iOS 9 may not seem like a huge release on the surface, but there’s a lot to like under the hood. While it’s not a major new redesign and is more in line with the “S” release cycle Apple frequently uses to refine the user experience instead of introducing new hardware features, if you spend some time with iOS 9 you’ll find there are a lot of things here that can help you become more efficient and productive when using your iOS device(s).
Note that this is NOT intended to be an in-depth review of iOS 9. There are several sites that have produced tomes regarding iOS 9 like iMore, MacStories, and more. Instead, this article is intended to spotlight (pun intended) the 10 features I believe will make the biggest difference for Asian Efficiency readers in your everyday workflow from a productivity standpoint. After all, isn’t the goal of all this technology to make our work easier?
So with that in mind, here is my list of the top 10 new iOS features to help make your iOS device #AsianEfficient.
#1: Deep Linking
Historically speaking, iOS has been terrible for multitasking, which has caused more than one Apple doomsday naysayer to proclaim “you can’t do any real work on an iPad.” Even something as simple as selecting a link in an email or text message was annoying because you knew that while the link would open in Safari like it’s supposed to, there was no easy way back to what you were previously working on. Your only option was to double-tap the home button and flip through the app switcher and find the app you were just in. Fortunately, that problem is solved in iOS 9 with the addition of “Deep Linking,” which adds a link back to your previous app when a new one opens.
This is one of those features you don’t even realize you need until you start using it (and yes, I’m aware there is an Android equivalent that has been available for awhile). What’s great about the iOS implementation is that the links appear on a system level, meaning it’s not left up to the developer to implement the ability to go back to your previous app. I’ve used this in apps that have not been updated to support iOS 9 (these apps can be linked to, but my understanding is that they won’t display the link). For example, if you’re in a game and you select a link that opens in Safari or Mail, you’ll still see a link back to your previous app in the top-left corner of your screen.
#2: Dedicated iCloud Drive App
The iCloud Drive app allows you to access individual files, kind of like the Dropbox app. It also allows you to open files from the iCloud Drive app in other apps (e.g., you can open a saved image in an app like Pixelmator) and even save your changes back to iCloud.
This is a big deal because it is almost like the file system in Macs that some people have been clamoring for on iOS devices. While I never expect iOS to support a full file system via an interface like the Finder, the iCloud Drive app does solve one of the big pain points that’s existed in iOS until now: the lack of an ability to work on files in different applications.
This is one of those features that in itself doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but it lays the groundwork for future versions of iOS to really open up some very powerful workflows. iOS has never been a platform that you could use as your only device (unless you’re a wizard like Federico Viticci), but iOS 9 is inching closer to being a real solution for people who want to get serious work done on their iOS device in a post-PC world.
#3: Notification Sort Options
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always been annoyed that notifications were sorted by app in the past. I don’t clear them as often as I should, so if I missed a notification it would be grouped somewhere in a long list of notifications and I would have to scroll all the different apps I’d received notifications from to find it.
Fortunately, Notification Center now allows you to sort notifications by day (and is set up that way by default). This is much better and makes it much easier to find the notification you’re looking for. You still can’t clear all notifications like you can on Apple Watch, but it’s definitely better than it used to be.
#4: Slide Over (iPad Only)
One of my favorite iPad features is Slide Over, which allows you to set up an app to use in a sidebar that can be shown within another app by swiping from the right side of the screen in landscape mode. I do this all the time when doing research for an article, because I can have Safari open while reading websites and then when I want to jot down a note I can do so using Drafts in Slide Over. It’s not true Split Screen, as you can’t use both apps at the same time, but it’s great when you want to quickly jot something down in another app. The feature is widely supported (works as far back as the iPad Air and iPad Mini 2).
Split Screen is also awesome and a step up from Slide Over, allowing you to run two apps side by side at the same time. Unfortunately, this takes a lot of horsepower and is only supported in the iPad Air 2 and above.
With both Slide Over and Split Screen, apps must be updated by the developers to support these new layouts. If your favorite app isn’t showing up as an option in Slide Over, check and see if there’s an update available in the App Store.
#5: Search API
iOS search has always been fairly useless to me, because Apple has restricted developers from having access to the API to include results from their apps in the search results (which included a lot of my favorite apps), but this is changed in iOS 9. That means that developers of apps like Drafts, Evernote, and third-party mail apps like Dispatch (my favorite) can include content from their apps in search results.
Now, you don’t have to open the app to search the contents, and you can even use Siri to do a universal search on your phone. The only bad part about this is that it’s not done by default—developers need to update their apps to make content available to the iOS search API before results can start showing up in search results.
#6: Cursor Selection
Selecting text on iOS has always been a pain. You had to try and hit just the right spot, and if you had to drag the cursor at all to select a space in the middle of a word, you couldn’t actually see it because your finger was in the way. Fortunately it’s much easier in iOS 9, because you can actually use the onscreen keyboard as a trackpad for text selection. To do this, just drag with two fingers on an iPad or use 3D Touch on an iPhone 6S or 6S Plus (more on 3D Touch later).
This feature is fairly straightforward and somewhat basic, but I’m curious to see where this type of feature goes in the future, as this is almost like a using a mouse on your touchscreen device. It’ll be interesting to see what other types of features Apple can add by using a “virtual trackpad” like this in future versions of iOS.
#7: Proactive Suggestions
In iOS 9, Siri becomes much more useful. One of the ways it does that is through the implementation of Proactive Suggestions, which watches you use your phone and tries to make suggestions based on patterns that it sees. For example, if you always watch Netflix at a certain time each night, Siri will have that app ready to go for you when you pick up your iOS device.
I know Android users are going to say that this has been around for awhile with Google Now (and they’re right), but there is fundamental difference in how Android and iOS implement this feature based on the philosophies of the two companies. Google Now looks at everything you have in the Google ecosystem from the server side, which is exactly how Google does business—they analyze your data and provide results that they deem appropriate. In iOS 9, however, everything happens on the iOS device itself. None of your data is transmitted back to Apple servers. This is something Apple made a big deal about during their iOS 9 keynote, as they pride themselves on respecting users’ privacy.
Many people believe that the value they get from their data not being private outweighs the cost (“Hey, I’ve got nothing to hide”), so this really can be a touchy subject. That said, if the thought of everything you type being sent to a company to analyze and profile you with creeps you out, then iOS will be a better option for you.
#8: Revamped Notes App
The new Notes app is pretty slick, and if there weren’t already a bunch of great options because this has been such a glaring need for so long, I would probably be more excited about it. I personally use Drafts and have for a long time, and I have no intention of switching to the Notes app.
So why put this on the list then?
Because it is a great solution for users who are new to iOS.
The new Notes app is kind of like “Evernote lite,” in my opinion. It has the ability to do checkboxes, lists, and even allows annotations (something Evernote does not currently support outside of its separate Penultimate app). This is something I’ve used in the past with Notability, which is a great app but has a proprietary file format (which I generally dislike). While the Notes app also has a proprietary file format, it has the huge advantage of being a built-in system app. That means that Apple has to support it (at least for now), while third-party apps can come and go. If I were new to the iOS ecosystem, I wouldn’t hesitate to start using the built-in Notes app.
#9: Wi-Fi Assist
This one can be a double-edged sword. I know people who absolutely hate this feature because they have to watch their data usage, and having a weak Wi-Fi signal that switches over to LTE without you realizing it can eat through data quickly. For me, though, the convenience of not having to stop what I’m doing and go into settings and turn off Wi-Fi when my signal is weak is a welcome addition, as I find myself doing at least once a day.
This feature is on by default, so if you’re worried about eating up all your data, you’ll want to turn it off. Unfortunately, it can be kind of tricky to find in the Settings menu. To turn it off, go to “Settings —> Cellular” and scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen (past the list of apps you have installed). Eventually, you’ll find an option labeled “Wi-Fi Assist,” which you can toggle off.
#10: 3D Touch
3D Touch is going to be a game-changer for how people use their mobile devices, even if it’s only supported on the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus at the moment. I recently got an iPhone 6S and before I started using it, I thought this was probably a gimmicky, over-hyped feature that people would quickly forget, since most current apps don’t support it.
I was wrong.
I’ve already seen a couple of my favorite apps receive updates that support 3D Touch, and it makes these apps so much more useful. Let me give you a few examples.
With 3D Touch, I can:
- Choose whether I want to go to a certain perspective, Inbox, or create a new task in OmniFocus
- Choose what type of document I want to scan using Scant
- Launch my favorite action from Launch Center Pro (like my daily reflection template that auto-files to Day One)
- Run my favorite workflows from the Workflows app
3D Touch serves as a quick-launch for many productivity apps, reducing the friction for capturing and performing repetitive tasks on my iOS even further. I really can’t overstate how useful this is, and I can’t wait until 3D Touch is more widely adopted.
Honorable Mention: Low Power Mode
iOS 9 has a Low Power Mode that automatically switches on when your iOS device gets below 20% battery, but it also has a manual toggle if you know you’re going to need to use your iOS device heavily in the future without being able to charge it. At the keynote, Apple described Low Power Mode as “pulling levers you didn’t even know were there,” and according to Geekbench scores these tweaks roughly equate to reducing the performance of an iPhone 6 Plus to about an iPhone 5S. If you’ve ever switched off Wi-Fi or Bluetooth in an effort to save battery, though, you’ll love Low Power Mode because unlike toggling those switches manually, which turns those features completely off, you can still use your phone. Switching on Low Power Mode at 20% can help you eke out up to three hours more battery. On a recent trip, though, I left it on all the time, and it was the difference between me having to turn my phone off for the majority of the time and me finishing the day with almost 50% battery left.
While this isn’t strictly a productivity feature, it’s hard to be productive on your iOS device when your battery is dead. One of the biggest annoyances with my iPhone 5S was that after two years I couldn’t get close to a full day’s use of the battery anymore, but the Low Power Mode in iOS 9 helped make it usable for full-day use again.
You can really see the iOS operating system start to mature with iOS 9, and the emphasis on new features for power users in this year’s annual update is welcome. What are some of your favorite iOS 9 features? Let us know in the comments!
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