- Update: The iOS 9 release date is this month, and the public beta is now available. Here's how to how to download iOS 9 beta and what it's all about.
Apple is busy readying iOS 9, due two weeks from today, and this iPhone and iPad update brings a smarter Siri, public transit directions to Maps, true tablet multitasking and new built-in apps.
An iOS 9 beta is being tested with improved stability, a smaller download size and legacy phone and tablet compatibility. That older iPhone and iPad you have will work with this update if it runs iOS 8.
- Is it any good? Our hands on iOS 9 review
New iOS 9 features consist of redesigned built-in apps and a few new ones. There's more functionality than ever for iPads, and we may see some additional, unannounced Force Touch capabilities and motion wallpaper.
Here's what to expect with the full release in a matter of - we can say it like this now - days.
iOS 9 release date
iOS 9 became available to everyone in July if they were enrolled in Apple's free public beta program and, before that, at WWDC, through its fee-required iOS developer program for true beta testers.
Everyone else who wants the final, stable version of iOS 9 for free has to wait until "later this year," according to Apple, when it's expected to launch with the new iPhone. Think: September.
The iPhone 6S launch event date is Wednesday, September 9. In the past, iOS updates have typically launched the following Wednesday, which would be one week later, September 16, this time around.
That two-week wait is a good thing. iOS 9 public beta 3 is still buggy and unfinished. A few of the best features won't don't launch until the gold master version, anyway.
iOS 9 compatibility
iOS 9 is proving to be more inclusive than previous iOS versions. Apple is choosing to make this update compatible with older iPhone, iPad and even iPod touch devices, too.
Okay, it's not technically more inclusive just yet. When the rumored iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPad Air 3 and iPad mini 4 launch, then the list will grow by four, or five if there's ever an iPhone 6C.
Basically, if your dated hardware runs iOS 8, it can run iOS 9, and that's good news, as older phones and tablets aren't getting muscled out. The iPhone 4S and iPad 2 are safe, for now, and a few 30-pin dock devices live on.
Siri in iOS 9 is getting the much-needed smarts to rival Google Now. Apple's personal assistant understands the word "it" within context and brings proactivity to the operating system.
For example, if you're talking about a topic with someone in iMessages and ask Siri to "Remind me about 'this' later today," it'll scan the open app and try to understand what "this" means.
iOS 9 proactivity puts even more at your fingertips through Siri. It suggests appointments to add to Calendar, and pulls up photos based on location and time with the sound of your voice.
Siri's location-based knowledge appears to be most promising when you're out and about. Plugging in headphones at the gym? It'll offer the Now Playing interface right on the lockscreen.
Plugging it into your car? It'll bring up that audiobook you were listening to before. It'll even tell you when to leave for an appointment across town, a feature that has made Google's app for iOS a must-have.
One of the most convenient new iOS 9 features is giving context to random numbers that call you, diving into your email to see if it can match the digits. Goodbye, telemarketers – we hope.
Siri already takes over one billion requests a week, according to Apple. That should only increase now that iOS 9 promises to make Siri 40% faster and 40% more accurate.
Apple Pay expands
Apple Pay has been touted as a success over the last 10 months in the US, and now the iPhone-backed mobile payment platform has made its way to the UK.
The official Apple Pay UK launch of July 14 was backed by nearly 70% of credit and debit cards there, including Lloyds Bank, Bank of Scotland and HSBC.
In the US, Apple Pay is now backed by 2,500 US banks and, this fall, rewards and store-issued cards will be a part of the mobile wallet. This is an idea we liked about Android Pay at Google IO in May.
Considering these newfound iOS 9 capabilities, Apple is renaming Passbook (the app where Apple Pay resides) to Wallet. We'll see if it's enough to compete with the September 28 launch of Samsung Pay on the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and its other new Android phones.
Apple Maps is sometimes unavoidable, even if you're a dedicated Google Maps user. Siri and built-in apps still open directions up in the default navigation app. That won't change.
The good news is that iOS 9 is going to make Apple Maps better, and maybe even tolerable. In its first major refresh since 2013, the app now includes long-awaited public transit directions.
That means routes for buses, trains, subways and, yes, even ferries are part of Apple Maps. This goes live this fall in Baltimore, Berlin, Chicago, London, Mexico City, New York City, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area, Toronto and Washington D.C.
Notably, it'll support directions for 300 cities in China, a huge emerging market for the iPhone, including hotspots like Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai.
Just don't expect it much more than that to sway you from Google Maps or Waze. The design changes are minimal and, as we point out in our iOS 9 review, it clearly needs more work.
Apple News apps
In addition to getting rid of Passbook in favor of Wallet in iOS 9, Apple is replacing Newsstand with News, and it's very familiar if you're a fan of magazine-style news aggregators.
Apple News for iOS 9 is Flipboard, HTC BlinkFeed and Feedly wrapped into one app. It features a personalized feed and is coming to US, UK and Australia at launch.
There's also Apple News integration outside of this app right on one of the home screens. Four or five snippets of news appear within the left-most menu, right below spotlight search, recent contacts and recent apps. In this way, Apple is mimicking Samsung's left-most Flipboard menu, with less pizzazz.
No telling if publishers will wrap their content in the fresh Apple News format. The advantage to you, however, is more clear: your data will remain anonymous, apart from your Apple ID, according to the company.
Multitasking for iPad
iOS 9 brings true multitasking to its newer iPad tablets, and we're not talking about the "multitasking" app switcher that premiered with iOS 4 back in 2010.
iPads will finally be able to handle more hefty productivity tasks. That's to the delight of enterprise users who prefer iOS for personal use, but feel forced to opt for a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 or Android tablet at work.
There are three ways to view multitasking windows on an iPad. Slide Over brings a second app from the side so you can answer a text or write something in Notes. It's just as easy to slide away.
There's also a special Picture-in-Picture mode that puts videos and FaceTime calls in the corner of the display when the home button is pressed. From there, you can use any other app while watching the video. Google's YouTube app for iOS works this very same way, at least within that specific app.
Both Slide Over and Picture-in-Picture are compatible with newer iPads: iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 3. The last mode, Split View, is an iPad Air 2-only affair.
Split View is the mode that everyone imagines when they hear the word "multitasking." It enables two apps to be open side-by-side and they're both active at the same time, with full multitouch support.
While Apple isn't ready to announce the long-rumored 12-inch iPad Pro, it's clearly honing in on the enterprise user with its latest tablet software features.
New iOS 9 keyboard
Apple launched what it called its "best keyboard yet" with the iOS 8 QuickType, and it's trying to one-up that statement with the iOS 9 keyboard.
iPad's on-screen keyboard now features a built-in shortcut bar, which flanks the next-word suggestions above the QWERTY letter keys. Shorts are context sensitive and include cut, copy and paste to the left; bold, italic, underline and attachments to the right.
That's better than having to hunt for these shortcuts in the second layer of the keyboard menu, and in a surprise move, Apple is making this default layout customizable and compatible with third-party keyboard apps.
Cursor control is now easier with a handy (or fingery) slide mechanic when using two fingers. It basically turns the iPad QuickType keyboard into an trackpad. It's way easier than hovering over the tiny cursor, trying to land in between letters.
Finally, shortcuts are coming to wireless keyboards so that you can interact with apps using their own built-in shortcut keys. Pressing and holding the Command, Option or Control key brings up the shortcut list.
iOS 9 Wi-Fi problems fix
Apple has also worked out a solution for when your Wi-Fi connection is proving to be a massive pain. It's called Wi-Fi Assist and it'll automatically drop your Wi-Fi connection and jump onto your mobile network whenever it's struggling.
You can switch it off if you're on a limited data package but it's a great idea for those who have spotty Wi-Fi connections and get annoyed at manually controlling it.
Under the hood
New features are exciting and all, but iOS 9 needs to run better than iOS 8, which had a series of Wi-Fi and battery drain problems from the get-go. Some users are still complaining about last year's software.
Longer battery life is a chief concern of iPhone users, but they can squeeze out an extra hour thanks to a new Low Power mode. Apple says iOS 9 pulls switches you didn't even know existed to save juice.
You may be able to install iOS 9 this time around without deleting all of your photos. It'll take about 1.3GB, whereas iOS 8 needed a massive 4.5GB of internal storage. That was awful on a 16GB iPhone.
CPU and GPU usage will be more efficient thanks to iOS 9, further improving performance, and security is said to be stepped up. Hopefully that means last year's iCloud hack isn't going to be an annual incident.
Not mentioned during Apple WWDC keynote, a "Move to iOS" app is hidden within iOS 9. It'll be easier to wirelessly switch from an Android device to a new iOS phone or tablet.
iPhone and iPad users may be surprised when asked to enter a six-digit passcode instead of an easier-to-crack four digit code. But it's the difference between one million possible combinations and 10,000, and Touch ID really makes the hassle a moot point. Better safe than sorry.
Apple's rather confident iOS 9 public beta is showing a lot of promise, even if it's an incremental update. Google's Android Marshmellow is taking the same cautious approach. We'll see how they both turn out in a matter of weeks, if not days.
- Big differences: iOS 9 vs iOS 8