Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conferences are often momentous, but very rarely do so many of the Cupertino-based company’s product refreshes coincide. During an assuredly jam-packed keynote on June 8, Apple is expected to announce not only a re-imagined Apple TV set-top box and the next major release of OS X, but also an update to iOS — version 9 — that’ll pack both new features that anticipate the large-screened “iPad Pro” and significant under-the-hood optimizations.
According to 9to5Mac prognosticator Mark Gurman, the most significant changes will come in the form of new multitasking controls for Apple’s soon-to-be-revealed 12-inch iPads. The company is leveraging the bigger displays by introducing side-by-side app support, which works much like the split-screen app snapping in Windows 8 and 8.1 — you’ll be able drag an app to the right or left side while keeping another open on the opposite end. That’ll of course be a boon for multitasking, enabling such tasks as browsing two separate Safari tabs, quickly copying and pasting between documents, and for those with a penchant for sensory overload, even playing two videos or songs at once.
The feature, which was initially intended for iOS 8.0 and 8.1 before being deemed “too unpolished,” splits a configurable amount of screen between apps. One app might take up one half, one third, or two thirds of the display. Sources tell Gurman that Apple intends to demo split-screen apps on currently available iPads — current plans, in fact, call for the feature’s inclusion in the next major iPad Air update — but he warns that it could be pulled before the conference if it doesn’t pass the muster of quality assurance testers.
Beyond side-by-side apps, Apple is working on a revamped interface for the gargantuan iPads. Gurman says the iOS team is “redesigning core apps and features, including Siri and Notification Center,” to take advantage of the increased electronic real estate. Hardware restrictions preclude more radical changes, as the larger iPads are reportedly just scaled-up versions of the iPad Air 2 with additional speaker grills, but aesthetic adjustments in the works should greatly improve usability, Gurman reports.
Enhancements specific to the 12-inch iPads are only a tiny sliver of iOS 9, though. Apple is eschewing its annual iOS upgrade cycle in favor of a release with “a big focus on quality” — the company is doubling down on optimization at the expense of new features, according to Gurman’s sources.
Changes to Apple’s internal testing procedures should ensure better stability and performance going forward. Somewhat surprisingly, company engineers have been working on ways to make long-outmoded iOS devices, like the iPhone 4S and original iPad mini, run more smoothly and efficiently. Apple’s apparently devoted development resources to “a core version of iOS 9″ built from the ground up for devices based on the company’s older A5, which includes the aforementioned devices in addition to the third-generation Apple TV and fifth-gen iPod Touch.
It’s a different tact than Apple’s taken before — in the past, older devices have missed out entirely on new features — and one that could result in the broadest range of devices ever supported in an iOS release. There’s no guarantee older devices will get all the bells and whistles that current flagships sport, of course, but Apple’s commitment to devices that shipped four years ago is nonetheless impressive.
What else is new? Apple is migrating a number of its iOS applications — apps like Notes, Reminders, and Calendar — to an iCloud Drive-based backend, which should help to speed up syncing between devices. Security is getting a decent amount of attention, too — a system called Rootless apparently prevents apps and extensions from accessing sensitive data, while a new connectivity service, Trusted Wi-Fi, will allow iOS devices to “connect to authorized wireless routers without additional security measures” but “instate a more heavily encrypted wireless connection on non-trusted routers.”
Finally, support for multiple users is coming to iOS. Apple’s implementation will largely mirror Android’s User Account system, reportedly. Users will share a single iPad but have access to their own “apps, documents, and media.” Multi-user support sadly won’t make it into iOS 9, but sources tell Gurman it could be ready by as soon as the end of this year.
A lot to digest? Perhaps, but nothing compared to the deluge coming in a few short weeks. Better strap in, folks.