5 new iOS 9 features to get excited about

After a few months in beta, Apple's iOS 9 update is here. Any iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch capable of running iOS 8 can run the new version, and Apple users are famous for upgrading their operating systems at a rapid pace. So if you're supporting users with iPhones, you'll be seeing iOS 9 everywhere shortly, if you haven't already seen it.

The release is packed with features, though it's much less jarring a transition than either iOS 7 or iOS 8 were. iOS 9 focuses on speed and stability, and in my months of beta testing it I've found it to be a just-push-the-button sort of upgrade. Go through the steps and upgrade your devices--they'll be better for running on iOS 9.

That blanket endorsement out of the way, here are the five iOS 9 features I think you'll appreciate the most.

1. Update pains should be a thing of the past.

When iOS 8 was released, many people found that they couldn't update their devices because the update required nearly 5 GB of free space. Given that Apple still sells an iPhone with an unconscionably meager 16 GB of storage, is it no wonder than many users were forced to choose between deleting all their photos and upgrading their device's operating system?

Not only is that a frustrating experience for users, but it works against Apple's goal to get the current version of iOS on as many of its devices as possible. With iOS, Apple's put some effort into reduce the amount of free space required for an update. The company says that the iOS 9 update requires only 1.3 GB of free space, which is a huge improvement.

In addition, Apple has made its software-update processes a bit more convenient for users. When an update is pushed to a system running iOS 9, you can set the update to happen later in the day or even overnight, rather than forcing you to step through the update at a time when you'd rather be doing something else (with a functional device).

2. The whole system is more battery efficient.

Apple claims that just the act of running iOS 9 will add a full hour of battery life to the average fully-charged iPhone. I haven't had a chance to test those claims, but Apple generally doesn't fudge its battery claims--and that's a huge one. Apple's obsession with ever-thinner and ever-lighter devices means that the company tends to solve for x when it comes to battery life, so iPhone battery life never really changes much. By focusing on making everything in the operating system a bit more efficient, right down to esoteric feature tweaks like not lighting up the screen when a phone receives a notification when it's lying face down, users could see an enormous boost in usable phone time.

And if you've ever found yourself thinking at 10 in the morning that it's going to be a long day and your iPhone's battery is never going to make it the distance, iOS 9 provides an even better feature: Low Power Mode. When you flip the switch into Low Power Mode, iOS 9 kills background network connections, automatic downloads, and "flips a bunch of other switches" (to use Apple's own phrasing) to minimize power consumption. Your phone may feel a little bit slower and you may have to wait a moment for your email to arrive when you check it, but this feature really works. I tried it at a conference, when I knew I wasn't going to have access to a charge for many hours, and it felt like my iPhone could've gone on almost forever.

In previous versions of iOS, when your iPhone reaches 20 and 10 percent of battery life remaining, a warning dialog would appear to let you know you needed to find a charge. Now both alerts prompt you to turn on Low Power Mode, and once you do, you'll be surprised about just how much usage you can eke out of a very small percentage of remaining battery power. And in a nice touch, when your phone recharges above 80 percent battery, Low Power Mode will automatically turn itself off.

3. Security features get a realĀ upgrade.

Apple has improved its own two-factor authentication system, so Apple ID security should improve. It's also recommending that those old four-digit security codes turn into six-digit codes. (But really, if you're using Touch ID, you should ditch the code and use a real password.

VPN support also gets a major overhaul in iOS 9. There's now a VPN API that apps can use, so the flexibility of creating secure connections from Apple devices has just gone way up. Traffic from different apps can be routed through different places, so an employer can (for example) force its own secured apps through a VPN, while keeping all the other traffic on the device flowing through normal channels.

4. Don't call it a filesystem, but there are files now.

iOS famously doesn't have a filesystem, and Apple's been adamant about keeping it that way. And yet... in iOS 9, there's now an (optional) iCloud Drive application that lets you browse the contents of iCloud Drive directly, a la apps from Microsoft, Dropbox, Google, and Box.

Speaking of which, Apple's also opening up other areas of the system to the existence of files. If you tap and hold on an email message you're composing, you'll find a new contextual pop-up option, Add Attachment. from this command, you can select files not just from iCloud Drive, but from other apps such as Dropbox. That's right--file attachments have finally come to Mail. It just took until 2015.

5. The iPad just got a major upgrade.

For the first time in basically ever, a major component of an iOS update is focused on the iPad. It turns out that this is all laying the groundwork for this November's release of the iPad Pro, but other iPads can join in the fun too. The new Split View mode lets the iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and iPad Pro run two apps side by side at once for the very first time on iOS.

A much wider collection of devices can use something called Slide Over, which suspends the current app you're using while you bring up a second app in a sliding panel docked to the right side of the screen. It's a nice way to, for example, look up something on the web in Safari before going back to writing a report in Word. There's also a Picture in Picture mode that lets apps that play video continue to do so even when you're using other apps--great for putting a baseball game on while you're checking Twitter.

There's also--just in time for that new iPad Pro keyboard cover!--dramatically improved support for external bluetooth keyboards, including display of keyboard shortcuts. And the software keyboard on the iPad has gotten some big improvements, including a two-finger gesture that emulates a trackpad for cursor movement and text selection.

And that's just the top five. iOS 9 is a solid release that's more about refinement than adding a slew of big new features or doing a major interface makeover--and that's good. For the first time in a couple of years, Apple's mobile device update season should be relatively drama free.