NEW YORK — Apple's mobile devices are getting free software updates Wednesday, as iPhones and iPads receive battery improvements and a smarter virtual assistant, while the Apple Watch gets more types of apps.
The new features and capabilities are primarily refinements rather than anything transformative, yet they are still worth getting, especially as new apps often require the latest version to work. Back up your device and make sure your favourite apps will be compatible. Popular apps will likely have updates right away, but obscure ones might need more time to catch up.
When you're ready for iOS 9 for iPhones and iPads, go to "General,'' then "Software Update'' in the settings. You need at least 1.3 gigabytes of free space. For Apple Watch's watchOS 2, get iOS 9 on the iPhone, then go to the phone's Apple Watch app. New devices will ship with the updates already installed. A separate Mac update, known as El Capitan, will come this fall.
Here are some things to know about Wednesday's updates:
ON THE IPHONE:
Although some features such as 3D Touch contextual menus will require new iPhones coming next week, existing devices will get:
Battery life: Besides under-the-hood improvements, a new low-power mode will reduce or turn off non-essential tasks such as visual effects and automatic downloads. The phone also won't check for new mail or update content for apps in the background as often.
Navigation: From the main home screen, swipe left to right for a new search screen. The Siri virtual assistant suggests frequently used contacts and apps and nearby businesses, taking into account whether it's evening or lunch time. As you jump around from app to app, some apps show a new back button on the top left corner to get you back to what you were doing.
Notifications: Swipe down from the top edge for missed notifications, with the most recent on top. Before, they were grouped by app, so you had to sift through weeks-old notifications from little-used apps to find the new ones. You can restore grouping by app in the settings.
Sleeping in: If you choose a particular song as your alarm sound, the song will keep playing until you turn off the alarm or hit snooze. Before, the alarm automatically stops once the song ends, even if you didn't hear it. Now, you'll hear it over and over — though that might just encourage you to stay in bed.
Gone: The Newsstand icon disappears, replaced by an unrelated News service. Go directly to the publication's app for your subscriptions. You can recreate Newsstand by putting all the apps into the same folder. Passbook gets replaced by Wallet, now that the Apple Pay payment service is becoming a bigger part of Apple's ambitions.
ON THE IPAD:
Though Apple's larger-screen iPad Pro for business customers isn't coming until November, existing iPads get the new iPhone features, along with others geared toward improving productivity:
Multitasking: Swipe left from the right edge to run a second app, such as Maps to look up directions or Notes to jot down reminders. The choices are limited for now, but expect more developers to support that function. You can also run video in a small window while another app uses the rest of the screen. Do this by tapping an icon on the lower right of the video. You can move the video window to any corner or resize it by pinching in and out. It works only with a few video apps for now, but more are coming.
Laptop-like controls: Place two fingers on the on-screen keyboard and start sliding around the screen to move the cursor around.
ON THE WATCH:
The hardware isn't changing, but new software adds capabilities and addresses some of the watch's initial limitations:
General improvements: The update brings bigger buttons to enter your passcode and the ability to reply to messages in Mail rather than just texts. You can also have more than 12 friends as favourites on the watch, even if that's not so in real life. The iPhone update brings transit directions to major cities; the watch lets you glance at what you need to do next.
Fitness: During runs, you can display average pace, which doesn't swing as wildly as the "current pace'' currently used. You choose that under "Workout'' in the Apple Watch settings on the phone. And those nagging reminders to stand up if you've been sitting too long? You can pause those if you happen to be on a flight or in a movie theatre. Scroll down the first time you are nagged. In addition, the Activity app will now incorporate workouts from third-party apps, so there's a one-stop shop for tracking your fitness.
Watch faces: You can choose photos of your kids or friends to appear on the main watch screen. Or choose time-lapse video from one of six cities. At 10 p.m. your time, you see what Paris or Shanghai looks like at 10 p.m. local time. Get up early to watch the sunrise; it's cheaper than a flight. Some watch faces can now incorporate third-party app data, such as news headlines, though app developers are just starting to roll those out. And when charging, the watch functions like an alarm clock on a nightstand.
Better apps: Third-party apps can do more directly on the watch, such as using the microphone to record audio or the accelerometer to measure golf swings or running patterns. Again, apps are just starting to appear. Third-party apps can also display video and fetch data through Wi-Fi networks you've used before, in case your companion phone is at home.
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