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Apple's iOS 9 Software Promises a Smarter Siri, Multitasking on iPad

Smarter Siri, better searches and more.

Vjeran Pavic for

A new software update for iPhones and iPads will bring a smarter Siri, better search results and more Apple Pay opportunities to users, the Cupertino tech giant promised today at its annual developers conference in San Francisco.

The iPad will also finally have a multi-tasking feature, something Apple competitors like Samsung have offered for years.

The new software, iOS 9, will include:

A supposedly better Siri

Apple’s SVP of software services, Craig Federighi, said Apple’s intelligent mobile assistant Siri has become “quietly popular” and currently serves over a billion requests per week. “In the past year, we’ve seen a 40 percent reduction in error rate” with Siri, he said, down to 5 percent. (The most recent data we have on Google Now is around 8 percent voice recognition error rate, for those keeping score.)

The promise with iOS 9 is that you can say things like, “Show me photos from Utah last August,” and Siri will pull up photos. You can also say, “Remind me to grab my coffee off the roof of my car when I get in,” and Siri will know when you’ve climbed into your car.

Spotlight Search that pulls data from your apps

Apple is deep-linking to apps in search and also using “proactive assistant” features on your iDevice. What does that mean? With iOS 9, Apple will show information from certain apps (AirBnB and Yummly were mentioned on stage) when you run a relevant search on your phone, whether you have the app running on your phone or not. Apple also touted better video search results, pulling directly from popular sites like Vevo and YouTube. These results are pulled from commonly-visited pages within the apps.

And, swipe to the left to search on your iPhone or iPad running iOS 9 and you’ll see a short list of contacts, apps and other features that your device has guessed you might use next.

At least some of this is similar to how Google Now, which is part of Google Search, shows information on Android mobile devices — but Apple is stressing that its mobile intelligence layers work differently. Which brings me to the next point…

Privacy and control

In case you haven’t been following it, Apple has really been stressing privacy lately.

“We don’t mine your email, your photos, your contacts in the cloud to learn things about you,” Federighi said. “We honestly just don’t want to know. All of this is done on-device and it says on your device, under your control.”

More Apple Pay options

Apple Pay on iOS 9 will allow you to store debit and credit cards for places like Kohl’s, JC Penney and BJ’s, as well as loyalty and rewards cards. Apple Pay will also work on London’s public rail system. My colleague Jason Del Rey has more on this.

Small improvements to the Notes app

I happen to be a Notes user, despite the fact that doesn’t always sync properly across devices. With iOS 9, the Notes app will include checklists in notes, the ability to import photos from the camera roll and snapshots of Web pages, as well as the ability to draw things in notes using your finger.

Bigger improvements to iPad

iOS 9 will finally, finally introduce multitasking (and a trackpad!) on iPad. Want to watch a video in a small window while you’re answering email in a larger one? Now you can. This is something that competing devices, like Samsung’s flagship phones and tablets, have included for years, and something that Apple users have been clamoring for. This capability will extend to the iPhone.

Finally, Apple said iOS 9 can offer up to one hour of additional battery life in typical use. There’s also a single switch that allows users to move to low-power mode to gain an additional three hours of use.

iOS 9 will be available as a public beta in July and available to everyone in the fall.

Apple says that 83 percent of iPhone and iPad users are currently running the latest version of iOS. The last iterative update to iOS, iOS 8.3, was released in early April. It included overall performance enhancements around app responsiveness, Messages, Wi-Fi capabilities and Safari. It also included 300 new emojis (!), an update to the iCloud Photo Library that now works with the new Photos app and, supposedly, fixed a rotational issue between landscape and portrait mode on iPhone.

Shortly afterward, a beta version of iOS 8.4 was seeded with developers, which included a revamped Music app.

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