One of the major differences between Apple’s iOS releases and Google’s annual Android refresh is the number of customers that can take immediate advantage of the new operating system. Google, for various reasons, can only roll out new Android versions to its own Nexus devices. Apple, of course, can push iOS to the entire set of eligible hardware immediately — and with iOS 9, it’s targeting a wide swath of equipment. The iPhone 4S, 5, 5s, 5c, 6, and 6 Plus will all receive iOS 9, along with the brand-new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Fifth and sixth-generation iPod Touch devices are supported, as well as all iPads from the iPad 2 forward to the new iPad Pro and the entire iPad Mini family.
iOS 9 is introducing a number of new features. App Thinning will help free up space on new devices by only downloading the version of an application that your device will run, rather than pulling down every version of a program. Apple has trimmed the size required for system updates after the uproar over iOS 8 on 16GB devices, and it can temporarily delete and re-download applications to clear space for necessary system files during the update process.Multitasking support is coming to the iPad family, courtesy of a new feature called Slide Over, and applications can now be launched side-by-side, provided you own a later-model iPad that’s capable of using the feature.
Apple has also announced that iOS 9 will get multiple game-centric updates and features, including frameworks for developing AI (GameplayKit), lighting 3D models (Model I/O), and ReplayKit (used to record and share gameplay). Apple’s Metal AI will likely be used more often on iOS 9, since a greater percentage of the iOS devices on the market can take advantage of it. Still, this market will be split for several more years — Metal only runs on A7-class devices or newer, which means that owners of the iPhone 4S, 5, and 5C won’t be able to take advantage of its benefits.
The big performance question
It’ll be interesting to see if Apple’s new OS can deliver the performance improvements the company has promised. Prior to iOS 9, Apple typically focused its development efforts only on the latest and greatest handsets it built. Devices from previous generations often saw performance regressions if they updated their operating systems, but failure to update your OS often results in your phone no longer being able to download new versions of an app. I’ve been stuck in that situation for quite a while, since I refuse to update my iPhone 5c to iOS 8.
My reasoning is simple: Previous versions of iOS haven’t really offered enough new features to make it worth upgrading — and performance has declined in certain tasks between iOS 7 and iOS 8. iOS 9, in contrast, is supposed to have been built from the ground-up for older hardware and actually tested on it to make certain it performs well. I suspect a great many owners of older iOS hardware will be watching to see whether or not it’s worth upgrading. It’s not enough to just pack in new features — I don’t want to download a new operating system that leaves me feeling like I now need a new phone to match it.
That’s particularly important now that Apple has decided to hold the line at 16GB of storage with no microSD support and an anemic 5GB iCloud (at least, that’s the free option). For the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, Apple wants an extra $100 to upgrade to 64GB, despite the fact that you’d pay about $8 for that much NAND flash on the spot price market. Gouging customers for flash storage is practically a pastime in the mobile industry, but I’m not really interested in playing that game.
We’ll find out on Wednesday if iOS 9 is worth downloading. Users curious about the full suite of improvements for iOS 9 can consult Apple’s developer release notes here.