iOS 9 iPhone review: Apple tinkers under the hood, and leaves smaller countries behind

17 Sep 2015

Image of iPhone 6 with iOS 9. Photo: Luke Maxwell

After weeks of anticipation, iOS 9 was launched for iPhones and iPads, but does it actually improve on iOS 8 or has it just tweaked things for the sake of it?

I feel it’s a particularly bad trait to feel the compulsion to download the latest update to software the moment it comes out, but clearly for iOS 9 it was a compulsion many gave in to.

I was pretty eager to at least get a look at and see what people had been making such a fuss about, but any mild sense of interest was quickly quashed by the six hours it took to download the 1Gb file.

This, it seems, wasn’t just me as reports had been coming in that Apple’s servers were clearly feeling the stress, not only with downloads being particularly slow, but the update failing to start at all.

Anyhow, once it finally got up and running I had a look around.

Apple apps

My ever-growing folder of Apple apps I never use and can’t get rid of.

iOS 9 at first glance

At first glance, you’re going to notice very little, to be honest. The most noticeable changes made are small design tweaks that are dotted around the main interface, as well as in its keyboard.

For starters, font lovers will notice Apple’s Helvetica Nue is no longer with us, having been replaced by their own font called San Francisco, which looks fine and, for the keyboard, a few shading changes to the shift keys is all that’s apparent.

The real changes come with Proactive, Apple’s new Siri pal. When swiping left on the home screen, a new page will appear showing the Proactive feature, which aims to use machine learning to build up a picture of you.

From what I’ve seen so far, this covers what apps and contacts you seem to use most and it will supposedly learn if I ring the same person each day at a certain time and prompt me to ring them then.

It’s been a day so I can hardly say how efficient it is, but it’s been pretty capable so far.

Proactive Siri

How Proactive looks

Apps: First it giveth and then it taketh away

It seems to be the case with every new iOS release that smaller countries are being left behind in terms of apps and services.

The big surprise of iOS 9 was the News aggregator app that launched, but only in a select few countries, so forgive if I can’t review it.

We did, however, get a few new additions with iCloud, Find my iPhone and Find Friends going native on iOS 9, with the latter two joining my Apple apps folder where all the new force-installed apps that I never use go. A shoutout to the Apple Watch app, by the way.

Likewise, Apple Passbook is now just Wallet so as to work with Apple Pay, which, once again, we don’t have here in Ireland, but it can still be used for e-tickets.

The Podcasts app has been given a major update to make it look more like Apple Music and it does look a bit more modern, it has to be said.

Apple battery

The yellow power bar indicates when low power mode is activated.

The good stuff: new Notes and low-power mode

The biggest changes in iOS 9 are not really in standout design features or sparkly apps, but rather what’s happening underneath.

One of the much welcome additions, at least for me, is the inclusion of a new low-power mode that knocks off non-essential power-hungry apps to keep your phone going that bit longer.

The iPhone has been crying out for such an option given most iPhones’ inability to last a full day. If I had a criticism, it would be that I don’t think it goes far enough as, say, Samsung does with its ultra power-saving mode.

Any power-saving mode should surely have Wi-Fi and location services switch off given their energy-hungry nature, but I guess this is at least a step in the right direction, with Apple saying it adds another three hours to the phone’s battery life.

As for Notes, well it’s certainly a lot more fun to play around with as it becomes more akin to Microsoft Paint than a simple text reminder pad.

As you can see from my clearly quality drawing, you can choose between a few different tools to draw like a pencil, marker or ruler (probably more geared towards the iPad), as well as a new checklist system.

Apple Notes

My rather crude drawing using the new Notes drawing feature.

Verdict: Well, you’re going to download it anyway

It hasn’t been a glitz and glamour iOS launch from Apple, it has to be said. From what I’ve seen it’s added some features that were necessary like a low-battery mode and some updates to Siri and its machine learning.

But it’s also added more native Apple apps that are largely useless to those outside the US and UK, which is a sad reality these days that just means more clutter for most of the world.

Probably the biggest reason to get iOS 9, though, is not for any new feature that Apple has promoted, but rather because of today’s news that an AirDrop vulnerability is out there at the moment that could affect older versions of iOS.

And for older phones, the 1Gb update is a little easier on the memory that the 4.5Gb iOS 8 update that older iPhones struggled with.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic