Tuesday, June 2, 2015

iOS 9 First Impressions (from the future)

I've been writing part-time for MobileSyrup for a little over a month now, and since this piece is as topical as it will ever be, here is the writing sample I provided that got me started there.

These are my predictions of what we can expect from Apple in the next version of their mobile operating system, iOS 9, written as if it has just been publicly released, in September 2015.

As it stands, iOS 9 will be announced for the first time to developers next week, on June 8th in San Francisco, and you'll know I'll be watching intently! Without any further ado, here are my impressions of iOS 9!

As we've come to expect in September, the final version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 9, was released today. Last year’s release of iOS 8 gave users a whole new set of tools to quickly access information contained in their apps in a secure, controlled way, with keyboards, app extensions and today widgets. Developers and users were all very excited by this new and unexpected openness from Apple, while some feel that they could have gone further still.

With iOS 9, Apple have opened up even more, making several changes that users have been frequently asking for in the last year. There has also been a focus on stability and security in iOS 9, and the platform feels a lot more consistent than it has since the release of iOS 8 one year ago. The larger iPhone sizes are also slowly changing the way we interact with iOS, and the interfaces of many apps are changing and improving to reflect that.

Some of the biggest changes to iOS this year are designed to bring the newly released Apple Watch into closer step with the iPhone. A new overhaul of the contacts app will allow you to set a global VIP contact list for notifications, including integration with your Twitter and Facebook contacts. You will also be able to get public transit information through Apple Maps directly, meaning that your shiny new Apple Watch will be able to let you know when buses nearby will be arriving. The update also brings the ability to reply to messages directly from notifications in third-party applications, both on the iPhone and on the Apple Watch. Finally, the Beats Music service, purchased by Apple in 2014, is now built-in to the iPhone and Apple Watch, allowing you to stream professionally curated playlists that combine the music you have on your phone with music in the Beats Music catalogue. The update also brings the Beats Music collection into iTunes on your computer, and allows you to pick up your music where you left off on your computer when you're heading out the door.

Some of the other new features that are welcome additions to the platform include:
  • A system-wide low-power mode that will kick in automatically and disable background activity when your phone is running out of juice.
  • The ability to set non-Apple apps as default, including mail, web browsing, and camera apps from an approved list (and allowing users to remove default Apple apps from their home screens completely). Third-party apps will also now be able to work with Handoff more easily work, allowing you to quickly move between iOS devices and Macs, especially when using non-Apple apps.
  • Updates to the photos app that include an incognito mode and corresponding folder for pictures that you don’t wish to automatically upload to iCloud Photo Library or other cloud services. iOS 9 also includes a new API for photos that will simplify the auto-uploading process, sending your photos from iCloud directly to third-party applications like Dropbox and Google+, rather than uploading multiple copies from your phone.
All of these changes are welcome additions to the platform, focused mainly on enabling users to complete simple or complex tasks in less time. All of this in turn saves battery life as well as using less of your monthly data allotment, something we can all get excited about. Several changes to iOS are designed to push quick interactions to the Apple Watch, which is also an important move. The value added by pairing your phone to an Apple Watch will likely continue to grow as the platform matures and more users and developers really start to see what the watch can do for them.

There has been a lot of discussion in the last year about the decreasing stability of iOS, with some pundits suggesting Apple should slow down and make sure to get the details right with their software releases. This update really does seem to be the best of both worlds so far, with a slough of new features sure to impress new and old users alike, while the stability of the device in day-to-day use appears to be a return to expectations from a company with such high quality standards.

As it was last year with the release of app extensions, the full nature of this update likely won’t be realized until third-party developers have the ability to take full advantage of the new features in their applications. Developers will also inevitably continue to refine their applications as use cases shift, and it will soon be required that interfaces purposefully adapt to larger phones and the usefulness of an accompanying Apple Watch.

We will continue looking through the update and share anything else we come across in the coming days and weeks.