Apple this week offered a preview of features in the upcoming release of iOS 9.3. Those features include a range of consumer enhancements, including Night Shift, a viewing mode that minimizes the output of blue light that can disrupt sleep patterns; significant improvements in the iPhone's health tracking capabilities; the ability to secure notes; and improvements to CarPlay and the iOS News app.
The most significant changes, however, are aimed at the education market, though it's likely those changes will eventually reshape iPad use in the office and at home.
The advances in education capabilities come as Chromebooks are making massive inroads in K-12 education, a market Apple has largely dominated for years.
iOS 9.3 introduces a range of education features:
- A new Classroom App that allows teachers to see what students are doing on iPads in the classroom, remotely launch and lock apps, and share student work on a classroom display connected to an Apple TV.
- Simplified device and service management that allows education IT shops to set up devices, create user accounts, distribute apps and ebooks and build custom courses that can be delivered through Apple's iTunes U.
- Streamlined Apple ID creation and management that allows bulk creation of student and teacher Apple IDs, local password resets and customized roles for teachers and school staff.
Apple Night Shift is designed to reduce blue light from a mobile device's screen in dark environments.
Shared iPad -- the biggest new feature
The biggest advance is known as Shared iPad. As the name suggests, this feature lets students share iPads and it's designed for schools where cost or policy concerns prevent implementation of a one-iPad-per-student program. Shared iPad allows students to log into an iPad similar to how they would log into a Mac or PC. The result is that a student's apps, content and progress through various tasks will be available, regardless of which iPad they actually use.
Apple is working to make this as frictionless as possible by using intelligent data caching. There's also a Photo ID feature that allows teachers to identify the last student to use an iPad, which should avoid delays related to downloading content and could help optimize on-device storage. For younger students, login can require a simple four digit PIN rather than a complex passcode.
Regardless of the technologies it relies on to streamline downtime and login, Apple is supporting multiple users on an iOS device for the first time. That is extremely significant because the company has never shown any real interest in making iOS a multi-user environment.
Apple hasn't stated this clearly, but its description of the feature implies that these user accounts or profiles aren't necessarily on the device itself: For students who use the same assigned iPad in a class each day, starting a lesson is hassle-free. Thanks to intelligent caching, when students log in they don't have to wait for everything to download — it's already there.
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