Apple has released the first beta of iOS 9.3. Historically, the company has been slow to roll out user-facing features, but it seems that the folks at Cupertino are moving a bit faster these days. Not only will this point-release have a handful of meaningful tweaks to existing apps, but there are two new major features that could change how many of us use our phones and tablets.
First and foremost, Apple is introducing a new feature called Night Shift. Much like the third-party app Flux on OS X, this new feature changes the overall color temperature of your display depending on the time of day. Looking at warmer colors at night may help some people sleep better, and many others prefer it simply to reduce eye strain. It could also give voracious readers another reason to skip E Ink-based Kindles in favor of their phones and tablets, although the distraction factor is still there. Of course, if you don’t want anything to do with Night Shift, Apple most certainly won’t force it on you.
The other major change, and easily the biggest new feature in iOS 9.3 for schools, is a robust digital education suite. This allows teachers to create special Apple IDs for students, view the screens of any iPad in the classroom, dynamically launch and lock apps, and distribute educational material as needed. Even better, this system effectively turns school-owned iPads into multi-user devices. Students can log into any school iPad, and all of their relevant data will be downloaded automatically. And if a student uses the same device frequently, his or her data will be cached locally for instant access.
This focus on the classroom is largely consistent with Apple’s decades-long campaign to dominate the education market. In recent years, Google’s Chromebooks have been rising in popularity thanks to their affordability and ease of use, but these new tools might be able to turn the tables in Apple’s favor once again. It’s just a shame that Apple isn’t giving home users similar control over their devices. But since this is just a beta, it’s possible that this change could be in the works for us too.
Additionally, a few of the built-in apps have been given some long-needed TLC. The Notes app can now be locked behind a fingerprint or a password, the Health app can display your stats on the Apple Watch, and the News app is getting a better algorithm for surfacing relevant articles. As for CarPlay, the Music and Maps app have received a few minor additions, but nothing drastic has changed. After all, this is still just a mid-cycle update. We probably won’t see many more major improvements until September rolls around.
Interested in trying out this new beta on your own device? Registered iOS developers can download it now from Apple’s developer portal. Unfortunately, the public beta channel is still stuck at 9.2.1 for the time being. So unless you’re willing to drop $99 for a dev account, you’ll just have to wait it out with the rest of us.