Apple’s iOS 9 is here! In case you hadn’t heard. (Spoiler: yes, you should download it. Just go to Settings > General > Software Update.) And while the new operating system may not look much different than the previous version, under the hood there are several noticeable improvements.
More importantly, iOS 9 is the fullest realization yet of Apple’s intention to reduce all of the Internet to just one more app. Changes to Spotlight, Siri, News, and Maps all point to Apple’s inexorable move away from the gritty, glorious, ad-driven, sponsor-riddled, open and often-scary Internet. Think of it like being at a Starbucks, but for your entire digital life.
But, first, the nuts and bolts.
Low power mode
Apple suggests most iOS 9 users can expect up to an additional hour of service on a full charge. My mileage using the beta version was, frankly, never this good, though beta versions rarely hit the benchmark. The big improvement, however, comes when using the new “Low Power Mode” — and it reveals some serious software-hardware programming chops.
Turn low power mode on and your device will limit how often it checks for mail or refreshes apps, and will limit automatic downloads. Brightness and some visual effects are also reduced or turned off completely. Bottom line is that you will notice a major improvement in battery life.
(The yellow battery icon tells you the device is running in Low Power Mode.)
Caution: this will make your device seem much slower. You may wish to turn Low Power Mode on only when you absolutely need to keep the device running for as long as possible. Luckily, Apple has cleverly designed this feature so that you are alerted to turn it on when your device is at 20 percent power, and again at 10 percent power.
Settings > Battery > Low Power Mode
While numerous tech bloggers have already opined on the disruptive and revolutionary impact of ad blockers that iOS 9 now supports, I am less convinced. Ads on smartphone screens are already far less common than on laptops. Plus, iPhone users have Safari, whose cleverly labeled “reader view” feature removes ads and other fluff. My fear is the new raft of ad blockers, which will now be offered via the App Store, will only encourage more sponsor-based content — ads and promotions masking itself as news.
The one area where ad blockers will definitely improve life for iOS users is in making for significantly faster page downloads. Before you download an ad blocker, you’ll need to enable the service.
Settings > Safari > Content Blockers
iOS 9 makes Spotlight more useful. It also further reveals Apple’s intent to keep us inside our device, and not out on the open web. Swipe right to bring up the Spotlight search box. Type or dictate a search and Apple will pull information not just from the web but from your messages, email, calendar, Wikipedia, and all your apps.
It’s a bit disconcerting realizing there is so much information locked inside your device. No worries. You choose exactly which apps to include in your search.
Settings > General > Spotlight Search
A more proactive, faster, & better Siri
When you swipe to search, you’ll notice another big change. Siri will offer up favorite restaurants, news headlines, even contacts that it thinks you may wish to access based on prior usage. These change based on time, location and usage.
Siri on iOS 9 certainly seems faster, and it’s definitely less prone to errors. This is particularly so when used in conjunction with Apple’s pre-installed apps. For example, using Siri to set reminders, create a note, or add a calendar alert are now to the point where it becomes second nature — and far easier than typing.
Plus, Siri has gotten smarter. It will now know who to call when you ask it to “call Mom,” for example. It also makes great use of the geotags in your photos (e.g. “show me pictures from my 2014 trip to the Grand Canyon). Siri is like Microsoft’s vision of Bing, but on a device that 500 million people carry with them all the time.
Lastly, Siri recognizes your voice — a hint that Apple intends to put Siri on all its devices, maybe even select third-party devices. It takes just a few seconds to set up. This should limit errors when more than one person shouts “hey, Siri.” No, it probably won’t matter for your iPhone, but for more “communal” devices like iPad and Apple TV, it should prove helpful.
Settings > General > Siri
We’ve all experienced this far too many times: The app doesn’t refresh because iPhone insists on trying to use a Wi-Fi connection that just isn’t available. Of course the device should automatically jump to LTE, but it refuses.
iOS 9 aims to fix this with Wi-Fi Assist. If the Wi-Fi network is out of reach, say it’s your home network but you’re enjoying a lovely beverage out on the deck, iPhone will now jump to cellular data.
Spoiler: it failed for me more often than it succeeded. This is still a huge improvement.
Settings > Cellular > Wi-Fi Assist
Back (links) to the future
Is that a back button? Yes! And it’s not an error. Nor is it an Android device.
As you shift from app to app, iOS 9 now includes a “Back to” link at the top left of the screen. Click a link inside Twitter that takes you to Safari, for example, and now you can click “Back to Twitter” instead of exiting Safari and opening up Twitter again. It’s a small time-saver, and long overdue.
iPad Split Screen
With iOS 9, iPad users now have true split-screen, multitasking functionality. The new “Slide Over” and “Split View” functionality let you have two apps open at the same time.
There’s also a new “Picture in Picture” feature lets you play a video on part of the screen. Unfortunately, picture in picture does not yet work with Netflix, Hulu or a host of other video players, so for now it’s value is limited.
Also note, all these features only work on the new iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, and iPad Mini 4, and not at all on iPhones.
Apple Maps continues to improve. The iOS 9 version includes transit data within the app that incorporates multiple stops and multiple mass transit options (e.g. bus, subway, walking). This is probably the best new feature of Maps. Unfortunately, for now it’s available only in select cities.
There’s also a Yelp-like ” feature where you can click on “food” or “shopping” icons within the Maps app and it directs you to nearby options.
These new features are quite useful. However, if you want me to say it’s now the equal of Google Maps, I can’t.
Apple’s News app
With iOS 9, Apple adds another app that’s nearly impossible to get rid of — News. Unlike many of the other default apps, however, News is super useful. Also, the app’s design is as pretty as it is fast.
While it probably won’t cause any long-time Zite or Flipboard users to switch, for most newer users News is likely to become the first and possibly primary source for where they read the day’s news. Again, it’s all about preventing users from venturing onto the web.
With the addition of News, Apple has forged a new strategy aimed at publishers — one that’s far more likely to succeed than the Newsstand app, Apple’s failed attempt at revitalizing the business of digital magazines.
Why don’t you have iOS 9 yet?
A better battery, a better Siri, and faster performance, all in a free upgrade. That’s huge. iOS 9 is a clear improvement over whatever version of iOS you’ve been using, and there’s still more to it than all that’s covered here. There are more sharing options, improvements to notes, a keyboard that actually tells you when you have the shift key on — I know! — and fun new emoji. Oh, wait. Apple pulled the emoji at the last second. But everything else is better.
For those of you worried about hard drive space, that shouldn’t be a problem. iOS 9 is just over 1GB, far less than iOS 8 which clocked in at over 4GB, over 25 percent of the total space entry-level iPhones came with.
If you’re not sure your device will run on iOS 9, Apple has all the details here.
Oh, and do remember to backup your device first. Not doing so before installing an OS update is never wise.