Apple releases GPS 'rollover' fix for iPhone 5, 4S, and old iPads

Apple has released iOS 10 and iOS 9 updates to address a GPS quirk affecting the iPhone 5 and old cellular versions of the iPad.

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Apple doesn't even repair 2012-era devices like the iPhone 5, now classified as "vintage". However, it's decided to release an iOS update for certain older devices to address a quirk in the Global Positioning System (GPS) that saw the week number return to zero this April. 

In April, the GPS Week Rollover occurred, threatening to mess with GPS receivers' date, timing, and location data. (ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has a rundown of why that happened to messages emitted from the GPS satellite navigation system that's been run by the US Air Force since the 1970s.) Week numbers in GPS messages are limited to zero and 1023 because they're encoded in a 10-bit figure and, on April 6 2019, when the week number should hit 1024, it returned to zero. The issue may have played havoc with the accuracy of GPS receivers that read the encoded date as January 6, 1980. 

Apple says that affected iOS devices will not be impacted until November 3, 2019; however, it is urging owners to update their software well before then to ensure GPS, date, and time can function properly. 

The issue only affects the iPhone 5, the fourth generation iPad with cellular connectivity, the iPhone 4s, and the cellular versions of the first generation iPad mini, iPad 2, and third generation iPad. It doesn't affect Wi-Fi-only iOS devices and not any iOS devices released after the ones listed. 

Apple has released updates versions of iOS 10 and iOS 9 to address the GPS problem, which could impact much more than just location data. 

"If you don't update to the newest version of iOS available for your device before November 3, 2019, some models might not be able to maintain an accurate GPS position. And functions that rely on the correct date and time—such as syncing with iCloud and fetching email—might not work."

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Anyone still using one of these ancient iOS devices can check for the update by tapping Settings, going to General and then pressing About. Here, users can see what software version they're running. 

The fixed versions should be iOS 10.3.4 or iOS 9.3.6. The last time Apple updated iOS 10 was in July 2017, while iOS 9 was most recently updated in August 2016.