What's Up With Apple: Masks Required Again, iOS 15.2 Features and More

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has reinstated a requirement that customers at all U.S. Apple Stores wear masks in an effort to quell the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The latest variant of the coronavirus appears to be more easily spread than earlier mutations.

Apple will require customers at all its stores, including those in states that do not have a mask mandate, to wear masks while in the store. Store employees have been wearing masks since the retail stores reopened earlier this year. In a statement, the company said:

We regularly monitor conditions and we will adjust our health measures in stores to support the well-being of customers and employees. Amid rising cases in many communities, we now require that all customers join our team members in wearing masks while visiting our stores.

On Monday, Apple released its latest update to iOS. The new version, iOS 15.2, introduces a number of features, but one controversial feature is missing. Last August, Apple announced its plan to scan photos stored in iCloud as part of an effort to warn parents and children that they might be sending or receiving child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The project, which would have scanned the photos on a person’s own device, was roundly criticized by privacy groups.

The feature was expected to be included in iOS 15.2, but Apple announced a delay in September, and has now deleted the following statement from its Child Safety Page: “Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.” Rather than indicating a delay, this appears to be Apple’s way of abandoning the feature.

So, what’s in? Included with iOS 15.2 is an App Privacy Report that shows which data and sensors (location, for example) each app has access to, the amount of network activity for the apps and other data related to privacy.

Another new feature is the Apple Music Voice Plan, which cuts the U.S. subscription price in half (to $5) but can only be controlled by using Apple’s Siri voice assistant. Support for spatial audio and lyrics are also unavailable.

There is also a new Digital Legacy feature that allows people to designate someone as a legacy contact who can have access to their iCloud account and other personal information in the event of the owner’s death.

Briefly noted:

A new, common language for smart home devices is getting closer to being released. Major product makers like Apple, Amazon and Google, along with manufacturers of smart TVs and other devices, are expected to adopt a new standard called Matter sometime in spring or summer of next year. The Verge has an explainer.