Random Thoughts and Tips for iOS 9

Every year about June, Apple announces the beta for the new update to iOS. About that time I swear off the beta, reminding myself how miserable I was last time I installed a beta iOS. Then a little fuse gets lit inside my brain. It’s long enough to burn for a few weeks and then explodes in an explosion of complete disregard for common sense leading me to install the new iOS beta on my iPhone and iPad.

This year I installed the betas in late June and have now been using iOS 9 every day for over two months. I’m not going to write a thorough review. Instead I’m going to share a few thoughts and tips I picked up over the last couple months:

  • Here are some words I thought I’d never write: One of the stars of the new iOS is the Notes app. I’d written the Notes app off entirely years ago. (Remember Marker Felt?) The new version is really impressive. You can format text, add pictures, links, drawings, and add check boxes. Moreover, getting data into Notes is easy with the Notes extension sprinkled throughout the operating system in a way that only Apple software could. Syncing has been solid and I’ve been testing it with a database in excess of 250 notes. As Mr. Plain Text guy, I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do for managing notes but Notes is absolutely a contender, especially if you’re looking to store pictures and media with your notes. (Indeed this post has been a running bit of text in Notes throughout the beta.)
  • The iPad updates, including Slide Over and Split Screen work as advertised. Once you use your iPad with two apps open, you’ll never be able to go back. The keyboard improvements and mouse cursor with two fingers are also quite handy. Don’t forget you can do that two finger mouse thingy on or off the keyboard. While these are all nice updates, it feels to me like there is still work to be done on iPad “productivity”. For instance, why can’t I drag and drop between two split screen apps? It feels to me like the Apple train is now in motion in terms of increased iPad productivity but there is still plenty of work to do. Also, if you’ve got a keyboard connected to your iPad, command-tab is golden.
  • Siri continues to improve. I won’t tell you to try Siri again if you’ve previously given up on it since I seem to do that about once a month around here but it is getting better. There are new commands, “What’s a 20% tip on $23.32”, and dictation transcription continues to improve.
  • When I first heard Spotlight was going back to a separate screen (swipe to the right), I was unhappy. I didn’t want another screen. I was wrong. the new Spotlight is significantly better with recent people, apps, places, and news.
  • The ProActive assistant stuff sounds like a great idea but I didn’t see it in action as much as I expected. Guessing at who’s calling (by comparing an incoming phone number to phone numbers found in email) is awesome. I also liked when it would give me an ETA for my trips as I got in my car but that was inconsistent. I had several flights during this period and ProActive Assistant never sussed that out. I like that Apple wants to make the phone smarter without stepping over the creepy line but I suspect that like iPad productivity, this is going to take a few years for full realization.
  • Low Power Mode is for real and saved me a few times on days where I was running out of battery. I couldn’t tell if I was getting the promised extra battery life but that’s probably going to be more apparent after iOS 9 gets out of beta. (Today!)
  • Maps is like Siri. It just keeps getting better.
  • The News app is nice and now it’s on every iPhone. I’m interested to see how many people adopt this. (MacSparky.com is an approved publisher by the way but I’m still sorting out some issues before works properly in News.)
  • You can now search settings. The nerd in me loves that.
  • The San Francisco font gives the iPhone more personality than Helvetica ever could. After using the new font for a few months, I couldn’t imagine going back to the old one.
  • You can now know when the keyboard capitalization key is on and when it is not. Hallelujah!
  • I’m all for the new six digit security code. You can turn it back to a four digit code but if you’re using TouchID, why would you?

This year’s update isn’t nearly as big as last year’s and that’s a good thing. The new iOS includes some real nice tweaks and fixes but shouldn’t turn your world upside down. I think that’s exactly what we needed this year.