A feature spotlight in the upcoming iOS 9.3 release is the addition of Night Shift, a system service designed to let your iPhone or iPad adjust its screen color temperature in accordance with the natural "circadian rhythm". Its main accomplishment is reducing the emissions of blue light, which tends to mess with melatonin production and prevent you from having a good night's sleep. It also makes the screen color temperature match that of your ambient lighting, greatly reducing eye strain.
Reiterating Apple's commitment to health
and providing a genuinely useful bit of functionality to iOS users, Night Shift is a welcome addition for sure, but it's no secret that it's not entirely innovative. Applications such as Twilight, or stock alternatives built in some Android manufacturers' ROMs have provided similar facilities for a while, although we suspect Apple's solution will integrate deeper with the operating system.
In fact, that's of actual concern to the developers of a popular application that deals with the same problem. It's called f.lux and it launched way back in 2009. According to f.lux developer and co-founder Michael Herf, the app was the first to employ automatic display tuning with the goal of reducing light from the blue spectrum, which might give you a perspective on how long such algorithms have been in development. In addition to desktop platforms, f.lux was present on iOS as well, until Apple took it down from the App Store for using private application programming interfaces.
Night Shift is "an important first step" towards using technology to improve sleep.
The introduction of Night Shift prompted Herf and the f.lux team to issue an open letter, calling on Apple to allow for the release of f.lux on iOS and open up access to the underlying algorithms. It names Night Shift as a "display of commitment" by Apple towards resolving the problems caused by exposure to bright light at the wrong times (ranging from sleep-related problems to risking cancer), and "an important first step" towards using technology to improve sleep. Indeed, Apple opening up Night Shift for developers and scientists to take advantage of would make for a significant contribution to ongoing sleep and chronobiology research, especially given how many people use iOS out there.
However, we can't predict whether Apple will do the noble thing, or do what it's been known to do in the past. Approximately two months after banning f.lux, Cupertino introduced Night Shift, which duplicates its essential functionality. History remembers how Watson, a Mac OS X app for internet and local search, effectively "died" after Apple introduced Sherlock, an app that mirrored its functionality and feature set (and is a precursor to Spotlight search). The incident coined the phrase "Sherlocking", which became synonymous with Apple's practice of introducing free alternatives, bundled with its operating systems, to competing software products. Knowing Apple, f.lux will most likely go down as another app that got "Sherlocked".