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If you thought that iOS 14.5 was going to be the last point release before Apple unveils iOS 15 in a few weeks, you’ll be surprised to see that Apple has already seeded the first iOS 14.6 betas to registered developers — several days before iOS 14.5 has even been released to the public.
To be fair, iOS 14.5 is now in its RC, or “Release Candidate” stage, which means the version that’s being used by developers and public beta testers right now is intended to be the same code that will be released to everybody else next week. So, with that one done it’s fair to say that Apple doesn’t want to waste any time getting its next point release ready to go.
What’s interesting about this one, however, is that for the first time on the iOS side of things, Apple is offering developers and public beta testers a choice of which version they want to go with.
In the past, anybody who had a beta profile installed on their iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Apple TV, would be moved almost automatically beyond the release version right into the next beta. While you generally still had to consent to installing this, it’s the only version that would be offered.
Even more importantly, if you were running a beta and missed the release candidate or public release of that version before the next beta came along, you wouldn’t be able to install it at all without removing the beta profile.
However, as of the iOS 14.5 RC, it now appears that you’ll be able to choose which way you want to go. This is something that’s been offered to macOS beta testers for a while now, but it’s entirely new on the iOS side of things.
Instead of simply appearing as the next available update, the iOS 14.6 (and iPadOS 14.6) beta now shows up in a new section, listed as “Also Available.” Tapping on this will take you to the normal update screen for that version, but you can also choose to ignore it entirely; it won’t be automatically installed or even offered up for installation unless you quite specifically choose to go down that road.
In fact, this also continues to be the case even after you’ve installed an RC or public release. You won’t be pushed back into the beta stream unless you explicitly choose to do so. Instead, you’ll see a note that everything is up to date, with the next beta still shown below as “Also Available.”
This will be a boon to many developers, and especially public beta testers, since they can now be assured of getting the public release version of iOS and being able to stay safely on it without going through the hassle of removing the beta profile — and then having to manually reinstall it again when they do want to jump back in to the latest beta.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t yet extend to Apple TV and Apple Watch users, which, for now at least, are still being offered the next watchOS 7.5 and tvOS 14.6 betas directly. Apple Watch beta testers who want to stick with iOS 14.5 will need to remove the watchOS beta profile if they want to avoid being automatically pushed into a newer beta version that might not be fully compatible with iOS 14.5.
Apple TV users also have the option of more easily switching off the “Get Beta Updates” setting in the Software Updates section.
What’s New in iOS 14.6
At this point it’s unclear what’s changed in iOS 14.6, and it’s quite possible the answer is “not much.”
iOS 14.5 packed in a relatively staggering number of enhancements for a point release, so it’s entirely possible that with iOS 14.6 Apple is now focusing more on under-the-hood improvements, like bug fixes, performance enhancements, and just polishing things up in general.
Further, with the new 2021 iPad Pro models not expected to arrive until late May, it seems likely that iPadOS 14.6 may simply be the version intended to ship on these devices, similar to what happened last fall with iOS 14.1 and the iPhone 12.
That said, we’re certainly keeping our eye out for anything significant that pops up in the new iOS/iPadOS 14.6 betas, but so far, it looks like it’s mostly business as usual. In fact, the only user-facing change listed in the developer beta release notes right now is the aforementioned ability to “directly update your iOS or iPadOS device to the latest Release Candidate without removing the beta profile,” which is actually a feature that’s obviously already in iOS 14.5 RC.