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Apple previews iOS 11.3 with ARKit improvements, new health records and chat features

The ARKit update will enable augmented reality apps to detect walls and other vertical surfaces.

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Apple announced a bevy of new features coming to iOS when version 11.3 drops this spring, including a significant upgrade to ARKit and the launch of a new Business Chat feature in the Messages app.

The ARKit update will enable augmented reality (AR) apps to detect walls and other vertical surfaces, and more accurately map non-linear surfaces like circular tables. The AR experience will also appear more sharp, as the real-world view now supports auto-focus and has 50 percent greater resolution. In big-picture terms, the ARKit update will greatly expand the kind of app experiences that developers can build for iOS.

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The Cupertino tech giant is also bringing Business Chat to the beta launch of iOS 11.3. The chat feature will allow users to communicate directly with businesses right within Messages. Apple says Business Chat will not share a user's personal contact information with companies and lets users end the chat at any time. Hilton, Lowe's, Discover and Wells Fargo are among the first crop of companies testing the feature.

Another key update in iOS 11.3 is a new Health Records feature that syncs a user's medical data with the existing Health app.

"Patients from participating medical institutions will have information from various institutions organized into one view and receive regular notifications for their lab results, medications, conditions and more," Apple said. "Health Records data is encrypted and protected with a passcode."

It's worth noting that Microsoft has a comparable service called HealthVault that's been around for close to a decade and at one point competed with the discontinued Google Health. Microsoft recently dropped support for HealthVault Insights apps on mobile platforms, but it's still allowing users to access their data via the HealthVault website.

For Apple, the health-tech push is another trick up the sleeve designed to lock users into the iOS ecosystem with highly tailored services that aren't available elsewhere.

Apple is also addressing the contentious battery throttling issue with the launch of iOS 11.3. The company will introduce a feature that shows the health of a phone's battery, and recommends if it needs to be serviced. Additionally, users will be able to see whether an existing power management feature is turned on, and then turn it off if they choose.

Of course, the iOS 11.3 update would not be complete without some new Animoji news. Apple is rolling out four new Animoji: a lion, a bear, a dragon, and a skull. The addition brings the total number of Animoji characters to 16.

For Apple developers, the iOS 11.3 preview is available today, with the free public beta set to follow. The latest iOS will be available this spring for the iPhone 5 and later, as well as all iPad Airs and iPad Pros, the fifth generation iPad, iPad Mini 2 and later, and the iPod Touch sixth generation.

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