iOS 9 is here, and the TidBITS crew has joined forces to answer your questions about Apple’s latest mobile operating system. We don’t have any significant warnings for most people, although there is an important note about, well, Notes, which we’ll explain later. And if you’re still running Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and syncing via iTunes, you’ll want to hold off on the upgrade for now.
Before we dive in, a quick heads-up that TidBITS Managing Editor Josh Centers’s new book, “iOS 9: A Take Control Crash Course,” is now available with 121 pages of tightly focused content on what you need to know about iOS 9.
What’s the biggest change in iOS 9?
One thing the font-involved among you may notice right away is the new system font, San Francisco, which originated on the Apple Watch (Yes, San Francisco was also the name of Susan Kare’s 1984 ransom note font for the Mac). We’ve found the new San Francisco to be more readable than Helvetica Neue, the system font for iOS 7 and iOS 8.
iPad users — at least those using recent models — will probably see the most benefit from iOS 9, with its new multitasking features Slide Over, Split Screen, and Picture in Picture. Other iPad improvements include Trackpad mode, new QuickType keyboard shortcuts, larger folders, a two-column Notification Center, and better support for external keyboards.
iPhone users will appreciate the battery life improvements, particularly a new Low Power mode that turns off some features to conserve power. Plus, iPhone users will probably get the most benefit from the new Intelligence features, since many of them are based around mobility, like asking Siri to remind you of something when you get in the car or telling you to leave for an appointment at a certain time.
There’s also a new News app to replace Newsstand, a new Wallet app that replaces Passbook, and a completely updated Notes app, along with some nice upgrades for Mail, Maps, and Safari. Find My iPhone and Find My Friends are now pre-installed and cannot be removed.
Can my device run iOS 9?
Put down that Android phone and pick up any Apple device that currently runs iOS 8, since they’ll all be able to run iOS 9 as well. You won’t see all of iOS 9’s new features on the older devices, but even devices as old as the iPad 2, fifth-generation iPod touch, and iPhone 4S can run it.
And speaking of Android, Apple has added a new Move to iOS app to the Google Play store, in order to ease the transition from an Android device.
How large is iOS 9?
Like Doctor Who’s TARDIS, it’s bigger on the inside. Where iOS 8 could take 5–8 GB of space just for the operating system, iOS 9 appears to take only 3.5–4 GB, with older devices on the lower end of that spectrum. Thus, iOS 9 should give users of 16 GB devices a couple of gigabytes of space back, making the upgrade worthwhile for that reason alone.
In terms of the update itself, it’s a 1.84 GB download if you work through iTunes, but you should see a smaller download if you update over the air. We saw over-the-air upgrades at 1.0 GB for the iPhone 6; the over-the-air upgrades from the golden master of iOS 9 were in the 37–42 MB range. Regardless, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of time for a big download.
At the moment, we suggest that it’s probably best to upgrade from iOS 8 via iTunes, rather than over the air, because that makes it easy to ensure that you have a recent backup of your device on your Mac first.
Is iOS 9 faster or slower than iOS 8? Is battery life any different?
In our testing, performance seems to be about the same as or better than iOS 8, although that’s when configuring a device from scratch, rather than restoring from a backup after upgrading. With a third-generation iPad upgraded to iOS 9 and restored from backup, performance was terrible. When we erased it and reinstalled iOS 9, but didn’t bring back apps and settings from the backup, it was once again reasonably sprightly.
Apple claims that it has tweaked iOS to provide up to 1 additional hour of battery life and that the new Low Power mode for the iPhone can add an extra 3 hours. Although we haven’t done formal testing, our impression is that battery life is about the same as iOS 8. However, Low Power mode does significantly extend battery life when your iPhone is running down on juice.
Should I wait to upgrade to iOS 9?
It depends. Go ahead and upgrade right away if you have an important reason, like you provide support for others, you have to write about it, or it promises a feature that you absolutely must have. We’ve been running iOS 9 for quite some time on a variety of old and new devices, and it has largely worked well, particularly in the golden master release.
However, if you have no pressing need to update, you won’t go wrong by waiting a few days or even a week or two. You’ll avoid dealing with overloaded Apple servers, and you’ll have a chance to see any reports of bugs that might affect your use and enjoyment of iOS 9.
Plus, although many apps have already been updated for iOS 9, waiting a little longer increases the chances that your most important apps will have been updated first. Needless to say, if you depend on a particular app, check for iOS 9 compatibility in its listing in the App Store before updating.
Although some features in iOS 8 weren’t fully active until the release of OS X 10.10 Yosemite, there aren’t any significant features of iOS 9 that depend on 10.11 El Capitan (except take note of Notes, ahead, if you use Notes on the Mac), the release date of which is now rumored for 30 September 2015.
Only one group should probably hold off on the upgrade indefinitely: those who are still using 10.6 Snow Leopard and syncing to iTunes. The catch-22 is that iTunes 11.4, the latest version of iTunes that runs on Snow Leopard, can download iOS 9 and upgrade a synced iOS device, but that version of iTunes can’t see devices running iOS 9. iTunes 12.3 is necessary for syncing between a Mac and an iOS device running iOS 9, but iTunes 12.3 requires 10.7 Lion or later.
Are there any improvements to Spotlight? How about Siri?
Yes, and yes, and we have an entire article explaining Siri Suggestions and its relationship to Spotlight Suggestions (see “Explaining Siri Suggestions and Spotlight Search in iOS 9,” 16 September 2015). Perhaps the most welcome bit, for those who never quite got used to pulling down on the Home screen to search, is the return of being able to swipe right on the first page of the Home screen.
In short, Siri Suggestions are pre-search suggestions for contacts, apps, nearby places, and media. They’re on top of Spotlight Suggestions, which integrates results from the outside world into your searches.
Spotlight can find many more things in iOS 9, such as sports scores and stock prices, and like Yosemite, Spotlight in iOS 9 can now perform calculations. Also, developers can integrate their apps into Spotlight search, so if you were to search for “bacon”, you might pull up a recipe from a recipe app. Or Kevin Bacon.
Siri, which sports a new Apple Watch-inspired look, gains two new superpowers in iOS 9: it can understand requests to display photos and videos based on time and location, and it can set contextual reminders. For instance, if you come across one of our in-depth TidBITS articles while you’re supposed to be working, you can say, “Remind me about this tonight.” You can also ask Siri to remind you of something once you get in the car. It’s all part of Intelligence.
At the risk of sounding stupid, what is Intelligence?
Intelligence isn’t a single thing, but rather an umbrella term that brings together several related features:
Somewhat similar to Google Now, Proactive Assistant tries to learn your habits to save you time. For instance, if you have a restaurant reservation at 1:30 PM, iOS 9 will tell you what time to leave to beat the traffic. Or if you plug in your headphones, iOS 9 might suggest a favorite playlist or an unfinished podcast.
If you receive a phone call from an unknown number, iOS 9 will search your email for the number, and suggest who might be calling.
iOS 9 can detect airline and restaurant reservations in Mail, and will offer to create calendar entries from them.
Intelligence also includes the new Siri features mentioned above. We doubt anyone will actually be talking about Intelligence — it’s just a way Apple could combine some features for marketing reasons (as they did with the Continuity features introduced with iOS 8 and 10.10 Yosemite).
Can you explain the new multitasking features for the iPad?
Certainly! You can finally use two apps at once in iOS 9 on an iPad, thanks to three new features:
Slide Over: If you want to check something in another app quickly, swipe left from off the right side of the screen to display a second app while the first one remains visible. You can’t use both at once; just the second app.
Split Screen: To use two apps side-by-side, you’ll invoke Split Screen mode, which requires dragging the grabber in the Slide Over column further to the left.
Picture in Picture: This one is easy — to keep watching a video in a small, movable and resizable window as you do other things, just press the Home button.
Sounds too good to be true. Are there any limitations to these features?
Well… yes. First, apps have to support these special modes explicitly, so you may not be able to use them with every app you want. Second, they don’t work on all iPads. To wit:
Slide Over and Picture in Picture require at least an iPad mini 2, iPad Air, or iPad Pro, so the original iPad mini and iPad (non-Air) models aren’t supported.
Split Screen works on only the latest iPads, including the iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and iPad Pro.
(The iPad Pro is slated to be released in November 2015, along with its accessories — see “iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil Announced,” 9 September 2015.)
I don’t want to wait for the iPad Pro’s keyboard. Does iOS 9 help with typing now?
Indeed! There are new shortcuts in the QuickType menu above the keyboard. These give you access to common tasks, like undo, redo, cut, copy, and paste. Plus, different Apple apps offer unique shortcuts. For instance, Mail has a shortcut to add an attachment, while Notes has shortcuts for things like formatting text and adding images. We hope to see other apps add their own shortcuts as well.
Even better, the iPad (and reportedly the forthcoming iPhone 6s and 6s Plus) gains what we’re calling “Trackpad mode.” Navigating in and selecting text has so far relied on direct manipulation — you tap where you want the cursor to go, and drag if you want to select text. That seemed logical for iOS (and it’s still available, of course), but it turns out to be devilishly hard to tap quickly and accurately between letters with a fat fingertip.
With Trackpad mode, you put two fingers down on the keyboard, the letters on the keys disappear, and a cursor appears in the text. Drag both fingers around in tandem to move the cursor, just like on a traditional trackpad. Trackpad mode may break iOS’s direct manipulation model, but it’s far, far better. You can also double-tap to select a word, and then drag to keep selecting. With Trackpad mode, the iPad’s glass keyboard might actually become usable for editing text. Watch our video for a demo.
Are there new apps from Apple in iOS 9?
Yes, although none provide radically new capabilities, and some have limitations.
The much-maligned Newsstand goes away in iOS 9 (or rather, it becomes a normal folder that disappears like any other folder when you remove everything from it), and has been replaced by the News app. Right now, News is basically a traditional RSS reader, though Apple does some special formatting to make things look pretty. (In the future, Apple will be adding a special Apple News Format.) Not surprisingly for Apple, news sources have to be approved by the company, so you can’t add just anything you want, and we suspect the process isn’t dependent on just meeting technical requirements. Happily, Apple approved TidBITS after much back-and-forth, so you can read everything we publish in News — either search for us in News, or use this link on your iOS device.
Currently, News is only available in the United States. We can’t imagine why it’s so restricted. Apple had said that it would also be available in Australia and the UK, but it hasn’t appeared in those countries yet.
Notes sees a major overhaul in iOS 9, and although it’s now much more capable, it’s also entering a crowded app market. You can insert images, checklists, and even your own sketches into a note. Notes also allows special formatting, like bullet lists.
However, the new Notes format isn’t compatible with the Notes app in 10.10 Yosemite. When you first launch Notes in iOS 9, you’ll be asked if you want to upgrade. If you depend on Notes syncing between iOS and the Mac, hold off on that upgrade until 10.11 El Capitan ships. However, if you want to try out the new features, stick with creating notes that remain on your device.
Apple redesigned Podcasts, but we’ve still found it to be full of bugs. For instance, Josh doesn’t see the skip buttons while playing a podcast.
Passbook has been renamed Wallet, and now supports reward cards, but isn’t otherwise radically different.
I hear Maps now offers transit directions. Is that true?
Yes, but only if you are in Baltimore, Chicago, London, Mexico City, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Toronto, or Washington, DC. Or a variety of cities in China. As has always been true of Maps, it’s a start, but you should keep Google Maps on your iPhone to ensure you can get directions wherever you are.
Is there anything new in Safari?
Only a few small things from the user perspective. You can now adjust the background color and typeface of Reader mode, which is a welcome change (especially for those of us who read in bed). More interesting is what Safari offers developers in iOS 9.
The most controversial new addition is that Apple is allowing content blocker extensions. This means that third-party apps will be able to block ads in Safari, offering potentially significant performance improvements and reductions in bandwidth consumption. But many publishers are panicking over this new threat to their business model, with some, such as the Washington Post, trying to prevent you from viewing their content while an ad-blocker is enabled. Developer Marco Arment, who created an ad blocker called Peace, encapsulated this tension. Peace quickly shot to the top of the App Store paid rankings, but an unhappy Arment pulled it after just two days, saying:
Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.
The other big change for developers is the addition of Safari View Controller. For many years, developers could use Safari’s rendering engine in their apps, but they had to provide their own interfaces. Safari View Controller lets developers drop a version of Safari right into an app. From a user’s perspective, the main difference is that while you are in this mode, you cannot modify the URL. However, you can move a Web page from a Safari View Controller to the full Safari app with one tap.
Why can’t I see Siri Suggestions or use content blockers?
Unfortunately, not all iOS 9 features work on all devices. Siri Suggestions requires at least a fourth-generation iPad, iPad mini, iPhone 5, or fifth-generation iPod touch. Content blocking extensions need a 64-bit processor, so they require at least an iPad Air, iPad mini 2, iPhone 5s, or sixth-generation iPod touch.
Has Mail changed significantly?
Well, Mail has improved in a few welcome ways, although basic usage remains the same.
Previously, you could attach only photos or videos from within Mail; for anything else, you had to find the file in another app and “share” it with Mail (an awkward process). Now, Mail can add attachments from iCloud Drive and any other compatible app you’ve configured, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Transmit.
You can also mark up graphical mail attachments, such as PDFs and JPEGs. The tools are similar to what’s available in Yosemite. We don’t have a sense of how many people actually avail themselves of this capability, but it’s nice to have on occasion.
Also, search has improved dramatically, offering search suggestions and a progress bar as the search is underway.
You can now send email to a group (not a smart group) that appears in the Contacts app. At last! To do this, type part of the group name in the To, Cc, or Bcc field and tap the appropriate entry in the popover. Alas, you still can’t create or edit a group on your iOS device in either Mail or Contacts — you’ll have to do that on your Mac. And, by default, Mail puts every address from every member of the group in the address field, so you’ll have to remove any duplicates manually.
There’s also a new swipe option: when you swipe left or right on a message in a mailbox view, you can now choose an additional option: Move, which displays your mailbox list; tap a mailbox to move the message there. Oh, and speaking of swipe gestures, they now show icons rather than text.
And finally, when you view messages on an iPad, you’ll notice that they have much larger left and right margins than before (and they’re wider in portrait mode than landscape mode). Apple presumably felt this would enhance readability.
If you have additional questions about iOS 9, feel free to ask them in the comments and we’ll update this article or write more articles as appropriate. Also, for a great deal more information, check out Josh’s comprehensive look at what’s new (along with plenty of details about important old features as well) in “iOS 9: A Take Control Crash Course,” which is now out!