In a rare step likely forced by the iPhone-slowing battery debacle, Apple today offered a public “preview” of the spring release of iOS 11.3, including a new battery health monitor and other features. Notably, the battery health functionality will come in “a later iOS 11.3 beta release” rather than the initial beta, which is scheduled to be released today.
According to Apple, iPhone 6 and later models will gain “new features to show battery health and recommend if a battery needs to be serviced.” For iPhone 6 through iPhone 7 Plus models, but apparently not iPhone 8 or X models, users will also be able to see if dynamic performance management — the feature that can dramatically slow down battery-impaired iPhones in the name of stopping random shutdowns — is turned on, and manually turn it off.
iOS 11.3 also includes a number of more interesting consumer-facing changes. The face-tracking Animoji feature, exclusive to the iPhone X, is gaining four new characters: a lion, a bear, a Chinese-styled dragon, and a skull. iOS 11.3 will also include ARKit 1.5, which can recognize walls, doors, and circular tables for proper insertion of virtual objects such as posters into scenes. ARKit 1.5 additionally improves the AR camera, promising 50 percent greater resolution and auto-focus for a sharper image.
Apple will also add medical records to the Health app in a section called Health Records, allowing participating medical providers to send encrypted data directly to the iPhone so patients can see multiple institutions’ records in one place — and get push notifications for lab results and medications. According to a second press release, the following 12 institutions will be the first to offer this functionality to patients:
- Johns Hopkins Medicine – Baltimore, Maryland
- Cedars-Sinai – Los Angeles, California
- Penn Medicine – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Geisinger Health System – Danville, Pennsylvania
- UC San Diego Health – San Diego, California
- UNC Health Care – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
- Rush University Medical Center – Chicago, Illinois
- Dignity Health – Arizona, California and Nevada
- Ochsner Health System – Jefferson Parish, Louisiana
- MedStar Health – Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia
- OhioHealth – Columbus, Ohio
- Cerner Healthe Clinic – Kansas City, Missouri
Another health-related improvement focuses on emergencies: Apple is adding support for Advanced Mobile Location (AML), which in supported countries will automatically include the caller’s current location when they call for emergency services.
Apple is also introducing Business Chat, which enables “select businesses, including Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s, and Wells Fargo” to offer direct customer service chats, appointment scheduling, and Apple Pay purchasing right through the Messages app. For privacy, Apple notes that “Business Chat doesn’t share the user’s contact information with businesses and gives users the ability to stop chatting at any time.”
Two new video features are being added to iOS 11.3: The Apple Music service is adding a library of music videos that can be watched ad-free, and the Apple News app will be able to aggregate news videos on topics of interest, displaying them in the For You tab.
Last but not least, Apple will debut “HomeKit software authentication” in iOS 11.3, enabling some accessory developers to add HomeKit support to existing accessories without including Apple’s previously required hardware components. It remains to be seen whether major accessories such as Nest’s thermostats will gain HomeKit compatibility through this feature.
Developers will be able to start testing iOS 11.3 today and should be able to experience most of the new features above. A public beta will follow at beta.apple.com.
Update at 10:19 a.m. Pacific: Apple has released developer betas of iOS 11.3, tvOS 11.3, and macOS 10.13.4, listed as Developer Beta 1. All three updates can be downloaded now directly from supported devices: iOS 11.3 through Settings > General > Software Update, macOS 10.13.4 through the Mac’s App Store, and tvOS through Settings > System > Software Updates > Update Software.
Update at 1:39 p.m. Pacific: Discovered by 9to5Mac, iOS 11.3 and tvOS 11.3 quietly include beta support for AirPlay 2, the second-generation version of Apple’s wireless audio streaming standard. AirPlay 2 promises to improve simultaneous multi-room playback to compatible audio devices, including the upcoming HomePod speaker, and enable stereo playback across two HomePods. Originally expected to debut in iOS 11.0, AirPlay 2 was significantly delayed, and is currently listed on Apple’s website as “coming this year.”