Along with the Macs and iPads it unveiled at its special event in Brooklyn, Apple today released a slew of operating system updates: iOS 12.1, macOS 10.14.1 Mojave, watchOS 5.1, tvOS 12.1, and iOS 12.1 for HomePod. Collectively, they add Group FaceTime, more emojis, and other features to the Apple ecosystem.
As always, it’s wise to wait a few days to see what issues might crop up from these updates before installing. Lending credence to our advice is the fact that watchOS 5.1 bricked enough devices that Apple pulled the update temporarily and has now replaced it with watchOS 5.1.1.
iOS 12.1 brings the delayed Group FaceTime feature, dual SIM support for the iPhone XS and XR, camera improvements, new emoji, and more. The update weighs in at 438.9 MB on the 10.5-inch iPad Pro and 470.1 MB on the iPhone X, and you can obtain it in Settings > General > Software Update or install it through iTunes.
The marquee feature of iOS 12.1 is Group FaceTime, which Apple delayed from the initial iOS 12 release (based on our internal testing over the summer, with good reason!). Note that while all iOS 12 devices support Group FaceTime, older devices are limited to audio-only calls. That set includes the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus, along with the iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, and iPad Air.
To start a Group FaceTime call, tap the + button in the FaceTime app, enter a contact name in the To field, and then, after choosing a contact, simply start adding another. When you’re ready to start the call, tap Audio or Video to kick things off.
You can also start a Group FaceTime call from a group Messages conversation by tapping the group name at the top of the screen and then tapping the revealed FaceTime icon.
Each participant’s picture appears in a tile. Audio-only callers are represented by an icon with their initials. During a call, you can tap the More (•••) button to reveal the Add Person option.
If you’re invited to a Group FaceTime call, you receive a silent notification or message that you can tap at any time to join. If things don’t seem to be working, tap the green camera icon to start the call.
Group FaceTime works on the Mac too, with macOS 10.14.1 Mojave or later. More on that below.
We tried Group FaceTime last week, but we’re sad to report that we can’t recommend it right now—it was confusing to use, worked poorly, and was visually annoying when it did work. Some of the problems may be teething pains, but the usability issues will require software updates. We’ll keep trying it, but Google Hangouts remains our preferred solution for group video calls.
On the iPhone XS and XR, you can now adjust the depth control in real time before you take a photo in addition to adjusting it in the captured image. To do so, tap the f-stop control in the top-right corner of the screen, drag the depth control slider to adjust the image, and when you’re satisfied, tap the shutter button to take the picture.
Apple also claims that it has fixed excessive skin smoothing in selfies taken with the iPhone XS and XR, a problem dubbed (sigh) “Beautygate” by the press. Apple says that it was caused by a bug in the software’s Smart HDR processing.
Dual SIM Support
The iPhone XS and XR boast Dual SIM functionality, which lets you have two phone numbers (even with two different carriers) on the same phone. It could be ideal for anyone who has to carry both work and personal phones, or for people who regularly travel to other countries. However, Dual SIM support comes with a number of caveats:
- You must have an iPhone XS or XR.
- To use two different carriers, your iPhone must be unlocked.
- Your carrier must support eSIM. In the United States, that means AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
- If a CDMA carrier (like Verizon) provides your first SIM, your second SIM won’t support CDMA. (You may be able to use Voice Over LTE on the second SIM with Verizon, but your network coverage will be reduced until Verizon goes all-LTE in 2020.)
Dual SIM functionality is a bit finicky and complex, but Apple has a thorough guide on how to use it.
iOS 12.1 adds over 70 new emoji, such as red-haired people, bald people, superheroes, and even bagels. Yay. Emojipedia offers a complete list of every new emoji in iOS 12.1.
iOS 12.1 also sports other changes that:
- Improve cellular connectivity for the iPhone XS and XR
- Let you use Face ID or Touch ID to reset a child’s Screen Time passcode
- Fix a bug that caused messages to be merged into one thread when two users were signed in with the same Apple ID on multiple iPhones
- Address a bug that prevented some voicemails from appearing
- Resolve a bug that could cause a phone number to appear in the Phone app without its corresponding contact name
- Fix a Screen Time bug that prevented reporting on specific Web sites in the Activity report
- Add a performance management feature to prevent the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X from shutting down
- Tell you if your iPhone XS or XR battery is counterfeit; look in Settings > Battery > Battery Health
- Improve the reliability of VoiceOver in Camera, Safari, and Siri
- Fix an issue that could cause MDM Device Enrollment to report an Invalid Profile error for some enterprise users
iOS 12.1 also features 24 security fixes.
The highlights of the macOS 10.14.1 update are Group FaceTime and the aforementioned new emoji. To install the 3.33 GB update, go to System Preferences > Software Update—you can no longer update from the App Store app.
By the way, if you were running a beta of Mojave, 10.14.1 won’t appear in the Software Update preference pane. Instead, as Dan Moren noted at Six Colors, you need to get Mojave from the App Store app first, which will cause Software Update to install 10.14.1.
The way you initiate Group FaceTime calls in Mojave is nearly identical to iOS 12, except that in Messages, you click Details to reveal the FaceTime buttons.
The macOS 10.14.1 update includes 52 security fixes.
Now that Apple has released watchOS 5.1.1 to address the problems suffered by version 5.1, you can once again consider updating, although we still recommend waiting a few more days, just in case.
The key new features of the 133 MB watchOS 5.1.1 update would seem to be support for Group FaceTime audio and the aforementioned new emoji, but Apple’s release notes don’t even mention them.
Instead, Apple says that watchOS 5.1.1:
- Fixes an issue that could cause an incomplete installation of the Walkie-Talkie app for some users
- Resolves an issue that prevented some users from being able to send or receive invitations on Walkie-Talkie
- Addresses an issue where some previously earned Activity awards were not showing in the Awards tab of the Activity app for some users
Oddly, the release notes also say:
Apple Watch Series 4 automatically contacts emergency services if you are immobile for about a minute after detecting a hard fall. The watch will now also play a message that informs the responder that Apple Watch has detected a fall and shares your location coordinates when possible.
As far as we know, fall detection shipped with watchOS 5.0, so we’re not sure why Apple is calling it out now.
The watchOS 5.1 update also included 14 security fixes.
The tvOS 12.1 update “includes general performance and stability improvements” and 11 security fixes. If automatic updates aren’t on, you can update your fourth-generation Apple TV or Apple TV 4K by going to Settings > System > Software Updates.
iOS 12.1 for HomePod
Finally, in an almost entirely silent update that will install itself automatically if you don’t get to it first via the Home app, iOS 12.1 for the HomePod “includes general improvements for stability and quality.” Bet you didn’t see that new wording coming!