In June, Apple introduced iOS 9, the next version of its mobile operating system for iPhones and iPads. While much of the focus of this release was on polish, fixing bugs and making the OS run smoother and longer, one of the few completely new features was significantly upgraded search. In iOS 9, Apple has given 3rd party developers the ability to index their content into the Spotlight database for users to search through directly from their home screen. This means that through search, it will be significantly easier to find recent documents in Office, mail in Gmail, and flights in TripIt if and when these 3rd party apps are updated to take advantage of these new features. In addition, search results also can have actions associated with them so you can interact with a search result without ever opening up the app. Apple demoed an updated AirBnb app which had the contact info for a future rental as a result. With a single tap, they were able to call the host without opening the app, significantly saving time compared to navigating through the app.
Search indexing isn’t just for apps in iOS 9. Apple has been making significant investments in its server infrastructure so that it now indexes the web as well. With a few markup changes to your web content, that information can appear as a search result as well, with the same quick access commands such as making a phone call, sending an email, or opening up Maps. If a search result becomes popular enough and is marked as public, these results will start to appear for users who have yet to install the app, driving engagement to a new set of users who weren’t aware of your app before. This should aid in app discovery and increased productivity in the workplace through the use of dedicated apps that work best on smaller screen devices.
Also new in iOS 9 is a landmark feature for iPads: better multi-tasking. On newer iPads like the the iPad Air and up and iPad mini 2 and up, you will have the ability to slide-over apps from the side to interact with them without first closing your previous app. This appears to more closely resemble a stretched out iPhone app with the same feature set in a more compact form. Sliding back out then dismisses that app, giving control back to the first app without ever going back to the home screen. This feature has long been asked for by users who need to quickly send a message when browsing the web or reading a document and serves to improve the app flow for users on iPad.
Perhaps, more exciting is a feature exclusive to the iPad Air 2 for now: split-screen multi-tasking. Unlike Slide Over, Split View lets you have full interaction with 2 apps side-by-side at the same time, a feature previously seen by Microsoft in Windows 8. Imagine needing to write a report based off of some research done from the web or referencing a co-worker’s email. You can have Word open on the left side and Safari open on the right. Switching between apps is then as easy as dragging your finger from the top to open the new multi-tasking pane, and then selecting a different app. I think that previous types of tasks that were too difficult to be feasible on an iPad now become available, especially for keyboard users who have to spend less time switching between different apps. Another helpful benefit is more keyboard shortcuts. For those times when switching between apps is needed, Alt-Tab is now supported as well as a visual HUD for all keyboard shortcuts supported by an application. These kinds of features show that Apple is dedicated to making the iPad a more workplace friendly device that aims to increase user productivity.
iOS 9 is a brand new release filled with many more features not discussed here. It shows that Apple continues to invest in the future of its platform and users of its products. With improvements to search and multi-tasking, both iPhone and iPad users have something to look forward to in the future. iOS 9 is scheduled to be released in the fall alongside new iPhones and iPads.