Review: Smooth operator iOS 9 shines in Spotlight

Apple has made some small but marked improvements to its mobile operating system.

Apple has made some small but marked improvements to its mobile operating system.

Apple's iOS 9 is a welcome update to its mobile platform.

There are some great new features but, overall, the update feels like a maturing of iOS 7: an update that was possibly pushed out before its time.

Aesthetically, there is no dramatic change. It continues down the visual path of iOS 7 but the new San Francisco font provides a friendly feel.

Spotlight, the search built into iOS, wins my most improved award. Spotlight returns to the left of the main home screen, as well as being accessible as a pull down from any home screen. The latter location was harder to find for some users, so it's good to see search return to an easy to find location.

Apple has added your recent contacts and app suggestions, location and news information to the Spotlight view. Recent contacts and app and news items work well, but the local information, powered by Apple Maps, is pretty hit and miss.

Better still, Apple is opening up Spotlight to third-party developers. In theory, this would allow you to search a movie in Spotlight and see results from IMDb, Flixster and Netflix, or search a friends' names and see their Facebook profile, a Google Calendar appointment, etc. In the beta period, I was only able to try this with Wikipedia, but the potential is huge.

Another improvement is the Notes app, which brings the powerful features of Evernote, such as adding photos and handwriting to notes, while keeping a clean aesthetic and quick launch of Simplenote. This is what I want from a notes app and I'm tempted to switch to it full-time. You can still use Notes with older Exchange or Gmail accounts, but to use the newer notes features you'll need to switch to iCloud.

And finally the shift key makes sense again. In the latest version, you'll never wonder if you have your caps lock on.

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Multitasking looks prettier, but I'm not sure it's easier to navigate. The new look presents your recent apps as overlapping vertical cards, like a Rolodex that's fallen over.

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The battery saver is great to have, but I have issues with the implementation. iOS only prompts you to turn on the battery-saving mode once you've hit 20 per cent battery life, and the pop-up button does not favour the "turn on" button. More often than not, I hit cancel before I realise it, then need to dive into the settings app to turn the battery saver mode on.

The pop-up should make turning on the power saver mode the most obvious option. Better yet, it should just be an automatic switch; whenever my battery hits 50 per cent or 20 per cent, just turn on the battery saver.

Some of the biggest iOS 9 changes are iPad-only. There are two new multitasking views, which you may or may not see depending on the age of your iPad. A two-thirds view allows supported apps to appear in a narrow iPhone portrait view, alongside the main app. There's also picture-in-picture mode for iPad Air 2 and above.

The iPad also gets a nifty new "keyboard as trackpad" feature for faster editing and cut and paste on the larger devices. It's great to see Apple devoting this much time to the iPad; it shows a commitment to the platform.

There are, of course, a few complaints Apple has not addressed with iOS 9. Most notably, users still cannot set another mail, calendar or map app as default like Android users can.

Apple has worked hard to ensure anyone capable of updating to iOS 9 will. It has greatly reduced the space needed to install the update. During the beta period, Apple even offered to remove and then reinstall apps to make room for the update.

Overall, iOS 9 is a solid update to Apple's mobile platform. I've tested it on an iPhone 5, 5S, iPad mini 2 and iPad Air, all perform well with the new features, with no added lag.

It may not offer all the advanced features Android can provide, but there is a coherence to iOS that is sometimes missing from Android, and iOS 9 smooths out most of the rough edges left from iOS 7's radical redesign.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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