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Apple’s Surprise iPhone Update, Here At Last

There’s a very big update coming to the iPhone next month, iOS 17.4. But before it lands, it looks like another update will arrive to be downloaded in the coming days or weeks. That’ll be iOS 17.3.1, and here’s what we know about it.

February 8 update below. This post was first published on February 6, 2024.

What Is It?

According to MacRumors, the site’s analytics logs have spotted signs of new software that isn’t iOS 17.4. This mechanism of spotting new iOS versions has served MacRumors well, most recently telling us that iOS 17.2.1 was on its way—again, an update that nobody was expecting.

MORE FROM FORBESApple Prepares Biggest Free iPhone Upgrade Yet

What’s In It

The only clue we have is the version number, which tells us it is more minor than the “whole-number” releases that went before and will come after it.

It could be bug fixes, it could be security updates or it could be both. What it isn’t is a Rapid Security Response as Apple only releases these to modify a minor operating system version, rather than a whole-number release. In other words, once iOS 17.3.1 is released, there could theoretically be an RSR in the shape of iOS 17.3.1 (a).

It’s also extremely unlikely that there will be all-new features coming in iOS 17.3.1. First of all, there were features in iOS 17.3 and there are more coming in iOS 17.4, so it seems likely Apple would hold any other new features for iOS 17.4.

Instead, it could update existing features. One possibility is that the excellent Stolen Device Protection introduced in iOS 17.3, and which is due to be refined in iOS 17.4, could have its improvements brought forward and released earlier in iOS 1.73.1. Stolen Device Protection ensures extra security protections kick in when you’re not in a familiar location. There have been complaints that you can’t specify which locations are familiar for you. That isn’t expected to change but it’s thought that you will be able to choose to implement the extra security restrictions wherever you are. More details here. This could be part of iOS 17.3.1.

Release Date

Given that iOS 17.4 is not expected for almost a month, there’s some latitude for when iOS 17.3.1 is out. MacRumors points out that if it came out next Tuesday, it would be exactly a year after iOS 16.3.1 was released last year. As the site says, “It is likely that iOS 17.3.1 will be released in the next week or so if Apple sticks to a similar timeframe as in the past few years.

I believe it will be next week and as Apple likes Tuesday releases, Tuesday, February 13 is favorite. Could it be this week? It’s unlikely, and the previous releases scooped by MacRumors all appeared around a week after the site spotted the activity it’s monitoring this year.

More as we have it, but for now, February 13 seems like the day.


February 8 update. It’s here, and arrived sooner than many, including me, had expected. You can read details of exactly what’s in the new update here, but just as interesting is why it’s landed as soon as it did.

The obvious answer is Apple saw a problem that needed fixing and wanted to get the update out immediately to sort it. But the fact that it has launched this week, not next as had been predicted, is indicative of the fact that Apple is on a schedule and it’s not going to be diverted from it.

After all, there was recently a pickle when the second developer update of iOS 17.3 had to be pulled at short notice, just hours after it was released. This led to speculation that the whole timetable could be deferred a bit so Apple could catch up.

In the end, it arrived exactly when it had first been predicted to, on Monday, January 22. If anything, it was a day early rather than the week or two late that had been thought.

So, why?

I think it’s all because of what’s coming next, to wit, iOS 17.4. This is a very major update that will change the iPhone out of all recognition by opening up the hardware to rival app marketplaces.

And, the thing is, this update has to arrive on time, because it’s fitting in with new legislation. That’s the Digital Markets Act and though it only affects the 27 countries of the European Union, for now at least, it needs to be punctual. And since Apple wouldn’t release an update for one territory and not another, that means it has to be ready to go in the U.S. at the same time as the EU. In other words, a delay now, to minor updates like the new iOS 17.3.1 could have a catastrophic effect on the big update coming next month.

MORE FROM FORBESiOS 17.3.1: Surprise Update Now Notice Issued For All iPhone Users
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