iOS 9 and watchOS 2: An In-Depth Review

iOS 9 and watchOS 2: An In-Depth Review

The Ins and Outs of Apple’s Latest Operating Systems

Some of the new features of Apple's new operating systems for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch stand out more than others. Here’s what the tech giant got right with iOS 9 and watchOS 2 and a few things it got wrong.

What Apple Got Right with iOS 9

Spoiler alert: iOS 9 is more about function than flash. While the beta and developer’s versions of Apple’s mobile operating system are subject to change until its official release this fall, so far, the changes to the OS refine and improve upon past advancements.

iOS 7 brought a major redesign to the look and feel of iOS as well as introduced Control Center, AirDrop, CarPlay, iTunes Radio, and Touch ID support for newer iPhones. Last year, iOS 8 introduced an array of new features, from Apple Pay to iCloud Photo Library, but software bugs and battery life problems plagued many newly updated devices. Apple is showing it’s serious about addressing these issues in iOS 9.

But that’s not all the tech giant is doing. When users install iOS 9 on their iPhones and iPads, they will find some new features there—notably the News app, transit directions in Maps, and a redesigned Notes app.  Some intriguing new capabilities include new keyboard controls, the ability to search Settings, as well as a host of new or improved features like contextual reminders and improved search and Siri suggestions that fall under the umbrella of what Apple is calling Proactive. Those who own iPads especially lucked out with this iOS update. Of the many new features in iOS 9, here are the ones that Apple got right.

"Apple is focused on enhancing its users' productivity in iOS 9."

The Notes App Is Finally Useful

Apple is focused on enhancing its users’ productivity in iOS 9. A case in point is the Notes app, which has gone from an app that many users hid in a folder and forgot about to a powerful organizational tool. Now users can organize notes in different folders, even though they still can’t sort them. They can make sketches using a variety of digital drawing implements and colors. There’s even a ruler to help in drawing straight lines. And instead of just inserting photos into a note, it is now possible to take photos and videos from the app or access Photos directly. There are also new formatting options for creating different titles and headings, checklists, and other kinds of lists. The share menu now includes Notes, which means it’s possible to share information from different apps such as a website from Safari, an address in Maps, or a list in Notes. One less useless app on people’s iPhones and iPads is definitely a win.

The iPad Gets Split-Screen Mode

Apple is giving the iPad three new multitasking functions. The new Side by Side mode lets iPad Air 2 users open and use two apps at once. Android tablets have had this capability for a while and it was only a matter of time before the feature came to iOS. But Apple took it a step further with extra multitasking features for the iPad Air and Air 2 and iPad mini 2 and 3. Slide Over makes it possible to work in windows of two different sizes and slide the smaller window away when finished. This means a person can accomplish a task in the larger window using one app, such as writing an email in Mail, while referring to a different app such as Notes or Safari in a smaller window. The third multitasking function for the iPad is Picture in Picture, which makes it possible to resize a video window and move it around on top of another open window. This allows you to watch the news while you answer emails or consult with a coworker via FaceTime while you work in Notes.

Whether these multitasking features can boost the iPad’s flagging sales remains to be seen, but they do support the rumors of a 12.9-inch “iPad Pro,”  especially when you consider the other rumor out of WWDC 2015 that iOS 9 includes precision control for a stylus

Apple Takes on Google Now

In a lot of ways, iOS 9 is more about enhancing existing apps and features rather than adding new ones. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the new Proactive features, which are really just the enhancement and integration of certain apps and features. Although not every Proactive feature of the iOS 9 beta will necessarily be found in the version that Apple releases this fall, done right, Proactive could make the iPhone an even more essential tool than it already is.

"In iOS 9, Siri can perform searches and give reminders based on the content of a user's activity.”

Among the Proactive features is a beefed-up Spotlight search page that users can now find to the left of the Home screen. Here they will see a search bar at the top of the page followed by Siri Suggestions, which consist of Recent Contacts (moved from its former location above the app switcher), app recommendations, nearby locations, and information such as local news. Typed searches will bring up even more information from more sources than before, including content from third-party apps.

Another cool Proactive feature sends you suggestions based on usage patterns. Most people tend to follow a routine and use their iPhones in a certain way at a certain time. Proactive can automatically display the controls of the Music app at 7 a.m. if you like to rock out in the shower everyday at that time. It can also suggest people to call based on who you tend to contact at a specific time and place.

A more intelligent Siri plays a crucial role in all of this. In iOS 9, Siri can perform searches and give reminders based on the context of a user’s activity. A user can say “remind me about this when I get to work tomorrow,” and Siri will know the user is referring to the email that is open at that moment.

If you think all of this sounds like an iOS version of Google Now, the intelligent Google digital assistant that predicts what its users want based on their previous activity, you’re not alone. But one crucial difference that Apple definitely got right in iOS 9 is the company’s efforts to protect its users’ privacy. During the iOS 9 preview at WWDC 15, Apple emphasized that it won’t track users’ activity, link it to the user’s Apple ID, or share it with third parties. That alone makes Proactive better than Google Now.

iOS 9 Acknowledges That Women Exist


All Users

According to a 2014 Nielsen survey, 60 percent of women ages 30–39 use health and fitness apps, compared with 44 percent of smartphone owners overall.

As part of a software update, the addition of reproductive health tracking to the Health App is such a tiny change that it’s barely worth mentioning. As the rectification of a major oversight on Apple’s part, it’s huge. Especially when you consider that 60 percent of fitness and health tracking app users are women, according to a report on fitness tracking by Nielson

From the moment Apple announced the Health app and with every update to iOS 8, people have been asking why an app that lets users track almost every conceivable health metric (even the intake of an obscure nutrient like molybdenum) would leave out the ability for women to track their menstrual cycle.

Reproductive health is an important indicator of a woman’s overall health and monitoring it is arguably one of the earliest forms of health tracking. Its omission from the Health app is symbolic of the tech industry’s overall lack of diversity and lack of women in particular. As Rose Evelith put it in the Atlantic, “This… isn’t the first time a tech product has prioritized men over women. The vast majority of tech companies are staffed by men, especially on the development side.” 

Apple has taken the outcry over its oversight to heart: in addition to finally adding reproductive health tracking to the Health app, the company had two women executives present on stage during the WWDC 15 Keynote and offered WWDC scholarships to female developers as well.

Finally Find What You’re Looking for in Settings

If trying to change your iPhone settings has ever left you scratching your head, you’ll find the new search bar in the Settings app offers some welcome relief. This is for all of you who can’t figure out why Apple would tuck Siri and keyboard settings under General where there’s a zero percent chance you’ll remember to look. In the beta version of iOS 9 Beta, you can just swipe down and enter “keyboard” (or another query) in the search bar and tap to go to the corresponding Settings screen. This is an update we can all get behind.

Shoring Up the Foundation

Apple introduced an astounding number of impressive features with iOS 8: Family Sharing, Apple Pay, Apple Watch support, Continuity, iCloud Drive, iCloud Photo library, interactive notifications, widgets, and most recently, Apple Music. It seemed like every update to iOS 8 brought a major new feature.

iOS 8 was also possibly the buggiest version of iOS Apple has released so far.  From the minute they downloaded iOS 8, users had a lot to complain about, starting with the whopping 4.58 GB of storage they had to free up in order to install it. Then came the Wi-Fi and battery issues and a disastrous update that was supposed to fix them but only made things worse.

With iOS 9, Apple has promised to shore up the foundations of the mobile operating system (we assume this means fewer bugs and no more Wi-Fi issues), enhance security, and optimize the battery life. The company promises an additional one hour of battery life and has developed a new low power mode (though iPhone Life blogger Todd Bernhard points out this feature may not be as useful as it sounds.)

In addition, iOS 9 will only require 1.3 GB to install and will be compatible with the same models as iOS 8. There are even rumors that the iOS 9 update will automatically delete and reinstall apps (with all data still intact) as part of the installation process, eliminating installation issues caused by limited storage capacity. This should make a lot of Apple users happy.

“Native third-party apps could be as big for the success of the Apple Watch as the App Store was for the iPhone.”

What Apple Got Right with watchOS 2

The Apple Watch is a solid device that’s great at tracking fitness, pushing important notifications from the iPhone, helping users navigate without looking at a screen, and letting users quickly check the time and weather without pulling out their iPhone. And it is the most successful smartwatch available to date. That said, there are plenty of people who aren’t convinced the Apple Watch is worth its price. The new features that come with watchOS 2 may be what finally gets those potential users excited. 

Apple Watch Gets Native Apps

Native third-party apps could be as big for the success of the Apple Watch as the App Store was for the iPhone. Until now, the need to push information from the iPhone to the Apple Watch and the corresponding lack of developer access to certain Apple Watch features seriously hindered the performance of third-party apps, rendering most of them pretty much useless. Now with watchOS 2, developers get direct access to the Apple Watch. This access also includes the ability to create complications and make use of the Digital Crown, taptic engine, speaker and microphone, accelerometer, and more. It will be exciting to see what Apple Watch app possibilities open up as developers leverage the features of this new device for the first time.

Things the Apple Watch Should Have Had from the Start

Almost every other updated feature of watchOS 2 pales in comparison to finally getting native third-party apps on the Apple Watch, but there are a few more features that are very welcome—especially the ability to reply to an email from the Apple Watch.

It’s one of the most frustrating things about the Apple Watch: users can read emails on their watches, but if they want to reply, they must pull their iPhones out of their pockets. Granted, it’s not like there’s a keyboard for typing; but it is possible to dictate messages, so why not emails? Whatever the reason users didn’t get this ability in watchOS 1, they’ve got it now.

Another crucial update is the addition of Activation Lock, an essential security feature that prevents thieves from wiping and reactivating a stolen Apple Watch. Given Apple’s focus on privacy and security, it’s surprising users had to wait until watchOS 2 to get Activation Lock.

Other things Apple got right with the latest version of watchOS? You can finally start a workout using Siri; the Digital Crown finally gets useful thanks to the Time Travel feature, which lets you scroll through your appointments and the weather for yesterday, today, and tomorrow; and Apple finally acknowledged that you might actually have more than 12 friends and added the ability to create multiple Friends screens.

What Apple Got Wrong

Overall, Apple got a lot right with its updates to iOS and watchOS. There are a few things that Apple could have done differently though.

Intrusive and Annoying and Just Plain Wrong

This is more a possible wrong than an actual wrong, but there is plenty of potential for Proactive features to get really annoying. Anytime technology anticipates future user behavior and offers suggestions based on past and current activity, things can go wrong. Just ask anyone who has typed a message with the autocorrect enabled and then forgot to read over the message before hitting send. Or any Apple Watch user who has received a reminder to stand after just sitting down.

Another iOS 9 feature that is guaranteed to be really annoying is the automatic addition of events in the email a user receives to the Calendar. At iPhone Life, we’re expecting that the most popular iOS 9 Tip of the Day we’ll write will be how to disable this feature.

On the Apple Watch side, Apple has doubled down on the lame Digital Touch feature by adding the ability to annoy people by sending them terrible drawings in multiple colors. Better sketch features can’t make the feature less stupid.

A final quibble about the new Apple Watch OS is the addition of the time-lapse watch faces and the ability to create a personalized watch face with slideshows of favorite photos. It’s true they look great; but until the watch’s battery life improves, they’re just another beautiful way to drain your battery. 

Overall, iOS 9 offers strong updates. In spite of the potential for Proactive to get things wrong occasionally, the feature will greatly enhance the utility of iPads and iPhones thanks to the expanded search capabilities and the ability of Siri create contextual reminders and search the content of apps.

After so much change in iOS 7 and 8, the refinement and enhancement of existing features and the focus on stability in iOS 9 is exactly what iOS needs.