According to Apple, the update address three vulnerabilities: one in the software kernel and two in WebKit, which is what makes the Safari web browser work. The kernel vulnerability could be exploited by a malicious app, while the WebKit vulnerabilities could be used to make Safari run dodgy code. It seems that such code already exists: Apple says that all three vulnerabilities “may have been actively exploited”. We don’t know how, by whom or how many users have already been affected, but it means you need to install this update as soon as you can.
If you don’t have automatic updates enabled on your device you can download and install the patch manually by going into Settings > General > Software Update.
It’s not all about the avoidance of disaster, though. The update also adds a cool feature to the HomePod mini, some minor improvements to iPhone and iPad and there’s an interesting watchOS update too.
Happier HomePod minis and Unity for your Apple Watch
When Apple announced the HomePod mini last year, Apple promised to add an improved Handoff-style feature for transferring calls, music and podcasts between your iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 and your HomePod mini. That feature arrived in the iOS 14.4 update and uses the U1 ultra-wideband chip in the most recent iPhones.
Now, when you move your phone close to the HomePod mini, you get a little rumble to say it's getting close to switching the audio over – move closer and the rumble intensifies, before switching the sound, and offering a useful change on-screen to give you playback controls for the HomePod once it's done so. It's a really nice change – it makes this feature feel much more deliberate. It's just a shame it's only on the mini, and not the full-size HomePod.
There are some other small changes in iOS 14.4. The camera app can recognise smaller QR codes and tell you if your camera repair used non-Apple parts, and it no longer produces artefacts in HDR images on the iPhone 12 Pro. The update addresses an annoying keyboard lag bug that’s been driving us daft for weeks, and there’s a new option in your Bluetooth settings to specify what kind of device you have. This is so the iPhone knows to monitor the volume level on Bluetooth headphones.
There’s also a new version of watchOS, which introduces a new Fitness+ feature, Time To Walk, and a new watch face called Unity (with a matching Activity Challenge) to celebrate Black History Month. It’s not just an empty gesture: Apple is going to spend February amplifying Black creators, artists and developers across its services and is supporting the Black Lives Matter Support Fund via the Tides Foundation; the European Network Against Racism; the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights; the Leadership Conference Education Fund; The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Souls Grown Deep.