It’s only been a couple of days since iOS 12.3 was released to the public, and Apple has already pushed out the first developer beta of the next point update, iOS 12.4, with a public beta likely to follow soon.
While the iOS 12.3 update was significant for its debut of Apple’s new overhauled TV app, which was redesigned to support the May launch of Apple TV Channels, and of course the big debut of Apple TV+ coming later this year, there really wasn’t much else to say about it, and now iOS 12.4 appears to offer even less, with no outward-facing changes.
Apple’s developer release notes also provide no indication of new features, although that’s not particularly surprising as Apple began stripping down its beta release notes last year, when it switched from more detailed PDF documents to a lighter web-based version. Prior to the change, the PDF-based release notes often contained exhaustive technical details about API changes and other under-the-hood issues, while the modern release notes have been considerably more sparse even in the face of much more significant iOS updates.
With Apple’s new credit card, the Apple Card, already in the hands of its employees, and expected to launch publicly in the U.S. this summer, it stands to reason that iOS 12.4 will be primarily about ensuring that the necessary support is in place for the new card. While changes to the Wallet app were found in both iOS 12.2 and iOS 12.3, these seemed to be preliminary at best, and iOS 12.4 is probably about locking these down into final form.
iOS developer Steve Moser has also discovered a hidden stub app to allow iPad users to set up the Apple Card. Since the iPad doesn’t have the Apple Wallet app, it’s understandable for Apple to add this capability for Apple Card users who may be using an iPad as their only iOS device, and provides an answer to the question of how Apple will be handling this. Note that although Apple renamed the app to Wallet back in 2015, under the hood the app is still called “Passbook.app” and it appears Apple will be consistent in calling the new iPad version “PassbookStub.app” — a name which implies, however, that it may not represent a visible and distinct app on the iPad home screen.
Notably, the first iOS 12.4 beta also adds a somewhat significant modem firmware update for 2018 iPhone models, bumping the version up to 1.06.01 from 1.05.03. While this hasn’t yet been confirmed — since the beta has been out for less than 24 hours — it’s possible that this may solve issues that some users were reporting with failed/dropped calls, call quality, and cellular connectivity in iOS 12.3.
The build number of this first iOS 12.4 beta is 16G5027G, and some have suggested that the “G” version is an indication of less stability. The reality, however, is that the closing letter only indicates how many times that particular build has had to pass internal QA testing, so the letter suffix is generally meaningless as an indication of how stable a given beta is, since it really depends on what happened during the QA process for any given build. In practical terms, we’ve had no problems with this initial iOS 12.4 beta, and most reports suggest that it’s stable and fast. On the other hand, of course, since it offers little of interest beyond support for a credit card that nobody outside of Apple even has yet, there’s probably not a huge incentive to leave the safety and comfort of the public iOS 12.3 release.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that the first iOS 13 betas are less than three weeks away, since it’s almost certainly going to be debuted at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference on June 3. This won’t represent the end of life for iOS 12, however, as Apple will still continue with additional minor releases likely right up to the weeks before the public release of iOS 13 in the fall.