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Fear and Loathing About iOS 9

It’s early. Aside from some download problems right after it was released, the iOS 9 upgrade experience appears to be moving along well. The sites who measure web metrics are reporting a roughly 12% adoption rate in the first 24 hours. That’s similar to iOS 8, but some suggest it would have been better had there been more new features. iOS 7 remains the benchmark.

Now the iOS 8 upgrade was more troublesome for those with space-challenged gear. You see, the installation required over 4.5GB of free space, which may not seem so much until you consider the fact that loads of iPhones and iPads have only 16GB of storage — some 8GB — so things can get dicey. One way to reduce the storage needs was to upgrade via iTunes on a Mac or a PC, but this message wasn’t well conveyed to users who attempted over-the-air updates.

Over time, the storage requirements were reduced somewhat, and iOS 8’s adoption rate was only a few percentage points behind iOS 7 by the time iOS 9 arrived. As I write this, some iOS 9 updaters confronted those download problems doing updates from their gear, but not so much when using iTunes. I wouldn’t presume to guess if the demand outstripped the capacity of wireless carriers, but I suppose that’s possible. Eventually the download problems apparently abated, but not before some members of the media ran articles with lurid headlines with large screen shots of the error prompts.

Typical behavior when it comes to Apple! At least iOS 9 requires less than a third of the installation space of iOS 8, so one problem is therefore mostly eliminated.

But to look at the numbers in perspective, remember that it takes many months for any Android upgrade to achieve a 12% adoption rate. That Apple can capture the vast majority of users in weeks or months makes it easier for app developers to build compatible software. They don’t have to cater to the lowest common denominator: people using much older operating systems.

On the very first day iOS 9 was available, I even saw an article or two offering reasons why you shouldn’t upgrade. The reasons were certainly logical for the most part, and do make sense. But the image conveyed was that of a flawed upgrade that you should overlook.

When you look between the lines, however, I can well understand why some of you would just rather wait and get on with your business. One is that early bugs might emerge that will cause problems for some. In previous years, OS upgrades would sometimes reduce battery life or cause network problems, and it would take one or more maintenance updates to set things right.

With iOS 9, Apple is claiming that power efficiencies deliver up to an hour’s additional battery life; more if you use Low Power Mode, which reduces background tasks and visual effects. Actually when I tried it on for size, I didn’t notice a whole lot of difference, so that’s something to consider if you expect to be in a situation where you need longer battery life.

One review of iOS 9 estimated an additional 40 minutes or so of battery life as measured by the article’s author without engaging the low-consumption setting. Now that’s promising, and it may well be that the first release won’t kill battery life on some gear.

The other concern is slower performance on the oldest supported products, such as the iPhone 4s. Now I’ve seen two different performance tests comparing iOS 9 and iOS 8.4.1 on that model. One reported a very slight reduction, with noticeably longer boot times. Other than the latter, we’re talking about fractions of a second that may not even be noticed. A second review that didn’t cite measurements indicated there was no perceived difference.

Regardless, with an iOS 9.1 currently in the hands of developers and public beta testers, maybe it does make sense to wait a little to make sure nothing bad crops up. It’s not that the new features are so compelling that you can’t live without them. The most visible change is the switch to Apple’s new San Francisco font, which offers cleaner display, and more readable type in smaller sizes. It’s a good thing. The smarter Proactive Siri is also appealing, and I gather it’s adaptive, so it’ll only get better as you go about your business.

The tentpole feature may be enhanced multitasking for recent iPads. With the iPad Air 2, you get Split View, similar to what Windows and some Samsung tablets offer. It’s the best argument yet to prove that an iPad can be used for real productivity, and not just for casual work that doesn’t depend on having two apps on display at the same time. It’s too bad Apple didn’t make the feature work on older iPads, but it may be because it requires too much computing power to do right, and Apple doesn’t want to deliver a subpar user experience.

While I have used iOS 9 since the public beta came out, and upgraded to the release version within minutes of its release, I would urge a little more caution for others. At the very least, make sure your stuff is backed up before you upgrade, and look for iOS 9-savvy versions of your favorite apps. Although you can upgrade over the air, the experience will go faster with iTunes on your Mac or PC.

Update! In the end, I could say go for it, but I don’t want to push it. There appears to be one niggling bug involving a frozen “Slide to Upgrade” screen that is causing problems for some upgraders. An Apple support note describes a fairly simple but time consuming fix. So maybe waiting a while longer is a good idea, since there will no doubt be a software fix before long.