Apple Reveals Why Your iPhone Takes So Long to Install ‘Automatic’ Updates

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If you’ve ever wondered why your iPhone doesn’t seem to ever get around to automatically installing the latest iOS updates, you’re not alone. However, it turns out that there’s a good answer to this — and it’s a deliberate precaution on Apple’s part.

This isn’t a big problem for iPhone enthusiasts that jump on the latest iOS updates as soon as they’re available, since you can always install an iOS update manually. For those who prefer to wait, however, it often feels like the automatic updates aren’t working at all.

Well, it turns out that Apple’s automatic updates are working as designed — they’re just delayed to avoid the risk of a serious bug crippling billions of iPhones around the world.

After reading multiple Reddit posts and online news about “customers complaining that [the] iOS auto-update feature [was] working slow,” a user on Reddit reached out to Craig Federighi to see if they could find out why.

The response from the Apple Senior VP, shared as a screenshot from the Redditor’s iPhone Mail app, was enlightening:

We incrementally rollout new iOS updates by first making them available for those that explicitly seek them out in Settings, and then 1-4 weeks later (after we’ve received feedback on the update) ramp up to rolling out to devices with auto-update enabled.Craig Federighi

Federighi doesn’t explicitly state Apple’s reasons for the delayed rollout of automatic updates. However, the part about waiting for feedback makes it pretty clear that Apple is taking a very cautious approach to ensure an update is stable before potentially inflicting a problem on every iPhone on the planet.

Since most major point releases go through an open beta cycle with developers and public beta testers, an iOS update rarely comes out with any bugs that could be considered show-stoppers. Still, it’s not uncommon for small glitches to still cause difficulties. Only yesterday, we saw reports of Apple Watch users experiencing charging problems with watchOS 8.5, and iOS 15.0 didn’t even begin to stabilize until Apple released iOS 15.0.2.

As a result of the delay in triggering these automatic updates, many iPhone users likely never saw an automatic update to iOS 15.0 in the first place. Instead, they would have moved directly to the more stable iOS 15.0.1 or iOS 15.0.2, which were both released less than four weeks later.

Federighi’s revelation also sheds some light on the timing of Apple’s minor “sub-point” iOS releases; they all appear to arrive within four weeks of each larger point release:

iOS 15.0September 20, 2021
iOS 15.0.1October 1, 2021
iOS 15.0.2October 11, 2021
iOS 15.1October 25, 2021
iOS 15.1.1November 17, 2021
iOS 15.2December 13, 2021
iOS 15.2.1January 12, 2022
iOS 15.3January 26, 2022
iOS 15.3.1February 10, 2022
iOS 15.4March 14, 2022

This could also explain why these minor maintenance releases so often appear only a week or two before the next major point release. For example, iOS 15.2.1 arrived only two weeks before iOS 15.3 but just over four weeks after iOS 15.2.

This allowed Apple to turn the key on automatic updates to the iOS 15.2 family, delivering the more polished iOS 15.2.1, before releasing iOS 15.3, which would have kicked off a new automatic update cycle.

Of course, there are other advantages to Apple delaying automatic updates, such as balancing out the load on the servers that handle these updates. Still, it’s hard to imagine it would need to spread those out over four weeks, even for over a billion devices.

Fortunately, unlike life on the other side, the latest iOS updates are always available immediately for those who want to jump on board right away. However, if your friends or family are missing out on the latest iOS features, such as seeing the new emoji in your messages or using Face ID while wearing a mask, you’ll need to nudge them into updating manually. 

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