Hot on the heels of the iOS 11.3 update, Apple has released its first iOS 11.4 public beta. Version 11.4, which CNET has downloaded, includes some big features that didn't make it into the iOS 11.3 release, including perks that'll come to Messages, music and Home Pods.
You'll also some education-centric items that Apple. Here are four of the things you can look forward to.
1. Your iPhone texts will sync better everywhere
Messages, Apple's enhanced version of text messaging, is one of the most beloved features on the iPhone. But add another device to the mix -- an iPad, a Mac or another iPhone -- and things get complicated: messages arrive late, contacts with names on one device are merely anonymous phone numbers on another, and so on.
Messages in iCloud is designed to change all that. By moving the system online, everything should sync up across multiple devices: Delete a message on your iPad, and it will disappear from your iPhone, too.
At least, that's the theory: Apple seems to be having a devil of a time getting this one fully baked. The feature was first announced back at WWDC in June 2017, then delayed from the initial iOS 11 release in September. The feature briefly appeared in the iOS 11.3 beta, but was cut before the final version.
There's a chance that Apple could do the same and slash the feature again, but we're hoping it's fully fleshed out in iOS 11.4.
2.HomePod Pair: Get stereo sound from HomePods
On iOS 11.4 beta, you're able to pair two HomePods to create stereo sound.
In fact, Apple demoed HomePod stereo pairing to CNET and other reviewers prior to the speaker's February release -- but the accompanying software has been slow in coming. Currently the feature requires a HomePod software update that is not yet available. Hopefully, the final version will live up to that demo we got back in January.
We were able to at least peek at how pairing works on our iPhone X running iOS 11.4 beta, and were prompted to pair the two devices. Too bad we just can't test it.
3. Stream audio in multiple rooms through AirPlay 2
iOS 11.4 will finally bring AirPlay 2, an upgraded version of Apple's wireless streaming feature. Beta testers have already been playing around with AirPlay 2, including us. One key change is that AirPlay 2 lets you pair your iPhone or iPad to multiple devices.
This means you can play things from an iPhone to two or more Apple TVs, HomePods or other AirPlay 2 devices at the same time. This sort of multiroom audio functionality already exists on competing products like Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Sonos speakers.
Like Messages in iCloud, AirPlay 2 also made the iOS 11.3 beta, but was dropped before the general release.
AirPlay 2 has gotten some updates since iOS 11.3, like the ability to control the volume of devices you're streaming to separately. It is also supported by the newly released tvOS 11.4 beta. So it feels like we're getting closer to a real release with the final iOS 11.4.
4. New apps for teacher: ClassKit and Schoolwork
At Apple's education event in Chicago, we got a pretty good look at Apple's new teaching tools ClassKit and Schoolwork.
ClassKit (like Apple's AppKit or ARKit) gives developers tools for creating education based apps for iOS products, while Schoolwork is an Apple app that helps teachers manage handouts and assignments. (It competes directly with Google Classroom, which has seen a huge uptake in US schools in recent years.)
The iOS 11.4 beta includes framework for ClassKit, which we learned would happen from the Chicago Apple event. Schoolwork shouldn't be too far off either, since Apple revealed the app would be available in June.
How to download iOS 11.4 beta for yourself
To experiment with the new iOS 11.4 beta, you'll have to sign up for Apple's beta program.
Apple's iOS betas can be buggy, so take caution or maybe use a secondary device to sign up. If you do join the program, be on the lookout for all the new features.
And remember: Apple's WWDC event, where we'll likely get a big sneak peek at iOS 12, is less than 2 months away.
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