Apple iOS 9
Sometimes Apple completely reinvents a product, but often the company sticks to a winning formula. iOS 9, the newest operating system for iPhones and iPads, is part of a pattern. Following the complete visual overhaul of iOS 7, iOS 8 smoothed out some lingering bugs and fleshed out the OS with new functionality like cross-device Continuity and support for the Apple Watch$699.99 at Apple Store. iOS 9’s mix of fixes and new features follows that same path. In the past, we’ve complained about the permanently installed Apple apps, but many of them, from Notes to Maps, have now received substantial improvements, making their constant presence less irksome. That, combined with a host of welcome additions, including top-notch productivity functions for the iPad and a stronger focus on backward compatibility, make iOS 9 an Editors’ Choice mobile operating system.
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The Android market is certainly stronger than it once was, but the breadth and quality of apps in the App Store remains unmatched. With iOS 9, however, Apple wants you to have a better experience with your device using nothing but the built-in apps from Cupertino itself, and it succeeds.
The Notes app has been greatly expanded, taking cues from popular alternatives like Evernote. You can now create and mark off checklists or draw a message instead of typing it. Photos and URLs can be easily imported into notes as well. And you can sync notes across devices via iCloud. Previously the notes I took on my iPhone were barely organized. These improvements should help make up for my laziness.
Other changes to existing apps are fine, but none are quite as impressive Notes’ upgrade. Maps now display public transit data (which Apple insists on highlighting with images of the exact route I happen to use to get to the PCMag office). But it’s still hard to see anyone choosing Apple’s Maps over the excellent Google Maps. Google’s product has several years on Apple Maps, and the company is still living down its traumatic launch. Fortunately, wirelessly integrating your iPhone with your car with CarPlay means iOS 9 has something to offier when you get behind the wheel.
Apple recently revamped its dedicated music app as Apple Music, which is included with iOS 9. You can check out our full review of Apple Music for more details, but the app probably won’t immediately convince you to ditch Spotify. Still, it’s good enough to use, and it will have a tremendous advantage due to the fact that’s it’s baked into the operating system. As my colleague Sascha Segan has pointed out,Apple Music can win without being great.
Apple Pay has received some new tweaks as part of the new Wallet app (replacing Passbook). This is good, because, from its list of promised features, the upcomingAndroid Pay looks like it will put up a strong fight. As with Google Wallet, Apple’s Wallet let’s you store gift cards from stores like Walgreens and Panera Bread and take advantage of customer loyalty programs. Double-clicking the home button on the lock screen now brings up Apple Pay so payments are even faster. And, if you’re concerned about security, you can now set up longer, six-digit passcodes and two-factor authentication along with a Touch ID code if your device supports it.
Newsstand has been replaced with Apple News, Apple’s latest attempt to save journalism with the power of technology. But, despite that lofty goal, the new app is basically a prettier version of aggregatorFlipboard. After choosing favorite topics, such as entertainment or sports, and media sites like TheAtlantic.com (or, of course, PCMag.com), you can then flip through a curated news feed with content tailored to your device’s screen. Compared to browsing on the Web, it’s an uncluttered way to read the news. But Apple News won’t reach its full potential until it beefs up its library of partners making content specifically for the service. Also, the headlines weren’t always up to date when I tested, though that might just be a case of first-day caching problems.
Finally, regretful Android owners can download the Move to iOS app to easily migrate data like contacts, photos, accounts, and even free apps that appear on both platforms to their new phone.
As a whole, this refreshed slate of required apps represents a big step up from those of years past. Even the minor cosmetic tweaks like rounded corners on dialogs, lowercase letters on keyboards, and a more-flowing multitasking bar are appreciated changes. However, when you start looking at them individually, you’ll still be able to find better third-party alternatives for pretty much every app, but in a way, that just speaks to the quality of competition Apple’s ecosystem has fostered.
As an avid iPad user, I find that the most exciting things about iOS 9 are the long-awaited features it adds to Apple’s tablet, particularly when it comes to multitasking. A series of simple swiping gestures let you slide apps over other apps, so you can check your calendar while surfing the Web, use an app while watching a video in the corner of the screen with picture-in-picture mode, and you can even use two apps at once in Split View.
That last feature has been a long time coming, mostly because Android users have enjoyed it for years. Using two apps on the iPad’s expansive screen feels fantastic, and I wasn’t even testing with the massive, upcoming iPad Pro. Unfortunately, the oldest device supporting this feature is last year’s iPad Air 2£318.99 at Amazon. Also, as of now, Split View only works with a selection of Apple’s own apps, so you can’t, for example, currently run two taxing video games at the same time to really put it to the test.
The typing experience has also received some upgrades. The QuickType system offers new multitouch text-editing gestures. Dragging two fingers around on the screen turns your fingertips into a pseudo-mouse cursor. However, while this will make the tablet more productive for some, when I want to do serious writing on my iPad, I still prefer to use a dedicated Bluetooth keyboard. Fortunately, iOS 9 has new command shortcuts for keyboard users, too.
The Education of Siri
I’ve never been a huge fan of Siri. Talking into my phone always felt too silly and unintuitive to me. But the rise of competing digital personal assistants like Google Now and Microsoft ‘s Cortana suggests that a great many users disagree with me. Apparently, many do want a little person that lives in their phone. In iOS 9, Siri has gone through some changes to help make the case why she (or he) should be yourpreferred little person.
Siri can access more data and make much-smarter decisions on what to do with that data. You can ask questions in natural language like “Hey Siri, show me my photos from last year’s Gathering of the Juggalos” and Siri will understand the timeframe and type of content you’re talking about. Siri is also aware of the app you’re using and takes that context into account. For example, you can set reminders related to a specific email.
Siri’s increased intelligence also allows for more-thorough Spotlight search results, along with almost-creepy predictive features like suggesting relevant people for events or triggering certain apps at certain times based on your habits. I still have no interest in integrating a phone that intimately into my life, but if you’re looking for this kind of proactive behavior from your smartphone, the new Siri should delight you.
iOS revisions tend to leave older iPhones, iPods, and iPads in the dust. In many cases, while your device could technically run a newer version of iOS, you might not enjoy the sluggish experience. iOS 9 tries to fix this obsolescence problem by optimizing itself for whichever device it’s installed on, strategically altering or removing features that slow down the hardware too much. I installed iOS 9 on an iPhone 4S, which had previously been running a not-so-smooth version of iOS 7. The file was 800MB, considerably smaller than iOS 9 on newer devices. I skipped iOS 8 due to prior performance issues and because rolling back OS updates isn’t always easy. The old phone on iOS 9 is definitely not as fast as it used to be, but it also isn’t nearly as sluggish as I’d expected. I appreciate that the brand new OS doesn’t feel completely out of place on aging hardware and that it hasn’t rendered the phone unusable.
The fact that I’ve got iOS 9 running on a four-year old handset on the day it was released highlights one huge advantage Apple has over Android, which continues to struggle with fragmentation. Google’s Android 5.0 Lollipop may also be a top-notch operating system, but, nearly a year after its release, not much more than one in five Android handsets are running it.
Turn on Low Power mode and iOS 9 will do will things like reduce background activity and turn off the screen when the phone is face down for a purported one-hour increase in battery life (we haven’t tested this yet). Other performance enhancements include a much-smaller installation download (1.3GB vs iOS 8’s unwieldy 4.58GB), and increased responsiveness, thanks to the Metal graphics API. It’s nice to see Metal being put to good use, since it doesn’t look like it has yet revolutionized the iOS game development scene, as Apple had intended.
Safari’s new ad-blocking features are there to keep performance high and user (and business) data private, not just for screwing with Google’s cash-cow ad business. You can blacklist apps, prevent certain links from loading, and determine which services can track you. It’s convenient and reassuring for users, but with so much of the Internet economy being driven by ads in general, and mobile ads specifically, don’t be surprised if advertisers find a way to work around these new restrictions.
One of our complaints with iOS 8 was the implementation of iCloud Drive. In theory you could store and sync data like emails or iMovie creations across Macs and iOS devices much as you do with DropBox. However, the service was needlessly confusing and even difficult to find. iOS 9 fixes this by making iCloud Drive a straight-up app you visit on the home screen. The app is, oddly, invisible by default. You have to make it visible by going into Settings. But at least the option is now there. If you’re having trouble finding this switch you can now also search within Settings. iOS 9 also retains Continuity features and the ability to use your iPhone as a free personal hotspot for your iPad or to read your SMS messages on your Mac.
iOS 9 Impresses
As far as giving iPhone and iPad owners fresh and fun tools to play with, iOS 9 is more exciting than its predecessor. New and updated Apple apps like Notes, News, and Wallet, while not superior to the competition, are closer than they have ever been. Productivity functions like Split View and slick keyboard gestures breathe new life into the familiar iPad experience, and better support for old devices reassures those who don’t follow the breakneck two-year hardware update cycle that they aren’t being left behind. All this and more make Apple iOS 9 our Editors’ Choice for mobile operating systems.