We’ve confirmed that these major new versions are in development via two means. First, a developer of a major hardware-connected iOS application has shared with us their analytics, and this data indicates that all three versions are in testing by Apple employees in or around Cupertino, California. Second, and much closer to home, our own Google Analytics for 9to5Mac.com show that iOS users are visiting our website via iOS 8.1, iOS 8.2, and iOS 8.3 devices. iOS 8.1 hits to 9to5Mac.com started appearing even months before iOS 8.0 launched, but 8.2 and 8.3 visits only started picking up following iOS 8’s release in mid-September.
These firmware versions are of particular interest because of Apple has only released one big update to iOS per year of late. iOS 5, iOS 6, and iOS 7 only made it to iOS 5.1.x, iOS 6.1.x, and iOS 7.1.x.
It's also interesting to note that iOS 8.1, 8.2, and 8.3 are under development simultaneously. This raises a question about whether or not Apple plans to continue its annual release cycle. It's thought that perhaps disassociating software releases from hardware releases could prevent a hardware launch from being tarnished by software bugs. For example, Apple Maps may have dampened the iPhone 5 launch and the iPhone 6 launched with a buggy iOS 8, no HealthKit, and a botched iOS 8.0.1 update.
Another possibility is that Apple is accelerating iOS development and plans to release all three updates before iOS 9 next year. One explanation for this could involve the rumored 12.9-inch iPad that may need some interface tweaking and thus its own iOS update. Apple is also said to be working on significant improvements to Maps, an iPad split-screen mode, updates for Apple Pay, and updates to make iOS 8 work with the Apple Watch.
9to5Mac also suggests that perhaps Apple will stick to iOS 8 for several years as it did with OS X; however, this seems the least likely possibility.
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