iOS 9 - Features of note for education

Posted by Colin on Mon, Aug 17, 2015

So Apple’s iOS 9 operating system for iPhones, iPads and iPods is currently in open Public Beta and will be released to the general public en masse probably around mid September.

iOS 7 was a major visual change, iOS 8 had lots of work done behind the scenes and added new functionality with extensions and gave developers more options to let apps talk to each other.

iOS 9 is largely a polishing of iOS 8 with some welcome speed improvements for older devices and a few new features that the education crowd will appreciate. Here are a few which caught my attention.

Multi-tasking improvements

In iOS 9 there are a few new modes that enable better multitasking. If you have the latest iPad Air 2 you get access to Split View. This mode allows you to snap 2 apps on-screen at once for true multitasking. I can imagine this will be very handy for students conducting research online, being able to have Safari open on one side and a note taking app or even Pages or Keynote open on the other, copying and pasting data across. This is faster than the old method of copying, app switching, pasting, app switching back etc.

Below I am taking notes in Split View from the excellent website. If you do anything technical with iOS devices or Macs you really need to subscribe at

Using Split View to take notes from Safari.

If you have an older device, you will be able to use a feature called Slide Over. This allows a thin iPhone-like view of an app on one side while another app is open. This is not true multitasking as only one of the apps will be properly active at a time. This will be handy for completing a quick task without leaving the app you are in. For example, browsing the web when an email comes in you could just slide the email app in from the side, rattle out a quick reply and be back browsing without ever having left Safari. Or add a quick note to your Reminders app.

Adding items to Reminders in Slide Over

With both of these features developers have to add support to their app to take advantage of the new modes, so during the beta the number of apps you can try this with is limited. I believe it has massive potential to really change how we use these devices.

Safari File Uploads

This is huge. In my opinion this might be the best feature of all, yet it is probably the one most people won’t notice.

In previous iOS versions if you visited a website that allowed you to upload a file you were only able to select photos or videos from your camera roll. If you wanted to upload a PDF to a Virtual Learning Environment you had to hope that the VLE you were using had an iOS app to allow file uploads.

Not anymore. Now when you tap a file upload button in Safari, you will be able to select from a list of any apps which register themselves as “document providers”. These would include apps such as Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud Drive (via which you can then upload Pages, Keynote or Numbers documents).

This will be invaluable for staff. No longer will you have to use the crummy VLE provider app or email the file to yourself to then upload next time you are at a “proper computer”.

I have found there to be a few issues with using this with Moodle and Pages files. Pages files are not technically files but are actually folders that look like files. It could be how the server sees the incoming file or it could be an issue with iOS 9. I am awaiting the final release before taking the server apart looking for the answer!

iCloud Drive app

Now there is an app for iCloud Drive, giving you a great way to get to all of your files in one place on the iPad. It is not clear if this app will be enabled by default on the final release, but you can make it appear by going to Settings -> iCloud -> iCloud Drive -> and choosing Show on Home Screen.

iCloud Drive App

It provides a nice way to get at your files to move them around or send them without needing to open the full editing app they were created with.

Keyboard improvements

Another nice touch is the new keyboard system. The keyboard on iOS 8 had an extra row at the top to provide auto correct spelling suggestions as you typed. These are still here in iOS 9 but now the keyboard also has handy Cut, Copy and Paste buttons on the left side.

Selecting text on iOS could be a royal pain in the backside, and this may improve with iOS 9. Now if you put two fingers down on the keyboard you can move around the keyboard like a trackpad on a laptop, and the text selection cursor will move with you. This makes moving around a document and selecting multiple lines much easier although it does take a little getting used to.

Also improvements have been added when using an external wireless keyboard. You can now use keyboard shortcuts like CMD + C for copy and app developers are being given access to this feature so you will be able to work much faster with a Bluetooth keyboard if you are a shortcut junkie (and you really should be).

Notes app

The built-in Notes app has also received some love from Apple this time round. The app is now able to handle more complex data, such as check boxes, some formatting and images. This makes it great in Split View mode as a kind of scrapbook for collecting notes when researching online.

For many people this upgraded Notes app with the iCloud sync backend could be a replacement for larger note taking apps such as Evernote.

Older devices

Every year when Apple release a new version of iOS, the oldest device tends to be dropped from the list of devices that can run it. This year with iOS 9 we expected support for the iPad 2 to be dropped, and possibly the iPad mini 1. However Apple have given these devices a temporary stay of execution and they will run iOS 9 minus a few of the more resource intensive features. This is good news for schools that are still running older devices.

However with this version Apple have also given app developers the ability to target only 64-bit devices with their apps, and due to the poor speeds of the older iPads (iPad 2, 3, 4 and iPad Mini) many developers are likely to start updating their apps to be 64-bit only. This will mean apps being released in the near future that just will not run on older devices at all. Anyone with an iPad Air 1 or 2, or iPad mini 2 or 3 will be fine. If you are using older devices I would try to make this your last year on them and plan to upgrade for next year.


These are just a few of the features that are coming in iOS 9. As it is beta software all of these features are still in testing and could change or completely disappear before the final version appears, but at this stage they would be fairly certain bets.

Lots of welcome changes ahead and once developers get time to get their heads around all the little backend changes I think there will be a ton of new interesting apps and use cases for the iOS devices.

Exciting times ahead!

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