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12:06 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman

iOS 9.3 Heralds Significant Education Features

iOS 9.3, the not-so-minor update to Apple's mobile operating system, targets educators with tons of new school-focused tools.

10 iPhone, iPad Apps Optimized For iOS 9
10 iPhone, iPad Apps Optimized For iOS 9
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Apple made a fresh beta of iOS available to developers on Monday, Jan 11. Rather than stick to the usual performance tweaks, iOS 9.3 introduces a large number of new consumer-facing features. Moreover, the updated platform should appeal to schools around the globe with new apps meant to make the iPad part of every classroom.

Apple is clearly gunning for Chromebooks. The iPad maker would prefer to see students using its tablet instead of Google's inexpensive laptops.

Teachers and school IT admins have far more control with iOS 9.3. A built-in setup assistant provides teachers and admins with instructions on how to create Managed Apple IDs, buy apps and content, and manage device enrollment at a district-wide level.

The Apple School Manager can pull in the district's enrollment data to make creating accounts easier, and it can also be used to locate students, staff, and classes. Mobile device management tools make it simple to find all devices across the district, configure enrollment settings, and streamline the setup process.

Educators can make use of their discount to buy apps and books in bulk for their students. Any materials purchased through iOS 9.3 can be distributed to staff or students with a few taps on the screen. The iTunes U Course Manager can aid teachers in delivering lessons directly to student-issued iPads.

(Image: damircudic/iStockphoto)

(Image: damircudic/iStockphoto)

Kids and teachers alike should find using iPads in the classroom an improved experience. Managed Apple IDs give schools control over what students can access. Younger students will be able to sign in using simple passcodes. All students will be aided with photo IDs to let them know which iPad is theirs. Once signed in, students will be able to pick up where they left off, resuming lessons or classwork from previous sessions. A feature called intelligent caching means students won't have to wait for apps or content to reload: It's already there.

Further, intelligent caching makes it easier for multiple students to share the same iPad.

Teachers will be able to view student work at a glance, and launch specific apps or websites on student tablets from their own device. Teachers can lock students out of apps, if need be, or share their work on a larger TV for in-class demonstrations. Teachers gain more admin controls too, and will be able to reset forgotten passwords without calling in the IT department.

Not a teacher or a student? iOS 9.3 still has some goodies for regular people.

Perhaps most significantly, iOS 9.3 adds a tool called Night Shift. This feature removes blue light from the display based on the time of day. It is a response to research that suggests viewing screens late at night can disrupt sleep. Removing blues and turning up yellows can help eyes relax. Google added a similar tool to its own book-reading app late last year.

[Read InformationWeek's predictions for Apple in 2016.]

The refreshed operating system also lets users password protect individual Notes files, jump to apps from Apple Pay, and duplicate Live Photos. The platform improves taptic feedback for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, and adds a number of 3D Touch shortcuts to the weather, settings, health, compass, and App Store apps. The Apple Health app now collates workout data in a new section, and Apple Music should offer a smoother experience in cars via CarPlay.

iOS 9.3 beta 1 is available only to developers for the moment. Apple hasn't yet released a public version of the beta.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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