With the latest version of its mobile platform, Apple is focusing on making it smarter and more powerful, starting with a major upgrade to the Siri virtual assistant. Siri now has a feature called Proactive that can offer app suggestions and more based on context such as time of day or location.
It’s a lot like Google Now, Google’s version of the virtual assistant, telling you how far away your next appointment is based on traffic or starting music when you plug headphones into your phone. Proactive lets Siri see what apps you have on your phone and suggest useful ones based on what you’re trying to do.
Apple says that Siri can also look into your inbox to ID incoming calls that aren’t in your address book. All of this is wrapped into a new user interface for Spotlight that appears when you swipe down on a home screen in iOS.
iOS 9 also introduces deep linking within Spotlight searches, letting you access content within apps whenever you do a system-wide search, instead of just opening the app’s main page. Spotlight also can do unit conversions without opening a web search, something that Siri has done for a while, but now queries can be typed in addition to spoken.
Apple says that all of this new intelligent processing happens on the phone itself, meaning your data isn’t being sent to a server in the cloud. It’s a different stance than Google or Microsoft take, which leverage cloud processing to power their virtual assistants on Android and Windows Phone.
Apple’s mobile payments service, Apple Pay, is also getting significant updates in iOS 9. First, it’s launching in the UK, and will be compatible with more banks and credit card providers. It is also gaining support for store credit cards and loyalty cards.
And finally, Apple is killing the Passbook name in favor of a new app called Wallet, which integrates credit cards, debit cards, store cards, and loyalty cards in one place.
The basic Notes app that’s been included in iOS since the beginning is getting some new features, such as image insertion, checklists, and sketches. It’s a lot closer to an Evernote competitor than ever before.
Apple’s oft-criticised Maps app is getting some much-requested upgrades, including support for transit directions. The transit directions feature supports trains, buses, subways, and is launching in more than 20 cities, including New York, San Francisco, Beijing, London, Berlin, and more.
At a system level, Apple says iOS 9 is more efficient and smaller than ever. The new software only requires 1.8GB of free space to install, much less than the 4.6GB iOS 8 needed. Apple also says iOS 9 has a new “low power mode” that can squeeze another three hours of battery life out of a single charge.
Details about how the new low power mode works are scant, but it’s likely that Apple will limit background processes even further than it normally does when it’s engaged. iOS 9 will also include a new system font, likely based off of the San Francisco font on the Apple Watch.
iOS 9 also brings upgrades to Apple’s HomeKit and CarPlay services, with more devices and cars gaining support. CarPlay will support apps from automakers, ostensibly letting users control car-level things like climate control and seating positions, and it will also work wirelessly in future vehicles.
Apple first introduced wireless CarPlay support with iOS 8.3, but there aren’t any vehicles or head units that yet support it.
Apple will first release iOS 9 to registered developers today, followed by a public beta in July. It will be available as a final release this fall and is compatible with devices as old as the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 from 2011.