Thursday, 14 January 2016

Apple iOS 9.3 Has A Great Secret Feature

This week Apple AAPL +2.02% revealed iOS 9.3 and it represents a seismic change in the company’s approach to education. But lost among all the upgrades in iOS 9.3 was a brilliant (and much needed) new feature which Apple chose not to mention in its release notes…   

MacRumors has spotted that if you dig into the settings of iOS 9.3 (Settings > Cellular [Mobile Data in UK] > WiFi Assist) and just below the on/off toggle you will find Apple has now added data usage figures. Why is this so important? Because it may get Apple out of a class action lawsuit and potentially saves customers from massive carrier bills.

For those not in the know, WiFi Assist was introduced in iOS 9 and tries to help users maintain fast data connections by bolstering weak WiFi connections with their cellular data. This sounds good in principle, but victims have found they didn’t know when WiFi Assist was kicking in and had no easy way of seeing how much data was being consumed on their data plans without going to the carrier directly.

This resulted in one case where a user faced a carrier bill of over $2,000. The fact WiFi Assist is also enabled by default has also seen Apple hit with a $5M Class Action lawsuit. In response Apple has now published a WiFi Assist guidance page and now iOS 9.3 (which is currently open to developers and consumers in beta form) is taking matters a sensible stage further.

In Apple’s defence, WiFi Assist does not start automatically if the user is roaming abroad or for apps running in the background. It will also not be used to automatically download email attachments or stream audio and video. That said WiFi Assist will work if, for example, you’re using turn-by-turn directions in Apple Maps and the case for ‘Bill Shock’ remains.

Consequently, giving users easier access to track their WiFi Assist cellular data consumption (and reset the count at any point) is both very welcome and highly practical from customer satisfaction and legal standpoints.

I would still like to see a little more functionality, such as setting limits and giving users direct control over which apps can and cannot use WiFi Assist, but with iOS 9.3 Apple has taken a solid – if surprisingly secretive – step in the right direction…

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