17 Dynamic Island
(Image credit: Future)

iOS 18 is coming very soon, with Apple confirming WWDC 2024 will take place from June 10-14. Every year Apple takes to the stage at its annual developer conference in June to announce the year's upcoming new software on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and beyond. This year will be no different, and while iOS 17 might have been a fairly impressive upgrade, iOS 18 could absolutely blow us away. 

According to reports, Apple expects iOS 18, codenamed Crystal, to be the biggest iOS update in the company's history, which is really saying something. So what new features and changes could iOS 18 bring to the table?

The headline this year is AI. With rivals like Microsoft and Google going all-in on AI, the onus is on Apple to respond, and iOS 18 sounds like it might be the counterpunch we've been waiting for. 

The story so far: iOS 17

iOS 17 image showing StandBy

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple released iOS 17 in September 2023 after its own months-long beta program that saw developers and public beta testers put it through its paces. It was also a software update that brought a number of new features.

StandBy was one of the biggest new features, one that turns an iPhone into a status board of sorts whenever it's charging and placed in landscape orientation. That makes it perfect for use with MagSafe chargers and puts information like the time and app-based widgets right in front of you — and it's particularly great on iPhones with an always-on display.

Another big upgrade was interactive widgets, allowing apps to update themselves when tapped. That also means that apps no longer have to launch whenever a widget is tapped — an excellent addition for to-do list apps and others that can now display interactive information on-screen at all times.

Other notable additions include new mental health monitoring and iOS 17.2's new Journal app alongside Messages improvements.

iOS 18: Rumored features

iOS 18: A focus on AI

Details on what iOS 18 will have to offer indicate the biggest focus will be on AI. Siri has long been an issue for Apple, one that has gotten much worse in recent months as Large Language Models and chatbots like ChatGPT have started to become more popular with ever-increasing capabilities.

However, Apple is thought to be working on a new AI improvement that will take Siri to a new level. Dubbed Ajax GPT, The Infomation previously reported that the new language is a cut above what even ChatGPT can offer.

This could all fit in with a Bloomberg report that hints at big things coming to iOS 18. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman says that the iPhone 16 lineup isn't set to be a huge upgrade over the iPhones currently on sale, with Apple focusing on software this time out. That could make iOS 18 a big upgrade in 2024. More recently, Gurman says we shouldn't expect a focus on a ChatGPT alternative from Apple, but rather a selection of tools to enrich your daily life. 

Apple reportedly has six products it plans to improve with AI. Siri is the obvious contender for some kind of large language upgrade. Beyond that, Apple will reportedly introduce more AI to Messages, Xcode, Apple Music, Pages, and Keynote. 

In its January earnings call, Tim Cook said Apple is continuing to invest in AI and other technologies,  and that Apple was spending “a tremendous amount of time and effort” and was “excited to share the details of our ongoing work in that space later this year.” 

Factor in talk of the iPhone 16 lineup potentially getting a microphone upgrade, and it seems that Apple might finally be ready to double down on its AI and digital assistant capabilities to make Siri less of an afterthought than it currently appears to be for so many people.

Apple is also reportedly considering overhauling Spotlight search, using LLMs to answer more complex questions. Another alternative is a rumored partnership between Apple and Google's Gemini AI. It has recently emerged the company may be considering licensing AI from another major company, with Baidu in China also a reported target for that local market. 

iOS 18: RCS support

iPhone 14 with messages app open being held in front of green wall

(Image credit: John-Anthony Disotto)

Even as Apple continues to prevent iMessage from working on Android, it's working to make it easier for iPhone owners to communicate with their Android-owning friends and family.

With SMS very much showing its age, people who want to send and receive rich messages and content with those on Android have to resort to using third-party apps like WhatsApp or others. However, that is set to change in 2024.

Apple has already announced that it will bring RCS to the iPhone in 2024, although a firm timeframe for the release has so far gone unconfirmed. That might suggest that this will be an iOS 18 feature, which in turn means that Apple has until September 2024 to get it working.

Once it is working, however, RCS support will bring iMessage-like features to cross-device chats, although it won't fix the green bubble problem, unfortunately.

iOS 18: Accessibility

One report indicates that Apple will also have a heavy accessibility focus in iOS 18. According to reports Apple is planning new Adaptive Voice Shortcuts to let users activate accessibility features like VoiceOver and Zoom with their voice. Another rumored feature is Live Speech categories, which will let users set up actions for certain phrases heard in calls using the Live Speech function. 

iOS 18: AirPods hearing aid

According to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, iOS 18 will also feature support for a new AirPods hearing aid mode that could build on Apple's conversation boost feature. It's not clear how the feature will work but it could enable Apple's AirPods Pro 2 as a powerful accessibility tool. 

iOS 18: Home Screen

In late March Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reported that iOS 18 could offer more iPhone Home Screen customization. A followup report from MacRumors indicates this could include the option to add blank spaces, columns, and rows to your Home Screen, just like Android. 

iOS 18: What we'd like to see

It's difficult to know what we would like from iOS 18, but the rumored Siri upgrades are definitely low-hanging fruit for us. Siri is a problem for Apple in so many ways, and not just in the way it struggles to compete with ChatGPT and similar chatbots. Asking Siri simple questions or even telling it to turn off a HomeKit-capable light can be problematic. Improvements are undoubtedly needed there.

Another potential source of improvement could be in iOS 18's photography capabilities. The iPhone already takes some of the best photos around, but there is always room for improvement. We'd like to see Apple offer some of the advanced AI-powered photo editing features that owners of Google's Pixel phones can boast, while improved zoom capabilities might require new hardware rather than a simple software update.

iOS 18: Expected release date

iPhone 15 Plus review

(Image credit: Future)

While Apple is yet to confirm when the new iOS 18 update will ship, we can make a calculated guess based on previous schedules.

With WWDC 2024 now confirmed, we can expect the first beta of iOS 18 to drop on June 10. A months-long beta process will then likely follow, with a public release coming in or around September, alongside the new iPhones.

iOS 18: Compatible devices

The current iOS 17 software is available on all of the best iPhones going back years, and that's likely to be the case with iOS 18, too. The 2nd-gen iPhone SE and the iPhone XR/XS or newer are supported currently, but we can likely expect some of the more impressive iOS 18 features to be reserved for its more modern hardware.

That is most likely to be evident with any new AI-powered features Apple adds to iOS 18, with older A-series chips simply unable to provide the horsepower required to make those features work properly.

The oldest supported iPhone chip is the A12 Bionic. If Apple were to drop support for that particular chipset this year, we'd likely see support for the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR end with iOS 18. Apple's iPhone SE 2 and the iPhone 11 generation all run on the A13, which we'd imagine is safe for another year. 

Oliver Haslam
Contributor

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.