iOS 9: Up to Speed

Samrat Shaw

May 20th, 2016

iOS 9 is the biggest iOS release to date. The new OS introduced new intricate features and refined existing ones. The biggest focus is on intelligence and proactivity, allowing iOS devices to learn user habits and act on that information.

While it isn’t a groundbreaking change like iOS 7, there is a lot of new functionality for developers to learn. Along with iOS 9 and Xcode 7, Apple also announced major changes to the Swift language (Swift 2.0) and announced open source plans.

In this post, I will discuss some of my favorite changes and additions in iOS 9.

1 List of new features

Let’s examine the new features.

1.1 Search Extensibility

Spotlight search in iOS now includes searching within third-party apps. This allows you to deep link from Search in iOS 9. You can allow users to supply relevant information that they can then navigate directly to. When a user clicks on any of the search results, the app will be opened and you can be redirected to the location where the search keyword is present. The new enhancements to the Search API include NSUserActivity APIs, Core Spotlight APIs, and web markup.

1.2 App Thinning

App thinning optimizes the install sizes of apps to use the lowest amount of storage space while retaining critical functionality. Thus, users will only download those parts of the binary that are relevant to them. The app's resources are now split, so that if a user installs an app on iPhone 6, they do not download iPad code or other assets that are used to make an app universal. App thinning has three main aspects, namely app slicing, on-demand resources, and bitcode. Faster downloads and more space for other apps and content provide a better user experience.

1.3 3D Touch

iPhone 6s and 6s Plus added a whole new dimension to UI interactions. A user can now press the Home screen icon to immediately access functionality provided by an app. Within the app, a user can now press views to see previews of additional content and gain accelerated access to features. 3D Touch works by detecting the amount of pressure that you are applying to your phone's screen in order to perform different actions. In addition to the UITouch APIs, Apple has also provided two new sets of classes, adding 3D Touch functionality to apps: UIPreviewAction and UIApplicationShortcutItem.

This unlocks a whole new paradigm of iOS device interaction and will enable a new generation of innovation in upcoming iOS apps.

1.4 App Transport Security (ATS)

With the introduction of App Transport Security, Apple is leading by example to improve the security of its operating system. Apple expects developers to adopt App Transport Security in their applications. With App Transport Security enabled, network requests are automatically made over HTTPS instead of HTTP. App Transport Security requires TLS 1.2 or higher. Developers also have an option to disable ATS, either selectively or as a whole, by specifying in the Info.plist of their applications.

1.5 UIStackView

The newly introduced UIStackView is similar to Android’s LinearLayout. Developers embed views to the UIStackView (either horizontally or vertically), without the need to specify the auto layout constraints. The constraints are inserted by the UIKit at runtime, thus making it easier for developers. They have the option to specify the spacing between the subviews. It is important to note that UIStackViews don't scroll; they just act as containers that automatically fit their content.

1.6 SFSafariViewController

With SFSafariViewController, developers can use nearly all of the benefits of viewing web content inside Safari without forcing users to leave an app. It saves developers a lot of time, since they no longer need to create their own custom browsing experiences. For the users too, it is more convenient, since they will have their passwords pre-filled, not have to leave the app, have their browsing history available, and more. The controller also comes with a built-in reader mode.

1.7 Multitasking for iPad

Apple has introduced Slide Over, Split View, and Picture-in-Picture for iPad, thus allowing certain models to use the much larger screen space for more tasks. From the developer point of view, this can be supported by using the iOS AutoLayout and Size Classes. If the code base already uses these, then the app will automatically respond to the new multitasking setup. Starting from Xcode 7, each iOS app template will be preconfigured to support Slide Over and Split View.

1.8 The Contacts Framework

Apple has introduced a brand new framework, Contacts. This replaces the function-based AddressBook framework. The Contacts framework provides an object-oriented approach to working with the user's contact information. It also provides an Objective-C API that works well with Swift too. This is a big improvement over the previous method of accessing a user’s contacts with the AddressBook framework.

As you can see from this post, there are a lot of exciting new features and capabilities in iOS9 that developers can tap into, thus providing new and exciting apps for the millions of Apple users around the world.

About the author

Samrat Shaw is a graduate student (software engineering) at the National University Of Singapore and an iOS intern at Massive Infinity.