Although Apple’s “Hi, Speed” event this week was always going to be almost entirely about the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro lineup, we really expected that Apple would toss in a few other new product announcements, so it was sort of disappointing when the whole thing wrapped with nary a mention of anything more than the HomePod mini.
Not that the HomePod mini wasn’t exciting in its own right, but Apple also made sure to get that one out the way right off the bat — Tim Cook didn’t even spend the customary time touting Apple’s successes and sales figures, but literally launched right into the HomePod mini almost one breath after finishing his opening greeting.
Up until last week, however, we would have put money on Apple’s event including its long-rumoured AirTags item tracking devices and its AirPods Studio over-ear headphones, and while a couple of late-breaking rumours did confirm that they would not be making an appearance, there was still good reason to hold out at least a glimmer of hope that maybe the leaks were wrong.
To be fair, we’ve been hearing about Apple’s AirTags since early spring of last year, and Apple has had the code in place for them since the first developer beta of iOS 13. In fact, Apple itself accidentally leaked the new product name in a support video that briefly appeared on its site that was clearly recorded using an iPhone running an internal beta version of iOS.
Several reports over the past few months have also suggested that AirTags would be coming sometime this fall, and the rumours were solid enough that AirTags’ biggest potential competitor, Tile, actually got nervous enough to raise concerns to U.S. congress about anti-competitive behaviour from a product that doesn’t even officially exist yet.
So when we heard that AirTags were already in production, it seemed like a given that Apple would be announcing them at one of its two big fall events. Unfortunately, last week prolific leaker Jon Prosser threw a huge bucket of cold water on this, announcing that he had heard that the new tracking tags wouldn’t be arriving until next March.
But Maybe Not…
However, now it looks like Prosser’s information may have been inaccurate, or perhaps he was even deliberately misled, as he has back-pedalled on his earlier statement, suggesting that Apple is “now going to launch AirTags after all.”
Prosser is couching this reversal by implying that Apple is doing this as a result of AirPods Studio being pushed back, although it’s hard to see why the release of AirPods Studio would have anything to do with Apple’s plans for AirTags, especially since, as Prosser claims, AirTags have been “done & ready” for a while, and it’s only been a question of Apple picking the best time.
This goes along with the other reports we’ve heard of AirTags already being in production, so it doesn’t seem like a huge stretch, but as we noted last week, although we’re skeptical that Apple would deliberately delay a product like this until next March if it’s otherwise completely ready.
With Apple already facing antitrust investigations in Europe and another potential one in the U.S., it might not want to whack the hornet’s nest right now by releasing a product that already has its competitors petitioning for more antitrust action. While it’s not like Apple to bow to this kind of pressure, sometimes discretion is the better part of valour.
Coming with iOS 14.3 Next Month?
According to Prosser, however, AirTags are “on schedule to be released with iOS 14.3, which will include features enabled for AirTags. This sounds reasonable, except for the fact that Prosser also suggests that iOS 14.3 is planned for a release next month.
Considering that iOS 14.2 is still in beta, it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that Apple could have yet another point release on the horizon so soon after. If iOS 14.3 is actually coming in November, it will be the fastest point release cycle in the history of Apple’s mobile operating systems, breaking last year’s December record set by iOS 13.3 — a release which already came on the heels of one of Apple’s messiest iOS release seasons by far.
In stark contrast to iOS 13, where we saw the first iOS 13.1 point release enter beta before Apple even announced the release of iOS 13.0, this year’s iOS 14 cycle has been considerably smoother. iOS 14.0 was remarkably stable, with only a couple of small issues fixed in an iOS 14.0.1 release. As we predicted when Apple released the first iOS 14.2 beta, the company skipped over iOS 14.1 in order to include it on its new iPhones, while iOS 14.2 remains in beta and seems more likely to be the version that will come in November.
iOS 14.2 could also be the version that ships on Apple’s iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max in November, however that’s still an open question, since these models are most likely already beginning production even now.
That said, we certainly can’t rule out the possibility that iOS 14.3 could arrive sooner rather than later, especially since it’s not uncommon for new hardware products to drive software requirements, but Apple also has its hands pretty fully with iOS 14.x updates in general, with a bunch of new features also coming to the HomePod that will likely be included in the final iOS 14.2 release.