Apple has just announced iOS 9.3 at its “Let Us Loop You In” media event, and it’s available to download right now. While it mainly focuses on bug fixes and increased performance, there are quite a few new features which make updating all the more worthwhile.
So don’t delay, download the update today by first backing up your device to iTunes or iCloud, then heading to Settings > General > Software Update. While you wait for it to complete, here’s a run-down of what’s new.
Probably the biggest feature of iOS 9.3 is the new Night Shift mode. If you’ve ever used F.lux on your Mac or PC, you already know how useful this is.
Using your iPhone or iPad at night can make it harder to fall asleep because the blue light from the screen tricks your brain into thinking that it’s daytime rather than time for sleeping. Night Shift counteracts this by reducing or removing blue light from the display at night. Your screen will look like it’s been tinted yellow or orange, and as a result it’ll be a lot easier on your eyes when you use it at night.
Because your iOS device knows roughly where you are, it knows sunset and sunrise times for your location and so can set the amount of blue light reduction accordingly over time. You can change these settings manually (in Settings > Display and Brightness > Night Shift) and quickly enable and disable it from within Control Center (there’s a new button between Timer and Calculator).
Unfortunately, Night Shift only works on phones with 64 bit processors, so it’ll only work on iOS devices from 2013 onwards (that’s the iPhone 5s or newer, iPad Air or newer, the iPad Mini 2 or newer, the iPad Pro and the latest iPod Touch).
Multi-User Support on iPads (ish)
People have been asking for multi-user support on the iPad for a long time. It makes sense too — an iPad is much more likely to be shared between family members than a personal device like an iPhone. Apple has been reluctant to add multi-user support due to the way apps and their data are stored, and to maintain a sense of simplicity.
That’s changed in iOS 9.3, which adds multi-user support… with a catch. It’s part of Apple’s new “iOS for Education” suite, which aims to make iPads a lot more useful in the classroom. The feature is called “Shared iPad” but it’s only available on iPads which are administrated by an Apple School Manager app. In other words, it won’t be available for most users.
However, this shows that multi-user support is something that Apple is actively working on, and assuming it all goes well it gives us a good idea of how it may work for everyone if it gets added to iOS in a major update… iOS 10, anyone?
iOS for Education
Speaking of iOS for Education, for teachers iOS 9.3 provides some pretty useful new features.
As well as allowing each student to have their own apps and documents, iOS for Education also provides a Classroom app which allows the teacher to open an app on every iPad in the classroom, and guide students through the app at once.
Furthermore, teachers will be able to look at the screen of any student’s iPad to see how they’re handling an activity, and they can lock students into the app so that they don’t get distracted by other things on the iPad.
Managing multiple iPads is easy, too — the Apple School Manager app makes it easy to add and remove students to classes, build courses in advance, and quickly add new books and apps for everyone in the class.
TouchID for Notes
The Notes app is really useful for jotting down all sorts of information quickly. For some people, this includes sensitive information which demands better protection. iOS 9.3 allows individual notes within the Notes app to be protected with TouchID, so this sensitive information can’t be accessed by prying eyes.
You can protect a note by selecting it and pressing the Share button (the box with an arrow pointing up) and tapping on the lock icon in the bottom row (labeled Password Protect Note).
If you have an older phone without TouchID or don’t like to use it, there’s also the option to protect notes with a passcode or password (which may be different to your iPhone’s passcode).
The Health app has received an overhaul in iOS 9.3. It finally has Apple Watch integration, so step counts accrued by your Apple Watch (along with any exercise information) will show up in the Health app. The Activity app isn’t going anywhere if you prefer that interface, but it’s nice to see the data integrated with the main Health app, too.
Are you wanting to track a new type of data (for example, sleep quality or blood glucose) but not sure how to obtain that data? In iOS 9.3, the Health app provides suggestions for third party apps which can track the data you want.
While not exactly a part of iOS 9.3, the biggest news (ha) for the News app is that Apple has opened up the Apple News format to everyone.
Previously limited to a small selection of newspapers and magazines (like the New York Times and Wired), the Apple News format allows advanced layout and formatting for content rather than simply acting as an RSS feed aggregator that loads the standard website.
Content creators can make their content more beautiful and may use the iAd platform to generate revenue. Readers get content that looks better and loads faster. Everybody wins.
The app update itself is modest. Increased performance has been the main focus for 9.3, but there are a few other changes. The “For You” section has been tweaked so that you see articles that are more tailored for you specific interests, and now suggests Editor’s Picks and trending topics so that you can find new favorites.
The iPhone app gets a landscape mode, and you can play videos from articles directly from your feed rather than having to load the entire article first.
CarPlay is still a niche feature that is only just starting to find its way into new cars. iOS 9.3 helps to integrate Apple Music into CarPlay a bit more by adding “New” and “For You” sections to the Music app.
It also introduces the “Nearby” feature in the Maps app which is already in Apple Maps for the iPhone and Apple Watch, allowing you to easily find nearby points of interest like gas stations, restaurants or parking from within CarPlay.
Minor iOS updates like 9.3 are first and foremost about bug fixes and tweaks made to increase performance and reliability. Among others bugs, iOS 9.3 squashes the bug that would brick newer devices if the date was set to January 1, 1970.
3D Touch Shortcuts
iOS 9.3 adds 3D touch shortcuts for more stock apps, allowing you to get to certain functions even quicker. This time around you’ll find new shortcuts for Settings, the App Store, Weather, Health, Stocks and Compass.
While Siri hasn’t learned any new tricks, she has learned a few new languages: Hebrew, Finnish and Malay. That brings the total number of languages up to 37.
WiFi Calls for Verizon Users
Verizon users in areas with spotty reception will be happy to know that iOS 9.3 adds the capability for WiFi calling, so you don’t need to worry about your home being a dead spot.
iOS 9.3 is supported by any device that supports iOS 9, so if you’re already on iOS 9 there’s absolutely no reason not to upgrade to the new version. Even if you’re not on iOS 9, if you have a device that supports Night Shift, now is the time to upgrade.
What’s your favourite new feature? Have you already taken the plunge and updated? Let us know what you think in the comments below!