Apple Reveals OS X El Capitan, Finally Brings Split-Screen Multitasking To iPads With iOS 9

Apple kicked off its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) with updates to its PC operating system: OS X. This wouldn’t be Apple if it didn’t brag a bit, so the company reported that the most recent release of OS X, Yosemite, is currently being used on 55 percent of Macs (Apple claims that this is the fastest adoption rate for any desktop OS ever). But everyone in the audience was there to hear about Yosemite; they wanted to hear about the next big thing.

So what’s the name of Apple’s latest OS X release? It’s OS X El Capitan. Yes, you heard that correctly, El Capitan. Apple is focusing on two things with El Capitan: user experience and performance.

El Capitan

There are some nice little touched added to Safari including Pinned Sites, which live below the address bar and open sites in a new tab for you. And cribbing a feature from Google Chrome, Safari will now show you which tab is playing annoying music in the background via a visible icon on the offending tab. You will also be able to mute the sound via a mirrored icon in your address bar.

Spotlight has received some optimizations (you can now resize the Spotlight panel, “yawn”), and allows for natural language searches, i.e. “Mail I ignored from Phil” and “Documents I worked on in June.” And in taking some ideas from Microsoft Windows “Snap”, El Capitan makes it easier to run two windows side-by-side in a split screen mode and provides enhanced full-screen app viewing.

El Capitan

None of this stuff is earth-shattering, and as we previously mentioned, remind us of the Leopard to Snow Leopard transition. But Apple is also looking to improve performance, promising a 1.4x performance in app launches. In addition, Metal, which launched for iOS last year, is coming to the Mac to supplant OpenGL. Metal delivers up to a 40-percent improvement in rendering efficient.

A developer preview of El Capitan is available today, a public beta is coming in July, and the consumer release is set for this Fall.

Apple’s next generation iPhones and iPads are still months away, but the software that will be prominently features on those devices is getting an early reveal today. Apple today revealed iOS 9, which is the latest in a long line of operating systems for its mobile devices.

As we’ve reported on in the past, iOS 9 is not so much a release that is focused on bombarding customers with new tantalizing features, but enhancing the UI experience, tightening up performance, and reigning in bugs (which popped up often in iOS 8, which currently sits at an 83 percent adoption rate, by the way).

The natural language search from OS X transfers over to Siri on iOS, so you can say “Show me photos from Utah from last August” and Siri will deliver. iOS 9 can also peruse through your email to suggest a Caller ID label from an unfamiliar phone numbers that might come through during your daily travels.  

Caller ID
Caller ID search in iOS 9

The new Search API features deep linking, and can search within app data. There are also other little touches like the ability to automatically call up the Music app when you plug in headphone. New “Intelligence” features also can tell you when to leave to get to an appointment (and arrive on time) based on your current location and traffic conditions.

And taking a stab at Google, Apple says that all data collected to enable Intelligence features is anonymous, not associated wither Apple ID and uses a randomized identifier. In addition it’s not linked with other Apple services and is not shared with third parties.

Loyalty Cards

Other features that are incoming including store credit card and loyalty card support that is coming to Apple Pay, so you can ditch all of those loyalty cards dangling from you key ring. There are tiny changers, like Passbook being renamed to Wallet, to slightly bigger deals like a new toolbar with formatting options added to Notes. You can add checklists, now draw, sketch, and add photos in-app wit Notes.

iOS 9 Notes
Notes in iOS 9 and El Capitan

Apple is bringing transit directions to Maps, which is a feature that has been sorely missing since its initial debut in 2012. It will launch in select major cities around the globe including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, London, Toronto, and Beijing (among many more).

iOS 9 Transit

Newsstand is being replaced by a new app called News. It allows publishers (The New York Times, ESPN, TIME, Men’s Health, etc.) to put their rich content directly in-app to create a personalized media experience just for you. Apple says that News provides the “best mobile reading experience ever,” although we have the feeling that this will end up in users’ “Junk app” folder on the last page of their home screen just like Newsstand before it and Game Center. And it also reminds me quite a bit of the Facebook Paper app on iOS, but I digress…

iOS 9 Split View
Split-screen multitasking with "Split View" in iOS 9 on an iPad

But perhaps the biggest update to iOS 9 comes in the form of multitasking for the iPad. Split-screen multitasking support was found built-in to iOS 8 last year, but it was never officially rolled out. But with iOS 9, users can double-tap on the home button to bring up the task switcher. From there you can bring up the new multi-window “Split View” mode which allows you display two apps side-by-side. You can have Safari on one panel with Notes on the other or any other combination of apps that you can come up with.

You can even do picture-in-picture video, which will allow you to continue watching a video in a smaller window overlaying your existing app (say Safari, or Mail). You can even resize it and move it around on the screen if you wish.

iOS 9 Picture-in-Picture
Picture-in-Picture on iOS 9

Split View and PiP is available on the iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 2, and iPad mini 3.

Apple has also beefed up system performance, and improved battery life (Apple is seeing on average a one-hour gain in battery life on the iPhone). A new Low Power Mode also pulls “switches you didn’t even know existed” to provide an additional three hours of battery life if you’re running low on juice and are far away from a wall outlet.

iOS 9 is available today to developers and for the first time, a public beta of iOS will rollout in July. The final consumer release will launch (as previous version of iOS) in the Fall. iOS 9 will also support all of the hardware as its predecessor, iOS 8. So that means that if you folks still soldiering on with an iPhone 4S will be able to take advantage of many of the features in iOS 9.