iOS is arguably the most sophisticated, seasoned mobile operating system available today. Love it or hate it, we are currently running the ninth version iOS–and there are no signs of slowing down any time soon. Apple has approached updates to iOS with the “slow and steady” mindset. There has never been a silver bullet update to end all updates, and I’m ok with that–mostly. It’s hard to be patient, especially when there are whispers each year of purported upgrades, and new features planned for iOS. One thing we can count on, though–Apple won’t release/introduce a new feature unless it’s ready for primetime. This can be frustrating at times, especially when we crave the next big thing. However, in the end, the user experience is king regardless of any features added to the latest version of iOS.
Over the years, one of the biggest enigmas with iOS has been the stale, unchanging home screen layout. The first screen we see when we power on our iPad’s and iPhone’s, is in need of major upgrade. The current layout has become boring and outdated. It’s true that many new iOS users may find comfort in knowing that a quick press of the home button will always bring them to the same screen _every_ time. But does this mean that this screen has to remain a boring grid of icons–even after 9 iterations of the OS? I say no, and it has never been more clear than after the introduction of the iPad Pro.
If you had spoken to me earlier this month, I would have told you that I was definitely going to be leaving Apple Music and returning to Spotify. It’s not the fact that I don’t “own” my music, because $10 for unlimited streaming and offline access (as long as I stay a subscriber) seems quite fair to me. Rather, it’s the implementation of Apple Music within iOS 9 that doesn’t feel right.
Simple things like the difficulty I have in seeing the list of songs in my currently playing album. This was never an issue when I synced with iTunes or used iTunes in the Cloud. But tapping the three dots (•••) and tapping on the album art doesn’t always work. Sometimes I’m just brought to an empty album that reads *null*. Having this happen multiple times over the course of a week has definitely put a dent in my desire to explore the service further.
Then there are instances of the iTunes versions of songs being different from what I had in my own library. A slight remix, starker instrumentals — you notice very quickly when a song you’ve listened to for years is suddenly different. I swear the Lost In Translation OST on iTunes is different than I remember.
But then I thought about the alternatives. None of the nearest competitors, like Spotify or Rdio, can currently interact with Siri. That means I can’t utter commands like “play more songs like this” or “play the song ABC”. That only works in the first-party Music app, and I love having that convenience around.
Then there’s the fact that I own an Apple Watch, and although it doesn’t communicate with my iPad, it has quickly become one of my favourite ways to choose and pause my music. I could skip and pause songs that play from my Rdio/Spotify through the Watch, but there’s no interface to choose specific artists or albums. Once again, Apple’s own apps and services hold the advantage here.
I try to keep things iPad specific when I write here, but that doesn’t seem like the best way to discuss a service like Apple Music that is so integrated with all of the devices I own. That’s ultimately what is keeping me on as a subscriber, at least for the next few months, as I give the device a chance to improve. There are a number of kinks to work out, but it’s hard to beat how well the entire service is baked into iOS.
Let’s take a bit of a break from criticizing iOS 9 and shine a light on one aspect that has been working really well so far: Spotlight Search for third-party apps. I honestly had my doubts about this one when it was announced. It’s an exciting prospect and could prove to be a new, extremely powerful way to navigate your information, regardless of the app. That’s because it’s often easier to remember a piece of information (“pie recipe”) rather than which app you’ve placed that information in. Swiping between different home screen pages and opening app folders can very quickly become disorienting, and I’ve often found myself entering apps only to ask: what was I looking for again? Spotlight search for third-party apps addresses this issue by letting you type into the search bar and find relevant results, organized by app.
Once implemented by an iOS 9-compatible app, specific developer-specified strings of your data become indexed for Spotlight search. Some examples of apps doing this are:
- search the inbox (but not archive) for the title or contents of any note
- search for notes by title in any notebook available on your device
- search for notes by title + content in any notebook available on your device
- enter the name of a movie and see IMDB results in Spotlight
It’s been a while since I’ve written about third-party keyboards for the iPad, and that’s because the experience on iOS 8 really sucked, despite there being some really great ideas out there. I love how Fleksy lets me almost touch-type on the iPad’s screen, or how SwiftKey and Swype let me drastically reduce the number of keystrokes needed for long-form writing. Even Nintype’s really aggressive reimagining of a keyboard was interesting.
Keyboards would crash while switching between multiple iMessage chats, and it made Spotlight searches a lot tougher when no keyboard came up at all.
Apple hasn’t actually talked about third-party keyboards since they were announced at WWDC in 2014, and I think it’s because they’re just not a priority. That’s a crying shame because even though the QuickType keyboard is good, there are a number of other solutions that are better and faster for long-form typing. SwiftKey generates eerily accurate next-word predictions for me because I gave it access to some of my social networking data. I have years and years of my own software keyboard data available to Apple’s QuickType keyboard, but it still creates bizarre, laughable sentences out of its next-word predictions.
Much has been said about the lack of new features in iOS 9. Many refer to Apple’s latest software update as more of an under the hood refinement. iOS can definitely benefit from a tune-up, with a greater concentration made in making the the OS run more efficiently. Too often with each new iteration, consumers, and especially tech writers, get caught up in the bullet list of new features and capabilities. We tend to forget that none of that really matters if the OS is slow, buggy and uncooperative. Having said that, there is no way that Apple would miss an opportunity to introduce at least a handful of new attributes for iOS. After digging around I made a wanted to share (5) of my favorites.
Now that we’re seeing more iOS 9 app updates hitting the store, more of you will probably have had the chance to use apps in Slide Over and Split View mode. As a reminder, here are the basics of how these features work:
- Slide Over loads an app in a compact, iPhone-like view over your current app; they are not loaded simultaneously. Think of Slide Over like dragging a smaller piece of paper over a larger one.
- Split View is true multitasking, but only on iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro. You can run two apps side by side, with one app taking the majority of the space, or two apps sharing the screen equally.
- Both modes are activated with a slide-in gesture along the right side of the screen
- Switching out a Slide Over or Split View app requires a downward swipe in the top-right corner, which reveals a single column of compatible app icons to choose from
- Apps won’t work in Slide Over or Split View unless they’ve been specifically updated to do so
It took me a little while to remember to use these multitasking features, especially since banners and the ‘back’ button already aid in a lot of my multitasking needs. However, there’s no question that revealing an iMessage conversation with one swipe is a very powerful feature. I tend to use Slide Over more than Split View — but that’s probably because only a handful of my daily apps have received iOS 9 updates. I’m still waiting on Evernote, Paper, 2Do, and others.
However, one thing that I’ve wondered about this interface is how well it will scale. It was easy to use during the iOS 9 beta because only Apple’s own apps would show up in the Slide View bar. In other words, there really weren’t that many to choose from, and there were only so many useful combinations. Notes and Safari, Photos and iMessage, or Reminders and iMessage were really the only apps I would to run side by side. However, expanding that selection to include third-party apps changes a lot, and the UI for selecting Slide Over apps doesn’t scale — it just becomes a longer list.
This isn’t too bad if I’ve just been switching between a few apps for Slide Over, but what about the times I’d like to use Reminders and Safari…but Reminders is a good 10–20 apps up the list? The unfortunate answer is: a lot of scrolling. I have over 33 apps that are compatible with Slide Over, and they aren’t sorted in alphabetical order. I think a one-colum interface is the wrong way to go about tackling this issue.
As such, I think this will be one of the first UI changes that Apple makes to iOS 9. I think the interface should remain very simple: no search function or folders should be necessary. Simply displaying two or three columns instead of icons would do a lot more for users than showing just one. Apple would have to balance this system out to make sure it doesn’t look too visually cluttered, but if the icons were small enough, I think it could work.
Anyone have suggestions for how to improve this situation, or is this just a UI nuance we’ll get used to quickly?
iOS 9 is here, and it should be a lot easier to download for users with 16 GB iPads due to the decreased install size.
Once you’ve upgraded, you’ll probably want to look into these features:
- Back Buttons: whenever you enter an app due to a notification, the top-left corner of the screen will turn into a back button. Tapping there will take you back to the app you were using moments before. Very Android, and very handy.
- Split Screen and Slide-over: this will take a while to test as more apps roll out over the coming week, but if you’ve got chatty friends, this will be instantly useful. Browse in Safari, swipe from the right side to respond to iMessages, then tap right back into your browser. Or, if you’ve got an iPad Air 2, launch iMessage and Safari as split screen apps for equal parts chatting and surfing.
- Keyboard improvements: the keyboard in iOS 9 reflects the current letter case of your keys, and has a built-in shortcut bar with dynamic controls for the app you’re using. What’s more, two fingers on the keyboard will turn the whole thing into a trackpad, allowing you to move the text cursor with precision. Much, much better than that magnifying glass we’ve been using for years.
- Mini Safari: this one’s actually called Safari View Controller, but in practice it feels like mini version of Safari built into third-party apps. It’s active right now within Twitterrific, and it’s really awesome. Not only is the navigation experience more consistent across apps, but you also get the benefits of iOS 9 extras like auto-fill (for your passwords).
- Spotlight improvements: Rob wrote some Spotlight search tips earlier this year, but we’ll need to update that list. iOS 9 and Siri empower Spotlight to do more powerful searches for local files (provided that an app supports this) or for quick calculations (e.g., currency or weight conversions).
There’s a lot more to talk about in iOS 9, but these are little gems that you can test moments after you install. If you’d like in-depth overviews, iMore and MacStories have some incredible iOS 9 reviews out right now.
As for me, I’ll be delving into the medium term usability of Slideover apps, re-examining third party keyboards, and testing to see how useful local search really is. Stay tuned!
For users of Android devices, the idea of a back button isn’t new. It’s the button you press on an Android smartphone or tablet to bring you back to the previous page (within an app), or to the last app you used. iOS 9’s take on the back button is a little more straightforward, though.
Instead of being an always-present software button, the back button only appears after you’ve tapped on a notification or a widget within the Notification Center. For example, if I’m browsing in Safari and I tap on an iMessage banner, the back button will appear in the top-left corner of the screen so that I can go back to Safari when I’m done responding to a message.
The integration of the back button is great in a couple of ways:
- It’s a new feature that adds shortcuts for advanced iPad users, but it doesn’t take up any space when it isn’t needed. It also does not replace any existing shortcuts, so it won’t confuse users who aren’t computer-savvy.
- The back button disappears after a period of ~2 minutes, so if I decide to chat for a while, the UI will adapt to what I’ve chosen to do.
- The back button helps to preserve a sense of place in iOS. It can be easy to lose myself in all of the icons on my homescreen after I leave an app, but a back button is a literal reminder of what I might want to return to.
I think this change in iOS 9 is going to be one of the best and most underrated new features this Fall. It isn’t as sexy as split-screen multitasking or rumoured Force Touch shortcuts, but the back button has made iOS a lot faster and more pleasant to use.
I read some great news from @Ticci of MacStories earlier today. Apple’s latest beta, iOS 9 b4, has solved a problem that has been plaguing developers for a few years now. Many excited tech fans — including yours truly — will flock to each new iOS beta as it’s released over the course of the summer. However, these betas are just that: software that is still undergoing testing. It isn’t ready for primetime yet, even though 80-90% of the features may be working.
The issue has been that people who sign up for the betas don’t always realize this, and they’ll leave a slew of damaging 1-star reviews for apps on the App Store. The developers are unable to address the reported bugs because they can’t issue updates that use beta code until the official release of iOS in the Fall. As a result, the 1-star reviews were left to stand, and there was little that the developers could do about this.
Thankfully, as of iOS 9 b4, whenever you try to leave an app review, you’ll be confronted with the screenshot I’ve included above. This change was almost certainly a result of developer and community feedback, and it’s great to see that Apple has listened.
I stopped using Notes on my iOS devices very early on. This was partly due to the hilarious Marker Felt fonts of previous iterations of the app, but mainly due to the lack of flexibility. It took a long time for Notes to mature as a modern note-taking app, but that time is here.
To start, there are a few big advantages to using the Notes app. you can create or append to existing notes using Siri. Holding the Home button and saying “note that I watched Pacific Rim and loved it” will create a note saying as much. “Add Spider-Man to my Movies note” will append that text to a note I have specifically for movies I’ve seen. Given the most recent speed upgrades to Siri, this has become a really fast and reliable way to add new notes in a hands-free setting.
Notes are also fully searchable from within the app, and from the Search bar on the homescreen. Search is incredibly important for notetaking systems, and they’re one of the biggest differentiators between digital and handwritten notes. If you’re not keen on organizing notes into various folders, digital notes can be very forgiving by allowing you to search for key words or phrases to increase your chances of recalling that information.
However, these features were around before iOS 9. The real meat of iOS 9 notes improvements comes down to:
During the World Wide Developer Conference a little over two weeks ago, Apple released the first beta version of iOS 9 to developers. Many tech bloggers expect the public release of iOS 9 later this summer to be a “minor” upgrade from iOS 8 in terms of “new” features. However, it is widely believed that a concentrated effort made to focus primarily on stability and performance would be a welcomed deviation with an operating system as mature as iOS. The lack of a “laundry list” of new features is unlikely to deter the die-hard iOS faithful, and probably won’t play a big role in discouraging users from wanting to test out the beta.
There is always a electric buzz in the air this time of year for Apple and iOS. WWDC serves as the kindling for the summer excitement that continues to catch fire and build until new iPhones and iPads are released alongside a refreshed version of iOS in late September/early October. With this excitement, comes a desire by many to acquire access to an iOS developer account which grants them certain “privileges” the average consumer must wait for–specifically, the ability to download the latest beta version of iOS ahead of the public launch.
With great power, comes great responsability
I know what you’re thinking–I _really_ want to try out iOS 9 NOW–I don’t care that it’s still in beta. Well, truth-be-told, beta is beta. Pre-released versions of iOS software are released exclusively for those who develop for Apple, and iOS. Access to beta software aids developers in making their apps the best they can be so that when the newest iPads and iPhones are released to the public their apps work from the start. From Apple…