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iOS 11.3 is available now. Here are the best new features

Apple's update brings fixes for Apple's battery snafu, new Animoji, AR upgrades and more.

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More floating cartoon puppets for your face: Just one of the new features in iOS 11.3.

Screenshots by Sean Hollister/CNET

iOS 11.3, the latest version of Apple's iPhone and iPad operating system, is available now -- and it offers more features than you might expect from a ".3" release. Whether you're interested in augmented reality, cute Animoji or just a way to keep Apple from throttling your old iPhone, damn it, there's something in this update to pique your curiosity.

And those are just the headline features. Who knows what other goodies are buried beneath. We'll find out over the next few days and weeks, but for now let's look at the big stuff. 

Update, 11:58a.m. PT: Apple has also pushed minor updates for the Apple Watch, Apple TV and HomePod as well. The HomePod update doesn't bring AirPlay 2 or stereo speaker pairing, sadly, but watchOS 4.3 will let you control the HomePod (and your iPhone media) from an Apple Watch now. Plus, tvOS 11.3 will let your 4th-gen Apple TV play videos at their original framerate (if you, say, enjoy 24fps film).

Also, while it initally appeared that Messages in iCloud would arrive in iOS 11.3 to solve our iMessage deletion woes -- it appeared in early betas -- it seems to be missing from the final release. Guess we'll have to wait for iOS 11.4. 

Now Playing: Watch this: Apple iOS 11.3 packing in AR, more animoji, battery controls
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To get the new OS, go to Settings>General>Software Update. If your iOS device is compatible it should start downloading. If it doesn't immediately, check back later. 

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1. Take control of your battery

I'm not talking about battery life -- I'm talking about the ability to keep Apple from secretly throttling your phone's processing power as your phone's battery ages. Apple was caught red-handed doing that this past winter, and wound up having to apologize for keeping it a secret. And though the company apparently had a good reason for doing it -- preventing unexpected shutdowns -- the revelation left a bad taste in some people's mouths.

Anyhow, as of iOS 11.3, your battery is yours to control. You can turn off the throttling feature, and/or navigate to Settings > Battery to take a look at your battery's current health. If your iPhone 6 or later does need a battery swap to maintain peak performance without issues, iOS 11.3 should tell you so. 

Then, it's just a matter of opting for Apple's $29 replacement battery sometime before the end of the year. (That's how long Apple has said the $29 price will last.)

2. More Animoji

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GIF by Sean Hollister/CNET

Got an iPhone X? Then you're probably familiar with Animoji, the floating animated avatars you control with your face so you can send animal-ified emotions to your friends and family via iMessage. (They use the Face ID motion sensing camera array built into the front of the iPhone X.)

iOS 11 came with 12 different Animoji, and iOS 11.3 brings four new creatures into the pen -- a lion, bear, dragon, and skull. 

You can see a little preview of them in our animated GIF right here. (No, the skull doesn't have a lot of emotion. Should have taken lessons from Pixar's Coco.)

3. Augmented reality goes vertical

Apple's ARKit augmented-reality apps can be pretty amazing, but the world-blurring technology had one key limitation right out of the gate. ARKit could only recognize horizontal surfaces -- think floors and tables -- when deciding where to place virtual objects and make them appear to be part of your real world. 

With IKEA's ARKit app, for instance, you could see how a new sofa might look like on the floor of your living room, but you couldn't mount a virtual cabinet to your real walls.

But iOS 11.3 comes with ARKit 1.5, which recognizes vertical surfaces and "irregularly shaped surfaces like circular tables," too, according to Apple. That should let AR developers build a variety of new things, and could potentially improve the accuracy of augmented reality ruler apps as well. 

Speaking of accuracy, ARKit 1.5 through-the-camera view is now higher resolution and supports your camera's built-in autofocus as well.

Plus, ARKit 1.5 can recognize flat pictures like signs, posters and artwork now and use them to trigger AR content. CNET's Shara Tibken tried pointing an iPhone at a poster of a lunar lander and was rewarded with an interactive video of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  

Here's a list of iPhones and iPads that support ARKit. 

4. No-hassle chat with your bank or store

Business Chat.

Apple

Why call a big company or navigate their website when you can just ping them in your messenger app? Facebook Messenger already offers such a feature, and iOS 11.3 will bring Business Chat to iMessage on your iPhone and iPad, too. Here's Apple's pitch:

"With Business Chat, it's easy to have a conversation with a service representative, schedule an appointment or make purchases using Apple Pay in the Messages app. Business Chat doesn't share the user's contact information with businesses and gives users the ability to stop chatting at any time."

Originally announced last June at WWDC and slated to arrive as part of iOS 11, the feature still isn't final -- it's a beta for "select businesses" including Lowe's, Home Depot, Discover, Newegg, Hilton, Marriott, and Wells Fargo.

5. Your health, delivered

Apple's new Health Records feature hopes to provide something patients (aka humans) have wanted since the advent of the medical record -- a way to easily access all of your medical records, no matter which doctor, clinic or hospital you pick, in one single (and encrypted) place.

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Apple

Of course, that only works as long as all of your care providers are on board. When we looked at the iOS 11.3 Beta a few months ago, these were the places supported:

  • 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

"In the coming months, more medical facilities will connect to Health Records offering their patients access to this feature," writes Apple. The company considers this a beta feature for now.

Everything else

Here's a short list of everything else interesting that Apple has announced:

  • Apple's got a new privacy icon in iOS 11.3 and macOS 10.13.4 that'll pop up whenever Apple asks for your personal information.
  • For privacy's sake, the Safari browser won't autofill your passwords unless you tap the password field first.
  • Apple says Apple Music will soon let users "stream all the music videos they want without being interrupted by ads" and offer music video playlists.
  • Apple says Apple News will offer an "improved Top Stories" section and a new video section with "the most important videos of the day".
  • You'll be able to sort App Store reviews by "Most Helpful," "Most Favorable", "Most Critical" and "Most Recent" now.
  • Apple says iOS 11.3 will support Advanced Mobile Location to automatically send a user's location to emergency services when they make a 911 (or similar) call.
  • Apple says it'll let developers make HomeKit accessories with software authentiation (which is cheaper than a hardware authentication chip, so maybe we'll see more HomeKit adoption).
  • Use an iPad as a cash register for your small business? (Or otherwise keep it plugged in all the time?) Apple says iOS 11.3 will manage your battery better from now on.
  • Apple Pay is now compatible with Chinese metro and bus lines in Beijing and Shanghai.
  • The Apple TV app (for iPhone, iPad) is now available in Brazil and Mexico. Brazil gets Siri voice assistant support on recent Apple TV set-top devices as well.
  • If you've had trouble getting audio apps to play in your car, or sync contacts with your car's phone book, iOS 11.3 should fix those too.
  • watchOS 4.3 will let you control your HomePod playback and volume from an Apple Watch, and use the Nightstand charging mode in any orientation.
  • tvOS 11.3 will let your 4th-gen Apple TV play back videos at their original framerate (say, 24fps film).

You can find Apple's full iOS 11.3 changelog here, and here are the watchOS 4.3 and tvOS 11.3 changelogs as well.

Compatibility

iOS 11.3 is a free update for iPhone 5S and later, any iPad Air or Pad Pro, iPad fifth gen, iPad Mini 2 and later, and iPod Touch sixth gen. Animojis require an iPhone X, though, and only a subset of these iPhones and iPads support ARKit.

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