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Apple's iOS 9 includes a smarter Siri, a new News app, and iPad split-screen multitasking

By James Lu - on 9 Jun 2015, 3:18am

Apple's iOS 9 includes a smarter Siri, a new News app, and iPad split-screen multitasking

Apple announced the latest version of iOS, iOS 9, at WWDC 2015 today. The new OS has a major upgrade to Apple's Siri digital assistant, with a new, more 'proactive' Siri, who will offer app suggestions based on context such as time of day or location, very similar to what Google Now currently does.

For example, Siri will automatically tell you how far away your next appointment is based on traffic, or if you like to play music in the morning, she can learn that, and will automatically start suggesting music for you around the same time every day. If you plug your headphones in, she will also automatically suggest a recent playlist or an audiobook. 

Proactive Siri will also see what apps you have on your phone and suggest useful ones based on what you're trying to do. If you have an incoming phone call but that number isn't in your contact list, Siri will also scan your email inbox to see if the number matches any in your emails, and suggest possible contact info. Siri is also better at understanding natural language and can return better search results. For example, you can ask her to show you all of your photos from a certain time and location.

iOS 9 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.

Interestingly, 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. This is notably different from what Google does with Google Now, and what Microsoft does with Cortana, both of which use cloud processing for all of their functionality.

iOS 9 will also be getting a new Apple app called News, which will aggregate news content from a variety of sources. Articles are presented in a mobile-formatted layout that loads quickly and has informative animations and full-bleed images. Apple has partnered with a number of news organizations to provide content for the new app, such as CNN, Time, Wired, and ESPN.

The app can also display articles from any web link, but Apple says the best experience is with those that have been specifically built for the app. News looks very similar to Flipboard and a variety of other mobile reading apps that have been in the App Store for year but Apple claims the app will learn from user usage, and will suggest content and articles based on what you prefer to read. News will be first available in the US, UK, and Australia.

iOS 9 also includes some upgrades to some older apps. Notes is getting some new features, such as image insertion, checklists, and sketches, and Apple Maps is getting support for public transport directions, showing train and bus routes. The new transit options will support  20 cities at launch, although Singapore isn't one of them.

iOS 9 also introduces new multi-tasking features designed specifically for the iPad. The on-screen keyboard includes shortcuts for cut, copy, paste, and more, as well as a new mode that turns the keyboard into a trackpad.

The biggest change to how iOS works on the iPad is a new Split-Screen multitasking mode. This mode will only be available on the iPad Air 2, and will let you run two apps side-by-side at the same time, something we've seen in Android and Microsoft tablets for years now.

All older iPads (although Apple notably did not specifically mention the iPad Mini) will also get access to a redesigned task switcher called Slide Over, which lets you swipe apps in to the same screen, much like Windows 8, and both apps remain fully active on the screen at the same time. Apps can be split 50-50 or 70-30 on the screen, and the iPad's existing multi-finger touch gestures work on either side.

All iPads will also get a new picture-in-picture video player that can be moved around the screen.

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, which is 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.

iOS 9 will be compatible with all devices that were compatible with iOS 8. Registered developers will be able to get it later today, with a public beta coming in July. It will be available as a final release in September this year, presumably when the new iPhones are launched.

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