iOS 9 review: In-depth with Apple’s most advanced mobile OS

Update, 13/11/2015: Apple is currently in the process of releasing iOS 9.2 to developers, a major point release that brings with it several improvements. The update is currently at beta 3, and is set to bring smoother 3D Touch animations to the iPhone 6 Plus, slicker multitasking view animations to the iPad Air 2, more responsive swipe gesture navigation in Safari and faster app switcher animations to the iPhone 4S. Apple hasn’t, as yet, fixed a bug reported by many iPhone users over broken Touch ID fingerprint readers, however. Hopefully, that will be fixed by the time iOS 9.2 is rolled out to users.

When is a review not really a review? When half of the people most likely to be interested have already upgraded to the version you’re reviewing.

That’s the dilemma we face when looking at big new versions of iOS. According to Apple, over half of all iOS users who are eligible for the update to iOS 9 have already done so, making it the fastest adoption rate of any new version.

And yet, as with every new release, not everyone will notice every feature – and, for anyone interested in how iOS compares with other platforms, it’s worth going through what Apple has done. In this review, then, I’ll try to give an overview of what the new features are, and finally how they compare with the smartphone competition. Does iOS 9 lift iPhone above Android (and, of course, Windows 10 for Phone) or is it on a par for features?

iOS 9 review: Multitasking

The biggest single feature of iOS 9, and the one that grabbed the most headlines at launch, is its multitasking capability. Strictly-speaking, iOS has always multitasked: after all, the email app continues to download messages in the background, you get alerts for incoming texts, and music plays while you’re doing other things. Recent versions of iOS also expanded the ability of third-party applications to do things in the background, although the operating system has always kept tight control over how much processor time they can use.

What iOS hasn’t done, though, is allowed you to run two applications on screen at the same time. Until now, that is – at least if you’re using an iPad. With iOS 9, Apple has introduced not one but three ways of running multiple apps onscreen at the same time: Slide Over, Split View and Picture-in-Picture.

Slide Over

First the good news: Slide Over is available on every iPad capable of running iOS 9. The bad news is that, for all iPads except the Air 2, mini 4 and forthcoming iPad Pro, it’s the only kind of multitasking you’ll get.

Slide Over lets you slide a small, fixed-width window over from the right-hand side of the screen. Applications need to have been tweaked to support it, but, if they are, you’ll be able to use the app in the Slide Over window at the same time as having your main app in the background. You can’t have both apps open at the same time: tap back in the main window and Slide Over will vanish.

Slide Over is great for quickly accessing an app without jumping into it, but that’s about it. It’s a convenience, rather than anything fundamentally game-changing.

Split View

If you have a newer iPad, however, you’re going to be even happier as you’ll have access to Split View. Split View, available on the iPad Air, iPad mini 4 and iPad Pro, lets you run two applications side-by-side onscreen at the same time. Yes, this is “revolutionary” – at least in iOS terms. Of course, this kind of feature has been available for some time on other platforms – Windows 8 and 10 users, in particular, have the right to feel very smug indeed.

That said, Apple’s implementation is simple and smart, and, in fact, much better than the similar feature on OS X El Capitan. You simply slide your finger in from the right, as you would to activate Slide Over, then pull a little bit further until the screen splits in two. And there you have it – two applications, running side-by-side. You don’t have a massive amount of control over the size of the two apps – it’s basically either a narrow column or half the screen – but it works, and works well, in both portrait and landscape mode. For anyone who wants to keep Twitter open while browsing, or have Notes open while writing a document in Word, it’s a godsend.

However, how much use you’re going to get out of it will depend on the iPad you own. On an iPad Air 2, using two applications side-by-side works really nicely. On an iPad mini 4, the small screen makes things a little bit more cramped. It’s not that you’re getting less on the iPad mini – the resolution, and thus what you see, is the same as the Air – but the smaller screen feels less like it was made for multitasking.

Where Split View is likely to make the most difference is on the iPad Pro. Obviously, a bigger screen will intrinsically be a better experience with two apps open at the same time, but more important is the way those apps are displayed. On an iPad Air or mini, what you get is two iPhone views side-by-side. On the iPad Pro, you’ll get two, full resolution, iPad views, which – for apps like OmniFocus, which has been optimised for iPad – will deliver a far superior experience.


There’s one other multitasking feature, and that’s Picture-in-Picture. Picture-in-Picture is activated by taking any full screen video and tapping the icon in the right-hand corner. This shrinks it down to the core of the iPad screen, and while it’s active you can go on and do other things. It works with videos in Safari, the Videos app, and any other software which has been written to support it – which at the moment isn’t every application, with some popular ones such as Netflix and YouTube missing in action.

The multitasking features of iOS 9 are some of the biggest and most important changes to the operating system since the introduction of iOS. Make no mistake about it, this sets up iOS for a much bigger future.

However, there’s one important caveat to all this: none of the features work on iPhone. Yes, the smaller screen makes some of them – like Split View – pointless, but surely Picture-in-Picture could work on the iPhone 6s Plus?

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