iOS 9 Review

iOS 9 is the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. It powers all the the brand’s iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches and while it’s not the biggest jump from last year’s iOS 8 visually, it has enough tweaks, upgrades and new features to make it a worthwhile download for anyone who has a compatible device.

The more complete view of iOS 9 is that it’s the start of the next chapter of iOS. Where the iPad Air 2 gains more productivity tools, Siri is not just a computerised voice behind a button press and developers can have a bigger influence on everything from search to blocking content in Safari.

It’s a great, if slightly rough around the edges, update that might not convince Android die-hards to switch, but offers plenty for iOS users to get excited about.

iOS 9 is free to download for iPhone 4S and above, iPad 2 and above, iPad Air 1 and 2, every iPad mini and the 5th and 6th generation iPod Touch.

 

iOS 9 – Design

Design changes in iOS 9 are few and far between. But there are a couple worth mentioning.

The biggest is the new San Francisco font – the same type-face Apple designed for the Apple Watch. It’s slightly bolder and a little wider than before, but doesn’t really make that much difference.

In what seems like a change for the sake of it – or to make better use of 3D Touch on iPhone 6S/6S Plus – the multitasking view has been switched from individual cards to a scrolling, rolodex style. It’s a bit like Android’s Overview, but flipped on its head. I don’t like it. It adds nothing, but removes the handy contact shortcuts and makes it harder to see what apps you’ve got open.

I do approve of the new ‘Back to app’ button, though. In previous versions of iOS 9, if you opened up a link in a message you’d have to go back the home screen and back into Messages to return to what you were doing. Now a ‘Back to Messages’ instantly takes you back. Handy.

 

iOS 9 – Siri and search

Siri’s transformation in iOS 9 is massive. The digital assistant first introduced with the iPhone 4S is no longer a feature stuck behind a button press, but a vital part of the operating system.

I used to feel Siri was one of the iPhone’s weakest elements. It didn’t have the down-right usefulness of Google Now’s card based UI, nor the accuracy and speed of Cortana. Thankfully, iOS 9 rights many of those wrongs.

A swipe right from the first homescreen – sound familiar? – takes you straight into Siri’s new home. Apple claims she is now more ‘proactive’ than before, so this pane houses recently used contacts, apps you’ve been using a lot (or just installed) and a few, seemingly random, news stories from the web. I assume this will tie in with Apple News when it hits the UK, but for now it just takes you directly to the website.

There’s also a search bar at the top – I’ll get deeper into this shortly – and a microphone icon if you prefer to rather speak your requests.

I like the screen, especially the grouping together of apps that make them easy to get to. But there’s no pinning of contacts or apps, and you can’t delete or hide any of them. I guess this is an area that will grow with future updates, but it’s a good start.

A long press on the Home button from anywhere still brings up Siri herself, or himself if you’re in the UK, but the voice-assistant has picked up a few more tricks. I can ask it to show ‘pictures taken in Australia’ and the results will instantly pop up, or be more specific and say ‘show me pictures from April 2014’. Obviously, and annoyingly, this is limited to Apple’s app. Results won’t show up from Google Photos, for example, or Spotify.

For some reason, Siri seems to have trouble understanding my British accent – not that I have a particularly strong one – but in the instances it’s understood in one results come up in a flash. A definite speed improvement over iOS 8.

But, easily the coolest feature of the improved search and Siri features in iOS 9 is deep-linked Spotlight. Before, results from the search bar – accessed by a swipe down on the homescreen – would be limited to Apple’s own apps. A search for ‘football’ would bring up any mentions in Mail, Messages and so on. Now, app developers can let it search their apps too.