iOS 9 – Review

7 minute read

I’m going to get straight to the point, iOS 9 is better than iOS 8. Siri is a lot smarter, there’s a new Low Power mode, new Multitasking experiences for iPad and much more. One of the best things about iOS 9 is that every device that was compatible with iOS 8 last year is compatible with this update.

We’ll start with the file size. iOS 8 required 4.7GB of free space on your device and if you had a 16GB iPhone, this might have caused a problem. You would have to delete a few apps so that you had enough space and if you had enough space after installing, download the apps you deleted in the first place, it was quite a pickle. In iOS 9 however, the file size has been reduced so now only 1.4GB is required. This is a vast difference. Also, if you don’t have enough space, iOS 9 will delete some of your apps, install iOS 9 and re-install the apps for you. Oh and by the way, I don’t agree on 16GB iPhones, in fact, it’s everyone, not just Apple. However, they have made it much easier with iOS 9.

There aren’t many design changes here but we are presented with a new system-wide font, San Francisco which is the same font Apple Watch uses as well as OS X El Capitan. The keyboard now shows lowercase letters as well as uppercase letters. If you don’t like it you can change it back to how it was in iOS 8. Notification Center is now sorted by time and date and not by the app. There’s still no “Clear All” button but as it’s sorted by time, notifications are batched together which makes is much easier to clear them all off. The Multitasking UI has also changed which I feel was changed simply for the iPhone 6s as 3D Touch makes it a breeze to switch between apps. People with older phones might not like the new Multitasking UI as much. It’s quick and as I have an iPhone 6s I like it, but there’s a saying… “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”?

iOS 9 finally introduces a new Low Power Mode and it’s fairly self-explanatory. Once your iPhone hits 20% the regular alert will still be shown but there’s now the option to enable Low Power Mode. Enabling Low Power Mode does the following; dims the screen, push notifications are disabled, mail fetch is disabled, background refresh is disabled, background network access is limited, CPU performance is reduced, parallax on the Home screen is disabled and finally, animated wallpapers are turned to static. As a result, Apple say you’ll get up to three hours extra of battery life per charge cycle. You can turn on Low Power Mode manually and once the phones reaches 80% it’s turned off. It’s difficult to measure the impact of Low Power Mode but it’s nice to see Apple adding the feature in iOS 9.

iOS 9 introduces News, Apple’s own news reader. At the moment it’s only available in the US and will be coming to the UK in iOS 9.1. There is a way around it though, if you want it now you can change your region from United Kingdom to the United States in Settings. I have tried it out and I do like it but until it’s officially out in the UK, I won’t be using it, Flipboard is still my go-to app for news. It’s strange it’s not available in more countries as the content isn’t region specific but there must be a reason. Some publications such as CNN has content designed for the Apple News format which includes animations, parallax image scrolling and special text formatting and it looks fantastic. There’s once downside however, RSS is not supported but there’s a good chance you’ll find the publication you want anyway. You’ll be pleased to know News replaces Newsstand.

Siri is now more intelligent and proactive in iOS 9. You can be much more specific now, as an example, you can ask Siri to show photos from your holiday in Spain last July. Or, let’s say you were reminded to read an article on Safari but wanted to delay the reminder for later, you can say to Siri “Remind me to read this article when I get home” and Siri will do exactly that. When on the Home screen you can still swipe down or to the right to reveal Siri suggestions but the window positioned off-screen to the left includes a few changes. In addition to having a search function the screen displays suggestions from Siri for apps you use the most and contacts for people you call or send messages to the most. The bad thing is you can’t pin or unpin apps or contacts, it’s simply based on what apps you use the most and who you contact the most. There’s also a news section which display various news around the world. The search itself has improved too, if you search for Apple for example, you’ll be presented with top hits, suggested websites, directions to the closest Apple Stores, mail and contact information, news from Apple News, Bing results and more.

Its taken a while but on iPad there’s now true multitasking functionality. It’s broken down into three sections. First is the Slide-over feature. When inside an app you swipe in from the right edge of the screen to open the Slide-over tray. This allows you to slide in a compatible app over the top of the app you currently have open. This feature can be really useful if you want to send a message or look up something in Safari while working on a document in Pages. The next is Picture-in-Picture. If you’ve used YouTube on iOS you might already know what this entails. It’s basically a floating window that can play video. As it’s a new feature, it’s limited to the Videos app but in the future it’ll be added to many more applications. Once you have PiP open it’ll be positioned in one of the display’s four corners. If it’s in the way, you can flick it off-screen and pull the tab to bring it back or you can simply move the whole window to another position on the screen.

Finally, Split-screen functionality which is by far the most powerful aspect of Multitasking. This feature requires an iPad Air 2 or newer to be able to use it. Split-screen is similar to Slide-over but allows you to have two apps open on the screen at the same time. You can adjust the scrubber to allow one app to have more screen estate than the other. As an example, you might have Safari and Messages open but want Safari to take up more of the screen so you can see more of the content. This also boosts productivity as you can transfer text and images between two apps without having to continually switch apps.

Notes doesn’t include any groundbreaking new features in iOS 9 but you can now create checklists as well as having the ability to use rich-text formatting. Notes now supports links to locations, websites and other content and they’ll be embedded into the app. New virtual tools have been added so you can draw using a basic marker, a highlighter or a pencil. For those that like straight lines, don’t worry, you’re covered as there’s a ruler too.

Apple Maps now includes the Transit feature. When Apple Maps made its debut in iOS 6, it was a disaster but it has improved drastically over the last year or so. Apple Maps has one big rival and that is Google Maps. For me, Apple Maps has always been smoother in performance but when it comes to features, Google Maps still prevails. Each service has its advantages and disadvantages however. Apple Maps have the edge over business placement as they all appear to be accurately placed. Google Maps on the other hand handles street names better as you don’t need to zoom in all the way to see what street you’re viewing. It seems for some reason, with Apple Maps you need to zoom in quite a lot before the street names are revealed.

Transit in Maps will give you detailed directions for various modes of transport. There are train and bus routes but unlike Google Maps there are no bicycle routes. Transit routes are only available in Baltimore, Berlin, Chicago, London, Mexico City, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Toronto, Washington D.C. and several cities in China. Of course, Apple will be rolling out to more cities over-time. Apple are always adding new places to their Flyover feature too. These kind of things don’t require a system update, Apple can do this server-side and the user won’t know anything about it. If you stopped using Apple Maps, give it another chance and know that Google Maps will be waiting for you if it doesn’t work out.

We’ll now talk about the smaller features in iOS 9. In Photos it’s much easier to select multiple photos, all you need to do it select one and then swipe over the photos you want selected. The iCloud Drive app is embedded in iOS 9 but you’ll need to find the option that displays it on the Home screen. Next, a new back button. Let’s say I’m browsing in Safari and I get a notification from Twitter, I can tap on the notification, switch to Twitter and see what all the fuss was about and once I’m done, switch back to Safari in one step. Finally, Settings now has a search bar at the top so you can access settings that did require multiple taps in one step.

So, my conclusion. iOS 9 isn’t as big as iOS 8 or iOS 7 but improves productivity thanks to Siri being more proactive and the Multitasking capabilities on iPad. iOS 9 doesn’t add new features but adds smaller improvements throughout the OS to the current apps which, as a whole, makes it easier to use. The iCloud prices have come down in price but you still only get 5GB free per device. I’m pretty sure the world’s most valuable company which has billions in the bank can up that to 10GB or 20GB. 16GB models are still available but I’m really hoping that changes with the iPhone 7. Apple’s app thinning optimisations (which basically reduces the app file size) are going to help people with 16GB models but I still don’t agree that 16GB models are available on the market. Once you install a few apps and download all your photos from iCloud you’re going to be worried about the storage space you have left. If you can afford it, pay the extra £80 and get yourself a 32GB model. iOS 9 offers users with new capabilities and particularly for those with an iPad. With new features such as 3D Touch and the road they’re going down, it’ll be interesting to see what Apple will do next year.