When you first boot up the iOS9 beta on an iPhone, things don’t seem that different. Same old apps, same old homescreen, same old camera.
With a few minutes, this familiarity begins to fracture. It’s kind of like visiting your parent’s house after they slightly rearrange their furniture: things are seemingly the same but you still feel slightly nauseous.
In other words, there is plenty of new stuff here, it’s just not jumping out at you like the massive redesign of iOS7 was, or the complete reworking of notifications in iOS8 last year. Here are seven seemingly small things that add up to a pretty hefty change to your iPhone. (The changes to the iPad are somewhat more momentous, and belong in their own article.)
1. NEW FONT
No, there isn’t a redesign, but there is a new font, everywhere. After wedding itself completely to Helvetica over the years – particularly in iOS7 – Apple have broken free of the Swiss typeface hegemony, using their own ‘San Francisco font’ for the operating system. San Francisco is inherited from the Apple Watch, where it was built for greater readability on that tiny screen.
Here’s the thing though – Helvetica and San Francisco are both sans serif Akzidenz-Grotesk-inspired typefaces, so they don’t look too different.
2. LOW POWER MODE
Apple are certainly not the first to envision a ‘low power mode’ for users to turn on when they need that extra boost to get them through the day. Many users, myself included, have been hacking their own low power mode for years – you turn the brightness to nothing, you turn on airplane mode whenever you’re not actively using your phone, and you pray.
But Apple’s power mode does much more than just dim the screen, while still letting you use your phone as intended: it handicaps the processor, so you can still do everything, only a teensy bit slower. An iPhone 6 will feel like iPhone 5S, an iPhone 5S will feel like an iPhone 5, and so on. It also disables background app refreshing and mail fetching (mail fetching is often the biggest culprit when it comes to battery life), and disables all the obvious things like animated wallpapers.
Unlike Samsung’s offering, it doesn’t do anything as drastic as grayscale the screen – but with the type of display Apple uses, that wouldn’t save much power anyway.
3. SELFIES AND SCREENSHOTS FOLDER
It’s a small change that will save a lot of people a lot of frustration. While iOS8 enraged many with its new organisation of photos into ‘collections’, the organisational features for your camera roll that iOS9 introduce are much less intrusive.
Specifically, Apple now build a smart folder of your screenshots and selfies. Your big ‘one bucket of all my photos’ camera roll is still there, but if you quickly want to get to something you screenshot a few weeks ago, you can do it in seconds. It sure makes doing writeups with multiple screenshots easier!
4. LOWERCASE KEYBOARD
Another small frustration-busting change – the iPhone keyboard now shows lowercase letters when you’re in lowercase mode and capital letters when you’re not. No more tapping the shift button endlessly trying to work out which mode you are in!
5. NEW APP SWITCHER
One of the larger visual changes in iOS9 hits you right in the face the moment you double press your home button. Gone is the 2D row of app previews; in is a 3D stack of apps which reminds me a whole lot of the old Windows 7 alt-tab screen. This change doesn’t make app switching any more usable – in fact, in the beta it is quite buggy – but it is certainly a new look.
6. BACK TO APP BUTTON
You know when you open a link on Facebook in Safari, but then want to go back and comment on it, but can’t find the original post? Or one app opens another app for authentication, but doesn’t send you back in a hurry? It’s easy enough to forget you are in an app at all, but iOS9 gives you a status bar reminder/button of however you got to wherever you are, allowing you to quickly go back to the app you originally opened.
In the Beta, it displays a ‘back to search’ button if you got to the app through a search – which might be slightly annoying for those of us who open almost all of our apps through the search interface.
7. A GENERAL TUNE UP
iOS9 feels snappy, and it’s a lot slimmer than its predecessor. It’s a beta, so thereare bugs, but my main iPhone with iOS8 feels slightly sluggish in comparison. Apple promise serious speed and battery improvements, particularly for those with a 4S. I haven’t had a chance to seriously check out the 4S performance yet, but some of the improvements just seem like common sense. For example, if your phone can’t use a certain feature of an app because it is too old, it won’t download all the code for that feature, saving precious precious space.
While we’re talking space, here’s the big news on the tune up: iOS9 is just 1.3GB, while iOS8 was 4.58 GB. For anyone on a 16GB iPhone, this is a pretty big deal.
For everyone else, Apple’s ‘Metal’ programming language should make apps hand off more tasks to the GPU, increasing performance and battery life. Apple promise a whole extra hour of battery life.
AND ONE BIG THING – INTELLIGENCE
Okay, this is cheating a little bit. Apple’s new ‘intelligence’ features – an updated search, an updated Siri, and a general feeling of proactive smarts throughout the system – are easily the largest part of iOS9, but also the hardest to appreciate in an early glance. These new features worm their way into every part of the system, hopefully making your iPhone feel like a smart personal assistant instead of a slow calendar.