iOS 18 could be the ‘biggest’ software update in iPhone history – here’s why

An iPhone on an orange background showing Siri
Apple is expected to overhaul Siri in iOS 18 (Image credit: Apple)

In our iOS 17 review, we branded Apple’s latest operating system as "one of the best iOS updates we've seen in years" – but iOS 18 will reportedly take things even further.

According to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman (via MacRumors), iOS 18 could be “one of the biggest iOS updates – if not the biggest – in the company's history,” with Apple employees regarding the upcoming update as a major gear change for the iPhone.

Apple itself has already teased that iOS 18 will be an “ambitious and compelling” update with “major new features and designs." But Gurman’s comments have further raised the excitement levels for what is expected to be Apple’s first major foray into AI.

Apple is reportedly spending over $1 billion a year on AI development, and Gurman confirmed earlier this month that several iPhone-specific AI features are on track for a big unveiling at WWDC 2024.

The likes of Siri, Messages, Apple Music and Pages are expected to receive significant AI-based improvements in 2024, with the former reportedly in line for a ChatGPT-style makeover. Indeed, according to serial leaker Revegnus, Apple is currently using a proprietary LLM (large language model) to “completely revamp Siri into the ultimate virtual assistant.”

An iPhone on an orange background showing the Personal Voice feature

The iPhone already has several features that use machine learning, like Personal Voice (above) which can create a near-exact replica for your voice. (Image credit: Apple)

Evidently, then, AI looks set to remain the tech industry buzzword for 2024. Samsung’s recent Galaxy Unpacked 2024 showcase was dominated by AI-related announcements for its Samsung Galaxy S24 line, so we’re not surprised to hear that Apple, too, will be making AI the focus of iOS 18 and future iPhone updates.

Has Apple finally got the message?

But iOS 18 could be the “biggest” software update in iPhone history for another reason. Apple has confirmed that it will be adding RCS messaging support to iPhones at some point in 2024, and we’re expecting this long-awaited feature to debut with iOS 18 later this year.

RCS (or Rich Communication Services) is a communications standard designed to universally elevate messaging communication across mobile devices. In essence, Apple’s adoption of the standard will dramatically improve the default messaging experience between iPhones and Android devices.

Woman using iMessage on iPhone

Currently, iPhone-to-iPhone messaging is far more versatile than iPhone-to-Android messaging (Image credit: Shutterstock / DenPhotos)

Currently, features like read receipts, typing indicators, higher-resolution photos and videos, and Wi-Fi messaging are limited to iPhone-to-iPhone conversations (or Android-to-Android conversations), but iOS 18 could finally bring parity to green- and blue-bubble messaging. 

RCS won’t, however, replace iMessage and its iPhone-exclusive features. “We believe the RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS,” Apple told us last year, “but this will work alongside iMessage, which will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.”

As for when we expect iOS 18 – and therefore Apple’s AI features and RCS support – to see the light of day, it’s likely that the first iOS 18 beta will emerge following WWDC in June 2024. iOS 18 proper will then likely follow in September, with its full-blown release coinciding with the rumored iPhone 16 line.

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Axel Metz
Phones Editor

Axel is TechRadar's UK-based Phones Editor, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest AI breakthroughs as part of the site's Mobile Computing vertical. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion.  Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.