With every passing year, Apple dubs its latest mobile platform, iOS, as the most advanced operating system on the planet. As we’ve seen with previous years however, the company brings an ever increasing range of new functionality, which, while new to the iPhone, is merely playing catch up to the features available on rival platforms.
With iOS 9 earlier this year, Apple sought to bring its platform up to date with the modern world and introduced several changes designed to refine the overall experience. Does iOS 9 deliver and has it truly advanced past its rival platforms, or is it just playing catch up again?
Armed with the new iPhone 6S and the iPad Air 2, let’s take a closer look at some of the big (and little) changes that make up the new parts of iOS 9 and deliver our verdict on Apple’s latest mobile platform. Grab a cup of tea and hit the jump.
The key features
As with every update to iOS, there’s a lot of changes under the hood, whether it’s performance or developer related, but iOS 9 also brings several new features. Let’s take a look at some of the new features in more detail.
Redesigned App Switcher
With iOS 8, Apple delivered a redesigned app switcher, which replaced the previous archaic version that felt like a relic compared to Android and Windows. iOS 9 brings a similar app switcher, using a more compact design with a much more fluid side scrolling experience. Simply swipe a card up to dismiss it, effectively closing the app it represented.
Similar to the experience found in Palm (and HP’s) failed WebOS platform – which now powers some LG smartwatches – the cards provide a quick snapshot of the app that’s running in the background and closing an app is as easy as swiping up. Yes, there’s no easy way to shut down all the apps, which would be useful when there’s lots running in the background, but it’s nonetheless a very welcome change.
Multitasking has also been improved with two new features; Split View (covered below) and the Back to… button, which allows you to return to the previous app you were using with just one tap. As an example; if you receive a link in Mail and open it in Safari, you can return to the message with a tap of the “Back to Mail” button at the top left of the screen. It’s a small change and one that makes using the iPad and iPhone A LOT more productive.
Multitasking: Slide Over, Split View, Picture-in-Picture
Another big change in iOS 9 is multitasking, which brings two specific iPad-only features (and one that’s available on all iOS 9 devices) designed to make better use of the bigger display. Multitasking comes in three flavour: Slide Over (iPad only), Split View (iPad Air 2 only), Picture-in-Picture (all devices).
Slide Over can be activated by swiping in from the right of the display and can be very useful to look up information at a glance (without having to exit one app and enter the other). Once you activate Slide Over, you can swipe down on the new highlighted section on the right to show a reel of the apps that support Slide Over and while the beta was limited to just a few apps, there are plenty of third party productivity apps that now support Slide Over, including Excel, Buffer, Outlook, Slack, Twitter and Word.
With Slide Over, you can only use the app that’s open in the small panel and if you want to access the original app you were in, you have to close Slide Over. This is where iOS 9 definitely transforms the iPad Air 2, as on Apple’s flagship slate, you can drag the dividing line to the middle of the display and both apps open side-by-side. Both apps are ‘active’ simultaneously and you can customise the size of each window by dragging the dividing line accordingly.
Multitasking is a key part of using any tablet (or large screen device) as productively as possible. With iOS 9, Apple has made it that little bit easier. Over the past few months, I’ve definitely used this feature a lot and it’s one of the reasons I upgraded from the iPad Mini to the iPad Air 2; to be able to run two apps side-by-side.
The other part of the ‘multitasking’ experience is Picture-in-Picture, which allows you to continue watching a playing video or a FaceTime video call while continuing to use your tablet. While playing a movie or in a call, hit the home button and it continues to play in a small window that can be resized and dragged around the display as you use other apps. In past versions of iOS, hitting the home button would end a call or stop the video playback so this is definitely a welcome improvement in Apple’s new OS.
Siri takes on Google Now
Another BIG change in iOS 9 is the all-new predictive Siri, with Apple betting that we’re headed towards a world where you want information at your fingertips before you even know you need it. To be fair, the company is hedging its bets in the right direction but it’s aiming to challenge both, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana, for the most accurate of all.
On the iPhone or the iPad, swipe right from your home screen and you’re taken to an all-new Universal Search page, which is really just a page for Siri to do its thing. Here, you’re presented with the contacts and apps you’re most likely to need at that time and these change according to the time of day and your usage.
If you listen to Apple Music each morning on the commute to work, it’ll probably appear on the list for you, while if you message your spouse in the afternoon, they’ll appear in the contacts list. The list is not just limited to Apple’s own apps as third-party apps also appear on the list and beneath this, you’ll find a series of headlines (based on your preferences) from Apple News delivered to you throughout the day. Lastly, Siri can also give you traffic information, notify you when it’s time to leave for an appointment or suggest new contacts based on your mail list.
On the iPhone, Siri also displays places of interest that are nearby throughout the day and while it’s refreshing functionality to have on the iPhone, the new predictive Siri is, by no means, the best at doing this. Google Now and to some extent, Cortana, are both more accurate and the POI list is more up-to-date but the new predictive Siri is just a stepping stone towards the future. Clearly, Apple is headed firmly down this path and we can’t wait to see what it delivers.
One part of the new predictive Siri relies on Apple News, which is Apple’s attempt to be the curator of your information stream. It aims to do what other curators such as Feedly do and while you might not want to use it, it’s possible that Siri will eventually be able to understand your preferences using your RSS feed, which may make Apple News a must have on your device.
For more information, check out our Apple News hands on impressions.
If there’s an app that’s probably used on most Apple devices but remains understated, it is Notes. In iOS 9, Apple has sought to make Notes-lovers much happier with a raft of upgrades.
Previous generations felt bare-boned and basic but iOS 9 now lets you add checklist icons for a simple to-do list, include photos using a new attachment icon or add Maps and URLs. There’s also the ability to draw a sketch using your finger (or third-party iPad stylus) and comes complete with different pen sizes and colours to make everyone happy. You can also add PDFs, Videos, Audio files, Pages documents, Numbers spreadsheets, Keynote presentations and more into your Note.
It probably won’t persuade you to switch over from the more user-friendly Evernotes but if you use Notes (and I occasionally do to easily share notes between my iPad, iPhone or Mac), it’s certainly a very welcome improvement to the Notes app.
Public-transport directions and other changes to Maps
Prior to the launch of iOS 9, there were plenty of rumours that Apple was planning to issue a significant update to Apple Maps and sure enough, the company did just this; Maps now has more detailed location detail, the ability to discover nearby businesses or other points of interest and the big feature: public transportation directions.
Before you get too excited, Apple Maps’ public transport directions are pretty impressive as long as you live in a few selected cities… or most of China. We’ve tested Apple Maps on the iPhone 6S in London and it’s certainly interesting, especially with a lot of detail about the public transport links. However, that’s as far as British cities go and the overall list of supported cities is really limited as well:
- New York
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco
- More than 300 locations in China
Yup, clearly Apple is banking on the iPhone and iPad in China and pretty much dedicated most of its Maps focus on the Chinese mainland. The updates are certainly interesting and provide much needed functionality but I wouldn’t think about deleting Google Maps or Here Maps from your iPhone or iPad just yet.
The other changes
Those are the big changes but there’s also a few other tweaks that improve the overall iOS 9 experience. These include visual changes, updates to Apple’s own apps, improved power management, reporting and options, a new Wi-Fi assistant and of course, 3D Touch, which is limited to just the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus at the moment.
Keyboard & Input changes
There’s a couple of changes you’ll notice in the iOS 9 keyboard and one of them is a very welcome ‘bug fix’ – iOS now finally distinguishes when your keyboard is writing in uppercase or lowercase letters. Previously, only the shift key highlighted but now all the keys will be in uppercase or lowercase, making it easier to use.
iOS 9 also comes with a new font called San Francisco, which appears a little easier on the eye. Like previous years, you can also specify a larger text size in the Accessibility menu but the new font is definitely a little easier to read throughout the various screens, especially on the iPhone with its smaller display (compared to the iPad that is).
A very welcome improvement is in the Notification Centre where Apple has fixed one of my pet peeves about iOS; notifications are now finally displayed in Chronological order and not the (rather stupid) grouped by apps display method of iOS 8 and before. You might think this is trivial, but arranging in date order makes everything a lot easier to digest; it’s a nice improvement but it’s not perfect and maybe the next step is to group notifications by apps and arrange the groups by chronological order, just like on Android and Windows 10 Mobile.
As an Android user, I’ve often found the switch to an iPhone or iPad quite jarring, mainly as I’m used to a breadth of data that Apple just doesn’t provide its users. In iOS 9, Apple seems to have listened as the company has made a couple of big changes to the platform’s power management options, resulting in an “extra hour of battery life just by running iOS 9” or at least according to Apple.
There’s also a new Lower Power Mode that Apple says is a single switch that “pulls levers you didn’t even know existed” to provide an extra three hours of battery life. While it’s infuriating to have no further information on this, it definitely does help extend your battery when it’s running low. iOS 9 also brings a new battery menu in Settings, which displays data about battery usage, but also breaks down battery usage by app over the past 24 hours or 7 days, which lets you spot if a rogue app is draining your battery. Very useful stuff indeed, but again not new, especially as Android already does this.
The last mentionable change in iOS 9 is the new Wi-Fi Assist option, which means your iPhone or iPad can automatically switch between your mobile (LTE/3G) and Wi-Fi connections for data, depending on which is providing the best coverage at the time. To be completely honest – you’ll probably turn this off pretty much straight away as I’ve certainly found (as have many others) that this can drain your battery and result in you using a lot more mobile data (where the phone has turned off Wi-Fi but you think it’s still on) than you ever expect to.
There’s another part to iOS 9 which is more for the future: 3D Touch. Limited to just Apple’s new flagship iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus smartphones at present, we may see this come to future generations of the iPad. So what does 3D Touch do?
As I covered in our iPhone 6S impressions piece, 3D Touch is a new layer on top of the Retina Display and measures the pressure you apply to the screen and brings up different options based on this.
From the home screen, applying pressure to an app icon can bring up shortcuts to commonly used features in that app. As an example, the Maps icon gives you shortcuts for Direction to your home address, lets you log your location, send your location to others or search nearby locations. The list of shortcuts varies by each app and I’ve found it more than useful for saving a few taps here and there, especially with the Twitter app which lets you compose a new tweet or direct message or search all of Twitter from the home screen.
With such a new feature on the iPhone 6S, it makes sense that Apple would develop iOS 9 with its new flagship in mind. Now, you can access the redesigned app switcher just by force touching the left hands side of the display or inside of apps, you can peek at links or media without opening it in full. The first generation of 3D Touch isn’t a ground breaking feature – although it can be useful – but it does raise interesting questions for what the future of Apple’s iOS platform will really be like.
If you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back and stay tuned for another minute: 2,500 words later, it’s time to deliver our verdict on iOS 9 and whether you should upgrade your iOS device.
First, iOS 9 definitely brings a range of new features that improve the overall experience and advance iOS devices even further. Yet, while Apple has made considerable strides towards matching its rivals, there’s still some features that definitely need work.
iOS 9 is definitely not the major update you might expect based on past iOS updates and when you first install it, you’ll be hard pressed to immediately notice the changes. That being said, there’s a lot of subtle improvements that greatly advance the whole experience and that’s what iOS 9 is: a subtle update, not a revolutionary one. With this in mind, if you haven’t updated to iOS 9 yet, you’re definitely missing out and you’ll find that once you update to iOS 9, you’ll be wondering why you didn’t update sooner.
What do you think of iOS 9 and the changes made by Apple? Are you running it on your iOS device? Let us know your views in the comments below guys!