Night Shift. Many of our favorite apps, like Tweetbot, Kindle, and Instapaper, have a “night mode” because reading a bright white screen in the dark can be killer on the eyes. Apple’s catching on with the all-new Night Shift feature, which works a little differently but has the benefit of being system-wide.
Night Shift doesn’t change screens of black text on a white background to white text on a black background. Instead, it starts adjusting the colors shown on your iPhone or iPad screen “to the warmer end of the spectrum,” cutting down the bright blue light that supposedly messes with your internal clock, fooling you into thinking it’s daytime when it’s not. Apple says Night Shift will automatically turn on at sunset in your location, and revert to the regular display settings in the morning—presumably it’ll be optional, in case you’re trying to keep yourself awake cramming for a test or something.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because a third-party app called F.lux already did this, until Apple pulled the plug on the iOS side in November. F.lux is still available for the Mac for free, as well as Windows and Linux.
Notes. Apple’s Notes app will get more secure in iOS 9.3, letting you set a password or use Touch ID to keep your notes under wraps. Other security-minded apps such as Evernote, Day One, and 1Password already let you use Touch ID to log in, keeping your information private without your thumbprint or a master password to unlock it. It should be a nice addition to Notes, and we wonder if Apple will extend this to apps like Mail, or even Safari, where your thumbprint could unlock your saved passwords, for example.
News. Apple’s News app is having trouble catching on, and tweaks in iOS 9.3 aim to make it easier to use, so you’ll keep coming back. Additions include inline video you can play without leaving your feed, landscape support throughout the iPhone version of the app, and a supposedly better-tailored For You section.
Health. Apple’s database for HealthKit info has never been much to look at—it’s more a clearinghouse for all the health-related data you’ll collect and interact with in third-party HealthKit-enabled apps, like RunKeeper, Withings Health Mate, and MyFitnessPal. In iOS 9.3, the Health app will help you discover new HealthKit apps to install, adding a side-scrolling list of relevant apps to the bottom of the category pages for Weight, Workouts, and Sleep. The Health app will also show the move, exercise, and stand data collected by your Apple Watch, which right now is mostly locked into the Activity app. That’ll make it easier to share, say, the stand data with other HealthKit apps.
CarPlay. If you connect your iPhone to a CarPlay stereo, you’ll get a couple new features in iOS 9.3. The Apple Music app will finally show the New and For You sections, instead of just your collection and playlists. And the Maps app will finally support the Nearby feature that was added in iOS 9, way back in September. Nearby helps you find businesses in your vicinity by category, like gas, parking, coffee shops, and restaurants.
Education benefits. iOS 9.3 has some features aimed at schools as well—Apple launched a separate Education Preview page to explain. Regular users probably won’t benefit directly from these features, but schools that deploy multiple iPads will get a new Apple School Manager portal to manage them, they’ll be able to create Managed Apple IDs and assign them to students, and a Shared iPad feature that will let those students log in to any iPad in the school and pick up where they left off the day before.
Teachers get a Classroom app that lets them peek at any student’s screen, launch specific apps and sites on every screen at once, and lock them in place so the kids can’t surreptiously surf over to Tumblr or wherever they hang out these days.
How to get it: If you can’t wait until iOS 9.3 is deployed to the masses, here’s how to join the public beta program (and how to go back to the shipping version if you want out). As of today, iOS 9.3 is only in developer beta, but it should hit public beta any day now.