iOS 9 review

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Review Video Evolution Siri + Search Wallet + Apple Pay Notes Maps News QuickType iPad multitasking Safari Performance Security Efficiency Miscellany Bottom Line

After the radical redesign of iOS 7, which gave us a cleaner, more flexible experience, and the functional revolution of iOS 8, which extended and continued that experience between apps and devices, iOS 9 takes a moment to solidify and round-out everything that's come before, and start us towards everything that's coming next.

This includes making Siri and Search broader and more proactive, expanding Apple Pay, rebuilding Notes, adding transit to Maps, launching a News app, enhancing the QuickType keyboard and bringing multi-app multitasking to the iPad, amping up performance, extending battery life, tightening up security and privacy, and making the update process much more efficient.

Absent the radical and the revolutionary, then, iOS 9 has to deliver on the promise not of more but of better. After the giant leaps, it has to stick the landing. So, does it?

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iOS 9 video review

Give us four minutes and we'll give you the biggest highlight of iOS 9.

iOS 9 evolution

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Header Cell - Column 0
VersioniPhone OS 2iPhone OS 3iOS 4iOS 5iOS 6iOS 7iOS 8iOS 9
Year20082009201020112012201320142015
NameBig BearKirkwoodApexTellurideSundanceInnsbruckOkemoMonarch
FeaturesApp Store
Enterprise enhancements
iPhone SDK
Microsoft Exchange
Accessories access
Calendar enhancements
Cut, copy, and paste
Embedded Maps
In app purchase
Landscape
MMS
Peer-to-peer connectivity
Push notifications (redux)
Spotlight search
Stocks enhancements
Voice Memos
Enterprise enhancements
Folders
Game Center
iAd
iBooks for iPhone
Mail enhancements
Multitasking
Camera enhancements
Game Center
iCloud
iMessage
Newsstand
Notification Center
PC free
Photo enhancements
Reminders
Safari enhancements
Twitter integration
Accessibility enhancements
Apple maps
Chinese enhancements
Facebook integration
FaceTime over cellular
Mail enhancements
Passbook
Phone enhancements
Safari enhancements
Shared Photo Streams
Siri enhancements
Airdrop
Camera enhancements
Control Center
iOS in the Car
iTunes Radio
iWork for iCloud
Multitasking enhancements
Notification Center enhancements
Photos enhancements
Safari enhancements
Siri enhancements
Continuity
Extensibility
Family Sharing
Health
HomeKit
iCloud Drive
Interactive Notifications
Messages enhancements
Photos enhancements
QuickType
Spotlight enhancements
Siri intelligence
Search (new)
Apple Pay enhancements
Notes (new)
Maps (transit)
News
Multi-app (iPad)
ExtrasContact search
Languages
Mail enhancements
MobileMe
Parental controls
Quick look enhancements
Scientific calculator
Open GL ES 2.0
Video Recording
Voice Control
720p
FaceTime
1080p
Siri
Panorama mode120fps Slow motion
Burst mode
FaceTime Audio
Open GL ES 3.0
Touch ID
240fps Slow motion
Adaptive UI
Apple Pay
3D Touch
Live Photos
4K video

Each new version of iOS expands upon, refines, and ultimately advances all the versions that have come before. For details on those previous versions please see the previous reviews:

Previously...

Compatibility and updating

You can download and install iOS 9, for free, on any device capable of running iOS 8. That includes every iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch released since 2011.

  • iPhone 6 Plus
  • iPhone 6
  • iPhone 5s
  • iPhone 5c
  • iPhone 5
  • iPhone 4s
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad Air
  • iPad 4
  • iPad 3
  • iPad 2
  • iPad mini 3
  • iPad mini 2
  • iPad mini
  • iPod touch 6
  • iPod touch 5

Note: Not all features are available on all models. Some require more recent processors or other hardware. We'll note them as and where applicable in the review.

iOS 9 Siri & Search

Siri is Apple's virtual personal assistant. It launched as a beta in 2011 and has been improved and expanded upon every year as part of iOS feature releases, and continuously as part of server-side updates. Most recently that's included new Apple Music commands, and backend improvements that Apple says have made Siri 40% faster and more accurate. But then, when you're handling a billion requests a day, you can never be too fast or too reliable.

With iOS 9, Siri is getting a new interface that looks like Siri on the Apple Watch, with a side-to-side pulse straight out of KITT from Knight Rider or the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica, only in multi-color and multi-wave style.

Siri for Photos

Siri can now find photos on the iPhone and iPad. You can ask for photos based on dates, locations, and albums. If you've set up Faces in Photos for OS X and synced them using iCloud Photo Library, Siri can also find pictures of the people you know. If you don't use Faces, or if the person you ask for isn't in Faces, you'll get image search results from Bing.

So, for example, you can tell Siri to "Show me photos from San Francisco in June" or "show me photos of Katherine". It's a terrific way to quickly and easily find pictures of the people and places that matter to you, and in a way that's far more efficient than simply tapping your way through albums.

Because it requires Photos for OS X, and because of Apple's stance on privacy, however, it takes some effort to get it working. It'd be great if some form of Faces technology could be brought to iOS, and that once you chose to set up a face, the system could do more to bulk process them up for you.

Ideally, I'd be able to tag Kathy on my iPhone or iPad and then, once I plug in for the night, it could automagically start identifying and tagging her in other photos, and perhaps even create a smart album for photos that need confirmation. And yes, I did just sneak a feature request for iOS-side smart albums in there as well.

Siri... This!

Siri's contextual awareness now goes beyond sequential inference, which remembered your previous request so it could use it as a filter for your next one. Siri is now also aware of what you're doing when you ask a question. That means, if you see something in an app like Messages, Mail, Safari, Notes, Maps, etc., you can say "Remind me about this" and Siri will set a Reminder and link it to the content you were interacting with at the time.

Thanks to the same system Apple uses to implement Handoff and universal links (see below), if an app indexes activity, the reminder can take you right back to where you were in the apps as well.

So, for example, if you get sent a picture of an iPhone case and want to remember to look it up later, you can say "remind me about this at 3pm", and a reminder will be set with a link back to the message. Likewise, if a new podcast episode drops while you're busy, you can say "Remind me about this when I leave home", and you'll be able to enjoy it during your commute.

I've been using it a lot, and it's been working fantastically. It's not just a clever way to use activity indexing, it's convenient and genuinely helpful addition to Siri.

Proactive

Siri also becoming more "proactive". What Apple means is that Siri will try to provide you with information it thinks you might need even before you ask for it. When it comes to virtual assistants, prescience can be controversial. That's because, as typically implemented, it requires you to upload significant amounts of personal, private information to a company's servers.

Apple's doing it differently, though. Apple isn't bringing your data up to the cloud, they're bringing the service down to your iPhone or iPad. That way, your data stays yours. It's not shared with Apple or anyone else. It doesn't allow for everything competing cloud-based services offer, but it does balance functionality with privacy and provide an option for people who value the latter even more than the former.

With proactive, when you plug in your headphones, Siri can recognize the behavior pattern, anticipate you're going to go jogging, and bring up Now Playing with your usual playlist. When you connect to your car, Siri can continue the audiobook you were listening to the last time your drove.

When you create a calendar event or mail message with a common subject or group of contacts, Siri can offer you a list of the usual people you invite or copy. When you receive an invitation, Siri can automatically add it to your calendar.

If traffic changes, Siri can alert you to leave for an appointment earlier and provide up-to-date driving directions. When an unknown call comes in, Siri can check your mail and, if it finds the number, suggest who it might be.

It's not as extensive as what Google Now offers, but it also doesn't require perpetual access to your online information and behavior the way Google Now does. And for some that'll be a better deal.

Seamless links

Up until now apps have been mostly opaque to the rest of iOS. Custom URL Schemes and x-callback-url workarounds allowed for some linking between some parts of some apps, but there was nothing approaching transparency, consistency, or ubiquity. You couldn't use the system search to find content inside of apps, you couldn't open web links inside their associated app, you couldn't go to specific content in an app, and even if you could, there was no easy way to get back to where you came from.

Since most people now spend most of their time not on the web but in apps, that's a problem. Apple's solution is to enable deep linking into app content, universal linking to the same content in apps and on the web, and back linking to where you were so you can quickly return from where you went. In other words, to make search and links, apps and the web, seamless.

So, for example, you no longer have to try to recall which app you used to take a note, go there, and browse around in an attempt to find it. You can simply type whatever snippet of the note you remember into search, and the app that contains it will pop up and show it to you. Tap the deep link, and you're in.

If you're looking for a recipe for tasty Canadian poutine, type that into search and not only get website results but results from apps that contain the recipe. The local content is indexed so you can tap a deep link and go directly to the recipe inside the app.

Because metadata, like phone numbers, can be associated with the content, you can also perform actions right from the results. For example, if a restaurant finder app shows you a great new Italian place, you can tap the phone icon to call it.

Anything that can be deep linked can also be search linked. Apple keeps an online index of all deep links developers have specifically tagged as public and associated with web content. That way if you don't have a recipe app or restaurant finder installed, search results can still recommend the app for you, and you can install it to get the information you want.

This adds an entirely new, opportunistic dimension to app discovery. One that's great for developers and customers alike.

The connection between apps and websites also means the days of tapping a link and going to a mobile website are over. Now, a universal link takes you to the same content inside a website's app. For example, if someone sends you a Twitter URL and you tap it, you no longer get condemned to m.twitter.com. Instead, you go straight to the tweet in Twitter.app.

And straight back again. Any time you link out, your previous location is bookmarked. Then a back arrow and label containing the app you just left are added to the very top left of the status bar. They're not persistent and will disappear if you start doing anything else, but if all you want to do is check something quickly and then go right back to where you were, they're magically convenient.

To continue the previous example, you tap a tweet in Messages, view it in Twitter.app, hit the back link, and are immediately returned to Messages so you can keep on chatting.

It works by using the same activity indexing for apps (NSUserActivity (opens in new tab) ) and app registration for websites (app-site association files) that Apple introduced in iOS 8 for Handoff and shared login.

Apple has also added ways for developers to index and associate a variety of features, content, and metadata, both in-app (CoreSpotlight (opens in new tab)) and on the web (Web Markup{.nofollow}).

To make sure the indexes stay up to date, especially in cases where app data changes frequently, an app indexing extension can be provided. CoreSpotlight will call the extension to make sure indexes are up to date.

For online content, including app-associated online content, Apple indexes it in a traditional way using the Applebot web crawler. For app content, however, Apple is thinking differently. They don't want to scrape app content and cram it all into an index. Rather Apple wants to let developers choose what they want to index, and what they think will be most valuable for their users.

Private information, like your activity in apps, is indexed privately on your device. It's done for convenience so you can save your position in a document your were editing, get your latest step count, or return to the exact place you came from in the previous app. It's never shared with Apple or anyone else, and never synced online or to other devices.

There are some caveats, of course. Some of the search features, specifically some of the indexing, are only available to iPhone 5, iPad 4, iPad mini 2, and iPod touch 6 or later devices. (Apple A6 processors or later).

Also, Apple will only let apps owned by a website register for universal links. That's because, in order to work, a developer needs to prove ownership by adding their app details to the app-site association file on their HTTPS server, and associate their website domains in their app entitlements in Xcode.

That's for security reasons, so no malware can try and intercept or steal your data. For example, no fake app can try and take over your Facebook links. But it does mean third party apps are locked out as well. So, if you prefer Twitterrific or Tweetbot for your Twitter links, no joy. Your links will only open in the official apps.

The overall results of the system, however, are lightning fast. Screens slide in and out like the automatic doors on Star Trek, and switching apps is now all but indistinguishable from pulling up embedded views. Perceptively, iOS flies and it's every bit as big an improvement for intra-app discoverability as it is inter-app navigation.

Search and Suggestions

To make voice and text better integrated and more consistent, Siri is largely subsuming Spotlight. Referred to simply as Search, you can now type when you can't talk. (Technically Search also includes Dictation built-in, so you talk even if you didn't want to start with full-on Siri.)

This means natural language input—asking questions the way a human would—is now available with the keyboard as well as the microphone. Search has also been given access to sports scores, stocks, weather, Apple help, YouTube, Vimeo, iCloud drive, Health, holidays, calculations and conversions, and more.

Results can even include actions. So, for example, you can search for a contact and FaceTime, message, or call right from the result. Type "Jerry", tap and call Jerry.

You can't execute commands like Siri, though. At least not yet. So, if you type "message Paul I'll be late" or "shuffle Nine Inch Nails", you'll simply get web search results.

You can still access Search by pulling down on any Home screen, just like you've been able to do since iOS 7. You can also access it by swiping to the left of the main Home screen, just like you could prior to iOS 7. That's right, iOS 9 brings the "minus one" screen back, but with significant improvements. Most prominently, instead of presenting a vast expanse of empty screen, iOS 9 presents Siri Suggestions.

Siri Suggestions are based on things you've recently done, things you typically do, and things the system thinks you might want to do because of time, location, and related activities. You can turn Siri Suggestions off in Settings > General > Siri, but it's all or nothing. There's no way to selectively turn off sections that don't interest you.

The first row is Contacts. So, for example, if you just messaged a friend, their icon might be there so you can quickly message them again. If you typically call your significant other before you leave work every day at 5 pm, your significant other's icon might be there as well, ready and waiting for you to make the call. If you have an appointment with someone in your calendar, their icon might be there in case you need to reach out to them.

This replaces the Favorite and Recent Contacts from the iOS 8 fast app switcher screen and offers the same functionality. Tap one and you get options to call, message, FaceTime, or to go to the Contact card for even more options.

The second row is Apps. So, if you typically check Facebook first thing every morning, Facebook might show up there right on time for you to check it. If you recently downloaded Letterpress but haven't tried it yet, Letterpress could show up there as a reminder. If you're getting close to the airport, your airline app could show up in case you need it.

Proactive results can appear here as well. For example, if you have a dinner reservation at 8 pm, Calendar could show up in its own row, just in time for you to leave, along with all the details, so you can check them at a glance. If a new podcast comes in, the Podcast app could show up in its own row, along with episode details so you can see and start playing it.

You get six icons per row on iPad, but on iPhone, where there's not as much space, you only get four. The iPhone, however, lets you tap to show more suggestions, doubling the total number to eight.

The third row is Nearby. Here you'll find places of interest populated based on time of day and location. For example, in the morning you might see breakfast spots or coffee shops. In the evening, when you typically drive home from work, you might see a gas station or, if you use public transportation, a train station.

The last row is News. It starts off with major stories, breaking news, and popular articles in your region, and then starts curating based on what you've shown an interest in. Tapping a story will take you to that story in the new Apple News app (see below).

You can also choose to show more news, which doubles the amount of stories in the queue.

News is slightly annoying in that, when trying to swipe back to the main home screen, I often find myself opening an article instead. The content is also often less than compelling. I keep hoping it will pull from the For You page on News but, at least so far, no such luck.

Overall, Siri Suggestions and Search give you access to a wealth of activities and information, with just a few words, keystrokes, or taps. That makes it both significantly more powerful and stupendously more convenient.

iOS 9 Apple Pay + Wallet

Passbook on the iPhone began humbly enough, as a way to collect together all your boarding passes, gift cards, coupons, and tickets, all in one place. You could scan codes, but not much more. Last year, Apple added personal credit and debit cards in the U.S., and support for near-field communications (NFC). Apple Pay was born.

Apple Pay

Apple Pay (Image credit: iMore)

Over the last ten months, Apple has added countless new banks and retail partners, expanded to the U.K., and more. Now Apple is adding new card types and, in recognition of its growing role and functionality, renaming Passbook to Wallet. It may not be as distinct a name, but it's a far more appropriate one.

To go along with its new name is some new functionality. Taking a cue from Apple Watch, you can now double-click the Home button with the screen off to bring up Apple Pay. It's a great idea, though it can collide with Touch ID unlocking if you don't nail the timing.

Then there are the new card types: store credit and loyalty/reward cards. Store cards are like credit or debit cards but issued through large retailers. They typically offer you store-specific rewards and benefits when you use them. Apple has mentioned Kohl's Charge, JCPenney Credit Card, and BJ's Wholesale Club as launch partners, with more to come.

Reward cards, sometimes called loyalty cards, don't offer credit or debit, but are used in conjunction with credit or debit cards as a way to get discounts, accumulate points, or enjoy other perks and incentives. All this to encourage you to shop at the retailer more often and give them access to more information.

If you have a supported reward card, Apple Pay will automatically present it to you when you're at check out. Apple has already listed Dunkin' Donuts DD Perks, Walgreens Balance Rewards, MyPanera, Kohl's Yes2You Reward, Coca-Cola's mycokerewards, and Wegmans Food Markets as launch partners and more will be added over time.

Both store and reward cards are important to help increase Apple Pay adoption at retail. Because Apple won't share credit or debit card information with retailers, some of them have resisted implementing it.

Store and reward cards are different. We choose to get them and use them, and to share our information in exchange for whatever privileges they offer. With them, Apple still gets to keep our transactional information private, and the store gets our opted-in reward information. It's a win for everyone and should go a long way towards encouraging the remaining retail holdouts to consider adding Apple Pay.

Now, if we could just get it in even more regions...

iOS 9 Notes

Apple says Notes is used by more than half the company's hundreds of millions of customers. So, in iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, Notes is getting some long-overdue attention. It's not just an interface tweak or a feature graft either—it's a whole new app

It lets you apply styles, including lists, embed data and documents, and even sketch right on the screen. In other words, the new Notes app takes what was barely more than a text pad and makes it a much fuller-featured memory pad.

Styling and checking

Formatting in the old Notes consisted of the barest minimum of options: bold, italic, and underline. The new Notes contains actual style support: title, heading, body, bulleted list, dashed list, and numbered lists. Oh, and checklists.

Tools appear top and bottom right on iPad and bottom on iPhone. When the keyboard comes up, the buttons become part of the new shortcut set on iPad. On iPhone, you need to tap the + icon on the right to make an additional keyboard layer containing the options appear, and tap the X icon to hide it again.

There's a persistent new note button as well. So, if you have a moment of unrelated revelation or inspiration, you can start a separate note immediately without having to back out of the current one first.

In Settings > Notes you can choose for a new note to begin with Title, Heading, or Body, but you can apply any style at any time. You can also tap to start a checklist, or go to any existing text and tap the checklist icon to transform it at any time.

Checklists in Notes might sound like task lists in Reminders, but they're different and are meant to be used differently. Reminders lets you set time- or location-based alerts for your list items and integrates with Calendar and Siri. It's best used for tasks like "pick up the dry cleaning when you leave the office" or "remind me of this at 5 pm".

Checklists, on the other hand, let you keep track of items within the context of your note, but with no functionality beyond the note. It's best for things like a packing lists alongside places you want to go on your trip, or a party list alongside theme ideas.

In other words, if you want to be alerted about something, use Reminders. If you simply want to jot down a list, use Notes.

Sketches and embeds

The biggest advancement in the new Notes app is all the new content types that can be embedded in it. Previously, if you could find the option in the popup menu, you could add a picture. Now, you can add sketches, photos, PDF files, videos, audio clips, web links, map locations, Pages documents, Keynote presentations, Numbers spreadsheets, and more.

On a traditional computer, you might drag and drop a file or snippet of text or data to get it into a note. Since that's not yet possible on iOS, Share Sheets does all the heavy lifting.

From Safari, Maps, Photos, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, etc. choose what you want to embed, go to the Share Sheet, and send it straight to Notes. You can add text to accompany the embed and choose to create a new note or to add it to an existing note.

You can tap the camera icon to add a single photo or video directly to a note but, unfortunately, there's no attachment button to fetch a file from iCloud Drive (or any other data provider) like there is in Mail. Since pull can be much more convenient at times than push, hopefully attaching will come to Notes at some point as well.

Sharing from the Photos app is also the only way to add multiple pictures or videos at the same time. It would be great if the camera button worked the same way as it does in Messages, which does a good job of enabling multi-selection.

Once something is embedded, you can access it easily from the note at any time. Tap on a location or URL embed and it sends you to Maps or Safari respectively. (And thanks to back links in iOS 9, it's now effortless to return.) Video and audio files play inline, and Photos show inline, but you can tap them to get an embedded photo viewer as well. iWork and PDF files open in preview mode but, from there, you can copy them to Keynote, Pages, Numbers, or iBooks. (There, again, is why iCloud Drive attachments would be cleaner.)

Sketches are new and different.

Not to be confused with the Apple Watch communications system of the same name, Sketches are quick illustrations you can scribble out with your finger right on your iPhone or iPad. They can include diagrams, floor plans, flow charts, doodles, even an impromptu game of tic-tac-toe. As the name implies, they add a sketchpad to the writing pad, and a way to capture visual ideas alongside text-based ones.

Available tools include a pen, marker, pencil, ruler, and eraser. The pen is thin but puts out a steady, uniform flow of ink. The marker is thick and puts down wide swathes of color that can be layered. The pencil is lighter and has more grain. You can change the color for them using the swatches in the palette. There are three sets of eight colors, ranging from bright basics to deeper, darker hues, to shades of gray.

The ruler persists until you dismiss it and lets you both measure and draw straight lines. The eraser removes anything the undo buffer can't. There's also a rotate button, and you can save sketches to the Photos app using the Share Sheet. (Sketches are saved as 2048x1536, iPad Retina resolution, PNG files.)

Sketches show up inline, like photos, and you can edit them at any time by tapping on them. The tools aren't anywhere nearly as sophisticated as a drawing app, but they work, and they make the Notes closer to an actual note book.

Sync and search

Notes is still synced using your iCloud account, so if you have an iPhone and an iPad or Mac, anything you note down on one will show up on the other or others. The new versions are different enough, however, that you can only sync iOS 9 with OS X El Capitan and vice versa. So, if you want to use Notes, you'll need to go all in on all your devices. This presents a temporary dilemma for Notes users: OS X El Capitan isn't due out until 2 weeks after iOS 9.

The sole exception to complete, synced bliss is Apple Watch. There's still no sign of Notes for the wrist. Being able to use Siri to briefly dictate something into Notes, or being able to quickly reference something in a note, would be magnificently useful. Hopefully, we'll get that eventually.

If you delete a note, like Photos with iCloud Photo Library, it goes into a Recently Deleted folder where you have around 30 days to restore it before it's purged.

If you want to find a note, Apple has bolstered the built-in search with an attachment browser. That means, if you remember adding something to a note, even if you don't remember the exact note, you can scroll through and pick it out images, sketches, maps, web pages, documents, and more.

With Notes I'm now collecting everything I want to remember, and making them available everywhere I need to remember them.

The main attachment view shows you the most recent embeds. You can tap to preview or open an embed or long press to get a popup and go straight to the note that contains it. In case the one you're looking for isn't recent, you can also tap to show all files of a certain type.

Notes still isn't EverNote or OneNote, but it's far more than ever before, and it'll be enough for many people.

I used the old Notes as a live, iCloud-synced clipboard to move text between my Mac, iPhone, and iPad. With the new Notes, I'm doing a lot more. I'm collecting everything I want to remember, and making them available everywhere I need to remember them.

iOS 9 Maps

The original iPhone Maps app had an interface built by Apple but used data supplied by Google. In iOS 6 Apple began forging their own map-data destiny and, as of June 2015, Apple now handles over 5 billion map requests a day. That's a lot of incentive not only to make Maps better, but to make it great.

iOS 9 improves on indoor updates for big venues, like stadiums and shopping centers, and simplifies CoreLocation (opens in new tab)'s background capabilities, so it's more robust and reliable. All of that translates into a smoother app experience.

More dramatically, iOS 9 resurrects something that was lost in the transition from Google to Apple-sourced data: transit directions.

Yes, really.

Transit directions

Maps now includes bus, train, ferry, and subway directions. They're presented on new clean, color-coded and coordinated cartography meant specifically for transit. That makes it easier to find all the stops and stations along your route. And when you do, you can tap on one an get all the information you need about that station, including all other connecting routes.

If you're worried about accuracy, don't be. Apple claims they've carefully surveyed stations so Maps will be able to provide precise directions from where you are to exactly where you need to be, including the exact entrances to the stations.

Enter a location and tap to get directions, and Maps will provide you with one or more routes or combinations of routes to get you there. Since not all trips are imminent, you can also set the time for later in the day and see what routes are available then. Since not all stops and stations are connected by transit, Maps intersperses walking directions where and as needed.

The bad news is that transit isn't supported in a lot of places, at least not yet. Launch cities include:

  • Baltimore
  • Chicago
  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • San Francisco Bay Area
  • Washington, DC
  • Toronto
  • Mexico City
  • London
  • Berlin
  • Beijing
  • Shanghai
  • Guangzhou
  • Shenzen
  • Around 300 other Chinese cities

Because transit data is typically controlled by municipal fiefdoms, and because there's no standard format or organization, and no incentives for local authorities to play nicely with others, it takes a lot of time and effort to source all the necessary information. (China is centralized and unified, which is why far more of it is available at launch.)

The reality is, though, Apple's competitors started earlier and are much further ahead. Apple will need to work hard—and smart—to catch up.

My city, Montreal, didn't make the shortlist, but I tried out transit in San Francisco while I was there. I don't know the routes like a local, and so can't judge how well Maps navigated them, but the directions were clearly marked and easy to understand, and worked well enough that I didn't feel stressed just looking at them.

Nearby

Search in Maps has gotten easier to use. Tap the search field and you get a list containing your favorite, home, and recent locations and directions, as well as color-coded category icons:

  • Food (orange)
  • Drinks (orange)
  • Shopping (yellow)
  • Travel (green)
  • Services (purple
  • Fun (pink)
  • Health (red)
  • Transport (blue).

Tap an icon and you get... more icons. They're more specific icons that let you filter down and further refine the Yelp-powered list that's also presented.

Every category contains a popular places icon as well as a giant X icon to get back to the main category. Category specific icons include:

  • Food: Restaurants, groceries, fast food, cafes, bakeries, and deserts.
  • Shopping: Shopping centers, apparel, department (stores), home and office, convenience, and sporting goods.
  • Drinks: Coffee shops, tea and juice, stores, bars, breweries, and wine bars.
  • Travel: Airports, travel stations, transit stations, hotels, banks and ATMs, museums, and landmarks.
  • Services: Beauty, laundry, banks and ATMs, pet services, and post.
  • Fun: Nightlife, music and drama, parks and recreation, movies, fun and games, and sports.
  • Health: Fitness, swimming, doctors, dentists, drug stores, and hospitals.
  • Transport: Transit stations, bus stops, parking, auto services, ca rental, and gas stations.

Choosing a category places it in the search bar, drops pins in every applicable location, and provides an optional list of all the places as well. If an establishment isn't open, a helpful "Closed Now" label appears next to it in the list.

Tapping a place still gives you its results card but now, if it's a retailer, the card also tells you whether or not it accepts Apple Pay.

Tap the search field again to can change the category. Tap the X icon to clear it.

Nearby makes it easier to find the places around where you are or where you're going.

Simply put, Nearby makes it easier to find the places around where you are or where you're going, and that makes Maps much more useful.

There are still issues with the service, to be sure, but there are issues with every service. Google still has the edge when it comes to data granularity but, increasingly, Apple is winning experience. That's not unusual, of course, but iOS 9 is the first time it can be said about Maps.

iOS 9 News

Newsstand is no more; it's folder smote and its apps strewn across the Home screen. In its place is News, which doesn't collect apps but articles from major publications and indie web sites alike, and organizes and displays them in a consistent, considered manner.

Also unlike Newsstand or even Apple Music, there's no subscription or cost for News. Instead, it's free for readers and ad-supported for publishers. Unfortunately, it's only available in the U.S., U.K., and Australia at launch. Other countries will become available over time.

News gathering

News works by pulling in publicly available RSS feeds. Publishers can sign up (opens in new tab) to make sure they're included, or manually opt-out (opens in new tab) if they think it will adversely affect their brand or revenue.

While Apple could simply have made a directory of publications and articles, like they do podcasts in the iTunes Store, they're going beyond that. They're providing something closer akin to the discovery and engagement potential of Apple Music.

Beyond channels (publications), Apple is tracking over a million topics (categories), which are used to provide article recommendations and the opportunity to browse related content.

Getting started with News is, not surprisingly, similar to getting started with Apple Music. Instead of choosing some of your favorite artists, you choose some of your favorite publications like iMore, Daring Fireball, or The Loop. Okay, maybe also Time, ESPN, Vanity Fair, USA Today, New York Times, Wired, The New Yorker... you get the idea. You can also choose by topic, like science, finance, food, or travel, if you prefer.

News, again like Apple Music, uses your choices to start a personalized front page called "For You". For You contains a range of articles from the publications you chose as well as some suggestions News thinks you'll enjoy. On iPhone, you get a list of headlines with blurbs and thumbnails, and the occasional full-width feature. On the iPad, thanks to the bigger display, you get pictures and headlines arranged in tiles of varying size, more like a traditional newspaper.

If any new articles have been added since the last time you checked, News will add a badge to the top indicating the number.

If For You isn't for you, you can choose to read something from a specific news source you've added in the Favorites tab, browse channels (publications) and topics (categories) in the Explore tab, search for content in the Search tab, or return to any article you've bookmarked or previously read in the Saved tab.

Unfortunately, there's no way to search within For You or within a channel or topic for specific articles. For example, if you tap iMore, you can only browse through the articles in reverse chronological order. There's no search field for you to enter "iPhone 6s" or "Pac Mac 256" or anything else you might be interested in. You can go to the Search tab, enter the terms there, get topic results, and open them, but then you can't search for "iMore" to narrow it by publisher.

That makes it impossible, at least for now, to go to News and immediately find a specific article you may have heard about. All you can do is browse around and hope you find it. Indexing and surfacing all the articles for search would no doubt be non-trivial, and this is News version one, but hopefully that's on the list for the future.

Also, because News is pulling RSS, it really needs to be online to work. There is some limited cache for some limited content locally, but it's not predictable or voluminous enough that you can count on it.

News layout

One of the many problems with Newsstand was that apps could—and did—do anything an everything they liked. So, the experience of reading magazines and newspapers could—and did—vary wildly from one to the next. That meant you had to learn and remember new and different—and sometimes not very good—navigation schemes from app to app.

News, by contrast, is blissfully consistent. Like iBooks, it's built on Apple's open-source WebKit rendering engine (and may, in part, be based on Prss, a digital magazine publishing platform Apple acquired in 2014). Because the content in News was created for the web, using web technologies like HTML5 and CSS3 makes a lot of sense.

At the top of a channel is the publication's logo. If a publication has added sections like features, reviews, help, apps, etc., News will surface a section bar to make them selectable. Each section requires a separate and specific RSS feed, all of which is managed on iCloud News Publisher.

In-article navigation is simple. There's a Share button that not only lets you send apple.news links to Messages, Mail, Reminders, Notes, or any other share extensions you have enabled, but also add them to Reading List, open them in Safari, or report any concerns you might have about their content to Apple's News team.

There's also a heart-shaped Like button to bias News' recommendations. It's consistent with Music, which is great, but not with Photos.

Photos uses the heart button to add items to the Favorites album that syncs across all your iCloud-enabled devices. News uses a bookmark-shaped Save button and the Saved tab for that. That's broadly consistent with how the heart-shaped button works in Music. Music uses a More sheet action to save songs to My Music.

Each usage makes some sense within it's own context but are confusing when taken as a whole: I often find myself hitting the heart in News only to be left wondering, later, why something hasn't been added to the Saved tab. Hopefully, Apple can reconcile this at some point.

For articles, News takes the text and images from the RSS feed and displays them as simply and elegantly as possible. Basic HTML tags like bold, italic, block quote, etc. are all be preserved. Video and audio embeds can show up as well, provided they're in standard formats. More complex or custom containers might be stripped out.

Between the hero image or video at the top of an article and the body below, Apple repeats the publisher logo and adds a time stamp in hours (for the current day) or days (for the current week). Tap on the logo and News takes you to the publisher's channel page where hitting the + button will let you add it to Favorites. Alas, there's no + button on articles, which would speed up the process for when you stumble across something you like enough to make you want to add it immediately.

Apple also assigns an topic category to each article, which tends towards the narrow and specific. Tap the category and you'll get more articles on the same topic from a variety of sources. At the bottom of an article, Apple adds a "Read Full Story" link that you can either tap or just scroll past to bring up the original web page in a custom (i.e., non-Safari View Controller) browser. Swipe back up, and you return to the News version of the story.

If a publication only offers partial RSS, you'll have to tap the link and go to the browser for more. Likewise links to other sites and stories.

That's the barest minimum of Apple News, though. The maximum is Apple News Format.

Apple News Format

With Apple News Format, publishers can wield far more advanced styling. They can add callouts, photo mosaics (galleries), HTML5 videos, and interactive infographics, all of which are fluidly animated to make for a more interesting, more dynamic reading experience. Publishers can also add a custom tint color to better match their branding and use a wider range of typography and formatting to really bring the layout to life.

If publishers take the time and expend the resources to apply it, Apple News Format is gorgeous. But that's a big if.

Right now only a few launch partners have access to Apple News Format and, frankly, many aren't bothering to put it to much use. How fast Apple News Format will propagate post-launch, and how many publishers will be willing to invest in it consistently remains to be seen.

The News biz

The way Apple intends for publishers to get paid by News is through the company's iAd platform. Publishers can find out more by contacting iAd{.nofollow} and then use iAD producer (opens in new tab) and iAd Workbench (opens in new tab) to create ads and manage campaigns.

Publishers can either try and sell iAds themselves and keep 100% of the revenue or let Apple broker the ads and keep an agency-model standard 70% of the revenue.

For now, News is a free, fluid reader app for iPhone and iPad that aspires to be much more.

Having Apple do the work will be easier, but it remains to be seen how well Apple can sell iAds in News. If publishers do it themselves, though, it means time and resources need to be invested into News-only sales, and that means News will have to offer a return on that investment for publishers to stick with it. Likewise, iAds will also have to provide a good enough experience—especially given the weariness with web ads—for readers to stick with it.

There are, in other words, a lot of questions. So, for now, it's best to think of News as a free, fluid reader app for iPhone and iPad that aspires to be much more. By trading the apps and subscriptions of Newsstand for articles and iAds, News hopes to finally, fully bring the best of traditional publishing and digital media together and create something truly enjoyable and sustainable for everyone.

It's an incredibly hard problem to solve, and I don't know whether or not Apple will succeed in solving it, but I like that they keep trying.

iOS 9 QuickType

QuickType is the name of the predictive keyboard Apple introduced in iOS 8. It added word suggestion to the spelling suggestions of the existing autocorrect system to, as the name implies, make writing faster. It was also designed to make the built-in keyboard more competitive with the then-new custom keyboard extensions as well. That's something Apple is continuing in iOS 9.

Some of the changes and additions span both iPhone and iPad. Others are—at least currently—iPad only.

Lowercase and preview-less

For reasons unknowable by either science or scrying, the iOS 7.1 keyboard made the state of the shift key inscrutable to humans. Lowercase or uppercase, it simply could not be scruted. iOS 9 fixes it at last, but in a way far wider-reaching than many expected.

Yes, Apple has made the keys themselves change state from lower to uppercase. While this does end, once and for all, absolutely annihilate any confusion about case state, it does introduce a different form of mental overhead. Now, instead of a consistent visual representation as you type, the letters all change every time the selected case does, and that can cause your eyes and brain to have to reacquire them as you type. It probably won't affect most people, at least not consciously. To be fair, case-shifting has been the norm on Android software keyboards for over six years with minimal complaints — our brains are typically agile enough to handle the pattern recognition requirements.

What many more will likely notice, even if they don't initially notice what they're noticing, is that Apple has also eliminated the character preview popups that have been around since the very first iPhone—the ones that provide a way to visually reassure yourself you've hit the right key before releasing and committing to it. You still get the long press popups for alternate characters, when available, but that's it.

If you don't like either of these changes, you have the option to revert back to the old ways. Show lowercase keys can be turned off in Settings > General > Accessibility > Keyboard and character previews can be turned on in Settings > General > Keyboards. (It'd be great if both settings were available in both places.)

The new defaults reflect the transition from a visual representation that was more old school typewriter to one that's much more digitally native. My guess is, in a few months, it'll just feel normal.

Shortcuts and trackpads

Because the iPad has a bigger display, and hence more room on the row above the keyboard that shows predictive suggestions, Apple is adding shortcuts to it on either side. They're meant to provide fast and easy access to common editing commands. In the case of Mail, that includes undo, redo, and paste to the left side, and bold, italic, underline, and attach to the right.

The exact shortcuts can change depending on context and vary between apps. For example, if there's text selected, Mail swaps undo and redo for cut and copy. Because Notes has different needs, it can simply replace them with styles, checklists, images, and sketches. Developers can also customize shortcuts to suit the tasks available in their apps.

The idea is, no matter what you're doing, it should take you fewer taps and swipes to do it.

Apple is also adding "trackpad mode" to the iPad. Place two fingers down on the keyboard and the keys fade away to provide a trackpad-like surface for cursor manipulation. Move those fingers and the cursor point moves with you. Select some text and then place two fingers down and move them, and the text selector moves with you.

Trackpad mode is also available on the iPhone... but only the iPhones 6s. (Instead of two fingers you 3D Touch to access it.)

Bluetooth bonus

If you use a Bluetooth keyboard with your iPad, iOS 9 is making is making it easier for you as well. Hold down a modifier key like command or option in any app and you can see a list of available keyboard shortcuts for that modifier. Also, press Command + Tab to switch tasks as quickly as you do on the Mac.

It's yet another step forward for those who use their iPad as an ultralight laptop.

iOS 9 Multi-app multitasking for iPad

iOS is built on the same foundation as OS X and while Apple has always used that to great affect for system processes, for reasons of security and power efficiency, they've greatly restricted the amount of multitasking surfaced for App Store apps and customers. So, you could talk on FaceTime audio while browsing the web and quick replying to a text as email and a podcast downloaded, but you couldn't run two apps side by side. Until now.

Multi-app multitasking in iOS 9 for iPad can be broken down into three specific features:

  • Slide Over lets you quickly access a secondary app as a sidebar-style overlay so you can respond to messages or mail, add to notes or check the web, or do another brief task without having to switch completely away from the primary app.
  • Split View lets you pin a secondary app so it shares the screen, side by side, with the primary app so you can reference, copy and paste, or otherwise use them both at the same time.
  • Picture-in-Picture, which has been available on TVs for decades, lets you float a video on top of whatever other app you're using at the time, or even two apps if you're in Slide Over or Split View modes.

Because Slide Over only keeps one app active at a time, and picture-in-picture is restricted to video playback, they're compatible with any 64-bit iPad, including iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, and later.

Because Split View does have to keep two apps active at the same time, it requires the more capable iPad Air 2 or later.

Auto Layout and Size Classes

Multiple app windows works for the same reason bigger displays work on the iPhone 6 Plus: Apple has spent a couple years setting it all up. With iOS 6 they ported Auto Layout{.nofollow} over from OS X. It allows for constraint-based design that defines the relationships between elements and can then reset frames, centers, and other attributes automatically as and when needed.

With iOS 7, Apple added Type Kit (opens in new tab) and the concept of dynamic type, and with iOS 8, Size Classes (opens in new tab). They replaced of "iPhone" or "iPad" specific interface idioms with the more generalized and flexible concept of "compact" or "regular" classes in horizontal or vertical dimensions.

It's a complicated way of saying Apple broke iOS free from pixel precision and gave apps the ability to flow into whatever screen shapes and sizes presented themselves. In other words, as responsive web design but for native apps.

Last year, we saw the results in the iPhone 6 Plus. In portrait mode, it treats apps like any other iPhone. In landscape mode, however, it treats them like an iPad.

This year, multi-app multitasking is similar. If a split-screen app is wide enough, it treats it like any other iPad. If and when it gets narrow, however, it treats them like an iPhone.

What's more, for the first time, it can transform one to the other and back again as the window width changes. In other words, it no longer matters what size device you're using, only what size window is available.

Multi-app multitasking: Explained

If the details of Auto Layout, Size Classes, and multi-app multitasking interest you, you can find more detailed explainers below:

Slide Over

Slide Over lets you briefly access a secondary app to jot down a few notes, reply to a few references, or check a few bits of information, without having to switch away from what you're doing on the primary app. To bring in a Slide Over, you swipe in from the right bezel. That locks out and dims the primary app and launches the secondary app.

The primary app sticks with a regular horizontal size class and stays full width, but the secondary app comes in as a compact horizontal class on top of it, covering about 30% of the screen in landscape and 40% in portrait.

In essence, Slide Over keeps the primary, iPad-style app locking in place and the layers a secondary, iPhone-style app on top of it.

If you haven't used Slide Over in a while, and the system isn't sure which app you want to bring in, it shows you a series of icon tiles for each and every app on the iPad that supports multi-app multitasking. (Developers have to specifically add support; App Store apps won't appear unless and until they do.)

You can return to that interface, and switch secondary apps at any time, by swiping down from the top bezel and onto the Slide Over sidebar. Select a different icon and that icon's app zooms in to become the new secondary app.

If you don't like the idea of Slide Over, you can disable it in Settings > General > Multitasking.

In practice, Slide Over is terrific. Notifications, especially interactive notifications, helped keep you working when other tasks intruded, but they were incredibly limited in scope. If you missed them or needed to do anything beyond what they allowed, you had to switch out and back again. With Slide Over, you just swipe in, interact, and swipe back out.

It's not just about the convenience of the moment, however. Slide Over is also about giving basic multi-app functionality to older, more resource-constrained iPads. After using it for a while, you'll wonder how you ever did without it.

Split View

Split View lets you keep two apps visible and active, side by side, at the same time. To enable Split View, you begin by swiping in Slide Over, and then you tap the grabber icon to the left of the secondary app. That reactivates the primary app and also resizes it to fit the part of the screen not covered by the secondary app—roughly 70% in landscape and 60% in portrait. The secondary app stays where it is but pins itself down and gets a thick, black border to better separate it.

If you touch the border between Split View apps and drag to the right, the primary app returns to full-screen and the secondary app disappears. If you drag it to the left, the primary app disappears, and the secondary app becomes the new primary app, transforming to regular size class and going full screen. (And then you can swipe to bring Slide Over back in; rinse and repeat.)

There is one difference between landscape and portrait orientation when it comes to Split View. If you drag the border to the left in landscape mode, before you get to full screen, you can snap it to the middle of the screen and work 50/50. In 50/50 Split View, both apps take on the form and function of their iPhone interfaces, but are wider horizontally.

Since 50/50 exists only in landscape and not in portrait, if you're in 50/50 and you rotate, the Split View will change to the only portrait option, roughly 60/40. If and when you rotate back, iOS will remember where you were and return you to 50/50.

To change the primary app, you use the typical iPad app-switching methods. Click the Home button to return to the Home screen and select another app, double-click the Home button to bring up the fast app switcher and select another app, use the four-finger gesture navigation to swipe back or forth between apps, or tap on a link that opens another app. Whatever the method, the newly launched app will replace the primary app in the Split Screen setup.

As you can imagine, all of this takes up a lot of resources, which is why Split View requires the 2 GB of memory and Apple A8 processing power found in the iPad Air 2 or later.

iOS is famous for its rock-solid 60 frames-per-second (fps) performance. 60 fps correlates to about 16 milliseconds (ms) of response time when. In a world where only one app can run on the CPU at a time, any app that responds in 9 ms or less is more than good enough. In a world where two apps (primary and secondary) can run at the same time, though, 2 x 9 ms is no longer good enough. Add a third app (picture-in-picture) and another 9 ms and frame rate drops and apps can appear to lag.

Tougher still, memory needs to be managed between two foreground apps at the same time. If and when the system runs out of headroom, it will jettison the primary and secondary apps and drop back to the Home screen. That's not a great experience.

So, iPad Air 2 or later only.

iOS 9 is obviously not the first system to do app-pinning or split-view multi-windowing. But the implementation is flexible and fluid, and the result shows a lot of care and consideration. I'd love it if, in the future, items could be dragged and dropped between Split View windows, but even in its nascent form it elevates the iPad into not only something different, but something better.

Picture-in-picture (PiP)

Picture-in-Picture lets a video float on top of whatever other app or apps you're using at the time. To enter Picture-in-Picture mode, tap the new PiP button on the standard media player. That'll cause video frames to stop being directed to the player layer and start being directed to the PiP layer. The transition is seamless.

The video is then decoupled from the player app and keeps playing even if you switch apps or go back to the Home screen. It keeps playing while you do almost anything else, including a Slide Over app or Split View app.

The only major exception is if you try to play a video in another app at the same time. At that point the PiP video pauses and let the other video play. So, for example, if you have Videos.app playing in PiP, and then you start a YouTube video in Safari, the PiP video will pause as soon as the YouTube video begins.

PiP will engage automatically when you leave an app. For example, if you start a video and then hit the Home button or tap on a Mail notification, the video will transfer to the PiP player as you exit. If the idea of a persistent video overlay doesn't appeal to you, you can turn it off in Settings > General > Multitasking.

The PiP layer presents with three buttons and a decorative progress bar. The first button lets you leave PiP and go back to the in-app player layer. The second lets you pause or play the video. The third lets you close the PiP and stop watching the video.

The PiP defaults to quarter-width (with ample transparent border) in the bottom left corner, but you can reposition it by touching and swiping it into another corner. It'll always snap to one of the four corners, however, so you can't just position it anywhere. iOS will also nudge the PiP above or below important interface elements, like navigation and tab bars, and even the Dock on the Home screen, so it doesn't obstruct anything.

You can also pinch-to-zoom the video from quarter-width to up to half-width (again with ample transparent borders) and back. There's no snapping here. You can adjust it to pretty much any size you like within that range.

Because the iPad has a 4:3 aspect ratio and video is 16:9 or greater, even in quarter-width mode the PiP only takes up a sixth or less of the display, which makes it eminently workable.

If the PiP does get in your way, but you don't want to kill it completely, you can tuck it off to the side of the screen for a while. The audio keeps playing, so you can keep listening, and the edge of the video remains visible as a tab at the side of the screen, so you can pull it back out whenever you're ready.

In addition to the standard media player (AVKit), Apple has also made PiP work for HTML5 video (WebKit), and for custom media players (AVFoundation). PiP is also only for video, however, so nothing like streaming tweets or static app shots will be allowed.

FaceTime can use PiP, however, so you can engage in a video conference calls while switching between or using other apps, like checking your calendar or taking notes. You can also resize and hide it, like any PiP. It's a great way to provide tech support as well, since you can look things up while chatting.

Like AirPlay, some apps may choose not to include PiP functionality for licensing or other reasons. I hope that doesn't happen, though. The functionality is so great it would be a silly to sacrifice any of it.

Picture in Picture on iPad (Image credit: iMore)

On the iPad Air 2, you can have Picture-in-Picture running on top of Split View, for a total of three apps all live, all at the same time. For it to work, all apps have to play nicely and otherwise do their part to make sure everything runs swiftly and stably.

Like any transition, it'll take time for apps to get up to speed. But sitting here, Safari on one side, Notes on the other, Continuum season four playing on top, I can't imagine ever going back.

Safari

Unlike Safari for OS X El Capitan and its pinned tabs and muting, Safari for iOS 9 didn't make the keynote headlines this year. But, as the post-keynote coverage has shown, that doesn't mean it didn't get some big new features.

iOS 9 content blocking extensions: Explained

The biggest—in terms of attention its received — might well be the content blocking extensions, but there are several others as well that make not only Safari better, but potentially any app that loads a website better.

Safari View Controller

In the beginning, there was a user interface framework for viewing the web inside apps (UIWebView (opens in new tab)). A blank slate, it could be filled with anything from a website to a custom HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript front end. For security reasons it wasn't allowed to do just-in-time (JIT) compiling for JavaScript. That made it safe but slow.

With iOS 8, Apple introduced a modern WebKit framework (WKWebView (opens in new tab)) that was not only secure enough to allow for JIT but, thanks to a matching framework for OS X that debuted in Yosemite, was consistent across Apple's platforms. That made it better but still a blank slate.

If you want to render a front end using web technologies, a blank slate is great. If you want to browse the web, however, you need to build all the basic controls yourself. Even then, even if you do an amazing job, you still can't provide access to everything Safari has to offer—iCloud Keychain, AutoFill, state cookies, Reader mode, Private Browsing mode, or the new content blocking extensions (see below). So, more often than not, you

You could always send someone to Safari to view a link, but if you wanted them to stay in the app, there wasn't a great option. Until now.

New to iOS 9 is Safari View Controller (SFSafariViewController{.nofollow}), which lets an almost full-on Safari experience be embedded into other apps.

While the original web view (Chrome, far left) and WebKit web view (Tweetbot, middle left) can look and act like anything, the Safari web view (middle right), not surprisingly, looks and acts like Safari (far right).

There are a few differences, though. The address bar is grayed out. Safari View Controller is meant to show a web page, not to let you start navigating arbitrarily around the web. That's what the full-on Safari app is for, and there's a button in the bottom tab bar that'll shunt you right into Safari proper any time you want.

There are also back and forward arrows, in case in-page links move you around, and a Done button to close the view. There's a Safari Reader button to put you into content-cleaner mode and a Share button. The Share Sheet has all the default options as well as any share or action options provided by the app. Apps can even tint the controller to match their overall design, making the experience almost seamless.

'Almost' because there are still some limitations. Third party share extensions show up in the share sheet but third party action extensions, content blockers aside, aren't yet supported. Likewise back links, so if you do tap to switch to Safari, you're on your own coming back. Also, if you want Private Browsing mode, you have to turn it on in Safari, and then it'll be reflected in Safari View Controller.

What's more, Safari WebView animates up from the bottom, not in from the side. That's not cosmetic. It's a visual indication that Safari WebView is modal and that you need to hit the Done button to close it. You can't just use the system-wide back gesture to slide it away again, because that's what you'll use to swipe between pages, just like in the full-on Safari.

Where Safari View Controller gets it absolutely right is security. Because it works like an extension—it's made available inside an app but runs as a separate process that provides absolutely no access to any of your personal information—everything from iCloud Keychain credentials to AutoFill data is all kept private and secure. Likewise OAuth for third-party logins. No longer do you have to worry about a bad app snooping for your credentials as you send them. They're never seen.

This makes Safari View Controller one of those rare but essential improvements that increase both convenience and security. And even in its first generation form, it's a phenomenal addition for developers and customers both.

Content blocker extensions

Content blockers aren't ad blockers. They don't automagically identify ads and eradicate them from your web world. Instead, they identify elements and resources on a web page and can, optionally, hide those elements and prevent those resources from loading. The goal is to show how fast the modern web—read: Safari—really is when you remove all the extraneous code that's been dumped on top of it, and to give end-users ultimate control over what gets rendered in their browser.

The vast majority of the time the elements and resources blocked will be those used to serve ads, but other times they'll be things like social networking buttons, performance and audience analytics, tracking scripts, article comments, navigation headers, inline frames, "hamburger and basement" sidebars, and more.

Blocking content, especially ads, has been possible on desktop browsers for a while, including OS X and Safari. Traditional blockers, however, were services that the browser consulted at load time. That meant the act of blocking content itself could reduce performance, and information about the page being visited could be collected by the service doing the blocking. In some cases, the blockers themselves could theoretically be worse than the content. Even malicious.

Apple doesn't want that. They don't want to replace heavy CSS and JavaScript with just-as-heavy plug-ins, especially on mobile, and they don't want to replace ad trackers with blockers that track. They want something that's genuinely fast, light, and performance-focused. And they want something that's private and secure.

That's one of the big difference between content blockers and content cleaners, like Safari Reader. With Reader, which debuted in iOS 5, ads, scripts, and other resources are loaded and then the page is re-rendered for maximum legibility. So, those resources still get to run, no matter how briefly, ads get to register and hits still get tracked. With blockers, resources are never loaded. And because the filter has to provided ahead of time, nothing gets consulted on load, and so nothing about the page content gets shared with the blocker. Private and secure.

The other big difference is that Reader is built-in while content blockers, like the vast majority of extensions, have to be downloaded from the App Store and aren't enabled by default. To enable them you have to go to Settings > Safari > Content Blockers and switch them on.

Content blocking extensions work through a set of rules defined in a JSON file. The rules contain triggers and actions. Triggers determine when the rules get run and actions determine what happens when they run. For page elements like divisions (div), the trigger can be as simple as encountering CSS class. The action, setting its display property to "none". For scripts, it can be as simple as blocking them from loading. Filtering is handled by regular expression (regex). Rules can even be created that, if the proper conditions are met, negate other rules.

So, for example, a content blocking extension for travelers on data roaming might block images, custom fonts, video and audio containers, and other "heavy" content to keep bandwidth usage as low as possible. A content blocker for film lovers might prevent any image that contains "episode-i" from loading... unless it's "episode-iv".

Once the content blocking extension is downloaded and enabled, Safari or compiles the extension's rules into bytecode and applies them whenever it—or the Safari View Controller—loads a web page.

Since developers can provide ways to change rules in the app that contains the extension, in action extensions, and in Settings, developers can notify Safari about updates and have the rules recompiled.

If you decide you want to see the current page without any content blocked, for example if a social network site isn't loading properly because JavaScript is being blocked, you can long press the reload button to the right of the address bar and then tap to reload without content blockers button.

Because of the processing required and the focus on performance, Apple is limiting content blocking extensions{.nofollow} to 64-bit devices. That includes devices released in 2013 or later, with an Apple A7 processor or later. Namely:

  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6 Plus
  • iPhone 6
  • iPhone 5s
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad Air
  • iPad mini 3
  • iPad mini 2
  • iPod touch 6

When content blockers are running, Safari flies. If Apple succeeds at nothing else, they'll succeed at making it wicked-obvious who's really to blame for poor mobile performance.

The speed difference, especially on large media sites, is ludicrous. It's like unhitching a trailer filled with lead and watching a truck, no longer burdened, take off like a rocket.

What this means for websites that rely on ads to pay the bills and to keep food on the table, including iMore, is unclear. Optimists hope that providers like Google Ad Exchange will clean up their act or sites like iMore will be able to make a go of ethical native advertising and sponsorship models. Pessimists fear that advertorials and supercookies from providers like Verizon and Facebook-optimized "one neat trick!" content will fill the void.

Beyond ad blocking there are entire realms of other content types ripe for blocking. That includes security-related extensions for preventing malware scripts embedded in iframes from known bad actors, privacy-related extensions that prevent social network tracking, accessibility-related extensions that could remove difficult to read web fonts and more. Like with any new technology, we won't really know what developers can do with it until they show us.

Shared Links app extensions

Shared Links debuted in iOS 7 as a way for Safari to surface content that appears in your Twitter, LinkedIn, and Weibo timelines. They live in a tab next to traditional bookmarks and Safari's read-it-later service, Reading List. Tap a link and you don't go to the social network, however, you go straight to the article, video, or whatever else was shared.

In iOS 8, Apple added the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds in Shared Links, effectively removing the bullet Don Melton had put into Safari RSS a few years before. Now, with iOS 9, Apple is adding Shared Links app extensions, so apps can add content directly to Shared Links as well.

Shared Links app extensions work on both iOS and OS X. When the extension is called, the app returns a list of items, including a unique identifier (so items don't get repeated or mixed up), the URL, the publication date (for reverse-chronological sequencing), an optional display name, the title, and the body.

The app's icon gets displayed on the right, and an optional custom graphic can also be specified for the item itself. That way, it's both easy to identify where the link came from and visually differentiate it from other items from the same source.

That's what makes Shared Links app extensions different from something like Reading Lists. It isn't a passive, generalized service that lets you arbitrarily save cleaned up content to read later. It's a proactive service that lets apps suggest specific links to add to your feed in their original form.

While all these options make sense separately and in their own context, I'm not sure we need them all. Perhaps something unified will eventually rise from them—a hybrid of bookmarks, read-in-later, and shared links that gives us a simplified place to keep all the web content that matters to us.

Files, feeds, fonts, and more

The Safari address bar gets some of the new Siri-powered search intelligence as well. For example, if you're already browsing, and you don't want to switch to Siri or the Home screen, you can type and get weather results right in Safari.

Safari Reader also has several new options, including white, sepia, gray, and black themes, and typefaces including Athelas, Chartier, Georgia, Iowan, Palatino, San Francisco (Apple's new system font), Seravek, and Times New Roman. It's great for night time reading and for accessibility.