When iOS 8 launched last year, it was definitely not a smooth start to the life of a new operating system. It was the first year during which you could install iOS as a public beta; This opened up an entirely new avenue of people who would now be streaming their feedback to Cupertino. The release was no slouch, either. Building upon the momentum of iOS 7, 8 included such niceties as a redesigned notification center, health kit and a health app, Continuity features, spotlight redesign, and a new multitasking switcher. A month after release, we had 8.0.1, which completely broke the radio of the new iPhone 6, and apps crashed more frequently. VoiceOver was riddled with a far greater number of bugs, including the famous “app store clearing search” issue.
Of course, all of these were addressed with later 8.x releases. The last iOS version to have more than .2 versions was the 4.x series, which went as high up as 4.3.1. iOS 8 went beyond this to include even an 8.4.1 number, suggesting that the number of issues and changes which had to be resolved was far greater than ever before. If you wish, you can also blame Apple Music though, which received a lease to life with the 8.4x release, along with the Apple Watch prior coming in with 8.3. All of these point releases were, for lack of better wording, a cover-up for solving more serious issues. Today, iOS 8 stands as a solid release with 8.4.1, with many accessibility bugs having ironed out over time.
iOS 9 was Apple’s “wake-up” release. With 7 and 8, too much was done to redesign the platform, say except the familiar grid-based iconed interface. Last year, we advised people to not upgrade to iOS 8, citing numerous accessibility and usability concerns. How is iOS 9 in this regard? Has Apple pulled off a solid, stable release, or is there really no reason to grab it when it hits on the 16th of September? What are some major new features which improve upon iOS’ foundation? We’ve got answers, if you have the time.
The Story of iOS 9.
Where was I? Oh yes. The reasons for why iOS 8 sucked. That’s right. Let’s move on from 8 and admit that Apple has done a good job at patching up what they could, but a new release had to be made which tweaks those areas of the operating system that are the most difficult to fix without a new major version number. Apple has also grasped this entire “public betas”game, which lead to Articles such as this one, which throws the gauntlet in about the betas. Apple blocked iOS 9 users from posting reviews on the app store, if only because everyone was writing horrible experiences with apps during this testing stage. It also synchronized public releases to be more in line with developer versions.
Inching towards that upgrade: Compatibility
As everyone expected, iOS 8 dropped support for the iPhone 4, though (somewhat unexpectedly) it kept up support for older devices such as the iPad 2. Generally, A5-based devices had terrible performance with 8, though again a lot of this was fixed with 8.1.2. Still, the almost buttery experience with 7.1x was no longer present.
Whether you upgrade or not to iOS 9 is your choice, depending on the devices you are planning to service. Any device after 2012 will do generally good with 9. App opening times seem longer than they did with iOS 8 with A5-based devices, however the interface itself is definitely a lot faster.
Overall, most devices do not suffer at all when running 9. The iPhone 5 is holding up very well despite its age, as it supports even the newer features such as Siri’s intelligence and the Apple Watch, along with previous features such as handoff across devices. Lower power mode is only supported on iPhones to begin with, and some multi-tasking features are very iPad specific. When it comes to accessibility features, you’ll still need a 64-bit device to use the high-quality Alex voice, but Siri voices can be used on even older devices though at times with considerable lag.
It’s worth noting that iOS 9 is not as major of a release as 8 was. There are a few features that we really must dive into, but for the most part your experience will be just like it has been on 8.x. Proactive Siri, easier transition between apps, and third-party integration with Spotlight make it a solid release for productivity. The iPad’s new multitasking features are nice, but are limited to newer models; The existence of keyboard shortcuts on a per-app basis make it a more solid release for all tablets in Apple’s ecosystem. Under the hood, features such as App Thinning will help with giving the OS a solid edge even on 16 GB devices, along with it not taking up as drastically much as the jump from 7 to 8 was. (Do you remember when 16 gig iPhones had 13.5 Gigabytes free back in the iOS 4.x days? Yeah, we sure do.)
iOS 9 is not all roses and gold, though. (With Apple having introduced rose gold colours in recent devices, we had to use this pun.) If you’re on an iPhone 4S, the User interface is increasingly becoming suited more towards larger devices. For example, buttons might not fit properly on screen, and parts of the UI (such as when sharing something in an app) could seriously obscure content. If you dislike the bloatware Apple has recently began pushing on people, you will be happy to know that two new ones join the ranks: Find my Friends and Find my iPhone. These could be far less useful of a selection though, however do keep in mind the two new icons which you will now have to hide somewhere should you decide to not use them.
The upgrade process, which requires less space!
Apple has significantly improved the process which needs to be undertaken when performing OS updates. Previously, very few people could do so over-the-air, mostly because their storage was too full for the files to download. It required 4.6 GB free, which on a 16 GB phone could be difficult to attain, especially if someone had many photos or content. This changes with iOS 9. You only need a little over a gigabyte to have available, and once you are on 9, the OS can intelligently uninstall apps and then reinstall them after an upgrade is complete. This will make for a smoother upgrade not just for older or low-capacity users, but also for those who felt that any iOS upgrade required more waiting. iOS 9 will install on most devices in under 20 minutes (usually 10-15), unless you are on an A5-based chip. When writing a review, we had a pretty good range of devices to report with: Going back to an iPad 2/3, all the way to the iPhone 5S and 6. Our experience with these devices has been highly consistent and generally pleasant, although if you were hoping for iOS 6 or 7-style performances on older devices, don’t expect them here. In reality, iOS 9 is closer to (though a bit better than) iOS 8. On one hand, we would recommend the update especially if you’re on 7.1.2 because you get many security fixes and better web-compatibility, which is important. Developers will slowly begin to drop iOS 7 support, as evidenced by the abandonment of iOS 6 throughout the recent years. On another, we know how much it might impact your performance when jumping 7 to 9, and our soul cries out for your experience dynamic. Truly.
iOS 9: New Accessibility features
Accessibility is as good of a place to start if any. While iOS 8 introduced many new enhancements to VoiceOver such as an on-screen Braille Keyboard, 9 brings more minor comforts to the table. When we talk of Braille, you can now choose how long flashed messages and alerts stay on screen for, which was a major complaint for many users of displays. You can also customize which keys are used as the VoiceOver modifier on physical keyboards, and if you have dexterity difficulties, the length of the pause between taps which count as one action, AKA a “double-tap timeout.” The ability of using Siri voices from the speech settings screen within VoiceOver (as well as in the speech panel inside accessibility) is a welcome feature which until now could only be solved with a jailbreak. In our experience though, this was rather unreliable, if only because the Voice will need to be downloaded a second time just to be used with text reading. As you know, Siri grabs the high quality voice when you’re screen is locked and there’s wi-fi connected to the device. Despite this Voice data being available, the screen for choosing the “default dialect” voice still requires that you download the voice again. This is a huge waste of space, and perhaps there exist reasons for why both Siri and this new feature can’t use the same voice files. If you’re on a 16 gig device, stick with either the Samantha (default) or the high quality voice to get the most use of your space needs.
VoiceOver and Text Selection
We must dive into a new feature which comes to Apple’s screen reader: Better ways of selecting text. If you are in a content which features text, such as an edit field, you can now select it using your rotor. To enable this, you’ll have to add “text selection” to VoiceOver in the rotor panel of its settings. When you’re in a place where text can be selected, such as a note or text message field, you can use this new item and flick down to change the level of what you wish to highlight by. “Character selection, word selection, line selection, page selection, and select all” are the choices you are provided. To select or de-select that chunk of text, flick right or left respectively. This is very intuitive and gives VoiceOver users an alternative to the new on-screen cursor selection choices provided visually on the iPad.
Other Accessibility features to note
We’ll be talking of the new functionalities of iOS 9 in the context of Accessibility as we get to them, of course. For example, Apple has made specific gestures for people wanting to use split view or slide-over with VoiceOver, in a way that they too can take advantage of them. There are, however, a few other minor to major things which I must report on that have made this a compelling iOS 9 release.
- Touch Accommodations. Under the interaction heading of the accessibility settings panel, there is a new feature which allows you to configure various touch-screen delays. This is more comprehensive than the “double-tap delay” we spoke of earlier, in that it allows you to change the behavior of how long touches take to be recognized, or how fast holding down something repeats the action (such as when pressing and holding on delete.) In this, “tap assistance” allows you to use one finger to press multi-finger commands by setting a timeout after a gesture is recognized as one single command or a part of another. A lot of this relies on time-outs, but it is very comprehensive for any motor-based disability.
- Better Braille on-screen keyboard customization: You can now lock or unlock the on-screen keyboard with a three finger up and down gesture, and practice the Braille gestures in the VoiceOver practice screen. Finally, you can go to “typing feedback” in VoiceOver to change what feedback is provided during on-screen Braille input.
- a new “keyboard” option allows you to enable sticky keys and other hardware keyboard-related features, along with controlling how uppercase works on software keyboards.
- You can now disable “shake to undo,” which could even be useful as a non-accessibility feature.
- If using hearing aids, you can now have profiles for multiple hearing aid devices.
- If you’re using a Braille display: YOu have a few new commands to put in your toolbox. Dots 1-5-6 will let you perform the double-tap with two fingers command to start/stop an action. Dots 5 6 7 and 8 will let you do the double tap and hold command, so app deletion is now possible along with any other feature that might require this.
- You can now mute all vibrations if you desire.
Talking up the iPad features
As iPad functions are essential to what iOS 9 brings, we must start here first. All iPad users get at least two treats: Slide-over and the new keyboard commands. (a list of these will be provided at the end of this review.) SlideOver allows you to have an app take up a portion of the screen, so that you could see it while you work somewhere else. You can’t interact with the app, but you can at least read what it contains, which could minimize the number of times you switch. Visually, you can slide your finger from the top edge of the screen to bring an app to this pinned state. With VoiceOver, you swipe left with three fingers from the status bar. This brings up a new app switcher which will allow you to see the last two recently used apps, rather than making your own combination of ones to pin. To invoke the new split view feature which is on newer iPads, you would drag the divider to resize the currently running app against the one next to it. With VoiceOver, tap the divider, then turn the rotor to a new split view option to change these values. Slide-Over and split view are very different. Slide-Over will allow you to see the app, but as a consequence it will take up part of the original app’s screen. Split view, on the other hand, will resize the windows of each app to accommodate both at the same time, and this is why it requires advanced hardware. For now, only Apple’s built-in apps support these functions, however they will be coming to 3rd-party ones very soon.
Pro-active siri’s usefulness
Siri gains new proactive functions. For example, if your friend Bill is flying and he texts you “I’m on United flight 1273”, you will now be able to click that flight number to see a direct tracking of where he is.
When I’m leaving my workplace, I generally open up Spotify to listen to some music with. This is usually around the same time of the day, at 3 PM. Nowadays, when I plug in my headphones and open my iPhone’s lock screen at 3 PM, I will see a new “spotify” button nestled between the unlock and open camera options. This allows me to directly switch to Spotify and listen to my music right away. (Spotify also shows up in my app switcher, but not as “active” like other apps that are running might.)
Siri suggestions are now also part of the home screen. During lunch time, popular dining places will appear here, and various news articles from the new news app will also show up here. This is also useful, as the restaurants come from Yelp. The items shown in this change throughout the day, and it is where the new “people list” that was in the app switcher is now moved to. To access it, you would swipe right from the main home screen page. Spotlight, accessible with a three-finger flick down from the top of your screen, also gains “siri app suggestions”, so clearly the influence of this assistant is peppered throughout the OS.
This is not as useful as Google Now, but it is definitely the most non-invasive solution to a more proactive assistant. Google Now, for example, scans your e-mails at all times for tracking numbers or other reservations. Apple, in order to be more conscious of user privacy does not do this, so if you are very aware of today’s issues, it could be a better choice.
Notes are better
If you frequently use Apple’s built-in notes app to jot down information, you will love iOS 9. On all devices, the app just has become so much more powerful. You can now organize notes in various folders based on the accounts you have set up which offers note syncing. You can also add custom-named folders if you wish. The nice feature, which I appreciate the most, is the ability to share information from any app as a note. For example, you can “paste” a Safari page into a note by pressing “share” inside the browser and choosing notes as the item to share to. This will bring up the notes app, where you can either put it into an existing note or create a new one. Any app that can share information can be pasted into a note — once Notes opens, you’ll be asked to create a new note or choose an existing one.
If you are using the app on an iPad, you have even more control: You can create checklists and expand a toolbar of other formatting options. The notes app on the iPad is a serious contender to something such as Evernote, as you could also attach a voice memo you recorded in another app to your note. In the “edit” VoiceOver rotor, you can make a checklist as well.
A note about Apple maps transit
As of this review, transit directions in Apple maps is very limited. It is only available in the New York City area, San Francisco, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Baltimore within the United states. Other interesting cities to note are Berlin, Mexico city, London, and Toronto. We’re sure other cities will follow later, but as of now it’s just not useful in many areas. A new “transit” tab in the maps app will provide you with an overview of buses in the city you are located, and it ups Google by also giving you visual representations of the entrance to the station.
One of the most striking features you will notice with iOS 9 is the lack of the “newsstand” folder. It has now been replaced with an app of its own: News. When you first fire it up, you will be asked to choose your favourite publications, similar to how Apple Music asks for a list of genres you enjoy listening to and artists associated with it. Once you have picked three items, news will begin to populate the “For you” tab of the app with items in your feed. The “explore” tab allows you to add other news sources that have shared content with Apple, so making a huge list of various articles is not difficult. If you have an RSS feed of your own, just load it into Safari. Press the share button and News will be an option, which will let you import the feed directly into the app. For now, it is a very simple news-reading app, but this perhaps is good and provides a quick way of gathering your best content. You can save articles which will show up in the saved tab at the bottom of the app, as well as search for topics or publications inside the search tab. Simple, easy, and intuitive without fancyness.
Hey Siri looks similar to Hey Cortana. Did they shout to each other?
In iOS 8, Hey Siri provided a quick way to summon Apple’s assistant from anywhere as long as you’re plugged into power. You could lock your screen and just drunkenly yell it out to have her respond. iOS 9 makes this more personal, allowing you to train your own voice into the app by repeating 5 commands that you would normally use when talking to it. When changing the tone of our voice to try and fool it, Siri definitely did not respond if the iPhone was locked, but if it was unlocked or the Siri screen was up, it does respond to anyone’s voice. We’re not sure if this is a bug or a weird complication — it would certainly make more sense to always restrict the action to the trained voice only.
Other nice, smaller-level changes.
We’ve gone through the major, more noticeable changes in iOS 9. Here’s a list of random other ones, which might peak your interest.
- Reproductive health input and tracking: If you’re a woman, you can now track your menstrual cycles inside the Apple’s health app, under the “health data” tab and reproductive health. You can also enter sexual activity as well as basal body temperature, and have the data there to read easily.
- Searchable settings: At the top of the settings screen is a new search box, which allows you to type in a word for a settings group to access it in a nice results list. Curiously, typing something as “speech” will only list the speech settings in General > Accessibility, but not the ones within VoiceOver itself. This makes us think that there’s a limit to how “deep” this feature looks — it’s OK for finding a group or category for a setting, but not for ones that might require some drilling to get to.
- Battery settings now have a new home in the app. This is where usage for various apps is also shown, along with the new low power mode on iPhones. Storage and iCloud hosts the old interface for checking usage of storage information, along with a new iCloud Drive app that you can enable within iCloud settings. The new iCloud drive app will appear on your home screen if you turn it on, and allows you to browse your iCloud account’s files.
- A more significant change is how moving from app to app is handled. For example, if you open a link in Safari from within the mail app, you can now press a button on the status bar to return back to mail once more without having to bring up the app switcher. This is infinitely useful, though it does hide the status bar of phone signal indication. It finally brings a “back button” to iOS, something which Android fans have criticised for a long time — but it does so without being very intrusive.
- 6-digit passcodes are now required by default on Touch-ID devices. While you can still opt to use a 4-digit one (by manually picking “passcode options” on your setup screen), generally a 6-digit number will be more secure. Why not give it a try? Existing users, from our experience, won’t be asked to “upgrade” their code to be 6-digits, but it’s still advised.
- If you’re on the lock screen and own an iOS device which features Apple Pay (or now Wallet), you can press your home button twice to pay for something.
- Apple’s Maps app now allows you to search for categories of places. Simply press the search button and a list of place categories will be listed by which you can filter a search.
While Apple claims “up to 4 hours” of extra juice with iOS 9, we would say that these claims are a bit high, but not out of question. No iOS device is worse on battery with this release, which is a relief. If you do face issues with your device draining quickly, be sure to restore first and start over from scratch. At first, you could restore an existing backup after a factory reset to see if it solves any issues — in our experience, this always did the trick.
The new “low power” mode will now appear as an option when you get the 20% and 10% battery alerts. It disables visual animations, background fetch of apps and mail, along with downclocking your processor. While it won’t get you “days” out of a low charge, it should be good enough to give you that quick boost of energy for survival. Once you plug your phone back into its charger, the mode will automatically disable itself. You can enable it manually at any point (meaning you don’t have to be at 20% to use it), but this seems a bit drastic if you have good battery still.
Do you want me to summarize this entire article in one sentence? iOS 9 is a solid release from Apple which builds on the features of past releases to deliver better performance and a more fluid experience across core functions. Simple as that. It is not going to call down aliens from the sky. It won’t change your home screen, and there’s certainly no big must-have feature here.
What does exist is a refined operating system which is well supported by even older devices. Apple knows that many of its customers can be loyal, and for this reason they have maintained compatibility on even older hardware. While the performance will never be as good as prior on these aging devices, it is acceptable for the time. It remains to be seen how well the company helps users who are still on lower-storage options, and whether the new tools given to developers (such as app thinning) will provide for lower footprint apps. In theory, apps optimized for iOS 9 should be 30-40% lighter in size. Apple has even said they might look into deleting native apps and if this comes even with iOS 10, (or will it be iOS X?), 16 gig users will benefit the most. The strategy remains to be seen, but with 9 we’re being shown a continuing sense of long-term support and polish which Apple badly needed to do.
Just like with Windows 10, have some Keyboard commands!
Microsoft isn’t the only company that got its act together with their keyboard shortcuts. Appple joins the ranks with the iPad as well, by providing the following army of functions. These are app specific, so let’s go through it one by one.
- New message: Command +N.
- Forward: Command + Shift + F.
- Reply All: Command + Shift + R.
- Mark as spam: Command + Shift +J. For junk. Spam is junk.
- Flag message: Command+ Shift+ L
- Previous message in folder: Command +up arrow. Can you guess what Command + Down arrow does?
- If you couldn’t guess, command + Down arrow goes to the next message.
- Fetch messages: Command + Shift +N. Ah, the smell of fresh mail.
- Search mail: Command + Option +F.
- Bolt, italics, underline: Just like in Microsoft Word, use command +B, I, or U to do this.
- Turn Selected Text Into a Title or Heading: Use Command + Option + T or Command + Option + H after selecting text.
- Magically convert a note into a checklist: Command + Option +L.
- New note: Command +N.
- Find on page: Command +F.
- Refresh page: Command +R.
- New tab: Command+T.
- Close tab: Command+ W.
- Show reader: Command +Shift +R.
In most apps, that command +N command should also work to create a new item. For example, in contacts, you can use it to add a new contact. Where else can you use command +N inside iOS 9 on iPads? Let’s go on a scavenger hunt!