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Commentary
3/28/2016
02:06 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
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iOS 9.3 Web Links Bug Causes Apps To Crash

In the wake of a bricking problem with older iPhones and iPads, users who have downloaded iOS 9.3 are now encountering a separate issue that is causing apps to crash or freeze when launched. This time, Apple may not be to blame.

iPhone SE, Smaller iPad Pro Unveiled: Up Close Look
iPhone SE, Smaller iPad Pro Unveiled: Up Close Look
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Apple can't seem to deliver a system update to its smartphones and tablets without causing some sort of problem somewhere. iOS 9.3, which Apple released last week, is giving iPhone and iPad owners fits thanks to a bug involving Web links. In this case, however, Apple may not be 100% to blame.

Clicking on Web links on devices running iOS 9.3 can cause apps -- including Safari, Chrome, Mail, Messages, Notes, and others -- to freeze or crash altogether. The problem impacts preinstalled apps made by Apple as well as those made by third-party developers.

Support forums on Apple's website are full of complaints from iPhone and iPad owners. All types of devices are affected, including iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, iPhone 5 and 5s, and iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini. Common fixes like force-quitting apps, restarting the device, and performing a soft reset don't appear to resolve the problem.

(Image: Krystian Nawrocki/iStockphoto)

(Image: Krystian Nawrocki/iStockphoto)

(This issue is entirely separate from another problem that bricked older iPhones and iPads, which Apple encountered last week during the initial rollout of iOS 9.3.)

Apple has not yet stepped in to offer any sort of information, but there are several workarounds being suggested by community members. One suggestion involves switching off JavaScript in Safari. This is temporary at best and will diminish Safari's performance when you're browsing the Web.

Some claim Booking.com is at the heart of the matter.

Following up on community complaints, third-party iOS developer Steven Troughton-Smith independently confirmed that installing Booking.com's app messed up how iOS 9.3 handles universal links. At issue is how Booking.com handles URLs.

"Wow, booking.com literally put every URL they had into their site association file," explained Troughton-Smith, resulting in a 2.3Mb file download. Troughton-Smith says Booking.com has since reduced the size of this file to 4Kb. It's important to note that Troughton-Smith is not an Apple employee, and that Apple itself has not confirmed that this is the cause of the issue.

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It's not clear if deleting Booking.com from problematic devices will resolve the problem, even if only temporarily, until a more permanent solution is offered by Apple. Booking.com has not responded to requests for comment.

Apple is aware of the problem and is working to deliver a fix, according to a user who posted a conversation he had with Apple online. Until it's available, iPhone and iPad owners may do well to skip Safari in favor of third-party browsers. Some alternatives include Firefox and Opera.

iOS 9.3 adds several marquee features, including Night Shift for reduced eye strain, password protection for Notes, more robust Apple News performance, and a wide variety of education-focused tools. The updated operating system also resolves several known security issues.

Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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