iOS 9 Update: Its Five Best New Features for iPhone and iPad

By James O Malley on at

iOS 9 is available for download now. All you have to do is go into settings on your iOS device and accept the software update prompt to get it. Unlike the massive cosmetic changes during the transition from iOS 7 to iOS 8, the ninth iteration doesn't look radically different, but it does bring with it a bunch of useful new features that should make your iPhone or iPad a little better at serving your needs. Here's our pick of the five best new features. And no, we haven't bothered to mention the improvements to Apple Maps, because let's face it, who uses Apple Maps when there's Google Maps available right there on the app store?

iPhone Low Battery

Low Power Mode

Apple has wisely followed suit with Google, Samsung and other Android manufacturers and introduced a low-powered mode. Essentially recognising that modern smartphone batteries are pretty crappy, if enabled the new feature will switch off some of the less vital functionality from your phone to squeeze a little extra time out of your battery. This means that whilst you'll still be able to receive your text messages, your phone will refrain from refreshing apps in the background and so on.

Apple also claims that the update in general is more efficient and will reduce your phone's battery consumption enabling you to squeeze an extra hour out of it, before needing to recharge.

Multitasking & Picture in Picture

iPhones have relatively small screens, but iPads have plenty of space on screen - so why not do two things at once? Apple has added the ability to run two apps simultaneously side-by-side, enabling you to make notes whilst reading a book, or perhaps watch Netflix whilst checking in with your friends on Facebook.

Best of all is the new "picture-in-picture" mode. If you're watching a video on a supported app you can pop out the video player and have it float over the top of your other activity on the iPad. So you can keep an eye on the match whilst going through a boring spreadsheet.

It isn't quite a desktop OS style free for all with multitasking apps though – it is more like Windows' "Snap" feature, where you place an app either to the right or the left, and can choose from a handful of different configurations which app gets which sized area.

Sadly the new feature is only available on the very newest iPads: the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4 and iPad Pro, presumably due to the amount of processing power needed to run two apps simultaneously. And to use multitasking features it will require app developers to update their apps. But for most of the biggest apps these updates are probably already available.

Wallet Making Apple Pay Usable

When Apple Pay launched, I quickly discovered a design flaw: It takes bloody ages. Scanning your fingerprint is time consuming, and often takes two or three goes before your phone is happy that it is you and not an imposter. These extra seconds might be fine if you're in a slow-paced shop, like an independent book store where there's only ever two customers and you're both friends with the shopkeeper, but if you're in a queue at the ticket gates of the London Underground, you can feel your fellow commuters shooting daggers at you as you fumble with your phone.

The good news is that iOS 9 solves this problem by letting you pre-authorise your Apple Pay payment before you reach the front of the queue. To do to this, simply go into the Wallet app (which is the renamed Passbook app) and hold your finger to the fingerprint reader. It will scan your finger and then say "hold near reader to pay".

You can also access this same functionality by double-tapping the home button from the lock screen.

App Thinning

One of the most long overdue features is something Apple has called "App Thinning". On previous iterations of iOS, the files that you've downloaded for an app have been the same whether you have an 8GB iPhone 4S or a 128GB iPad Air 2, meaning that we've actually been carrying around a lot of junk. With iOS 9, apps will only download what they need to run on the device you're running it on, which could save precious disk space for more photos, videos and y'know, stuff you actually want.

The biggest saving is expected to be in games which come packed with more hi-res textures and images for larger, more powerful devices. So just like that, Apple has hopefully saved you a bit more space on your phone.

Improved Notes App

And finally Apple has rolled out its first really significant update to an app that has been a part of iOS from the beginning: Notes. No longer are you simply limited to text, but you can add images, bullet points, formatting, and even draw pictures in there too.

The update also adds support for app "extensions" to Notes, which enables apps to send data directly to Notes, just as you might send something to Facebook or Twitter.

The update is actually rather reminiscent of Microsoft's OneNote app which also acts as something of a digital scrapbook.