Apple has today released iOS 9.3, bringing a number of new features, improvements, and bug fixes to the iOS 9 operating system.
For blind and low vision users, Apple has made further progress towards addressing the accessibility bugs still present in iOS 9.2.1.
As we always stress at this point, it is impossible for us to test all devices, apps, and use cases. So, it is entirely possible that we have overlooked some changes, regressions or improvements. With this in mind, we would greatly appreciate your help in ensuring that the information on this page is as complete and accurate as possible. If you spot any accessibility-related changes in iOS 9.3 that are not listed in this post, please do let us know in the comments.
Accessibility Bugs Fixed in iOS 9.3
- The bug where VoiceOver would occasionally take 3-5 seconds to respond after swiping to move focus appears to have been resolved.
- During a phone call, VoiceOver once again behaves as expected after hiding or revealing the keypad.
- The Settings app no longer crashes when attempting to make changes in Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Signatures.
- Support for the Smart Beetle braille display from HIMS has been improved.
- In the News app that was introduced with iOS 9, the horizontal scrolling bars which display suggested channels and topics now work better with VoiceOver.
- The bug where VoiceOver focus would occasionally jump to the Status Bar when swiping through the main area of the screen appears to be less prevalent, but it does still very occasionally happen.
- When using Touch Typing Mode, a triple-tap of the Shift key will once again set the Caps Lock to on.
- Audio iMessages now work more consistently and reliably with VoiceOver.
- VoiceOver users can once again write and submit reviews to the App Store.
Accessibility Bugs Possibly Fixed in iOS 9.3
- Some of our team report that they are no longer experiencing sluggishness when using the Siri voices with VoiceOver. Others, however, are still experiencing this issue.
Accessibility Bugs Introduced in iOS 9.3
- You may find that VoiceOver will switch to use another voice whenever it needs to announce punctuation. It was initially believed that this problem was specific to users who had Alex as their only active TTS voice. However, people have subsequently reported that this behavior can also be seen when using other voices.
A quick and simple test to see if you are likely to encounter this behavior is to go to a text field on your device so that the onscreen keyboard appears. Now switch to the punctuation keyboard. If VoiceOver continues using its default voice when you touch any of the punctuation keys, then it’s probably safe to assume that you will not see this problem.
If you are effected, we have found a temporary workaround, and that’s to add a second instance of your preferred TTS voice to the VoiceOver language rotor. The result will be that you now have 2 language options on the rotor, both of which should in theory be the same. However, in our own testing, the newly added one appears to work as expected, whereas the ‘default’ instance on the rotor will demonstrate the behavior described above.
- In the Health app, the lists of recommended 3rd party apps which are displayed in various locations are not accessible with VoiceOver.
New for VoiceOver Users
- When in an app, a 4-finger swipe to the left/right can be used to switch between open apps on the iPhone and iPod Touch.
- When navigating the Favorites tab in the native News app, VoiceOver will now provide feedback on the number of feeds/channels that are displayed by announcing “x of x” after its name.
Changes in Behavior
- The speech rate of the Alex voice has been tweaked to bring it more inline with the other TTS voices. Thus, upon updating to iOS 9.3, users may find that Alex’s speech rate appears slower.
- For those who use the Native News app, VoiceOver no longer announces the number of new articles after refreshing. Whereas it would previously announce “x new articles,” it now simply says “new articles.” We have had this checked, and it appears that the number of new articles is no longer displayed visually on the screen, so this change should be treated as expected behavior rather than a new bug with VoiceOver.
Unusually for Apple, the company gave a preview of some new features and changes coming in this release:
This latest iOS release adds numerous innovations to the world’s most advanced mobile operating system. There are improvements to a wide range of apps, along with great new additions to CarPlay. iOS 9.3 may even help you get a good night’s sleep. And you’ll find a preview of new features that will make using iPad in schools easier and better for students and admins.
New 3D Touch Quick Actions
Users of an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus will find that there are new 3D Touch Quick Actions for several of the native iOS apps--including Weather, Settings, Compass, Health, iTunes Store and the App Store. For example, the Weather app’s Quick Actions allow you to see the weather at your current location or for saved locations, whilst the Settings app now offers Quick Actions for accessing Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Battery options.
Notes Become More Secure
The native Notes app has also received some welcome updates:
Now you can secure the notes that contain your most personal data — such as financial details, medical info, or website logins — with a password or fingerprint. You can also sort notes by date created, date modified, or alphabetically.
News Becomes More Personalized
Apple has improved its News app to make the content presented match your interests.
The articles in For You are now better tailored to your particular interests. And to help you discover new Favorites, For You suggests trending topics and Editors’ Picks. When a story contains video, you can play it right from your feed. On your iPhone, you can view everything in landscape. And when you check for updates, the latest stories appear much faster — so you can catch up on the day’s events quickly and easily.
The Health App Makes it Easier to Collect, View and Share Data
Apple’s Health app now gathers and displays more information and suggests third-party apps which will help you to collect data.
It’s simpler than ever to find third-party apps to track your health and wellness. Categories such as Weight, Workouts, and Sleep have a new slider menu that reveals great apps you can easily add to your Health dashboard. The Health app also now displays your move, exercise, and stand data, as well as your goals, from Apple Watch. So you can see all your health metrics in one place and easily share your data with third‑party apps.
More Power and Features for Educators
Educators will be pleased to see that iOS 9.3 brings a number of new classroom-oriented features, including shared iPads for students; a new Classroom app; an Apple School Manager; and improved Apple ID management.
You can now Pair with more than one Apple Watch
With iOS 9.3 and watchOS 2.2, the iPhone is now able to pair with more than one Apple Watch.
New Languages for Siri
Siri has been updated to now include the following languages: Malay, Finnish and Hebrew.
Night Shift is a new feature that's designed to automatically cut down on the amount of blue light an iOS user is exposed to at night by shifting the display to use more yellow tones.
Apple’s Preview page explains Night Shift thus:
Many studies have shown that exposure to bright blue light in the evening can affect your circadian rhythms and make it harder to fall asleep.
Night Shift uses your iOS device’s clock and geolocation to determine when it’s sunset in your location. Then it automatically shifts the colors in your display to the warmer end of the spectrum, making it easier on your eyes. In the morning, it returns the display to its regular settings.
Night Shift settings are located in the ‘Display & Brightness’ section of the iOS Settings app.
How to Update
iOS 9.3 is available via Over-the-Air Update (Settings> General> Software Update) or from iTunes on the Mac or PC. As always, we would encourage you to make a backup before installing this update.
Once you have updated, be sure to come back and let us know what you think of this release.