Multitasking, money and more in iOS 9
Prior to WWDC 2015, the rumour mill had gone largely silent on iOS 9. The smart money was on iPhones and iPads getting an update akin to 2009’s OS X upgrade, Snow Leopard. In other words, it would be all about boosting efficiency, power and speed, but not exactly deliver an abundance of shiny new features.
But it turns out we’re actually going to get the best of both worlds. If iOS 9 lives up to Apple’s promises, it will be an update that, in the company’s own words, will “elevate the foundations of the platform”, along with offering new apps and features to greatly improve your iOS experience – whether you’re using an iPhone or an iPad.
On watching the WWDC keynote, it sometimes felt like Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi was checking off wish-list items supplied by a hive mind of iOS device owners. Faster and more responsive apps are on the way, due to them taking better advantage of your device’s CPU and GPU, and Spotlight search has been overhauled to be proactive and intelligent in response to your needs.
Welcome boosts are coming to battery life. By optimising for real-world scenarios, efficiencies across the entire operating system, and some added intelligence (for example, an iPhone when face down won’t turn on its display), a typical iPhone running iOS 9 is claimed to last for an extra hour before it needs recharging, very welcome indeed!
iOS 9 features a new Low Power mode. A single tap, according to Federighi, “pulls levers you didn’t even know existed”, providing up to an additional three hours of extended battery life. On occasions where your iPhone has seen heavy use, this might be enough to get you through the rest of the day, with only minor compromises to your device’s usability.
Some of the incoming changes are more visible. Security will be enhanced, better protecting your personal information and content. Passcodes on devices with Touch ID enabled will have six rather than four digits, making them tougher to crack. Elsewhere, two-factor authentication will further lock down your device, requiring a verification code when you sign in from a new browser or on a new device.
We cover the biggest iPad change on iOS 9, namely split-view multitasking, in the box-out below. But if you spend a lot of time typing, you’re going to love the new keyboard. The QuickType keyboard augments the existing suggestions bar with tappable buttons for cut, copy and paste, and for accessing text
formatting, attachments and images. Editing speed is further boosted by the keyboard becoming a virtual trackpad of sorts when touching it with two fingers; in this mode, you can move the cursor, make selections, use cut and paste, and drag items around a document.
If you prefer hooking up a physical keyboard, iOS 9 helps you discover built-in keyboard shortcuts (developers can also add their own), and Apple’s included some for Spotlight search and an app-switcher that will be familiar to anyone who has used a Mac. And in a move that deserves a ‘finally’, keys on your keyboard are in lower case until Shift is activated. So there’ll be no more playing ‘capital letter lottery’, giving up, activating Caps Lock, and JUST TYPING LIKE YOU’RE ALWAYS VERY ANGRY. (That last change is available on iPhone, too.)
Maps goes public with transport
Two existing apps are getting major updates in iOS 9. The first, Maps, had a rocky start, but has noticeably improved since its launch in 2012’s iOS 6. During the keynote, it was revealed the app now gets five billion user requests per week and has usage 3.5 times higher than the “next most-used mapping app” on iOS (which we assume is Google Maps). However, Apple’s focus is now shifting beyond roads and highways, with a Transit view that emphasises public transport lines, stations and stops.
Tap a station and you can see what lines run through it, along with departure times. When travelling, Maps provides multi-modal routing. Federighi said Apple’s taken special care to get the details right. For example, an underground/ subway station is not just a fixed-point but a huge underground structure. Apple has carefully surveyed entrances and exits to send you directly to the right one. That could well be the difference between catching a train or not.
When you’ve time to kill, a new Nearby feature helpfully lists local eateries.
Initially, though, Transit isn’t nearly as comprehensive as Google Maps. It’s limited to specific cities – over 300 in China, but only ten elsewhere: Baltimore, Berlin, Chicago, London, Mexico City, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington, D.C. On Twitter, freelance journalist Charles Arthur confirmed that, at the time of writing, Transit doesn’t seem to know stations that don’t connect to London. Our hope is the feature will expand rapidly.
Notes becomes noteworthy
Notes is also receiving major changes. The main toolbar boasts two new buttons: a wiggly line and a camera. (The share button’s been moved to the top-right.) Tap the camera and you can embed images directly into your notes; the wiggly line is used to kick off free-form sketches. You get a range of brush styles and colours, along with a ruler for drawing straight lines.
If you’re keener on using Notes in a more traditional manner (that is, typing), there are improvements there, too. Text can be set in bold, italic or underline, and be formatted with titles and headings. You can add checklists as well, checking off items with a single tap.
Links also get a major boost, moving them beyond browser-style underlined text. Now you can embed links from Safari by using the Share sheet. This creates a smartly formatted lozenge that displays the web page’s title and domain, along with a thumbnail of what you were looking at. For faster access to such web-page links – along with photos and map links – there’s a new attachments view; tap an item and you get right back to the note in which it’s stored.
The two new apps
It looks like iOS 9 will have two entirely new apps – sort of. One, iCloud Drive, was discovered by 9to5Mac and appears to be a means of accessing the iOS Document Picker without having to open an app that supports it. It’s hidden by default, but activated in Settings > iCloud > iCloud Drive. 9to5Mac said no content loaded when the publication tried to use it, perhaps explaining its omission from the WWDC demos.
Conversely, Apple’s new News app looked very much the complete article. It resembles Flipboard, in that you tell it what you’re interested in – by topic or publication – and it fashions a personalised digital magazine, which is suitably accessed using the ‘For You’ tab. Apple claimed the best stories will be created in its new Apple News format, details of which were unavailable at the time of writing. When demoed, it appeared to resemble one of those ‘special report’ web pages, with rich typography, nice-looking galleries and swooshy animations.
The News app will start out in the USA, UK and Australia, and Apple argues that there’s “never been a more beautiful magazine-reading experience”. Publishers might disagree, but Apple’s reach will certainly give rivals pause for thought, and users will be grateful for Apple’s stance on privacy – unlike certain other news aggregators, what you read in News isn’t shared with other services and third parties.
With WWDC being a developer conference, iOS 9 also had plenty to excite attendees. New gaming frameworks were announced: GameplayKit for AI and pathfinding; Model I/O for beautiful lighting of 3D objects; and ReplayKit for recording and sharing gameplay. HealthKit will track additional metrics, such as reproductive health, hydration and UV. CarPlay will support wireless connections and apps developed by car manufacturers. And programming language Swift received a bunch of optimisations and new features, before Apple surprised everyone by making it open source.
iOS 9 will be available this autumn, and will be compatible with all devices that can run iOS 8. As always, the upgrade will be free, and in a first for iOS, there will be a public beta in July (see page 21). Another first is a new Android migration tool to assist switchers. If you’re resolutely Apple-only, it’s welcome news that unlike the hefty 4.6GB of free space required to upgrade to iOS 8, you’ll only need 1.3GB available on your device to install iOS 9.
iOS 9 will work with all devices that can run iOS 8, and you’ll only need 1.3GB free space to install it
The latest version of iOS looks much like the previous two, but a couple of new icons hint at new features, and there are plenty of changes to boost your productivity and efficiency.
In iOS 9, Maps will work better for commuters who are dependent on public transport, although the list of cities outside of China for which this is available is reported to be short at this stage.