Apple's iOS 9: Smarter Siri, improved apps, and Apple Pay in the UK

09 June 2015

Drake and his vintage letterman jacket might be hogging all the headlines, but Apple Music wasn’t the only big reveal at today’s WWDC keynote. Apple has unveiled its iOS 9 mobile platform for iPhone and iPad – and while the presentation didn’t offer much in the way of surprises, it did showcase some nifty new features.

Apple is promising better performance and amped-up efficiency from iOS 9, citing a 50% reduction in CPU usage and faster animation than ever before. More importantly, iOS 9 will apparently offer iPhone and iPad users at least an extra hour of battery life compared to iOS 8 – and up to three extra hours with its improved low-power mode.

With an estimated 1.8 GB software size, iOS 9 is unlikely to compromise your device’s storage space. And if you’re concerned about cloud security, your sensitive info and boudoir photography will benefit from the inclusion of two-factor authentication for iCloud.

Siri gets Proactive

Digital assistant Siri is getting an upgrade, with iOS 9 introducing a redesigned interface and improved intelligence. A new feature Apple is calling Proactive will see an increase in Siri’s contextual awareness – and offer a competitive alternative to Android’s Google Now service.

Proactive will see Siri use ‘context-sensitive’ data - such your location, the time of day, and what you’re currently doing on your device – to anticipate what you’ll need or do next, and offer suggestions unprompted. Examples include opening your Music apps when you plug in your headphones, automatically adding invites to your calendar, and searching your email for new phone numbers you haven’t added to your Contacts.

In addition, Proactive will learn your routine based on your day-to-day activities and locations, and offer tailored suggestions such as traffic reports, potential new contacts and other info – a trick very similar to Google Now’s Cards feature.

Spotlight enhancements: goodbye Google Search?

Although you’ll notice Proactive the most when using Siri, the service will also be integrated into Spotlight and throughout iOS 9. And unlike Google Now, Proactive doesn’t share your info with third parties or even link to Apple services. The feature uses data stored locally on your device, doesn’t require your Apple ID to use, and keeps all your info anonymous.

Speaking of Spotlight, the home screen search feature will have even more capabilities in iOS 9. The built-in search will now be able to pull up results from third-party apps thanks to 'deep-linking', so you’ll be able to search and discover app content directly from the Spotlight screen.

Again, this is something that Google has already begun integrating into Android. But a smarter built-in search means Apple users are less likely to open their Google search app or browser when looking for info.

Apple Pay hits the UK

Apple Pay will expand to include more US banks, retailers and apps, and will be able to store company credit cards and retailer loyalty cards in a new-look version of Passbook (renamed Apple Wallet). But the biggest change to Apple Pay is that it will finally roll out in the UK starting July.

Apple Pay UK will be accepted at over 250,000 contactless terminals at launch, and Apple has announced partnerships with eight UK banking institutions, including HSBC, Natwest and Nationwide.

Excitingly, the payment system will also be accepted on London’s public transport, presumably in lieu of a physical Oyster card for buses and the Underground – a feature Apple Pay in the US hasn’t managed to achieve.

New-look News app

Newstands is set to be killed off, and replaced with the all-new News app. News will feature daily news and magazine content in a customised, scrollable grid, with users able to select favourite publications and add bookmarks, save articles and topics, and receive personalised suggestions based on reading interests.

For publishers, News boasts an all-new digital publishing format (dubbed Apple News Format), which allows for easy content creation and plenty of multimedia options, including photo galleries, video and animation, custom fonts, maps and Multi-Touch gestures. Apple has so far signed up over 20 big-name publishers including the New York Times, Time Inc, ESPN, CNN and Bloomberg.

Maps: still not as good as Google

Apple is still trying to make Maps happen, and the app will now include public transit directions for selected cities. Users will be able to view routes and maps for buses, trains, ferries and subways for major US cities including Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington DC.

Public transport info will also be available for London, Berlin and Tokyo, and for more than 300 Chinese cities including Beijing and Shenzhen. Presumably, Apple will continue to add locations in order to keep up with Google Maps’ integrated public transit features.

Other changes

The popular Health suite of features will also be improved – iOS 9 sees the addition of new health data, such as UV exposure and the ability for women to track their menstrual cycles and reproductive health.

If you’re a Notes user, you’ll get to enjoy a brand-new toolbar and formatting options. You’ll also be able to add and take photos directly from the app, as well as draw basic sketches and create checklists. Users can also add contacts directly from Safari, Maps and other apps straight to the Notes screen.

iPad owners will benefit from a bunch of powerful new multitasking features, including a split-screen mode and picture-in-picture video viewing. You can also run two apps side-by-side at once, and the keyboard will also receive much-needed updates and shortcuts.

Registered developers can get their hands on iOS 9 from today, but the general public will have to wait until the US fall for the final product (or July for the beta version). Happily, the software will be compatible with all iPhones from the 4S onwards, and iPads from the 2011 iPad 2 and up.



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