Apple Releases New Feature-Rich Betas For iOS, watchOS and tvOS

Apple yesterday released the first betas of iOS 9.3, watchOS 2.2 and tvOS 2.2 all packed with new features and enhancements. I’d argue these are the largest mid-cycle releases ever. I’ve compiled a quick list of my initial thoughts on the new stuff. Bullets point exist for a reason, I guess.

  • Night Shift is an obvious addition in the sense that it’s an obvious feature to be part of iOS, but it wasn’t obvious to expect it as part of the mid-cycle or anytime soon. Unlike a lot of others, I don’t think it is related to the recent ‘rejection’ of Flux. Night Shift is a clever pun.

  • For iPads managed by educational institutions, Apple is adding some kind of multi-user shared iPad login experience with 9.3. It’s limited to a handful of data types and apps, but it’s start. Perhaps, Apple will build this out fully for iOS 10 and make it available to all.

  • tvOS folders are hard to create and arrange. Clicking around the Home Screen is unnecessarily fiddly. This can hopefully be tuned to be more straightforward and obvious in future betas.

  • tvOS app switcher is bad, in much the same way that the iOS 9 switcher is bad. Screenshots overlap for no reason. The stack effect works well on iPhone and iPad — it doesn’t translate to the TV. The old UI is better.

  • iCloud for iBooks is what everyone has wanted since iBooks got the ability to store PDFs. PDF syncing is now easy; just add it to your bookshelf. iCloud has been key in removing data silos across the system, and iBooks was one of the remaining outliers in iOS 9. Really happy to see it included in 9.3.

  • You can now pair multiple Apple Watches to the same iPhone. Why? I think the Watch team should be prioritising other features that entice more people to buy their first Watch. It’s wasteful optimising for the sliver of the market who want to pair more than one watch to the same phone. I also question the battery life impact of pairing multiple watches.

  • More system apps support 3D Touch Quick Actions now, including Settings. Sadly, many of the icons are really drab. For example, the icon for the ‘Set Wallpaper’ action is the outline of a circle. Maybe these are placeholders for actual artwork coming in a later seed.

  • Podcasts is a new system app on tvOS. It seemingly prioritises audio over video shows, but I suppose the iTunes Podcasts library is much more rich in sound-only podcasts overall. The app appears well made and is quite pretty, so two thumbs up for quality. Even so, it’s a strange candidate to be a default app on Apple TV due to the subject matter.

  • Notes has a Password feature now, to add an additional layer of privacy to your notes. The Settings UI is pretty ugly however, in dire need of some padding between the table rows. You could also make a good argument that password-protecting apps should be an OS-level feature, not merely a part of Notes.

  • Health app includes a new panel for Apple Watch Activity tracking. It cements Health as the central ‘fitness dashboard’ for your phone. Alas, the fundamental issues I outlined about Health during the iOS 8 betas still exist two years later.

I expect iOS 9.3 to ship around March, alongside the 4 inch iPhone.