Apple’s iOS 10.3 is a very, very, important upgrade

Migrating millions to a new file system certainly takes a little courage

Developers are currently beta testing iOS 10.3. While this is merely a point upgrade it seems to be a very important one – not because it lets you ask Siri for cricket scores, nor that it gives developers better control of reviews, but for Apple’s plan to move millions of customers to a brand new, modern, file system.

Apple File System (APFS)

Apple has already let us know it plans to migrate all its operating systems to a new file system called Apple File System (APFS) in 2017. This replaces the veteran HFS+ file system the company has been using for years. What’s new is that Apple will port all your iOS devices to support APFS in iOS 10.3.

Ars Technica reports:

“When you update to iOS 10.3, your iOS device will update its file system to Apple File System (APFS). This conversion preserves existing data on your device. However, as with any software update, it is recommended that you create a backup of your device before updating.”

The new file system prioritizes the apps you are using over background activity, which (for Mac users) should spell an end to those annoying spinning beachballs when systems hang.  

Apple explains:

“[Apple File System] is optimized for Flash/SSD storage and features strong encryption, copy-on-write metadata, space sharing, cloning for files and directories, snapshots, fast directory sizing, atomic safe-save primitives, and improved file system fundamentals.”

The ability to create clones almost instantly, save files far more efficiently, and create backup snapshots without devouring huge quantities of space should all be of interest to iOS users, and will definitely improve life for Mac users when APFS is introduced to them.

The move also means all Apple's platforms will share the same file system, opening up lots of opportunities for new products and services ahead.

In the short term, Apple's courageous decision to automatically migrate millions of iOS users to the new file system is a big deal. 76 percent of iOS users will be affected -- that's millions of people.

AirPods, iCloud and more

We’ll find out just how big a deal the move is in future. It should enable Apple’s operating systems to work more efficiently and to remain more secure. It is not the only big improvement in iOS 10.3.

Find My AirPods

The new Find My AirPods tool in Find My iPhone will track when your device loses its connection to your earbuds. When this happens it will take a note of when, where and at what GPS coordinates (very like it does when your lost iPhone runs out of power). This should give you a fighting chance of finding your lost buds. I don’t yet know if this facility extends to Beats headphones using Apple’s W1 chip.

iCloud improvements

  • Settings have been tweaked to give you better oversight and control.
  • Apple ID info appears at the top of Settings and lets you easily monitor your account data and logged in devices.
  • iCloud Storage has been improved. It is much easier to see which apps are consuming your space.


Siri gets a tiny bit smarter. The release lets you use your voice assistant to use third party apps, so you can ask for an Uber, for example.


  • CarPlay: Gets shortcuts to recently used apps and EV charging station location data.
  • Maps: 3D Touch the Weather icon to see a weather forecast.
  • Apps: App close/open animations have been tweaked and developers will be able to update their icons at any time.
  • Mail: Navigation improvements in Conversation View.
  • Apple Watch: Theater Mode will let you mute alerts and disable raise to wake so you don’t annoy your neighbor in the cinema (or boss at the meeting). SiriKit support means you’ll be able to pay bills and interact with some third party apps using the watch.

Backup first

Apple should introduce the new iOS for public beta testing before release, presumably in March. The move to a new file system is the most profound change in the release, and I strongly urge everyone installing the new iOS to upgrade before they do. 

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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