iOS 9 beta shines on the iPad Air 2

iOS 9's new features promise a very bright future for the iPad

Apple announced iOS 9 yesterday at WWDC, and the developer preview (beta version) also became available to anyone with an Apple Developer account. So I snagged a copy of the iOS 9 developer preview and installed it on my iPad Air 2 to check out some of the new features.

I'll share my thoughts in more detail below, but my initial reaction to iOS 9 on the iPad Air 2 can be summed up with one word: Wow! Yes, I have to admit that I'm very impressed with iOS 9 so far, and I'm quite shocked that a developer preview of iOS 9 is running so well on my iPad Air 2.

I had expected a ton of bugs, slow performance and all the usual stuff you get with beta software, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Apple seems to be a bit ahead of the game with the iOS 9 developer preview.

For a first beta, it seems far more stable than you'd expect, and the performance is quite good even when running racing games and that sort of thing (more on that in the app and games section) as well as the other apps.

Installing iOS 9 on the iPad Air 2

I had no problems getting the iOS 9 beta installed on my iPad Air 2. The install seemed to take just a little while, and then I just needed to do the usual logging into iCloud, setting up the iCloud keychain, etc. All of that went off without a hitch.

The most irritating part of installing the iOS 9 beta on my iPad Air 2 had nothing to do with the actual install. That part was flawless. It was having to restore all of my settings, apps and content that was the worst part of it and then only because I was itching to jump into iOS 9. But what can you do when you have a lot of apps and data that have to be put back on your iPad?

So I sucked it up and kept myself busy with other things while my restore finished.

iOS 9's Split View and Slide Over on the iPad Air 2

Let me jump right into what could be two of the biggest features in iOS 9: Split View and Slide Over.

I've been longing for some kind of split-screen functionality on the iPad to make it easier to copy and paste links and article excerpts from one app to another, and iOS 9 has delivered that in spades with Split View.

To use Split View you must first open one app and then second app via Slide Over. I fired up Safari, went to an article on a site and then opened another app by simply swiping to the left on the right side of the screen. A list of apps will appear on the right side of the screen, and you can scroll through them and tap on the one you want to use.

ios 9 beta slide over safari and ibooks

The Slide Over view in iOS 9 with Safari on the left and iBooks on the right.

Your second app will then open, and you'll see a small white line in to the right and in the middle of the side of the second app. To use Split View, I just had to tap and hold that small white line. Then I simply pulled the second app onto the screen. From there I could resize both apps in the ratio that I preferred.

ios 9 beta split view safari and ibooks

The Split View feature in iOS 9, with Safari on the left and iBooks on the right.

I can't really convey how intuitive and easy it is to open another app while already using one. The way that Apple has set this up feels like the way that it should be done. You'll notice this immediately when using Slide Over or Split View, they both work exactly as they should.

Before actually using iOS 9, I was somewhat skeptical about how well these new features would work in a practical, day to day way. But Apple has done both features very well, and I think they are going to make a lot of people happy with Split View and Slide Over.

If you want to switch to a different second app, you just tap on the top of the screen in the second app window to pull down a list of apps. And that's it. It all felt quite comfortable to me and I took to it immediately in a way that I hadn't expected.

ios 9 beta slide over choose app

Slide down from the top in the second app window to choose a different app in iOS 9.

The Slide Over feature in iOS 9 on the iPad Air 2 is also very useful even if you aren't copying and pasting data. For example, I could quickly check my email and write and respond right from the second window while browsing a site in Safari in the first window.

All in all I am very impressed indeed with both features. And I had no problems in terms of performance with Split View and Slide Over. Everything was smooth on my iPad Air 2, which is quite amazing given that this is beta 1 of iOS 9. You'd think there would be a lot of stuttering or slow down but I didn't notice any while using both features.

iOS 9's Picture in Picture on the iPad Air 2

One very neat feature announced at WWDC was the Picture in Picture option. With Picture in Picture you can watch a video or FaceTime conversation while doing something else with your iPad. I must admit that this feature took me by complete surprise and also confused me as I'll show you below.

When I first tried to test Picture in Picture on my iPad Air 2, I tried it with a YouTube video and a Netflix video but it didn't work. Then I realized that when Apple said "video" they meant their video app in iOS. So I opened that and found an old Sherlock Holmes movie I had bought ages ago on iTunes.

I started playing the old black and white version of "Sherlock Holmes: Terror By Night" starring Basil Rathbone. The movie was released back in 1946. Once it started playing I tapped the Home button and sure enough, it shrank down into a small window on my iPad's screen.

ios 9 beta picture in picture home screen

In the lower right corner, you can see a Sherlock Holmes movie running on my home screen in iOS 9.

It was very strange but also quite cool seeing a movie playing on my iPad Air 2's home screen. I then went into Safari and some other apps to see how the movie would look, and I had no problems watching it in any of the apps I tried. To pause the movie or get out of Picture in Picture, I just had to tap the movie to get the controls to appear. I then tapped on the Picture in Picture icon and the movie went back into the Video app.

ios 9 beta picture in picture safari

Here you can see the Sherlock Holmes movie running on top of a Safari window in iOS 9.

I have to admit that Picture in Picture is very cool indeed! Right now, however, it's use is relatively limited for me. But I can see myself using it more if it starts working with Netflix and other video apps. I imagine that that will probably eventually happen once those other video apps get updated for iOS 9.

Still, who would have thought that we'd be running videos in a corner of our iPads back when the first iPad was released? Wow, how far we've come since those days. iOS 9's Picture in Picture feature is going to amaze a lot of people when they first see it.

The QuickType keyboard in iOS 9 on the iPad Air 2

Apple has drastically improved the keyboard in iOS 9. The QuickType keyboard now gives you a Shortcut Bar, much easier selection of text and keyboard shortcuts, and the ability to quickly and accurately move your cursor around on the screen.

If you've ever done any text processing on your iPad then you'll know that it's never been a joyful process in the past, to say the least. But the QuickType keyboard fixes that by providing text formatting and editing tools in the Shortcut Bar. You can tap on icons to copy and paste text. And you can also bold, underline or use italics for text.

ios 9 beta quicktype keyboard

The QuickType keyboard in iOS 9 lets you easily select text, move the cursor around and format text.

You can also quickly move the cursor around and select text with a two fingered press on the keyboard. It makes the iOS 9 keyboard feel a bit like a trackpad on a Mac. And it's a far easier, faster and better way to move your cursor around when writing and editing text in an application.

I used the QuickType keyboard in the mail app and it worked very well. I also tried it in Day One and the Notes app. I noticed that the text formatting options that showed up on the right side of the QuickType keyboard in the mail app weren't there for Day One, and also that in Notes I had a drawing icon instead of the text formatting icons that showed up in the mail app.

Part of this may simply be that Day One hasn't been updated for iOS 9. But it was interesting to note that the QuickType keyboard may have slightly different functionality depending on which app you are using. Remember though that iOS 9 is a beta so this may change as development continues.

The bottom line here though is that QuickType has added some much needed features to the iOS keyboard. And please note that it also works if you split your keyboard to thumb type. I had no problems doing that on my iPad Air 2. I was also able to use the two finger press while in split-keyboard mode.

Apps and games in iOS 9 on the iPad Air 2

Obviously apps and games have not been updated for iOS 9 since it's a beta version. But I thought I'd share some of my experiences with the apps and games I run, and let you know how well they run in iOS 9.

Day One - I had no problems at all running Day One after installing the iOS 9 beta on my iPad Air 2. I could see all of my journal entries, add a new one or edit the existing ones.

Marvin - I love reading ebooks so one of the first apps I checked after installing iOS 9 ws Marvin. All of my books were there, and I didn't have a problem opening them or reading any of the text.

Audible - Oops! Well here is where I encountered a problem. Whenever I tried to play an audio book I got an error message. But the Audible app has been touchy in the past, and it didn't have anything to do with iOS 9. So I logged out of the Audible app, deleted it, reinstalled it and then downloaded my audiobooks again. Voila! The Audible app worked fine in the iOS 9 beta.

Bacon Reader - I read Reddit frequently so I fired up Bacon Reader to see how it would run in iOS 9, and it worked perfectly. All of my subreddits were available, and I could do all the usual Reddit stuff in iOS 9.

Notes - I had one crash of iOS 9 while the Notes app was syncing with iCloud. The screen froze up and then my iPad Air 2 rebooted. So that was an interesting wrinkle and so far it's the only app that has done that. I think it has to do with upgrading the app so that the new functionality is working with iCloud or something like that. Anyway, I reopened it and it seemed fine after that initial crash.

Safari - I've been browsing around all over the place in Safari, and so far it seems stable and fast. But you never know with web pages, I imagine I'll encounter something at some point that might throw off Safari in iOS 9. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it, however.

Sonic Racing - I wondered how well a game like Sonic Racing (the original not the awful "transformed" version) would play in the iOS 9 beta. To my surprise it worked great, and I had no problems. The game was super-fast, the animation was smooth as butter and I was able to race just as well as I could in iOS 8.

Marvel Pinball - I'm a big pinball buff, and I love it on my iPad. My favorite table is Thor in Marvel Pinball. I fired it up in the iOS 9 beta, and it played very well. I didn't see any slowdown, crashes or other usual beta issues.

Marvel Contest of Champions - This is another super-hero themed game that I enjoy. You get to pit various heroes against each other in a battle for supremacy. It also ran just fine in the iOS 9 beta. I didn't see any issues while playing it.

So far I've been very lucky that all of my most frequently used apps and games have run mostly well in the iOS 9 beta. But remember that that can change with a future update to the beta, so think carefully if you decide to install the iOS 9 beta on your own device. Betas have a way of biting you when you least expect it when it comes to apps working properly.

The iCloud Drive app in iOS 9

One thing about iOS 9 that has not gotten much attention in the media is the iCloud Drive app. This app did not appear for me when I first turned on my iPad but at one point I got a popup menu asking me if I wanted to install it so I did.

ios 9 beta icloud drive app

The iCloud Drive app in iOS 9.

It shows all of your files and folders in iCloud Drive. If you tap on a folder, it will open so you can see the contents of the folder. If you tap on a file it will download it then show it to you on your iPad. You can share the file, delete it or move the file to a new location by tapping the share, trash or folder icons at the top right.

I'm not quite sure how the move feature works in the iCloud Drive app. When I pulled up a document, all I saw listed was Pages. I didn't have any other options in terms of moving it. But remember that it's still very early and the iCloud Drive app may change as development progresses on iOS 9.

If you want to have the iCloud Drive app appear on your home screen, go to Settings then iCloud then iCloud Drive, and then toggle the "Show On Home Screen" switch to the on position. You should then see the iCloud Drive app appear on your home screen.

The search screen in iOS 9

Apple has made some big changes to the search functionality in iOS 9. You can still search via a pulldown but the search screen is also available in a more robust version if you swipe to the left on the home screen.

You'll see suggestions from Siri that include contacts, apps, nearby locations for food, drink, shopping, etc. and you'll also see news. All of this is prepopulated when you first open the search screen, and most of it is quite useful.

For example, if you have contacts that you text frequently you'll see them listed at the top by default (they no longer appear on the multitasking screen that you see when you double press the home button) and you can tap on them to call, send a text, FaceTime them or get more information about them.

ios 9 beta new search screen

The new search screen in iOS 9 contains Siri suggestions for apps, contacts and nearby places.

Apps that you use most will appear under your contacts so it's easier and faster to get to them than opening a folder or scrolling through app icons on the home screen. And the Nearby feature lets you quickly find nearby gas stations, fast food, parking, coffee and even post offices.

You can also see trending news based on your location. If you tap on one of the news articles, it will then open in Safari for further reading. I can't say that the news thing was particularly useful to me, but it may get better over time. The selection of news I saw was mostly politics and didn't interest me too much.

I did a search for "parrots" and got a Wikipedia article, a link to a website about parrots, a few Bing parrot search results and even a local bird supply store from my email. At the bottom of the screen I also had three additional search options: Search Web, Search App Store and Search Maps.

So far I rather like the new search screen on my iPad Air 2, but I'll wait and see how useful it is when I've had a lot more time spent with iOS 9. One thing that's for sure, it's going to give the home screen a real run for its money. Once you get used to the search screen's functionality, you probably won't want to fumble around with app icons on the home screen

Switching between apps in iOS 9 on the iPad Air 2

As I noted above, if you double press the home screen you'll see a list of apps that have been running on your iOS 9 device. But you won't see contacts any more, they've been moved to the search screen (which makes a lot more sense to me than mingling them with the list of apps that have been running).

I actually liked how the new app switching screen looks in iOS 9. It's easier to see the content of each app as well as their icons. And you can quickly swipe through them to get to the app you want or to close them if you really feel that it is necessary.

The list of apps looks particularly good in landscape mode as you can see in the screenshot below. But it's also quite functional in portrait mode as the second screenshot shows. And the performance of the app switching screen was great on the iPad Air 2, everything was smooth with no slowdown or stuttering.

ios 9 beta app switching landscape mode

The app switching screen in landscape mode in iOS 9.

ios 9 beta app switching portrait mode

The app switching screen in portrait mode in iOS 9.

I know that some folks will miss having their most frequent contacts available on the app switching screen, but I think they'll get over it very quickly. The screen looks a lot less cluttered with them moved over to the search screen, and it's still very easy to access them.

iOS 9 is pretty impressive for a beta

As I noted at the beginning of this post, iOS 9 is rather impressive for a beta version of iOS. It's in very good shape even though it's still a Developer Preview at this point. My experience has been quite good so far even though I expected to see much more instability and bugs showing up.

While Apple has said that one of the big things about iOS 9 is its focus on performance and stability, it's also quite clear that the new features add an absolutely enormous amount of value to the iOS experience on my iPad Air 2. I've been using the iOS 9 beta all day today and, frankly, it would be tough to go back to iOS 8 again. Yes, iOS 9 is that much better, even in this developer preview release.

As always, I caution people not to install beta software unless they know what they are doing and can deal with the potential headaches that betas can cause. But if you want to try out iOS 9 now, you can get an Apple Developer account for $99. If you install the iOS 9 beta and want to downgrade back to iOS 8, follow the instructions from iClarified on how to do it.

Kudos to Apple for iOS 9, I can't wait until the final release in the fall.

Update: Apple has released iOS 9 beta 3, and I have a full overview of it.

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