iOS 9 features - updated for iOS 9.3

Includes everything in iOS 9.3, Apple's next iPhone and iPad update

iOS 9 release date features and news
  • Update: iOS 9.3 public beta 2 news has been added to this revised page, detailing Night Shift, a nighttime reading mode that tones down the bright blue light.

iOS 9 launched back in September of last year and it's a lot better than iOS 8, thanks to new features that make the iPhone and iPad software easier to use.

Siri is smarter, Apple Maps has been improved and the notifications drop-down menu is now sorted logically. Best of all, every device that works with iOS 8 works with iOS 9. Since launch it's improved even further too, with the rollout of iOS 9.1.2.

iPads benefit big from this current operating system update. New iPad multitasking functionality, especially for the iPad Air 2, finally fulfills the tablet's promise of productivity on the go.

While iOS 9 and even iOS 9.3 beta 2 lack some key Android features, there's a lot to like about it, now that new hardware is available in the form of iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus and iPad Pro.

iOS 9.3 update

iOS 9.3 is Apple's first major update with brand new features to highlight. While iOS 9.1 added new emojis, iOS 9.2 tweaked Apple Music and Apple News and iOS 9.2.1 just fixed bugs. But iOS beta actually bring new functionality.

iOS 9 features and update
Goodbye, nighttime bright blues

Specifically, the preview software debuts Night Shift, which automatically tints your iPhone and iPad with warmer colors. Bright blue light can keep you up at night, studies have shown.

Night Shift uses the time and geolocation to determine the sunset and the display returns to normal in the morning. It's a feature we've seen from third-party apps like f.lux on Mac, but a first directly from Apple.

Educators wielding iPads can dive into a new classroom app and multi-student login. Passing an iPad around the class can let students save their work to individual profiles and pick up where they left off.

Beyond that, Notes can be locked behind Touch ID for additional security, and the Apple News and Apple Health apps have been tweaked with minor design and content changes.

iOS 9 compatibility and download size

iOS 9 isn't about a fresh coat of paint like iOS 7 was, it's about rust-proofing glitchy software that launched alongside iOS 8 in 2014. Everything is designed to run smoother, especially with the update to iOS 9.1, and it does.

iOS 9 features and update
iOS 9 works with everything you see here... and iPhone 6S and 6S Plus

There are fewer app crashes and hard restarts required compared to when iOS 8 first came out. I've experienced no white screen of death problems so far, just occasional design flaws.

Even better, iOS 9 works with devices as old as iPhone 4S and iPad 2. Apple didn't axe any old phones or tablets from its compatibility list in the transition to the new operating system.

It was also a relief to see that this free update is a 1.4GB file and doesn't require the 4.7GB of free space to install on your tiny, 16GB devices.

Siri and search

The most obvious iOS 9 change involves Siri and spotlight search. Sliding to the left-most menu reveals a robust list of "Siri Suggestions," filled with your most recent contacts and apps.

It provides quick access to your four most recent contacts and four most recent apps. There's a "show more" and "show less" toggle to increase that to the eight most recent. Sadly, you can't unpin and disallow certain apps from showing up before your parents see you're on Tinder.

iOS 9 features and update
'Siri Suggestions' tries to rival Google Now

Apple Maps gets some attention here, too. "Nearby" shortcuts are a fast way of finding Parking, Restaurants, Gas Stations and even Desserts, which all link to a Yelp review-filled Maps menu. In true Apple fashion, there's no customization or option to re-sort which shortcuts come first.

iOS 9 concludes this Siri-run search menu with news snippets from sources like the New York Times and CNN. Strangely, there are four headlines, but if you hit the rather stingy "Show More" text, it reveals a total of five. A glitch to be solved in the future, perhaps?

The news presentation here isn't as flashy as Samsung's Flipboard-based menu, which is also the leftmost Android menu on the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. Apple saves the magazine-style stories for its new iOS 9 News app.

iOS 9 features and update
'Bring up photos from May 28' brought up my Google IO pictures

Holding down the iPhone or iPad home button to issue normal Siri commands leads to smarter answers. I randomly asked "Bring up photos from May 28, 2015" and Siri immediately opened the pictures I took at Google IO on that date.

I still find Google Now to be more advanced overall, but this same phrase on an Android just leads to my Samsung Galaxy S6 Active opening up random web results. That... doesn't really help, Google. Apple is catching up and boasts that Siri is 40% faster and 40% more accurate. It shows.

Notifications, recent and photo scrubbing

iOS 9 features and updateSmaller iOS 9 menu changes (which are also present in iOS 9.1) have solved big pet peeves I've had with iOS 8, one of which I felt Apple should just steal from Android.

Notifications are now sorted chronologically instead of illogically grouped by app. This was always a problem when I accidentally put my finger on the Touch ID home button, forever sending all time-sorted lockscreen notifications into the app-sorted notifications menu. Now they all reside in the swipe-down-from-the-top menu once the phone is open.

Apple re-stylized its Recent menu, which is the one you see when double pressing in the Home button. It now sports a larger Cover Flow format, rather than its former zoomed out look.

The more important change to the Recent menu is that there's a shortcut icon tucked away at the bottom for Continuity (an app open your nearby Mac, iPad, etc) and location-based apps (if you're at a store like Starbucks and have the app installed).

Previously, these icons were stuck on bottom left corner of the lockscreen, which meant locking your phone just to press the wake button again to access the lock screen shortcut. Now it's available in two spots, whether or not your phone is in a locked state.

Finally, flipping through the default Photos app is less of a hazard, because there's a mini slideshow at the the bottom of the app. It's the fastest way to scrub through photos and reduces the chance you'll bring up that embarrassing picture while showing someone other photos.

Apple Maps

iOS 9 is the company's big push to improve Apple Maps, and it does just that... to some extent. Namely, this comes through with long-overdue public transit directions.

Routes for buses, trains, subways and even ferries are here, and I put it to the test on the New York City subway while navigating Manhattan. I survived this Apple Maps expedition without booting up Google Maps.

iOS 9 features and update
Apple Maps gets updated with transit directions

Besides New York City, transit directions are available in Baltimore, Berlin, Chicago, London, Mexico City, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area, Toronto and Washington D.C. About 300 cities in China, including Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai, are also getting the transit treatment.

Does it fix everything? No. The problem with Apple Maps wasn't just its lack of transit directions or too-often wrong routes, it was the fact that the app's design just couldn't compete with Google Maps. That's still the case.

iOS 9 features and update
Unlike Google Maps, Apple Maps' annoying snap-back design is still here while en route

Google is busy adding ridiculously minute details, like chalking out your vacation dates to the map overtop of your hotel. Apple's cumbersome app won't let you finger ahead to see the next directions. It just springs you back into place. I can go from Los Angeles to London on Google Maps while in the middle of turn-by-turn directions if I wanted to. With Apple Maps, I can't look ahead one block.

While I appreciate its new Nearby feature that lets you discover stops along the way, Apple Maps' foundation is a little too flawed for me to give up on Google Maps just yet. It doesn't matter if Siri insists on opening up Maps whenever I ask for direction by voice.