Last week was a pretty lively one when it came to Apple news. From rumours surrounding a larger iMac and Apple Watch to more evidence pointing towards a big camera refresh for the iPhone 14 Pro. And just a few days ago, Apple announced an unexpected new feature for iOS 16 called Lockdown Mode. Finally, rounding up the week, Bloomberg analyst Mark Gurman had a lot to say about the so-called ‘rugged’ Apple Watch.

Lockdown Mode

In a surprise move, Apple introduced a brand new feature to the third developer beta of iOS 16 called Lockdown Mode. The feature is actually a package of features designed to enhance the level of protection afforded to a user.

“At launch, Lockdown Mode includes the following protections:

  • Messages: Most message attachment types other than images are blocked. Some features, like link previews, are disabled.
  • Web browsing: Certain complex web technologies, like just-in-time (JIT) JavaScript compilation, are disabled unless the user excludes a trusted site from Lockdown Mode.
  • Apple services: Incoming invitations and service requests, including FaceTime calls, are blocked if the user has not previously sent the initiator a call or request.
  • Wired connections with a computer or accessory are blocked when iPhone is locked.
  • Configuration profiles cannot be installed, and the device cannot enroll into mobile device management (MDM), while Lockdown Mode is turned on.

The package of features may be expanded in the future given Apple’s choice of wording “At Launch”. It’s likely that we can expect to see further enhancements moving forward. Given that the feature set does create some limitations in usability, it isn’t intended for everyone. From their own press release, Apple has a particular target audience in mind.

Lockdown Mode offers an extreme, optional level of security for the very few users who, because of who they are or what they do, may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from NSO Group and other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware. 

Lockdown mode in iOS 16 as described by Apple

The AppleTLDR take

For some, iOS represents the gold standard in privacy and security on a mobile device. Apple’s closed ecosystem ensures that iOS remains largely free of the malware problems faced by Android. It’s for that reason that many high-profile individuals choose an iPhone in the first place.

While iOS is very secure relative to Android, no system is infallible. Not least due to extraneous variables such as corrupted inbound file attachments, social engineering, phishing, smishing and more. In fact, Norton security goes as far as to say this:

Studies have found that a far higher percentage of mobile malware targets Android than iOS, the software than runs Apple’s devices. That’s down both to Android’s huge global popularity and its open approach. Plus, Apple tightly controls which apps are available on its App Store, vetting all apps to avoid allowing malware through.

But the figures alone don’t tell the story. After all, it only takes one piece of perfectly formed iOS malware to do as much damage as thousands of copycat Android threats. And both platforms are equally at risk from social engineering, where hackers use more personal methods to target your logins and data.

Norton, UK

Now it’s true that most users are unlikely to be personally targeted in the same way that a high-profile individual is. But given how many high-profile individuals use an iPhone such as celebrities, politicians and world leaders, it makes sense that Apple would create a feature like this. But I don’t think that represents the full story.

Lockdown may well be a sign that Apple is laying down the pavement for a future in which sideloading on iOS exists. Putting aside its merits, sideloading will undoubtedly weaken security on iOS by exposing users to new attack vectors. That isn’t a debating point, it’s a fact. The more ways and places that an app can be installed, the more opportunities exist to distribute malware. Apple has to be prepared for that future which is looking increasingly likely.

Apple Watch Pro?

The ‘rugged’ Apple Watch that has been rumoured for a while now, may actually be the Apple Watch Pro. At least according to Mark Gurman. Though Gurman believes that Pro is likely the term Apple will use to market the product, he also suggested other possibilities such as Apple Watch Max/Extreme/Explorer.

The device will be differentiated from the standard Apple Watch by adding key features such as a larger display, longer battery life, a more rugged and durable design and possibly the low power mode that was rumoured (but absent) for watchOS 9.

Gurman believes that Apple plans to market the Apple Watch Pro to two groups of customers.

1. Those who traditionally opt-in for the higher-end steel and titanium models
2. Athletes and users partaking in extreme sports

To achieve this goal, not only will Apple add the features described above, but it will also be made from Titanium. Titanium is currently used in Apple’s top-end Apple Watch Edition. Its inclusion in the Apple Watch Pro will make it feel premium. But it is also lighter than steel and critically, more durable. A winning combination for both customer bases. Tie that in with a new, more rugged design and Apple may be on to a winner.

There is just one more thing…expect pricing to approach an eye-watering $999/£999.

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