In one sense, the story of this year’s macOS update is that there is no story, but that’s not exactly right. Instead, it’s a bunch of stories. It’s the tail end of the realignment of macOS with Apple’s other OSes that began with macOS Catalina in 2019. However, Sonoma is also part of a work-at-home story accelerated by COVID-19. The OS is also linked to the story of visionOS, only part of which has been revealed. Sonoma is a bundle of narrative threads built on the foundation of past releases, adding up to a collection of updates that will be less disruptive for most Mac users than recent macOS updates. Instead, Sonoma is packed with a variety of useful new features that help draw it closer to iPadOS and iOS than ever before, design enhancements, and a few disappointing omissions.
The timing for a more modest macOS update is right. In recent years, Mac users have had to adjust to substantial redesigns of everything from their favorite system apps to the Finder’s windows and toolbars. The changes were inescapable and necessary to harmonize the Mac with Apple’s other products, but also disruptive for some long-time users.
Sonoma adds a vast collection of new wallpaper and screensaver options.
With macOS Sonoma, the biggest design shifts seem to be behind us – at least for the time being. Interactive widgets on the desktop are a big change this year, but it’s not like macOS dumps a bunch of them on your desktop by default. If you never want to see a widget anywhere near your desktop, you don’t have to. Other than the subtle way the login screen has changed and the new screensavers and wallpapers that are available, the core macOS experience has barely changed.
Instead, this year’s update is primarily about refining and building upon the foundation of the past few years, coupled with a handful of more significant updates to system apps. So, while the marquee features and design changes may be less notable than in recent years, there is still a long list of new and refreshed items that touch nearly every aspect of the OS, so let’s dive in.
A major change introduced by iPadOS 17 that is going to make video creators and gamers happy is support for UVC (USB Video Class) devices, which means an iPad can now recognize external webcams, cameras, video acquisition cards, and other devices connected over USB-C. I started testing iPadOS 17 thinking this would be a boring addition I’d never use; as it turns out, it’s where I had the most fun tinkering with different pieces of hardware this summer.
Most of all, however, I did not anticipate I’d end up doing FaceTime calls with a Game Boy Camera as my iPad Pro’s webcam.
I’m in the process of writing my annual iOS and iPadOS review, and in the story I’ll have plenty more details about the changes to iPadOS 17’s Stage Manager and how I’m taking advantage of UVC support to play Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck games on my iPad’s display. But in the meantime, I wanted to share this Game Boy Camera story because it’s wild, ridiculous, and I love it.
Screen sharing in FaceTime with SharePlay (left) and the updated Safari for iPad.
Alongside macOS Monterey, Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 15.1 – the first major updates to the operating systems introduced last month. Don’t expect a large collection of changes from this release, though: 15.1 mostly focuses on enabling SharePlay (which was announced at WWDC, then postponed to a later release a few months ago), rolling Safari back to a reasonable design, and bringing a few tweaks for the Camera app and spatial audio. Let’s take a look.
FaceTime has been a centerpiece feature across all of Apple’s platforms for a long time. However, with the pandemic, it became more important than ever, playing a critical role in the way friends and family have stayed connected. Of course, FaceTime isn’t the only way have kept in touch. The app had plenty of competition from Zoom, Skype, and other services.
So, it’s not surprising that this year’s FaceTime updates focus on fundamentals like audio and video quality and making the app available outside of Apple’s ecosystem, allowing it to compete better with other services. Nor is it surprising that Apple announced SharePlay, which won’t ship until later this fall, so friends and family who can’t be together can still enjoy synchronized group activities like watching a video or listening to music. I’m skeptical that SharePlay will be the hit that Apple’s marketing suggests the company hopes it will be, but even putting SharePlay aside, the app is getting some major improvements that I think everyone will appreciate, so let’s dig in.
Today, Apple issued an update to iOS that fixes the serious bug that we reported on last week, which could be exploited to eavesdrop on someone using FaceTime. With iOS 12.1.4 in place, Apple has turned Group FaceTime back on server-side too, but it will only work with the updated version of iOS and later releases.
Today’s software update fixes the security bug in Group FaceTime. We again apologize to our customers and we thank them for their patience. In addition to addressing the bug that was reported, our team conducted a thorough security audit of the FaceTime service and made additional updates to both the FaceTime app and server to improve security. This includes a previously unidentified vulnerability in the Live Photos feature of FaceTime. To protect customers who have not yet upgraded to the latest software, we have updated our servers to block the Live Photos feature of FaceTime for older versions of iOS and macOS.
In the security update notes released alongside the update, Apple credits Grant Thompson, the teenager who first reported the bug, along with Daven Morris of Arlington, Texas.
Available for: iPhone 5s and later, iPad Air and later, and iPod touch 6th generation
Impact: The initiator of a Group FaceTime call may be able to cause the recipient to answer
Description: A logic issue existed in the handling of Group FaceTime calls. The issue was addressed with improved state management.
CVE-2019-6223: Grant Thompson of Catalina Foothills High School, Daven Morris of Arlington, TX
According to Nicole Nguyen of BuzzFeed, Apple is also compensating Thompson’s family and making a gift towards his education:
Apple’s comment on today’s software update, which includes a fix to the Group FaceTime big. The company is also compensating the Thompson fam for reporting the flaw and contributing a gift to the teen, Grant Thomspson,’s education pic.twitter.com/uGNAQ9fFoq
A significant bug has been discovered in FaceTime and is currently spreading virally over social media. The bug lets you call anyone with FaceTime, and immediately hear the audio coming from their phone — before the person on the other end has accepted or rejected the incoming call.
Naturally, this poses a pretty privacy problem as you can essentially listen in on any iOS user, although it still rings like normal, so you can’t be 100% covert about it. Nevertheless, there is no indication on the recipient’s side that you could hear any of their audio.
Mayo continues by listing the details of how to reproduce the bug yourself when calling someone else, which involves a few very simple steps that anyone can perform. The simplicity of reproduction makes this bug especially dangerous.
To recap: due to this FaceTime bug, which appears to affect all devices running iOS 12.1 or later, any caller can gain access to another user’s microphone feed while the call is ringing. And if the person receiving the call in that scenario tries to dismiss the call, it may unintentionally be answered, activating the device’s camera as well.
Hopefully ‘later this week’ ends up translating to the next day or two, as some serious havoc could be wrought by this bug on unsuspecting users. Until that software update is released, we strongly recommend disabling FaceTime from Settings ⇾ FaceTime on your devices, or at the very least be aware that incoming calls you receive could be tapping into your microphone without your consent.
Today following its Brooklyn keynote event, Apple released iOS 12.1, the first major update since September’s iOS 12 brought Shortcuts, Screen Time, and more. Version 12.1 adds over 70 new emoji, introduces Group FaceTime with up to 32 participants, and lastly 2018’s iPhones get upgrades via camera improvements and dual SIM support.
Following commercials for the iPhone 5’s Music and Photos apps, Apple’s “Every Day” campaign is back today with a new television ad called “FaceTime Every Day”. As we expected, the commercial – available on YouTube and Apple’s website – focuses on FaceTime video calling.
The new commercial, similarly to Music Every Day, isn’t primarily aimed at highlighting the technology behind FaceTime or the features of the app; rather, it emphasizes how FaceTime can seamlessly fit into everyday life and turn remote “face to face communication” into something worth enjoying and remembering. Something as natural as talking to another person, but made possible by technology.
A girl shows her engagement ring to, perhaps, her mother or a friend who’s not there with her; a man sends a kiss to his significant other (after having made sure nobody is watching); bits of life around the world – fireworks, an empty apartment, kids playing in the backyard – are shared with FaceTime.
There is no feature checklist. There are no flying robots in a post-apocalyptic scenario or references to wives and Tegra chipsets. The simple idea of connecting people is the checklist. “Every day, more people connect face to face on the iPhone than any other phone”. There’s no mention of FaceTime in the commercial, because there doesn’t need to be: “FaceTime” may be in the ad’s name, but the iPhone experience is the product being advertised.
As noted by poster “macrob” on MacTalk’s forums, the Apple Australian webpage for the recently announced iOS 6 suggests FaceTime over cellular will work on the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 in Australia. As indicated in a fine print at the bottom of the page (point 4), “FaceTime over a cellular network requires iPhone 4 or later, or iPad 2 or later with cellular data capability. Carrier data charges may apply. FaceTime is not available in all countries”. This compares to Apple’s other iOS 6 Preview webpages, where Apple states “FaceTime over a cellular network requires iPhone 4S or iPad (3rd generation) with cellular data capability”.
Announced earlier this week by Scott Forstall at WWDC, FaceTime over cellular wasn’t given exact specifications on stage during the keynote; on Apple’s iOS 6 Preview webpage, a number of features – such as VIP list and Shared Photo Streams – are shown as available only on newer devices, as collected by MacRumors in this list. It appears Apple’s Australian website is the only one to report FaceTime over cellular as compatible with the iPhone 4 and iPad 2; every other webpage says the feature will only work on the iPhone 4S and iPad 3.
It is unclear whether the fine print on Apple’s Australian website could have been posted by mistake, or if Apple really is planning on supporting older devices for Australian customers. While technically possible as a number of jailbreak tweaks have shown in the past years, some have speculated Apple might want to limit FaceTime over cellular to newer devices due to their improved antenna design and networking capabilities over older generation models.
We have reached out to Apple for comment and we’ll update this story with clarifications when available.
Update: Apple’s Australian website has been updated to clarify FaceTime over cellular will work on the iPhone 4S or iPad 3.