Just a few weeks ago Apple released the next generation of software that powers its mobile lineup: iOS 8.It is a free update as usual and it packs new features and enhancements some of which are noticeable while others hardly demand a second glance.
Building on last year’s interface overhaul, iOS8 is the 2nd generation of Apple’s mobile operating system to feature 64-bit code, a trend started by iOS7.
This might not sound great to the usual consumer, but is certainly a very big deal from a developers point of view. Just think about it! Desktop class apps running in the palm of your hand. Agreed that other platforms had 64 bit devices way earlier, but none of those operating systems is optimized to run on a hardware built for the software, like the iPhones. Given the performance of earlier versions of iOS with the comparatively older specifications they usually have (as compared to android flagships), i can bet on the fact that the leap to 64 bit bandwagon will be hugely beneficial for the overall experience. The 64 bit iOS 8 to take full advantage of the 64-bit architecture built around the A7 chip in the iPhone 5S, iPad Air and the second-generation iPad mini; as well as the just introduced A8 chip in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
iOS 8 looks identical to iOS 7, even feels so.With a sprinkle of refinements throughout the system, we find that most new benefits are neatly tucked away in the corners of the OS. The new functionality doesn’t feel bolted on, doesn’t slow the OS down or add bloat — a difficult trick to pull off.
The first things you will notice is the lock screen, which gains on the functionality part while avoiding any more clutter than the last years overhaul.
One of the highlights is the new Interactive Notifications. Apart from being a time saver, I found these to be very intuitive and came naturally. Notifications have action items, allowing you to perform specific functions without opening the app itself. An interactive notification can be swiped across to the right on the Lock Screen, bringing up contextually pertinent actions.
For instance, an email notification allows you to respond to or dismiss the notification; you can also Mark as Read, Trash or dismiss the notification.
It is worthwhile to note that the Messages app has received some welcome new features, including the ability to name group messages, add and remove people from group threads, and — best of all — the ability to enable Do Not Disturb on a per-chat basis or leave a group chat altogether. It now has some handy shortcuts for sending pictures, sound clips and videos, but only to devices with iMessage.
Whats in it for developers?
Starting with iOS 8, Apple has created APIs that allow developers to extend the functionality of some system functions, including interactive notifications mentioned above, and a lot more. For example, the recent Apple keynote event showed Facebook notifications with options to Like or respond to a post from within the notification. This means Apple is letting the developers connect to core OS functionality directly through the apps, more than ever before. Sure this feels like so obvious if we compare it to Android having the same functions years before, but then the app code for android has never been so polished and scrutinized as it is for Apple products. I will touch this topic at the end of the post again in greater detail.
Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, picks up a couple of shiny new tricks too. Now it can picture your words on the screen as you speak, apart from being able to make iTunes purchases without leaving the interface.
But the most important feature in my opinion is the Hey, Siri command. Somewhat like Moto X’s always listening assistant, Siri too does that, albeit when powered by the charger. This is one feature that all personal assistants should have today. It good to see Apple take a positive step in this direction. I found the Hey, Siri command especially useful in two specific situations: If you work from home (or in an area where talking out loud to the phone isn’t a big deal) or in the car.
Search and Mail improvements
Spotlight’s search functionality has been expanded to display a new range of search results. Right from the Home screen, Spotlight can search for applications in the App Store, Wiki entries and map data for nearby places, as well as news stories. You can still search for content — like songs, TV shows, and books — but now the search shows results for matches on the iTunes Stores, too, and data like movie show times.
Mail gains some useful new features as well. For instance, you can delete, flag or mark an email as read using gestures. Swiping a finger all the way to the left on an email in the mail list deletes it, while a slow swipe to the left brings up options to Flag, Trash or access more functions, including reply, forward, move to junk, and the option to be notified if anyone replies to that email thread.
Swiping across an email to the right brings up the option to Mark as Read (or Unread, depending on the message status). This is a customizable option under Settings>Mail, Contacts, Calendars>Swipe Options, but there aren’t many options to choose from. You can either Mark as Read/Unread or flag the email using the swipes; I would have really loved to see an option to Move to Junk. I think I would have used that feature more than anything else on the iPhone, actually.
Email subscribers to a Microsoft Exchange server can be happy knowing that Mail now supports automatic replies for out of office notifications and that Mail is aware of free/busy status in Exchange calendars.
Mail also recognizes reservations, flight confirmations and other data. When this occurs, Mail sends a notification prompting you to add that data to a calendar event or its appropriate location.
Other important features
A feature new to iOS 8 is Family Sharing, which allows you to consolidate up to six iCloud accounts under one credit card. All members under Family Sharing have access to each other’s purchases, including music, movies, TV shows, books and other content bought from the iTunes store.One of the benefits of Family Sharing is that each member can have his or her own AppleID and password. Apple also allows the creation of Apple IDs for children under 13 years old; but Restrictions and the Ask to Buy feature is turned on automatically for those accounts, and they need to be added to the family group by a legal guardian or parent.
With the built-in HealthKit, Apple is offering a single repository for this data, which is then displayed in the app called Health using a customizable dashboard. Third party apps can tap into the data that resides there and also have the ability to add their own data. Hurrah for developers!
HealthKit tracks all sorts of data, including active calories, blood glucose, body fat percentage, caffeine intake, cycling distance, flights climbed, heart rate, lean body mass, respiratory rate, steps taken throughout the day, walking and running distance, and even vitamin intake.
There is even a medical ID card that contains your information, including medical conditions, medical notes, allergies and reactions, medications and emergency contact information.
One of the major features of iOS8 won’t be available to the general public until the arrival of OS X 10.10 (aka Yosemite). That’s because the next set of features links iPhones and iPads with Apple’s traditional Mac lineup in a set of features called Continuity. Continuity is made up of: AirDrop, Handoff, Automatic Hotspot, and SMS relay.
Handoff is a great new feature in which your Apple devices are aware of what each is doing. If you need to switch to a different device, you can continue your work on that device automatically. For example, if you’re browsing the Web on your Mac and decide to go outside, you can continue reading that webpage on the iPhone by swiping up the icon located on the lower left of the Lock Screen. That icon changes depending on what app you are using; swiping up on the icon will open whatever you were doing on the Mac on the iPhone, continuing your work on one device exactly where you left off on the other.
It works in the other direction, too. If you start an email on the iPhone and return to your Mac, an email app icon will display on the left hand side of the Dock. Clicking on that icon will open up the email you were composing on the iPhone right where you left off. And that’s just one example; Handoff works with many of Yosemite’s built-in apps, and the technology is open to developers so they can incorporate these features into their apps.
AirDrop lets iOS and Mac users share documents, photos, videos and other data wirelessly and securely. The difference with AirDrop in Yosemite and iOS 8 is that (finally) Macs can wirelessly transfer files to iOS devices and vice versa.
Automatic Hotspot is a feature I initially underestimated. This is a zero-configuration personal hotspot, allowing your Mac to access the Internet using a cellular-connected iPhone or iPad. With this feature, any cell-enabled iOS 8 device logged in with your iCloud information can be easily set up to be used as a hotspot. iOS 8 devices just show up under the Mac’s Wi-Fi list — a single click grants you access to the internet.
This feature can really come in handy. My neighborhood suffered a power outage over the summer. On a whim, I clicked on the Wi-Fi icon in the Mac’s menu and noticed that my iPad and iPhone were listed. One click later, my MacBook Pro was back online, no muss, no fuss. That’s impressive.
Another great feature is the ability to make and receive phone calls from the Mac or another iOS device. For example, if your iPhone is being charged on the other side of the house and you receive a phone call, your Mac and other iOS devices now display the Caller ID information, and you can pick up the call on any device. It works the other way, too — if you dial a number from your Mac or iPad, the devices will use the FaceTime app to route the call through the iPhone, including numbers from contacts or webpages.
Finally, SMS support lets your Mac or iPad send SMS and MMS messages right from their respective apps. (Previously, only iMessages between Apple devices were possible in the existing app.) This feature is due in October.
As you can see, the features in Continuity extend the usefulness of Apple products by allowing new kinds of interaction between devices. Unfortunately, unless you signed up for the public beta program, you’ll have to wait until Yosemite is released in October. Trust me: These features are worth the wait.
Whats in it for Development Community
Many developers have been wondering whether Apple would ever allow the use of third-party software to extend functionality and, with iOS 8, that wait is (mostly, kind of) over. iOS 8 has features that will give developers the ability to extend the operating system without compromising security through Extensions.
Notification Center will now support third-party widgets and actionable alerts. Sharing button can be customized with third-party actions and additional sharing options. Developers can add actions like Translations or their own photo filters to Apple’s Photos app. Documents and app data have been made available to other apps via secure APIs, so that data is no longer isolated to other apps.
Third party keyboards might be late to the party in iOS, but they are still a welcome feature. This will open a new world of app developers and we will see a new horde of star apps.
iOS 8 also opens up other possibilities for developers by allowing access to Touch ID results, as well as new directions for their apps with Camera, HealthKit, HomeKit, PhotoKit and CloudKit APIs. These new APIs grant developers access to specific aspects of the operating system without compromising user security.
Developers also have access to other underlying technologies called SpriteKit, SceneKit and Metal that should help create some amazing games. Finally, Apple has introduced Swift, a new programming language for building iOS apps.
Following up last year’s successful iOS 7 launch couldn’t have been easy. But overall, the new features in iOS 8 are really handy, and are implemented in ways that don’t slow down the system or bog down the interface with clutter.
There are some features that Apple has taken longer to implement compared to its competition — such as the ability for apps to access each other’s data or support for third-party keyboards — but Apple added these features without compromising on security by creating APIs specifically to address those shortcomings.
Like any first-release software, there are a few rough spots and bugs, but for the most part, iOS 8 is as responsive and snappy as iOS 7 before it.
iOS 8 introduces new features that you will be using on daily basis, including the handy actionable notifications and all of the features under Continuity. Many people will love the fact that applications are now allowed to extend the operating system beyond Apple’s original specs, and still others will like Apple’s new health-tracking initiatives.
There is no doubt iOS 8 is packed full of really handy features & I can sincerely recommend upgrading to iOS 8 without any second thoughts.