The best new features of iOS 9

Earlier this week, Apple released iOS 9 unto the world. While some aspects have stirred up controversy, the overall response has been mostly positive. It runs on the vast majority of Apple’s existing mobile devices, the performance is solid, and the upgrade process is relatively painless. At first glance, it’s not drastically different from iOS 8, but a handful of strategic changes will make your iPhone and iPad significantly easier to use.

iOS 9 contains far too many changes to mention in a single article, but after using it extensively on my primary devices, I’ve settled on seven major improvements and additions that are worth bringing to your attention. Now, let’s jump in, and explore what exactly iOS 9 has to offer.

Content Blockers

Content Blockers

Regardless of the ethical and business aspects of blocking ads, the introduction of content blocking extensions for Safari in iOS 9 is a good thing. Giving the end user more control over what content is being loaded, and how they’re being tracked, is an incredibly smart move for Apple as a company focused on the user experience.

Keep in mind, this isn’t all about removing ads. In fact, Marco Arment’s $2.99 Peace content blocker is actually using the Ghostery database to detect and block trackers. And if reading comment sections makes you sick to your stomach, you can simply toggle them off completely.

While this addition is definitely controversial, the implications for improved mobile privacy are too massive to ignore. Good on Apple for prioritizing its customers over advertisers.

Battery Savings

Battery improvements

This time around, Apple is focusing heavily on improving battery life. The built-in apps and core technologies have been optimized to draw less power, so you should see a longer battery life on your existing devices after you make the jump to iOS 9. It’s certainly not going to double your battery life, but Apple estimates that you’ll be able to squeeze in an extra hour of use between charges.

Even better, Apple also introduced a new low power mode that will help you conserve battery power until you can find an outlet. Head to Settings > Battery, and toggle on the “Low Power Mode” switch. Background activities like mail fetching and notifications will cease, fancy home screen animations will be turned off, and the CPU clock speed will actually dynamically drop. It’s not something you’ll want to use everyday, but it will likely come in handy during emergencies.

Siri Improvement

Siri and search improvements

Since its introduction in 2011, Siri has steadily continued to improve. This year, the big changes are based around context awareness. When you reference what’s on your screen, Siri will actually know what you’re talking about. Need a reminder about a certain email? Just tell Siri “Remind me to read this email when I get home.” It will set a reminder, and when you return home, a notification will pop up with a link to that specific message.

Want to show your co-workers some photos from your family reunion? You can tell Siri “Show me photos taken in Pennsylvania” or “Show me photos taken on September 13th.” Same goes for email as well. Need to find your receipt? Tell Siri “Show me emails from Amazon in the last week.” Better yet, simple conversions are now handled locally instead of using the Wolfram Alpha API, so results will come in faster than ever.

Prefer to search with your thumbs instead of your voice? iOS 9 has that covered as well. Swipe to the right on your home screen, and you’ll be greeted with a fully functional search bar, contact and app recommendations, and dedicated search buttons for nearby locations (restaurants, gas stations, et cetera).

Bread crumb

Bread crumb trail

iOS has long allowed for one app to launch a different app with custom URL handlers, but getting back to where you started has been something of a hassle. If your Twitter app kicked you to Safari to load a page, you’d have to double-tap the home button, swipe, and relaunch the original app.

With iOS 9, you’ll now see a small string of text in the upper left-hand corner. Give it a tap, and it will instantly bring you back to the app you were using before. Combine this with iOS 9’s improved method of loading web pages within apps, and you’ll see that Apple is slowly moving towards merging dedicated apps and the open web into a single seamless experience.

App Slimming

App slimming

“Fat binaries” are a legitimately neat concept. Instead of having developers compile and upload different versions of their apps for each device, all of the different assets can be bundled up in a single app that works on all supported devices. Unfortunately, that also means that as more platforms are supported, the larger the size requirements grow. And since Apple refuses to stop shipping devices with a mere 16GB of storage, massive apps are a serious issue for consumers.

Thankfully, iOS 9 now supports a suite of features dubbed “app thinning.” Only the assets needed to run the app on your device are stored locally, and the cruft is excised. If you’re running on a non-retina device like the iPad 2 or first iPad Mini, you should see some significant savings here.

And since developers can now choose to dynamically download or delete specific resources within the app, you won’t always need to have a complete installation when you’re only using a small subset of what an app offers. It will likely take some time to see widespread adoption of this functionality, but it has a lot of space-saving potential for games or multifaceted apps like Garageband.

Keyboard

iPad keyboard improvements

If you do a lot of typing on your iPad, you’re in for some big improvements. Selecting text is significantly easier to pull off, the shortcut bar on top on the software keyboard allows for easy editing, and support for shortcuts on Bluetooth keyboards is even better. Now you have no excuse not to write that novel you’ve been kicking around in your head.

Multitasking

Side-by-side multitasking

On newer iPads, various forms of side-by-side multitasking are now possible. Split view — effectively two iPad apps running next to each other — is available on the iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, and iPad Mini 4. Slide over — a feature much like the Xbox One’s snap mode — works with the iPad Pro, the original iPad Air (and above), and the iPad Mini 2 (and above). And as a nice little bonus, picture-in-picture mode allows you to keep watching videos as you browse. Older models don’t get any of those benefits, but that’s not particularly surprising. Frankly, I’m just amazed that the iPad 2 is being supported at all.

An update to remember

Taken as a whole, iOS 9 serves to make the iPhone and iPad fundamentally better devices. Usability is clearly still Cupertino’s number one concern, and this is hands-down the best OS it’s ever shipped. Even so, there’s still plenty of room for improvement by the time iOS 10 rolls around next year. Let’s just hope that Apple fixes watchOS 2 in the meantime.

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