Apple doesn’t often publicize dot-releases. They’ll go out of their way to talk about big releases like iOS 7, 8, and 9…but you won’t often see them make a big deal about anything but their major software releases, or a dot-release that enables some sort of new hardware tie-in (like the introduction of CarPlay).
All of that is why iOS 9.3 so interesting. There’s no new hardware that’s rumoured to be released alongside iOS 9.3, so this really does seem to be a pure software update. However, unlike the iOS 9.1 and 9.2 before it, this update isn’t just about bug fixes and stability. iOS 9.3 brings some awesome marquee features with it, and it even has its own dedicated preview page. I’ll let Apple’s preview page speak for the major features, but I wanted to cover some of the smaller details of the beta.
Living day in and day out with an iPad Pro gives you a lot of time to get acquainted with the tiny, annoying, everyday bugs. John Gruber pointed out one of them out in his initial iPad Pro review: the spacebar didn’t work properly in Safari. A tap of the spacebar was supposed to scroll about 3/4 down the webpage, but leave you just enough context to keep things easy to read. This wasn’t the case with iOS 9.0-9.2. Thankfully, iOS 9.3 has fixed this and tapping the spacebar within Safari acts much like it does on OS X. Between this change and the new keyboard shortcuts added in iOS 9, it’s actually really pleasant to surf with a keyboard in Safari now. I love it, and there’s basically nothing I want to do that I can’t already accomplish with my Smart Keyboard.
Home is where the Command Key is
iOS 9.3 also changes the shortcut for getting back to the Home screen. In previous versions, you had to press CMD + Shift + H to get back Home. Evidently, people were finding that this was one key too many, because the shortcut in iOS 9.3 is simply CMD + H. This works really nicely and makes it very easy to trigger the shortcut with either your right or your left hand. I’m not entirely sure this change will stick, though, as some apps (like OmniFocus 2) already use the CMD + H shortcut. We’ll have to wait a few betas to where we net out.
iCloud for iBooks
iBooks has long been able to sync bookmarks, but if you’ve wanted a downloaded .epub (like ones from the great Humble Bundles) across all of your devices, you had to send each book separately to each of your iOS devices. iOS 9.3 will solve this by enabling iCloud sync across all copies of iBooks. It’s essentially an iCloud Photo Library, but for books. Deleting a book on one of your devices will delete it on all of them, but adding a book to your iPhone will cause that book to sync to your iPad, as well.
Well, mostly. This is just the first beta, and this functionality doesn’t seem to be working perfectly yet. Syncing from iPhone to iPad works, but not from iPad to iPhone.
Keyboard shortcuts, please!
Apple has also added the Feedback app to the home screen on iOS 9.3, so I’m submitting as many detailed reports as I can in the hopes of improving hardware keyboard support on iOS 9. There are three big gaps I’d really like fixed before iOS 10:
- Spotlight Search should be navigable via the keyboard. You can use the arrow keys to select search results in Safari, so you should be able to do the same thing with Spotlight Search results. Currently, you can summon Spotlight and type out a search with the keyboard…but you still have to tap on a result to go anywhere.
- Cmd + Tab needs to work better with regards to Split View. If you have two apps open side by side — say, Ulysses and Evernote — then you should be able to Cmd + Tab between the two apps to trigger where you want to type. If I’m typing in Ulysses, I should be able to switch back to Evernote via the keyboard and start typing there. However, what happens right now is that whichever app has an active text field captures all of the keystrokes, and the task switcher doesn’t help to switch the priority from one app to the other. If the task switcher doesn’t help to move the cursor from one app to another, there’s no reason to show both apps in the task switcher in Split View because there’s no differentiation so between them at the OS level.
- Keyboard shortcuts need to stay consistent at all times. This was a problem with iOS 9.2 and remains a problem in 9.3b1. Sometimes CMD + H just stops working altogether, and you can’t use the shortcut to go home until 15-20 minutes go by. I haven’t been able to trace what brings the shortcuts back — I’ve tried disconnecting the keyboard and toggling the sleep/wake button — but they usually do come back after 15-20 minutes.
I went a little deeper than usual into these issues, but that’s because I’ve really been enjoying working on iOS. I don’t think it needs to be as keyboard-centric as OS X, but now that Apple has an official keyboard accessory they’re marketing heavy alongside the iPad Pro, I think they should put support behind it. I don’t think we need a pointing device on a tablet, but good keyboard shortcuts go a long way towards increasing productivity. I’m looking forward to seeing what changes in the next few betas.