June 10, 2015 at 7:06 p.m. PST
iOS 9 was unveiled at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). This article covers new features in iOS 9.
Apple seemed to cram as many features as possible into iOS 8. It has gone down as one of the most defective versions of iOS in recent history. To put it in perspective, however, many recent iPhone converts have commented on how stable and responsive iOS 8 is. No company makes perfect products, and quality is relative.
Compared to other options iOS 8 is stable and robust. Long time Apple customers have grown weary, however. We are used to near-perfect products, and iOS 8 still has some glaring flaws. It seems that every update is two steps forward and one step back. Many users are still plagued with diminished battery life and unstable WiFi. I don’t experience these issues on my iPad 2 or iPhone 6, both running iOS 8.4. I experience a few app crashes where the app (usually Safari) closes unexpectedly.
Apple has finally taken accountability for the relative lack of quality in iOS 8. The release was the biggest update to iOS ever. They simply put in too many features and monumental changes, providing customization features such as Extensions. Apple promises that iOS 9 will have fewer new features and focus on performance and stability. From what they presented at the WWDC, this seems to be the case. Let’s take a look at iOS 9 features and the devices that will support Apple’s new mobile operating system.
Foundation Improvements in iOS 9
iOS users only see the top layer of the operating system — the shell. Beneath the shell, the foundation of the operating system provides the core logic and functionality. iOS 9 improves the operating system’s foundation with enhancements to extend battery life, improve performance, enhance privacy and add intelligence. iOS 9’s core operating system is much smarter, particularly with improvements to Siri and Spotlight.
Siri is More Capable in iOS 9
Siri has come a long way from its humble origins, when it was almost just a curiosity. Apple’s digital personal assistant is much smarter and more capable in iOS 9. Improvements in speech recognition, with 40% fewer errors, make it much easier to interact with the service. Siri also responds to questions 40% faster.
Apple will provide deeper integration of Siri in iOS 9. Siri can now operate many new capabilities, such as searching for photos, adding Reminders, and being aware of context.
For example, if you are viewing a web page in Safari, you can ask Siri to remind your about “this”, and it will remind you to look at the web page. This also works with apps.
Siri is more proactive with iOS 9. Apple’s personal digital assistant can learn from what you do and predict what you will need. For example, if you listen to music in the morning, Siri can learn this and present music when you plug in your headphones. The learning is context sensitive to time, place, and connected devices. Siri can also automatically place received invitations on Calendar.
Once relegated to its own screen, Siri is now presented and operates in other user interfaces. For example, if you get an incoming call from someone who is not in Contacts, Siri will attempt to identify the caller based on email content.
Spotlight also features Siri suggestions. Siri can now present apps in Spotlight based on downloaded apps that you haven’t tried or apps that you use at a certain time of day. It can even present apps on the lock screen, based on usage patterns.
Spotlight Finds More in iOS 9
I use Spotlight all the time. In fact, I cleared off my primary home screen and just use Spotlight to launch apps. I find it much more convenient than scanning through a grid of app icons. Now, in iOS 9, Spotlight accomplishes much more.
Sports fans will enjoy Spotlight’s ability to display sports scores. I have tried this with Siri in iOS 8 and it works, but now this functionality exists in Spotlight.
Conversions between different units, such as tablespoons, teaspoons, cups, ounces and millilitres, can be performed directly in Spotlight.
Users can search for videos across several sources, such as iTunes, Vimeo, Vevo and YouTube. Video searches display results in a clean, unified display and videos can be played directly from Spotlight.
iOS 9 also adds an API for Spotlight so that third-party developers can expose app content for searches. App search results are deep linked. Tapping on a search result takes the user to the precise location of content in the app. An available back link allows for fast and easy navigation back to Spotlight search results.
All Spotlight and Siri searches are completely anonymous and ensure privacy. Searches and other online activities are not associated with your Apple ID and employ a randomized identifier, preventing external services from identifying users. Siri can offer music or other suggestions based on how you use your iPhone, not by mining personal data.
ApplePay Comes Closer to Replacing Your Wallet in iOS 9
Apple’s new mobile payment service continues to add new credit cards, financial institutions, participating stores and features. The Discover Card is now integrated into Apple Pay.
More merchants are joining ApplePay, including Trader Joe’s and Best Buy.
Square will launch a new ApplePay reader for use by small businesses.
With all of these additions, Apple Pay will surpass 1 million payment locations in a few months. Apple’s mobile payment service will also expand to the UK, and several apps now support ApplePay.
ApplePay is moving beyond standard credit cards. Stores offering their own credit cards and rewards cards can virtualize this experience with ApplePay. Passbook has also been replaced with Wallet, which unifies purchasing, rewards cards, movie tickets, airline tickets and other transactions.
Notes is More Capable in iOS 9
I wasn’t surprised to learn how popular the Notes app is. I use it all the time. It is great for writing anything. In fact, I wrote the rough draft of this article using Notes. With iOS 9, Notes does much more.
A new toolbar provides quick access to formatting capabilities, which have been improved in iOS 9. Users can now format text with various sizes and fonts, which transforms Notes from a simple text editor to a light word processor.
Users can quickly drop a photo into Notes. There are new tools for doing quick sketches.
If Reminders leaves something to be desired, you can now quickly create checklists in Notes. This doesn’t replace or mirror the complete functionality of Reminders. Instead, it offers a way to create a more free-form checklist, for those who don’t enjoy Reminders’ rigidity.
Notes now offers deeper integration in iOS 9 using the Share Sheet. With Safari, you can quickly embed a link in Notes by tapping the Share button. This works with any app that supports iOS sharing. This is a great way to document and save web links for later viewing. You can already do this with Safari bookmarks and favorites, but Notes is useful for organizing a series of bookmarks annotated with text. For example, if you are taking a vacation, you can organize links about travel, accommodations and points of interest in Notes. As always, Notes will sync across all of your Apple devices.
It’s also much easier to find your Notes in iOS 9. The new master view screen displays thumbnails of images used in Notes.
A new attachments view makes it easy to find a Notes document based on embedded photos and application links.
Maps Offers More in iOS 9
Maps is the most defamed and controversial Apple product. Reputable publications such as Consumer Reports, NBC News and the San Jose Mercury News found Maps to be adequate and competent the day it launched. I have also used Maps and never experienced problems. In fact, I find more points of interest than with any other mapping app.
I find the people who attack Maps the most have never used it. There was a huge smear campaign of Apple haters creating accounts on the Apple Support Forum and posing as Maps users. It was clear that most of these people never used Maps or even owned an Apple device. Studies involving thousands of routes have found Maps to be competent and, shortly after launch, was only slightly less accurate than the competition. Since Maps has launched, Apple invested a lot in improving Maps, including “boots on the ground” to ensure accuracy. After almost three years, Maps has improved. The majority of Apple customers use Maps even though they have a choice of many different mapping apps.
Nonetheless, the blogosphere and tech media, which leans toward creating comment-generating controversy, took a big dump on Maps. The new, manufactured reality is that Maps was a failure and is still inferior. Comedy programs such as The Daily Show, Silicon Valley and late night talk shows have added to this phenomenon. They just won’t let it go. At this year’s WWDC, Apple presented that Maps is used 3.5 times more than any other mapping app on iOS. If Maps really misdirects people, they would be going for other options.
iOS 9 adds support for public transportation directions in Maps. This is a necessity as more people rely on public transportation.
Maps can now create a full route for pedestrians who take public transportation. Unified in one display, travelers can see where to walk and which bus, train or ferry to take.
Apple invested in hiring people to analyze major public transportation hubs. This information is integrated into Maps so that it can even suggest which exit to take out of the subway. This is a problem I have faced a few times in San Francisco.
Nearby points of interest can be found by type, simply by tapping the Nearby button. Upon selecting a location, Maps can even show if the point of interest accepts ApplePay.
News Offers a Better Way to Stay Informed
Let’s face it. The Internet is full of misinformation. Anyone can publish a web page and even some major publications eschew fact checking in their online content. I often read web-based news and find it to be riddled with inaccuracies, misinformation, poor grammar and even spelling mistakes. It’s all about churning out a high quantity of content and engaging users by generating controversy. Bloggers exploit the Android vs. iOS fanboy wars to boost comments and engagements. It’s a cheap trick.
The iOS 9 News app addresses this reality by providing users with a new experience. Instead of relying on the just the web for content, News offers professional magazines and newspapers a new unified forum for publication. You can read news from major publications, such as the New York Times, Wired, ESPN, the Atlantic and other reputable providers.
Of course, blogs and web sites will also be accessible with News.
News discovers the reader’s interests as well as favored publications. It pulls content from established publishers, not just from random websites. After setting preferences, News presents the For You view — a feed similar to social media apps, but featuring news stories from major publications.
The For You screen is uncluttered, elegant and relevant. The photos and blurbs of news stories actually match, which isn’t the case with most web-based news aggregators. The news stories offer innovative layouts, with videos, animations and graphics that resize and move based on scrolling behavior. Swiping horizontally takes the reader to the next News story. This design aesthetic is becoming more common on the web. It is a standard feature of the iOS 9 News app.
The Explore screen enables users to fine-tune their interests and browse for specific topics.
Searches for News articles use machine learning algorithms, providing salient results. Results are presented on a unified screen with graphics and excerpts from each article. Search results and reading habits are not exported, warehoused and mined. News is designed to ensure privacy. Recommendations are based on information stored locally, not shared with third-party companies or even other Apple services. Apple has partnered with major publications to deliver free content, but they don’t hand over information about you.
iPad Keyboard Improved in iOS 9
If you have ever tried to actually work on an iPad, you probably know it leaves much to be desired. While it is possible to work on documents on an iPad, it is much easier to do this on a Mac. iOS 9 improves the user experience of the keyboard, making it easier to use an iPad for work. A new toolbar appears at the top of the keyboard, enabling easy access to the clipboard, formatting and media embedding.
Placing two fingers on the keyboard transforms it into a trackpad.
For those who use a keyboard accessory, iOS 9 offers new, enhanced functionality. Users can quickly display a cheat sheet with app-specific keyboard shortcuts.
There are even keyboard shortcuts for app switching and Spotlight.
This actually brings the iPad closer to offering an ergonomically friendly working environment. If you use an external keyboard and place your iPad at eye level, you can now operate many touch screen capabilities without straining your back and shoulders. It would have been even better if they integrated the Magic Trackpad.
iPad Offers Split Screen Multitasking in iOS 9
Split screen multitasking in iOS 9 brings the iPad even closer to being a viable office device. The new features offer different capabilities for different devices. The iPad Air 2 offers the richest split-screen functionality, however, most iPads offer some level of this feature. Apps must support multi-tasking, however this support is already enabled for apps that have embraced Apple’s dynamic layout technologies introduced in iOS 8.
There are two types of split screen multitasking in iOS 9 — slide over and split screen. Slide over multitasking is the simplest and most available method. The user slides out a new app panel from the right side of the screen, which is about the size of an iPhone screen. The new panel covers part of the old panel.
Tapping on the divider brings both apps into split view, which is only supported on the iPad Air 2.
Users can select different slide over apps by pulling down on the slide over panel. This displays a list of apps supporting the feature.
Simply tap on an app icon and it will open in the side panel.
Split View multitasking integrates with the App Switcher. The main app on the left can be changed by launching the App Switcher or swiping four fingers horizontally. This makes it easy to take notes or view instructions in one panel, while switching between apps in the other.
Picture in Picture (PIP) video is the most visually stunning aspect of iOS 9 multitasking. Simply tap the PIP button and the iOS 9 video player will pop it out of its fixed panel. From there, the user can position and resize the video on top of any other application.
It always stays on top, but it can be tucked to the side if you just want to listen to the audio track.
Slide Over multitasking and Picture in Picture video are supported on the iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 3.
Split View multitasking is only supported on the iPad Air 2. Of course, we expect a new iPad to launch in a few months, with the possibility of a larger iPad Plus model.
New App Switcher
The new iOS 9 App Switcher is actually a throwback to Cover Flow. Anyone who has used Mac OS X will recognize this. It’s a much better way to preview apps in the App Switcher user interface. Now you can read the text on a document or app without launching the app.
iOS 9 Offers Improved Performance
After a disappointing iOS 8 release, which has slowed down older devices, Apple pledged that iOS 9 will boost performance. Some of the most compelling new features of iOS 9 are beneath the surface.
Metal, Apple’s graphics performance enhancing technology, is updated to work with the core graphics capabilities of iOS. You will now see an improvement in graphics performance across all apps, even if developers don’t directly use the Metal APIs.
iOS 9 Improves Battery Life
I’ve never experienced poor battery life on any Apple device. Not everyone shares this experience. iOS 8.3 seems to have introduced battery-draining defects, particularly on the iPhone 5S. iOS 9 promises to remedy this.
Apple engineers have scrutinized every aspect of battery performance, adding one full hour of use to the iPhone. iOS 9 also offers a low power mode. Sliding a single switch will alter numerous settings, making the battery last up to three hours longer, in addition to the one extra hour provided by iOS 9 efficiency improvements. Initial tests have found that lower power mode results in a 40% reduction in performance.
iOS 9 is More Secure
iCloud now requires two-factor authentication. When you sign in with a new device or new browser Apple will send a verification code to your existing devices. Entering the code allows access on the new device or browser. This prevents a malicious user from hacking into your account. Even if they know your user ID and password, they will not receive the verification code.
iOS 9 also enforces a 6 digit passcode, instead of the current 4 digit code. The two extra digits make it much more difficult for an unauthorized user to access your device.
iOS 9 Offers More for Developers
Apple has added more APIs and SDKs to make life easier for developers, enabling them to deliver better apps. Developers are now able to expose app content to Spotlight, making it possible to search within apps. Testing user interfaces can be accomplished directly in Xcode, Apple’s app development tool. Developers can now make their apps work across more devices with App Thinning. This technology streamlines an app so it takes up less space on an older device.
Three new frameworks have been added for graphics and gaming developers — GameplayKit, Model I/O and Replay Kit. Gameplay Kit introduces artificial intelligence features such as path finding and obstacle avoidance. 3-D Graphics now have more depth and better lighting with Model I/O. ReplayKit enables gamers to capture video of game play and share it on social media.
HealthKit and HomeKit Improved on iOS 9
HealthKit offers new metrics in iOS 9. Users of the Health app can now track hydration, reproductive health and UV exposure.
HomeKit has proven to be successful and is supported by several manufacturers. In addition to controlling locks, lights and thermostats, HomeKit can now operate window shades, security systems and various sensors.
HomeKit devices can be accessed directly through iCloud, allowing home automation no matter where you are. This also squashes the rumor that Apple TV would be a hub for HomeKit.
CarPlay is Wireless with iOS 9
Is Apple working on their own car? Probably not. But they are very interested in the technology inside cars. iOS 9 brings more improvements to Apple’s CarPlay technology. Foremost, CarPlay is wireless and no longer requires a lightning cable connection. Users can simply enter their car and leave their iPhone in their pocket, purse or briefcase. This will only work with upcoming CarPlay units.
Auto-makers can now create apps that operate specific functions of a car. This can be controlled directly from CarPlay. The size, shape and resolution of CarPlay compatible units can now be modified, giving manufacturers more design freedom. Widescreen CarPlay units will be available soon.
Swift Becomes Open Source with iOS 9
Swift, Apple’s relatively new programming language, has taken the world by storm. It is a game changing technology that will disrupt the programming world even more than Java. Apple sees Swift as a technology that will go beyond mobile apps. In addition to developing OS X apps, the language can now be used on Linux. IBM, the biggest proponent of enterprise Java, has also embraced the language for enterprise application development.
Swift is easier than Java, but allows developers to compile fast and responsive native apps, instead of apps that run in a virtual machine. We can only hope that Swift doesn’t follow Java in becoming bloated and convoluted so that consultants can bill more hours. This is where Apple’s interests may differ from participating companies like IBM.
Perhaps the biggest news is that Swift will now be open source. This is a requirement for the language to take off. The potential is huge.
Swift has moved beyond mobile app development and is poised to be the de facto standard for most programming tasks. It will still take years for this to happen. Given the simplicity of the language and its ability to enable rapid application development without impacting performance, Swift is destined to be the next great programming technology.
iOS 9 Release Date and Compatibility
If you are an early adopter and registered Apple Developer, you can download the iOS 9 beta right now. Everyone else can install the public beta version in July. Keep in mind, this is an unstable product. Don’t install it on any device that must “just work”. I recommend installing the beta on an old, unused device. For those who are less anxious, iOS 9 will be released in September.
Apple has improved the installation process such that iOS 9 will only require 1.3 GB of free space for installation. Make sure to also leave about 1 GB of free space for optimal performance, as iOS (like virtually every other operating system) needs some swap space to operate.
Apple’s newest operating system will run on any device that supports iOS 8. That’s unbelievably generous, but they also do it so they can boast about how many users have adopted iOS 9. The iPad 2 (or newer), iPad mini (or newer), iPhone 4S (or newer) and 5th generation iPod Touch can all run iOS 9. I am still amazed that I can install iOS 9 on my almost-5-year-old iPad 2, and it should actually run faster and have better battery life!