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Nine great things about iOS 9

iOS 9 hero

It’s fall again, which means it’s new OS time for those of us in the Apple ecosystem. Here are nine things we’re really liking about iOS 9, the newest version of Apple’s OS that powers the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

1. Slide Over & Split View

Multitasking on the iPad has always been a bit frustrating. Swiping between apps is slow and clunky, but with iOS 9, there are two new ways to interact with multiple apps at once.

The first, Slide Over, works on all iPads. Pull in a second app from the side to quickly reply to a message or take a note, then slide it back to continue with your work.

For iPad Air 2 owners, Split View allows two apps to fully run at the same time. Both are active, meaning going back and forth is lightning fast. Have a webpage open on the left and a document on the right for note taking, or Maps on one side and Messages on the other for quick planning. It really makes the iPad feel like a new device.

2. Picture in Picture

Another iPad-specific feature, Picture in Picture allows you to keep watching a video even if you leave the app containing the video.

While on paper, this doesn’t sound all that exciting, in practice, its marvelous. We’ve all watched a movie, TV show or YouTube video on our iPad with our iPhone in our hand to keep up with iMessage, Twitter or Slack. With iOS 9, the video sits in a window taking up about a quarter of the display, but just floats above the other apps. Open, close, and switch apps all you like; the video will go on playing smoothly.

3. Transit Directions in Maps

Say what you will about Apple Maps, but one place where it has been objectively behind Google’s offering is in public transit directions. With iOS 9, Apple’s starting to catch up.

In select cities, Maps can now show subway, train, and bus routes. This isn’t available everywhere yet, but in talking with people who live in cities like San Francisco and London, this is a game-changer.

4. Notes

Note-taking apps offer a wide range of features, but a lot of people turn to Evernote for its ability to house lists, images, and attachments within notes. The Notes app built in to iOS 9 — and soon, OS X El Capitan — matches most of this functionality. You can even draw right in a note, adding sketches to help clarify things.

Additionally, Notes now syncs via CloudKit, the same iCloud backend used by Photos, so the rather error-prone syncing that has plagued Notes for years is gone. In our testing, it’s been rock-solid.

5. Wallet

Apple Pay is a year old now and also one of our favorite things about the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. This year, the app behind it has been renamed from Passbook and is more powerful than ever. Store credit cards and reward cards can be used to pay for items and store up points for repeat purchases.

6. QuickType

Detail-oriented text editing has always been slower on the iPad than the Mac, but iOS 9 is doing a lot to make up the difference. iOS 9 adds a Shortcut Bar, putting commands like Cut, Copy, Paste, Bold, and more just a tap away.

More impressive, though, is the new external keyboard support. We like iPad keyboard cases, and iOS 9 is adding the ability to switch between apps with CMD+Tab. Developers can now add custom keyboard shortcuts to their apps; press and hold Command, Option, or Control to see available shortcuts.

7. Siri & Intelligence

Since its release in iOS 5, Siri has always been reactive. Ask a question, and you’d get an answer — most of the time, at least.

With iOS 9, Siri is smart. Using data on your local device, it can find information within apps, perform powerful searches in apps like Notes, Reminders, and Photos, and be pro-active about tasks like adding events from Mail to Calendar. It’s not perfect, and not as powerful as Google Now, but we appreciate that all of this is done on-device; Apple’s isn’t combing your email and app data to pull this off.

8. Better Battery Life

We’ve all played chicken with our iPhone’s battery meter, and Apple knows it. Out of the box, iOS 9 should add one hour to how long iOS devices can run. This is being done by a bunch of smart new tricks. for example, if your iPhone is face down, the screen now won’t light up when notifications come in.

If you do run past that extra hour, iOS devices can now be placed into “Lower Power Mode,” in which some animations, background processes and more are disabled, adding considerable time to your phone’s battery life.

9. Apple News

iOS 9 comes with a new built-in app called Apple News. Not unlike apps such as Flipboard, Apple News collects stories based on topic and shows them in a clean, attractive layout. The app can recommend new content and publishers based on what you like, and you can subscribe to your favorite sites to see everything they publish.