Apple announced iOS 9, the latest version of its mobile OS, at WWDC 2015 this past June. Since then, I’ve been using various pre-release versions of this system on my iPhones, iPads and my iPod touch, and I upgraded to the final version last week. Here’s what I see, from the perspective of a Windows and Windows phone user.
This is an incomplete look. But it’s not because I’m mostly a Windows guy: I’ve actually used iOS 9 quite a bit already. But even my rather extensive experience with this new system isn’t a complete look because some features require new hardware that I don’t have (yet). For example, the unique side-by-side multitasking functionality in iOS requires an iPad Air 2 (I only have the original Air, plus an iPad mini 2) or an iPad Pro (due in November). The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus will provide some unique functionality related to their 3D touch hardware (I’ve ordered a 6S Plus). And there are some other things, like CarPlay integration which requires, yes, a compatible car.
What I do see in iOS 9 is mostly positive. But this is a very minor update over iOS 8.x on the devices I do use regularly—iPhone 6 Plus and iPad mini 2—full of refinement and not revolution. Not a criticism, just an observation.
Apple has fixed some of my pet peeve annoyances in this release, and for that I am grateful. Thanks to their surprisingly decent new News app, I guess—it’s sort of like Apple’s version of Google Play Newsstand—Apple has gotten rid of the terrible Newstand folder from previous iOS versions, freeing the news apps I really do use—New York Times and Wall Street Journal—from their prison and letting me access them normally right from the home screen. Thank God.
The Passport feature from previous iOS versions has been renamed, logically enough, to Wallet, but it looks and works as before. Here, you can access your Apple Pay payment methods, boarding passes, movie tickets, retail store coupons, and more. (And soon, you will be able to add store credit cards and reward cards.) Apple Pay—and by extension this iOS Wallet app—have emerged as the standards for electronic payments and wallet, and while it’s possible Android Pay will catch up this year—I’m still waiting for it to appear on my phones—we simply have nothing like this on Windows. That alone makes Windows phones a non-starter for many.
Apple has significantly improved the virtual keyboard in iOS 9, adding some nifty features (that often only appear when the device is used in landscape view) like a shortcut bar with Bold/Italic/Underline choices and a new text selection feature that works when you move two fingers over the virtual keyboard.
Less successful is the new Notes app. Not because it’s terrible—it’s a major change from the previous bare-bones app—but because it’s so superfluous in this world dominated by Evernote and OneNote. And it is of course it is heavily tied to the Apple ecosystem, with iCloud integration. Which means it is inherently not interesting to me. That said, it is also integrated nicely into Share, so if you are an Apple fan and do use this app, it’s always handy.
Maps has likewise been updated, with Apple seemingly hell-bent on fixing the issues of the past and erasing memories of Scott Forestall. To that end, Maps includes transit directions for the first time, and, as useful, Nearby, which is Local Scout-like access to local restaurants, bars, shopping, and other places. I don’t use Apple Maps—who would when Google Maps is available?—but Apple wisely adds that Local Scout-type functionality to the search page that appears when you swipe left on the home screen. From here, you can find food (humorously time-based, so in the morning you see “Breakfast” and “Coffee” choices), convenience stores and gas. Smart.
Speaking of search, Siri gets a major update in iOS 9 and even tells jokes now, just like Cortana. You can ask her new types of questions like “Show me photos from August 2014,” which will do so with the Apple Photos app, or “Remind me to buy Stephanie flowers,” which of course adds a reminder to the Reminders app. You can get answers to questions (“Who won the San Francisco Giants game?”), get weather forecasts, and all the expected stuff. But Siri is also sporting new proactive features that, frankly, I’ve not experienced a lot so far. What I have seen is Siri prompting me to add email-based travel to my calendar. And of course the Google Now-style reminders that it’s time to go when an event is coming up. These are useful additions, and there is apparently a lot more to it, but I just don’t use iOS regularly enough to know how this compares to Google Now, overall, which I believe to be the gold standard for this kind of intelligence.
Apple promises better battery life and performance, but I’ve seen nothing measurably different, aside from my old iPod touch, which is arguably slower now. One thing Apple did come through on is the size of the update: Where iOS 8 was a 4.6 GB mess, iOS 9 weighs in at just 1.3 GB. This makes the update much easier to install, both in time and in required storage space, a big deal for the many stuck with low-end 16 GB iDevices.
Obviously, iOS 9 is a no-brainer for Apple fans, especially those with modern devices. Looking at it from the increasingly small Windows side of the fence, I don’t see a major change from iOS 8, though that was already a formidable adversary, and of course some of the new features I can’t yet test—multitasking on iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro, and of course the 3D touch stuff—will really put Apple’s system over the top. At some point you have to just admit that the rest of the world is moving forward while the platform you love—Windows phone, Windows 10 Mobile, whatever it’s called this year—is just stuck in the past. And while iOS 9 is hardly the final nail in the coffin, it is absolutely another nail of many.