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Apple is upgrading iOS for education in a major way

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Apple has always tried to position the iPad as a key tool inside the classroom, but it's never done all that much to tailor the device — or its software — for educational environments. Now that's about to change: Apple unveiled a preview of the next big update to iOS today, showcasing a range of new classroom-specific features. Perhaps the most notable of these is multi-user support. School staff will be able to set up profiles for each child in a classroom, and those profiles will be accessible from any classroom iPad.

Multi-user support isn't coming to everyone

It's long overdue for Apple to start allowing multiple user accounts on a single iPad. Though this update won't go there completely — the feature will only be available in schools — it means that multi-user support has been built out, at least to some extent, which may allow Apple to roll it out to all iPads in the near future. Hopefully, at least.

Apple is adding this feature for classrooms since it seems to have just come to the realization that a school might not be able to afford an iPad for every student. This way, students should be able to have a similar experience, logging in to a personalized account with access to the education apps and other materials that they're supposed to be using. To make sure that an individual profile doesn't take up too much storage, the iPad will re-download most content as a student begins to use it.

Among the other new features in this coming update is the ability for school staff to see an overview of what students are doing. A teacher, for instance, can see what app every student in their class is using; they can also tap through to see what a student actually has up on their screen. Additionally, teachers will be able to launch apps, websites, and even specific pages in a book across an entire class' iPads at once. They could also lock students in to using only that app. Apple is establishing a website where schools will be able to manage all accounts for students and staff and to buy and distribute apps and books.

The iPad has to contend with Chromebooks in the classroom

These changes to iOS suggest that Apple is starting to take education more seriously. While Apple has always said that education is a big opportunity for the iPad, in the time since the iPad's launch, the biggest movement in the education market has been toward Chromebooks, which are much cheaper. Adding in features that make the iPad much more useful in a classroom setting could help Apple take on on Google's growing presence.

The new classroom features will arrive as part of iOS 9.3, which is available today in beta and will likely go public in the comings months. Alongside these education features, Apple is announcing new features in iOS 9.3 that will arrive for everyone, including a feature that mimics f.lux, the ability to lock your notes, and improvements to Apple News and the Health app.