Apple will release iOS 8 on Wednesday — and there’s a lot to look forward to.
The new software update for iPhones, iPods, and iPads looks just like iOS 7, but there’s much more going on under the hood. There are some new applications like Health, new features like the ability to send audio messages in iMessage, and some huge foundational improvements to allow for seamless interplay among all devices.
Apple also has plenty of developer goodies that will make iOS more powerful, including 4,000 new APIs for home electronics, Touch ID, iCloud, cameras, games, and more.
Here, we’ve picked out some of the standout improvements and features in iOS 8 so you can get an idea of what to expect when the update goes live on Wednesday.
Each year, Apple has been tying its mobile and desktop operating systems closer together. But thanks to Continuity in iOS 8, you'll finally be able to pick up precisely where you left off on another device -- whether you're writing an email, creating a presentation, or reading a web page. You'll also be able to answer calls to your iPhone directly on your Mac or iPad, as long as those devices are all using the same Wi-Fi network.
But even if you don't have Wi-Fi, your iPad or Mac can now leverage your phone's personal hotspot when it's nearby. There are plenty of other improvements to this idea of seamless handoff, including Apple's decision to make its peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol AirDrop now functional between both Mac and iOS devices. For these reasons, Continuity will likely be the standout feature of iOS 8.
This new fitness app is designed to measure your fitness and sleeping habits. And thanks to the HealthKit tool for developers, third-party apps and hardware will be able to sync with the Health platform so it can learn more about your health and fitness, and be able to share that accurate data -- like your resting heart rate, cholesterol, and blood sugar -- with your physician.
When the Apple Watch arrives next year, it will track and deliver most of these health statistics. But as a whole, the Health app marks the beginning of Apple's campaign to help us all get healthy, while also making it easier for physicians to analyse one's biometrics for an accurate evaluation and/or diagnosis.
For a long time, iPhone and iPad users could only use one keyboard: the one Apple provided. But even though Apple has improved its own keyboard for iOS 8, offering predictive contextual suggestions based on previous messages and the message you're writing, the company is finally opening up the keyboard API to allow for third-party keyboards from the likes of Swype and Fleksy. Expect plenty of interesting keyboards to soon become available for iPhone and iPad users.
At first, iMessage was just about simple texting back and forth. But Apple's free messaging service is beefing up in iOS 8, adding the ability to record and send voice messages and videos without ever having to leave the app. You can also share your location from right in the app, and you can finally rename group conversations so they don't simply list all of the people in the conversation; you can label your conversations as 'Road Trip Crew' or 'Kickball Team' to make them easier to find. And even better, you can now 'leave' those group conversations without needing to delete the entire thread from your phone.
Right now, you can organise your photos into albums, or you can simply browse your entire photo library in chronological order. In iOS 8, Apple finally adds some important search functionality to the Photos app, which will allow you to find a photo based on where you took the picture, when it was taken, or by the album it's in.
You can also view your recent searches, and be able to quickly view photos you've taken 'nearby,' at 'home,' or 'one year ago.' You can now save your favourite photos, which will show up in a separate album, and you can edit or filter the photos directly in the app, since Photos will now have all the functionality of the old iPhoto app. Finally, iOS 8 adds a new camera mode, which will allow you to capture time-lapse videos to show an accelerated sequence of photos over time.
It's still not a 'true cloud' like Dropbox or Google Drive, but Apple's platform for letting its devices communicate with one another is getting a number of massive improvements in iOS 8. Handoff and Continuity will fix most of the syncing errors found in previous iOS releases, but iCloud's new Photo Library will now allow you to store all of your photos in iCloud and download them to your iDevices at any time -- and even access them on the web. iCloud will also allow you to open any document type from your iOS or Mac device, which is great news for productivity.
iCloud can only distinguish between devices, not the different people who might be using those devices. But in iOS 8, a new feature called 'Family Sharing' allows up to six family members to separate their accounts from each other on the same device, but still be able to share their purchases with everyone -- things like books, movies, TV shows, and apps. You'll also be able to make dedicated family calendars and photo albums, so all accounts on all devices can easily share photos and events in a single organised place.
This is a major addition to the overall ecosystem. Previously, iOS applications relied on sandboxing, in which each application is isolated so others can't access its data. But in iOS 8, 'extensions' will allow applications to safely communicate with each other and project UI into each others' apps, which will allow third parties to define how their content is seen, shared, or acted upon in other apps.
This also means apps like Pinterest can add sharing tools, or cloud providers like Box or OneDrive can add document-sharing tools. It's going to make apps much more interactive while keeping them safe.
Currently, Notification Center for iOS and OS X features a number of default apps like Calendar, Stocks, and Reminders. But in iOS 8, thanks to extensions, apps will also be able to offer their own unique Notification Center widgets, and users will be able to see which of their downloaded apps have those widgets available.
For instance, if you already own the SportsCenter app, you can see the company has a SportsCenter widget in your Notification Center; you just download it, reorganize it, and boom, you can see live sports scores and news right from Notification Center. It also works for interactive apps like eBay; with the eBay widget, you'll be able to submit the winning bid for an item without ever needing to actually open the eBay app.
If there's one thing Google Now got really right, it's the ability to use the personal assistant without your hands: you simply say 'OK Google' and Google Now activates. In iOS 8, Apple has taken a page from Google to allow Siri to wake up when you say 'Hey Siri.'
It's also got a number of nifty features, including the ability to recognise songs via Shazam, and the ability to purchase iTunes content without ever needing to leave the interface. Apple says Siri has other major under-the-hood improvements to allow for streaming voice recognition and 22 new dictation languages.
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