Apple announced iOS 9 on Monday at its annual WWDC event. The latest version is another evolutionary release that will build in the new look first introduced in iOS 7, two years ago.
Apple also announced the next version of Mac OS X, version 10.11 or ‘El Capitane’, and version 2 of WatchOS, the operating system on the Apple Watch. El Capitane looks like a relatively minor update to last year’s Yosemite, and as I don’t own an Apple Watch I’m less interested in WatchOS. So I’m just going to focus on iOS 9 today.
News without the stand
Newsstand, which was introduced in iOS 5, is gone. Taking its place in iOS9 is a new app called ‘News’ which seems to act in a similar way to apps like Flipboard, offering an array of news articles from established sources. Apple is already taking publisher sign-ups now, and any site with an RSS feed should be eligible. Although the form to complete doesn’t work in Firefox. Nearer the time, Apple will be launching its own format as well.
Presumably, Newsstand apps will continue to work as standalone apps in future. I read a couple of railway magazines (don’t judge me) through Newsstand, but I doubt I’ll miss it much when it’s gone.
I can’t see myself using Newsstand as I prefer Feedly, but I’ll give it a try, seeing as Apple will install the app on my devices whether I want it or not.
More powerful notes
The Notes app that has shipped with the iPhone since launch has been pretty basic – your individual notes are just simple text that can be synced to other devices via iCloud. In iOS 9, Notes is being upgraded, and you can now embed checklists, photos and maps. You can also draw sketches, and create notes from other apps – for example, adding a web page to a note. It sounds rather like Evernote, although it won’t have some of Evernote’s more advanced features and I doubt Apple will make a desktop client for Windows.
Apple Maps were first introduced in iOS 6, when Apple dropped Google Maps from being included by default. At the time, Apple Maps was poor, with outdated and inaccurate information, to the point where some people held back from upgrading to iOS 6 until Google released its own app.
I’d like to say Apple Maps has got better since then, but I don’t feel that it has – I still much prefer Google Maps. Where Apple is playing catch-up with Google is the launch of public transport directions in iOS 9, so that you can plan routes involving buses, trains and metro systems. Only a few cities will be supported initially, whereas Google Maps already has extensive support across a number of different countries, including real-time data across the UK. Whilst Apple Maps has the advantage of being integrated with Siri, I think I’ll be sticking with Google.
Passbook in your Wallet
Another app that is being replaced is Passbook – an iOS 6 app which allowed you to store loyalty cards, tickets and boarding passes, amongst other things. I’ve not really used it much in the past because it can be awkward to add your cards in the first place.
In iOS 9, Passbook is being renamed Wallet, and will now incorporate Apple Pay which was launched with iOS 8 on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Apple Pay is launching in the UK next month – the first country outside of the US to get it. And Apple has already signed up most UK banks and many UK retailers; Barclays is the only big bank that isn’t listed, although those in the Lloyds Banking Group (Lloyds, TSB, Halifax and Bank of Scotland) won’t be on board straightaway.
Crucially, Apple Pay uses very similar infrastructure to the existing contactless payment systems which retailers are rolling out. Theoretically, therefore, you’ll be able to use Apple Pay at any outlet which offers contactless. However, unless the retailers have a sign saying otherwise, you will be limited to a maximum daily spend of £20, rising to £30 in September. Those that specifically accept Apple Pay should allow you to spend more, as such payments are authenticated on the device, and it’s probable that more retailers will accept higher value payments over time. The same protections offered to credit card users will apply to payments made by Apple Pay, which is good.
Transport for London should also be able to accept Apple Pay payments wherever contactless payments are enabled – on the Tube, buses, the DLR, London Overground and some National Rail services. I think this is the first time that Apple Pay has been accepted on public transport.
As I don’t have a compatible device, I won’t be able to use Apple Pay but it’s good to see it being embraced widely in the UK. In the US, adoption has been set back by a (seemingly inferior) rival system called CurrentC, with some retailers signing exclusive agreements.
For the first time iOS 9 will allow more than one app on the screen at the same time. The latest and greatest iPad Air 2 will let you have two apps open simultaneously, a bit like on Windows tablet devices. Older iPads, and some iPhone models, will support more limited multitasking: ‘Slide Over’, where you can slide in another app from the side of the screen, and ‘Picture in Picture’, where you can have a small window with a video or FaceTime call showing whilst you use other apps.
Again, Apple is catching up with its rivals here, but it’s still a welcome addition, especially for the iPad.
Apple’s new music service will actually launch ahead of iOS 9 and is due at the end of this month, but it was announced at the same time. All users will get access to a new radio station called Beats 1, and then a subscription service will let you stream just about any song that Apple has in its Music Store library. UK pricing hasn’t been announced, but unlike Spotify there won’t be an ad-supported free tier. Good for Taylor Swift fans, not so good for those who can’t justify a subscription.
And all the small things in iOS 9
As usual, there are some more minor changes in iOS 9:
- The iPad on-screen keyboard has been improved, with dedicated buttons for cut, copy and paste, and a cursor mode for more accurate text selection.
- Siri should now be more intelligent, and be able to respond to contextual cues, for example ‘show me photos taken in June last year’.
- Search will cover more things, including sports results and weather, and will also be able to search within apps for the first time thanks to some new APIs.
- If you receive an email with what looks like an event invitation, it’ll appear in your calendar as a suggested event.
- Your calendar reminders should be able to react to traffic conditions, so if you need to travel to your appointment it will notify you a bit earlier if your journey will take longer.
- iOS 9 should take up less space on your device, which will be great for my 16 GB iPad Mini 2.
- Performance improvements should also allow iOS 9 to run faster, and use less battery power. You can also enable a ‘low power mode’ to conserve the battery if it’s running low.
- The Health app will add ‘reproductive health’, presumably so that people who ovulate can track their menstrual cycles. It settles a major criticism of the app when it was introduced in iOS 8.
- Finally, although it’s only tangentially related to iOS 9, Apple will be launching an Android app that will make it easier for Android users to migrate to an iPhone. It’ll transfer your contacts, messages, photos and other data, and set up a wishlist for equivalent apps. This will be Apple’s second Android app as Apple Music will also be available on Android, presumably because it’s based on Beats Music which is already available as an Android app.
iOS 9 will be out in the autumn, along with whichever new iPhone models Apple launches. An open beta is also available for the first time – it’s no longer restricted to just those with an Apple developer account. However, as I rely on my phone, I’ll wait until the final release in case there are still some major bugs. iOS 8.4 will be out later this month to add support for Apple Music.
One thing to note about iOS 9 is that, whilst not all of its new features will work on all devices, it will run on any device that could handle iOS 8. This includes the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, which date from 2011, meaning that Apple will have supported them for over four years. This is far longer than many rival manufacturers, where you’ll get two years of software updates if you’re lucky. For all that Google promotes its latest and greatest features in Android, many people’s handsets are stuck on older versions.