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Apple today previewed iOS 11.3, its next major iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch software update. The first beta will be seeded to developers later today, followed by a public beta soon, ahead of an official release this spring.

iOS 11.3 introduces new Animoji on the iPhone X, including a lion, bear, dragon, and skull. There will now be 16 characters to choose from in total, including existing ones like a pig, fox, chicken, pile of poo, and robot.

iOS 11.3 will also feature ARKit 1.5. Apple says its updated augmented reality platform will be able to recognize and place virtual objects on vertical surfaces like walls and doors, such as posters, signs, and artwork, and can more accurately map irregularly shaped surfaces like circular tables.

In addition, the view of the real world through the camera now has 50 percent greater resolution and supports auto-focus for a sharper perspective.

The software update will introduce Business Chat, a new way for users to communicate directly with businesses within the Messages app. This feature will launch in beta following the public release of iOS 11.3 this spring, with support from select businesses, including Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s, and Wells Fargo.

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.

In the Health app on iOS 11.3, users will be able to view health records, including available medical data from multiple providers like John Hopkins and Cedars-Sinai. The data is encrypted and protected with a passcode.

In a future beta release of iOS 11.3, users with an iPhone 6 or newer will be able to view their battery health under Settings > Battery. In the same menu, it will also be possible to disable Apple’s power management feature.

Apple outlined some other features coming to iOS 11.3:

– Apple Music will soon be the home for music videos. Users can stream all the music videos they want without being interrupted by ads. They can also watch the hottest new videos, the classics or ones from their favorite artists back-to-back in new music video playlists.

– Apple News now makes it easier to stay up-to-date on the most important videos of the day with a new Video group in For You, and improved Top Stories.

– HomeKit software authentication provides a great new way for developers to add HomeKit support to existing accessories while protecting privacy and security.

– Support for Advanced Mobile Location (AML) to automatically send a user’s current location when making a call to emergency services in countries where AML is supported.

More details to follow…

Related Roundup: iOS 11

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