Review: iOS 9 delivers polish and stability

Apple's free update to its mobile OS delivers relevant information, smarter search and better security

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Another app that has gotten a host of new improvements is Notes. It is now a lot more versatile, with the built-in keyboard sporting a new toolbar with formatting options for text, as well as checklist creation, Camera and Photo library access, and a sketch mode. On the iPhone, this menu can be accessed by pressing the + button on the right, just above the Predictive Text bar; on the iPad, the Undo, Checklist and text formatting apps sit on the keyboard just to the left of three Predictive Text entries, while Camera and Photo Library access and sketch are the right of the Predictive Text entries.

What do those buttons do? The Text button allows formatting for basic bold, underline and italics, as well as titles, heading, body and a few list options. The Checklist creation button lets you create lists, including the ability to check them off as they're completed. The Camera avatar let you easily place photos in Notes by either taking a picture using Camera or plucking the photo from Photo Library, and the Sketch mode allows for sketching in a note with your finger, using a variety of tools and colors.

It's now easier than ever to add entries into Notes via the Share button. And Notes supports Safari links, including small previews. Just like Messages, Notes lets you view all attachments in one place via the Attachment Browser. And, of course, any changes to Notes are automatically synced across your other devices, Macs included.

In iOS 9, HealthKit has received a few decent updates. Some categories, such as Sleep, are now sorted under different colors. More importantly, HealthKit now supports entries for water intake, sedentary state, UV exposure, and the new Reproductive Health category. There's a new toggle under the Health Data selection that lets you view a day's worth of data collection in one location. You can toggle this view on by tapping Calendar under Health Data in the Health app.

The Passbook app is now called Wallet, but the job remains the same: It's a one-stop location for movie tickets, coupons, boarding passes, credit cards and loyalty cards. In iOS 9, Wallet support has expanded to include more retailers, including BJs, Kohl's, JC Penney and Walgreens, with upcoming support for the Dunkin Donuts loyalty card.

For those who use Apple Pay, tapping the Home Button twice on the lock screen will bring up your default card; you no longer have to wait that split second for Apple Pay to activate when held up against an NFC reader.

There are a couple of new apps, too. The first is iCloud Drive. Thus far, the iCloud services have been an important aspect of the iPhone experience, invisibly keeping contacts, calendars, and documents current across all of your devices. Users have asked for more control over the process, and iCloud Drive is Apple's answer. Like Dropbox or OneDrive, iCloud Drive is a repository for storing, organizing and sharing documents. If an app supports iCloud document storing, the files can be found sorted by default under a folder named after the app.

The second new app is the aforementioned News, which collects news from a variety of sources, customized to individual user preferences when first launched. News supports bookmarking articles for later, media like photos and videos, stats and infographics, and articles that include animations and other graphics.

News also learns your interests, allowing for better suggestions under the For You section. Your selections are set across all of your devices, so you can pick favorites on one device and all of your devices are automatically configured. Additions or subtraction of news sources, channels or interests are applied universally as well.

For the iPad

The iPad lineup gains some significant features that enhance its usability. First, the iPad keyboard now has shortcuts for Undo/Redo, Cut/Copy/Paste, access to the camera, the ability to add attachments and, in Notes, checklist creation and sketch mode. The keyboard also supports trackpad-like functionality when you place two fingers on the glass and drag them around the screen, allowing you to precisely place the cursor anywhere you need it to be.

To take advantage of the iPad's larger screen (compared to the iPhone), Notification Area for iPad now supports a two-up mode when held in Landscape orientation, showing the Today view and Notifications/Widget alerts side by side in lists that can be scrolled independently of the other.

slide over

iOS 9’s new Slide Over feature lets you quickly open a second app -- in this case, Apple’s News app in the smaller window to the right -- while leaving the app you were using still in the background (on the left).

More importantly, the iPad interface now supports user multitasking -- the ability to use two apps at once -- as long as you have an iPad Mini 2 or 3, or the iPad Air or Air 2. When in an app, a swipe from the right edge of the iPad display will call up either a recently used app or a list of available apps. This Slide Over view lets you quickly jump into using another app without leaving the existing app by swiping down from the top of the Slide Over view to bring up an App Switcher.

If you own one of those iPads, you can also take advantage of picture-in-picture support for FaceTime calls and when watching videos. To activate, press the Home Button or tap the new shrink icon within the video, and the video shrinks while continuing to play, floating above the other apps.

split screen on ipad

One of iOS 9’s new features for the iPad -- and likely to be popular with iPad Pro owners -- is the split-screen view that allows you to run two apps at the same time. This Split Screen shows the Safari browser (left) and the Maps app (right).

And if you use an iPad Air 2 (or the upcoming iPad Pro), you can pull an app to the center of the screen and the iPad will create a split-screen view of both apps. This view is perfect for, say, researching topics while writing reviews. To leave split screen and go back to the traditional full screen view, just pull the dividing border from the center of the screen all the way to the right or left, depending on which app you want to remain.

These changes open up new and powerful ways to use the device without introducing interface clutter. Apple isn't the first to the split-screen party; for iPad users, it's a case of better late than never.

There are a slew of other changes as well. The letters on the virtual keyboard change from lowercase to uppercase to reflect what the user is doing and the menu bar shows the name of the last app used in the upper left corner if a tap in one app brings you to another.

And there are security upgrades. iCloud services now support two-factor authentication, and devices equipped with Touch ID now require a minimum of six digits for the passcode rather than four.

When developers write their apps using standard network frameworks, iOS will enforce best practice for secure transmissions, which is currently set as TLS 1.2 and forward secrecy. And while talk of implementing IPv6 as a default has been around for a long time now, it is now an App Store requirement.

Bottom line

iOS 9 delivers on the attributes Apple is already well known for: innovation, solid design, stability and performance. Given all of the welcome additions, what is most remarkable is how fluid and responsive the OS remains. The fact that it works on devices that are now several years old is a boon, and for those with newer hardware, it's a clear winner.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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