How I'm Using iOS 9's New Features

In July I installed the iOS 9 and El Capitan Public Betas on my primary devices so I could spend the summer getting to know the new OSes and eventually write about them. I was particularly excited to beta test some of my favorite 3rd Party apps with iOS 9 functionality. Unfortunately, Apple didn't allow external beta testers until just a few days before iOS 9 actually launched, and I didn't feel a review would be useful without that experience.

But now, just two weeks into fully using iOS 9 and 3rd party apps optimized for it, I can easily say this is a game changer for how I work and tempts me even more to purchase an iPad Pro.

With these fantastic changes, I wanted to share how I'm using some of these features.

iPad Features

After Apple's announcement of iOS 9 at WWDC, I wrote about my excitement for the many features coming to iPad. For too long, the iPad had been treated like a large iPhone and wasn't given unique features that took advantage of the larger screen real estate. Apple took their first major step to rectify this with iOS 9, and the results are astounding.

The most obvious addition is multitasking. With slideover and split screen I can have multiple apps running at the same time. Gone are the days of flipping back and forth between an outline from OmniOutliner or mind map from MindNode and a paper I'm writing in Ulysses. While Ulysses hasn't been updated to work in split screen, I can still use OmniOutliner in slideover, reference the outline, and return to working very quickly. Also, the need for a share extension to work with Clips, my clipboard manager, while collecting links for a blog post are gone. I can simply copy a link from Safari or Blink with Clips open on the side of the screen, and it's instantly added.

One of my favorite apps, RefMe was just updated this week to add multitasking, and to have this happen while I'm working on my master's research couldn't be better timing. I can't wait to try this out in the coming days.

The one issue here is app compatibility. I already get ridiculously annoyed when apps I use regularly don't support multitasking (which is still quite a few). Many are coming, but not there yet. So while I am trying to use iPad as my main device to see if an iPad Pro could be an option for me, I'm held back until apps like Ulysses update (which I have been told will be coming at some point).

The other place iPad shines with iOS 9 is the keyboard. Now, with two finger swipes and taps I can move my cursor and select text. This feature alone saves me so much time and effort, and is a major reason I do not want to use an external keyboard with iPad. Not having this easy access to the cursor would slow me down dramatically. I cannot speak highly enough of this feature. Not having upgraded to Apple's newest iPhones (which have cursor control tied to 3D Touch), I long to move the cursor on my phone the way I can on my iPad.


The ability for app content to be indexed in spotlight searches got me particularly excited about the possibility of replacing Evernote as my paperless system. While this is still dependent on 3rd party developers building in support, many have, and it is incredible.

My favorite app to implement this so far is Pinner. I used to clip webpages I wanted to save for later reference to Evernote, but I now save them to pinboard. Pinner indexes those websites so if I search for a particular topic, every webpage saved to pinboard on that topic is shown. This is really handy when researching because saved web pages show up with anything else on the topic I have stored in other apps.

There is some weirdness with how this works in files stored on iCloud Drive that makes me want developers to hurry up and add support. Though I believe it is supposed to, search does not index every file stored in iCloud Drive. Instead, the apps saving their content there must still do the indexing. So PDFs saved by PDFpen to its folder in iCloud Drive cannot be searched by the system until Smile updates the app. Likewise, Apple still hasn't updated its iWork suite of apps to work with this feature (though I bet Apple waits for iPad Pro's release before updating iWork)1.

The bottom line is my prediction was correct. If developers latch on to search, the need for everything buckets like Evernote is gone.


Speaking of replacing Evernote, I can't believe I'm writing this, but one of the main ways I've done this is by using Apple's own notes app.

My use for Notes is limited to brief bits of information or pictures. For example, the textbook for my current graduate course has two different versions with slightly different chapter numbers. My version is different than my professor's, and she wrote out on the whiteboard what the conversion was so those of us with the different book could read the assigned chapters without confusion.

I simply took a picture of the board, saved it to Notes with the extension, and have referred to it throughout the semester.

Storing a picture in Notes

Storing a picture in Notes

Another useful feature has been saving website links. I will often swing by my University library on the way home from school to pick up new books for research. I will have discovered these books at home in my online research and saved the link to their library location in a note. When I arrive at the library, I open the note, find the books, and get in and out before traffic gets bad. It's simple and convenient.

Content Blockers

Perhaps the most controversial addition to iOS 9, I am personally a big fan of content blockers.

For anyone who doesn't know, with iOS 9, Apple has allowed developers to create apps that work as ad (and other content) blockers inside of Safari2. This makes websites load much faster, easier to browse, and unable to invade your privacy by running malicious tracking code in the background as you surf. It also means the publications that rely on these adds will potentially make less money3.

After the whole Peace débâcle, I settled on using 1Blocker for my content blocker after reading Ben Brooks's review of blocker speeds. Website load time is blazing, my privacy is protected, and if I read a website regularly and want to support it, I will add it to 1Blocker's white list.

Mashable without 1Blocker (left) and with (right).

Mashable without 1Blocker (left) and with (right).

iOS 9 is a terrific update, and one that makes the my devices even more of a delight to use. Are there still things I wish Apple would add? Yes. But I honestly get joy out of working on iOS that I don't from my Mac anymore. This entire post was written on my iPad using many of the features I wrote about, and it was an excellent experience. I believe iOS really is the future of computing, and I'm happy to go along for the ride.

  1. For right now, search also seems to be tied to iCloud Drive's app specific folders. It cannot find files in user created folders not in an app folder hierarchy. ↩︎
  2. This also works within the new Safari View Controller which allows apps to open links in an instance of Safari while remaining in app instead of developers needing to build their own in-app browsers. This is particularly great in apps like Tweetbot where I regularly click links in people's tweets. ↩︎
  3. Fortunately, the majority of the sites I read regularly do not use ads that overstep their bounds so I am able to whitelist those sites. It is my hope that content blockers will force the sites that do use terrible ads to adapt. Time will tell. ↩︎