iOS 9 features - updated for iOS 9.3

Apple is giving two of its existing pre-installed apps a complete overhaul and a name change in iOS 9, and both are improvements over the old way of doing things.

Newsstand has been revamped as Apple News, or just News, and it gives us a free, magazine-styled layout. Passbook has become Wallet, and expands instead of changes the idea behind it.

Apple News

Really, you should get all of your news straight from TechRadar, but if you need to learn about other events happening in the world, Apple has a News app within iOS 9 and iOS 9.3, available in the US, UK and Australia.

iOS 9 features and update

Apple News provides a bunch of sources and a fancy layout

It's a slick-looking news aggregator, but, truthfully, it's not the most ground-breaking app design because it does exactly what Flipboard does: lays out RSS content in a magazine-style format.

It collects stories from publications and topics I favorite, then does its best to deliver a rich newsfeed I actually care about. It has two things going for it over traditional Safari browsing: it's fast and it keeps my personalized data separate from my Apple ID.

Wallet

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus users have been waving their phones in front of NFC stations to pay for stuff in the US since October 2014, and as of 2015, they've been doing it throughout the UK, Canada and Australia. In 2016, China, Singapore and Spain received Apple Pay.

iOS 9 further expands Apple Pay by adding gift and loyalty cards, therefore the app that contains it, Passbook, is being renamed Wallet. Goodbye, cumbersome QR codes that few retailers even used.

Only, these loyalty cards haven't been widely implemented at stores. The first retailer, Kohl's, just turned on its rewards system through Apple Pay in May, eight months after iOS 9 launched.

Other retailers like Whole Foods, Walgreens and JCPenney are promising to launch Wallet-integrated app updates "soon." Our loyalty is running out for this overdue feature.

iOS 9 features and update

Wallet is being reworked to include gift and loyalty cards in iOS 9

The Wallet new app comes with a handy trick: double pressing in the home button on a locked iPhone (but not an iPad) and it brings up the Apple Pay menu.

It's so tempting to hide the Wallet app in a folder. There's no reason to keep it on the home screen until you really need it. But it's nice to have quick access to it the few, precise times you actually do need to pull something out of your "Wallet."

With loyalty cards launching, shortcuts like this are going to become even more important. I just wish Apple devised a way to access a flight boarding pass when my iPhone screen isn't locked.

I have to lock my always-in-use device in an airport line, then press the lock button again to wake it in order to access the lockscreen notification. Apple Watch does it correctly with a shortcut that always rests in the notification dropdown right before a flight. iOS 10 changes promise to improve this.

iOS 9 features and update

Verdict

iOS 9 is well worth downloading. The keyboard is easier to use, Siri suggestions make menu navigation faster, notifications are rightly sorted by time and, on the iPad, there's actual multitasking.

Not everything that's new is perfect or worthwhile. Apple Maps still needs a lot of design work, Apple News is a clone and the same old Apple ecosystem problems persist. You still can't delete useless pre-installed apps (and now we know why) and Siri still loves opening Safari and Maps, even if you're loyal to Chrome and Gmail.

Even with all of the iPad advancements, you won't find multiple accounts like you would on Android, and good luck switching to Google's operating system. Apple makes it tough to leave iMessages, as group conversations fall apart when you switch to those ugly green bubbles your Apple-loving friends hate.

That said, iOS 9 is an incremental advancement over iOS 8, which is exactly what Google has done in the transition from Android 5.0 Lollipop to Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Much of it is behind the scenes.

But we're already seeing the positive effects of the update, and it's got even smoother and more robust with the launch of iOS 9.3. With mid-cycle features like Nift Shift tiding us over to iOS 10, it should be enough to rival Android N in the coming weeks.