The 18 Most Important Features in iOS 8
At WWDC, developers rule. Apple may have previewed iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite to the entire world at its opening keynote, but developers are the only ones who get to check out the beta version of the software until an open beta program kicks off this summer.
This year's conference has had its share of surprises, and it's little wonder devs are salivating: Apple is allowing more flexibility about what developers can grow within its walled garden. For the first time, third-party onscreen keyboards will be welcomed in iOS 8, widgets are coming to the notification center, and media apps will have greater access to the device's camera. Apple even debuted its own programming language, Swift, which got some of the loudest cheers during Monday's keynote.
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What's in iOS 8 that will change the mobile life of your everyday iPhone user?What's in iOS 8 that will change the mobile life of your everyday iPhone user? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Here are the most important changes coming in iOS 8, based on what Apple revealed at WWDC and reports about the beta software:
1. Battery usage indicator
It's probably the most common complaint about the iPhone: The battery drains too damn fast. This is, of course, dependent on exactly what you do with it, but how do users know whether to prioritize dimming the screen, quitting a particular app or turning off Background App Refresh?
In iOS 8, they'll finally get some guidance. The iPhone's settings will offer a way to checkexactly which apps and functions are draining your battery. With that guidance, users will be able to selectively change their settings or uninstall the right apps to maximize their battery.
Developers will certainly find the feature useful as well, as it should help make their apps more efficient. In short, this could be the most welcome new feature in iOS 8.
2. New keyboard(s)
There's nothing more fundamental to the iPhone than its onscreen keyboard — and in iOS 8, it gets an upgrade via predictive typing, which suggests several options for the next word as you type. This is a feature that's been on Android for a while, although Apple says its implementation is superior — since it learns what you're likely to say to different friends and colleagues.
At the same time, Apple is letting developers offer their own keyboards. You may have tried Swype for Android, for example, which uses an algorithm that lets you swipe around a keyboard rather than tap; the company has already said it will make its keyboard available for iOS.
Apple took the idea of collaboration through the cloud to a new level with a new feature called Handoff, part of its "Continuity" concept. If you have an iPhone and a Mac, you'll be able to start a task on one device (say, composing an email) and finish on the other. Since the devices are aware of each other, all you have to do is click one button, and it works on iPad, too.
Continuity also has a couple of bonuses: First, AirDrop will work between Macs and iOS devices. Second, using your iPhone as a personal hotspot has never been easier. There's no configuration needed — the iPhone will just know when your Mac needs the connection.
4. New camera features
The camera is probably every smartphone's No. 1 app. Apple likes to keep its interface relatively simple, but in iOS 8, users will get a couple of more options: a three-second timer and time-lapse capture for video — sort of the opposite of the slow-motion mode introduced in iOS 7. The camera also gets focus and exposure controls.
5. iCloud Photo Library
iCloud currently stores the last 1,000 photos from your iOS devices for free. With iOS 8, users will be able to upgrade to iCloud Photo Library, which will instantly upload all iPhone/iPad photos and videos to iCloud. Users only get 5GB for free, though — storage costs $0.99 a month for 20GB, with tiers all the way up to 1TB. (The Google+ app on iOS, by the way, will back up all your photos up to Google's 15 GB limit, for free).
6. Family Sharing
With iOS 8, Apple is taking the first step toward merging Apple IDs (a long-requested feature) by introducing Family Sharing, which lets different Apple users share all content they've downloaded from iTunes. Up to six people can be designated family members, and it provides a great solution to the problem of kids downloading paid apps on their parents' credit cards: With Family Sharing, the parent gets notified, and then can grant or deny the purchase.
7. Interactive Notifications
Just need to reply to a message with a single word? Why do you have to launch Messages for that? In iOS 8, you won't have to — just pull down on the banner that appears and you can type your reply — then get right back to playing Candy Crush.
Notifications on the lock screen are interactive, too. Swiping an alert to the left will reveal Reply/Dismiss buttons, letting you do things faster without unlocking your phone. And if you're concerned about security implications, you can disable this feature.
8. Messages upgrade
In iOS 8, Apple's built-in messaging app has a lot more to offer. Apple added the ability to send audio and video messages to your friends. With audio, they're effortless: just open the conversation and raise the phone to your ear to begin recording. Users can also let these kinds of messages self-destruct after a certain amount of time — but that's just a memory-management feature, and not, as has been claimed, an attempt to move in on Snapchat's territory. (After all, there's nothing to prevent the other people in the conversation from saving their versions of the video or audio.)
At the same time, Messages adds a couple of convenient features: You can set Do Not Disturb on specific threads so you're not constantly getting alerts from big group messages. You can also now share your location with contacts you're conversing with, as in the Find My Friends app, viewable through a new "Details" button on threads.
Here's another upgrade that Android has had a lock on for years: widgets, made possible by iOS 8's "extensibility," which allows apps to share data and functions with other apps.
Don't get too excited — widgets will reside in the notification center, not the home screen. But their arrival on iOS is a big upgrade, and if Android is any indication, you can expect the floodgates to open for these small, "glanceable" mini-apps when iOS 8 launches in the fall.
10. Lock screen app suggestions
In iOS 8, users will notice a new icon on the iPhone lock screen that looks like the App Store. Swipe up and you'll see app suggestions based on your location. For example, if you're across the street from Starbucks, you might see the Starbucks app.
The feature could be a new path to app discoverability (which can be a problem for apps not in the Top 100), but we'll wait to see how this plays out between Apple, vendors and developers.
11. TouchID for apps
Apple took fingerprint reading mainstream with the TouchID sensor in the iPhone 5S. In iOS 8, it's going to open up that level of convenience to developers, who can let a user unlock any password stored in their keychain by placing their finger on the reader. That could potentially be even more convenient than Lastpass app logins on Android.
12. iCloud Drive
If you've ever tried to save, say, a PDF from an email on your iPhone, you may have been frustrated by the lack of a native file system for iOS. Soon iCloud Drive will address that problem, while at the same time offering a cloud-storage service similar to Dropbox, Box or Google Drive. It's compatible with Windows, too — but not Android.
The new Health app is straightforward: It provides a central place for all the health and fitness information you're storing on the iPhone. Many apps, such as Nike+ and Fitbit, do this individually, but now those apps will be able to integrate into one app — presuming developers take advantage of Apple's HealthKit platform.
Apple is also partnering with healthcare providers to help bring the iPhone health data to the doctors and care specialists who can really do something with it. Health could have a profound effect on preventative medicine, if both developers and care centers support it.
14. New Siri features
Be careful what you say — Siri is always listening in iOS 8. Even if the iPhone is in a dormant state, you can just say "Hey Siri" to wake up the phone and ask something. The phone has to be plugged into power for this to work, indicating Apple probably sees it as a hands-free solution for the car.
Siri can also identify songs with built-in Shazam integration. So instead of launching an app, all you'll need to do is hold down your iPhone's home button to find out what music is playing. Think of all the time you'll save at the bar.
15. Contacts on apps screen
Apple realized it wasn't making use of all the space on the apps screen that appears when you double-click the home button. Right above the apps running, you'll see a strip of the most recent contacts along the top. It's another welcome convenience.
16. More Spotlight results
Searching on the iPhone in iOS 8 now brings up Wikipedia, App Store and iTunes results for anything you're searching for.
17. Full-featured Safari
Safari got a huge upgrade in iOS 7, and although the upgrades in iOS 8 are more incremental (and already exist in other browsers), they're welcome. There's more flexibility in Private browsing, letting you keep regular and private tabs separate. DuckDuckGo — the privacy-preserving alternative to Google — is supported as a search engine, and users will be able to easily request the desktop version of any site.
18. The Weather Channel
In iOS 7, Apple's weather app got its info from Yahoo. Starting in iOS 8, that data comes from the Weather Channel.