The best of iOS 8: from new features to developer tools

By , Jul 27, 2014

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With the imminent introduction of the iPhone 6 will come the release of iOS 8, Apple’s latest iteration in its mobile operating system. After spending the past several weeks with pre-release versions of the software, I can say that there are definitive grounds for anticipating its public availability. Whether you’re planning on buying a new iPhone this fall or upgrading your current device to iOS 8, there are clear reasons to be excited about the features it has to offer.

Although it will be shipping with quite a few significant features – Apple claims this is their “biggest iOS release ever” – we’ve gone hands-on with the beta releases and picked our top ten favorite enhancements that will be available for qualifying devices this September. Here, in no sequential order, are the best of what makes iOS 8 great…

The Kits

More so than ever, developers are the true driving force behind the release of iOS this year. With all summer to experiment and create new ways for their apps to interact with entities outside of iOS’s previously limiting sandbox, we’re sure to see great things from developers this fall.

With PhotoKit, photo editing apps will no longer need to import a photo in order to apply a filter or effect. Instead, the editing capabilities of third-party apps will be accessible from the stock Photos app, making iPhoneography much easier for novices and professionals alike.

While HomeKit isn’t something we’re going to see widely used immediately, it’s a sign that Apple is preparing for an automated future. As the third-party hardware and software develops, iOS users will already have the capability to control their home with Siri, using voice commands to adjust lights and thermostat settings. It’s a futuristic feature that not many people will begin using right away, but HomeKit is likely to be highly appreciated in the not-so-distant future.

SpriteKit, SceneKit, and Metal are exciting prospects for gamers and game developers alike, introducing tools for everything from easier creation of 2D games to more performance in console-quality games. The visual effects and graphics that are made possible by Metal, in particular, enable iOS games to take advantaged of the raw power of Apple’s A7 chip, raising the ceiling on what can be accomplished with graphics and performance on iOS.

Continuity

After this year’s WWDC, it’s hard to talk about iOS 8 without mentioning OS X Yosemite. Users who own more than one Apple device, whether they run iOS or OS X, will love the integration and ease of use introduced with Continuity. Even in beta testing, I’ve really enjoyed the convenience of making and receiving phone calls from my Mac, and SMS integration with the Messages app across iDevices is truly wonderful.

Messaging iOS 8

No longer will users have to put down an iPad and pick up their iPhone to reply to a message simply because the user on the other end is a “green bubble person.” Receiving a phone call won’t mean unplugging headphones from a Mac to answer the call on iOS, because now there’s no difference in practice between FaceTime and a cellular call.

Handoff has a lot of potential for bringing iOS and OS X devices together like never before. Because third-party developers can add this feature to their apps, any compatible application will “hand off” active content between their iOS and Mac counterparts, making the Apple experience even more seamless.

iOS-8-Yosemite-Mail-Handoff

Touch ID API

Ever since the release of the iPhone 5s, there as been speculation as to what Apple plans to do with Touch ID, the fingerprint reader built into Apple’s latest iPhone and rumored to ship with new iPads this year as well. At WWDC 2014, Apple opened the Touch ID API to developers, allowing third-party apps to use Touch ID together with iCloud Keychain to sign in without entering a password.

With this API, passwords will no longer need to be memorized, copied and pasted, or otherwise managed at all. Users will be more likely to opt for auto-generated passwords that are more complex and secure, as they no longer have to worry about memorizing them or typing them out. It’s a nice mixture of security and convenience – and a clear advantage for iOS to hold over the competition.

Keyboard

One thing that has remained largely unchanged since the dawn of iOS is its keyboard. Aside from autocorrect adjustments, shortcuts, and a visual redesign in iOS 7, the keyboard – an integral part of iOS – hasn’t seen any major improvements, until now. With iOS 8 comes predictive typing, or QuickType, a method of suggesting the next word in a sentence.

iOS-8-QuickType-predictive

While this feature has its learning curve as far as speed is concerned, what makes iOS’s predictive typing stand head and shoulders above the competition is its ability to analyze the last message received and suggest a one-tap response. If someone sends a text saying, “Do you want to meet at 6:30 or 7:00?”, the keyboard suggests “6:30″, “7:00″, and “Not sure”.

iOS-8-QuickType-suggestions

In addition, Apple introduced support for third-party keyboards in iOS 8, which will enable developers to bring swipe-to-type and perhaps even a SwipeSelection clone to stock iOS.

iCloud Drive

iCloud syncing is great; starting a document in Pages for iOS, saving it to iCloud, and then opening it in Pages for Mac is incredibly convenient. With the introduction of iCloud Drive, this moves to a whole new level. Apps will be able to share files with each other, so pulling up a Numbers spreadsheet in the Google Sheets app is a real possibility. With users being able to open a file in any app of its genre – even on another iOS device or Mac – the flexibility of an iOS workflow increases dramatically.

iOS-8-iCloud-Drive

Extensibility

Aside from the photo editing, keyboard, and document extensions that were previously mentioned, iOS 8 introduces new sharing options for sending content more places than ever. Instagram will be able to add a share sheet to iOS for quickly posting photos, and Pinterest can enable webpage or photo pinning from within a browser.

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On top of that, Apple showed a demo of Custom Actions at WWDC, in which Bing Translate was able to translate a webpage in Safari in-line, that is, without altering the look of the page and without leaving Safari. As other apps update with support for integrated Actions in iOS, we’re sure to see massive improvements for power users as a result of third-party ingenuity and innovation. The possibilities are endless.

After Notification Center was revamped in iOS 7, it was obvious that the Today view had a lot of potential. iOS 8 unlocks those capabilities by allowing third-party widgets to reside in Notification Center with updates on Twitter mentions, package deliveries, breaking news stories, and the latest iDownloadBlog posts, to name a few. There are countless ways developers can use this to provide at-a-glance information and interactions for users.

iOS-8-Notification-Center-widget-Extensibility

Interactive Notifications

Jailbreakers everywhere have been longing for a quick reply feature in iOS for years, and Apple finally appeased this crowd with iOS 8’s interactive notifications. Not only can iMessages be dealt with from anywhere in the OS, but emails can be marked as read or trashed and reminders can be snoozed or completed. Third-party apps will be able to customize their own notifications as well; imagine favoriting a tweet from the notification or opening the app directly into a reply sheet.

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Spotlight / Safari Search

Perhaps one of the more underrated features of iOS 8 is the powerful search functions added to Spotlight and Safari. Searching for a keyword will pull up relevant articles from Wikipedia, iTunes and App Store, news sources, and a plethora of other sites.

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This becomes even more useful when you realize that this skips search engines such as Google altogether, so you can oftentimes search for and navigate to an article without ever seeing search engine listings. Because this can be done from both Safari and Spotlight, the ability to type in a topic and go directly to a relevant article in seconds becomes a reality.

Health

iOS 8 adds a new app to the default set called Health, which collects data from various sources and compiles them into one place. It utilizes HealthKit, which we discussed earlier, to gather information from apps that track exercise, sleeping, and eating. With iWatch rumored to be introduced in the near future, we can be sure that the new Health app will play a huge role in accumulating data, including glucose levels and heart rate, measured by the purported sensors in iWatch.

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This is greatly significant for not only frequent exercisers and athletes, but also diabetics and people with various medical conditions. Anyone with an ailment that iWatch and Health can help monitor and control will find this technology life-saving, perhaps even literally.

Enhanced Apps

Messages

While most of iOS’s stock apps remained largely the same as in iOS 7, Messages was one of the few that received a significant update. Apple made it easy for users to send instant voice, picture, and video messages, bringing key features apps from like Voxer and Snapchat to stock iOS.

In the Details panel for each conversation are options to send your current location or share it for a specified period of time. There’s also an option to toggle Do Not Disturb on a per-conversation level, which is very similar to the functionality found in the Auki jailbreak tweak. Additionally, users can be added to or removed from a group thread on the fly, with the ability to remove yourself at anytime.

iOS-8-Messages

Videos and pictures are also organized in their own panel in Messages, so users no longer have to scroll indefinitely to find a picture from earlier in the conversion. There are also options for deleting audio and video messages after a certain amount of time in order to save space. Message history can be automatically deleted as well.

All things considered, Apple took significant steps to bring distinctive improvements to its most popular app, and millions of iMessage users are sure to appreciate them this fall.

Mail

The Mail app is another aspect of iOS that hasn’t seen many vast improvements since its first introduction, causing many users to turn to third-party mail apps such as Mailbox or Molto, but iOS 8 brings several much-needed enhancements to the table.

My personal favorite would have to be the new gesture options that can be performed from the inbox list. A right-swipe instantly marks a message as unread/read, and a left-swipe will quickly archive or trash the email. A shorter left-swipe provides several additional options including flagging a message and more.

iOS-8-Mail-swipe

Multiple drafts can now be opened at once, and users can quickly switch between and dismiss them in a manner similar to Safari’s new tab view. There are also new mailbox options and notifications for replies to email threads, and Mail now scans emails for addresses or other personal information and automatically gives the option to add the data to your contacts.

Photos

Apple announced plans to phase out iPhoto in favor of a new Photos app on OS X, and the same thing seems to be happening in iOS as well. Photos got several enhanced editing features, filters, and better cropping tools. There are also aspect ratio options and precise rotation abilities.

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Together with PhotoKit’s abilities to use third-party editing options from within the stock Photos app, it appears that users may not need to leave Photos to fully enhance and polish their pictures.

The Camera app also received a new time-lapse mode, which is designed to take videos over long periods of time and speed them up dramatically, creating some incredible effects when used properly.

Summation

Apple’s claims that iOS 8 is the “biggest iOS release ever” may very well be justified. It’s definitely the most they’ve ever allowed developers to access system resources, such as Notification Center and Share Sheets, and insert custom features inside. We’ve also seen huge steps toward a new direction for Apple with Health, open APIs, and the Kits. Additionally, they’re continuing to bring iOS and OS X together in a useful way with Continuity, and Handoff in particular.

If this is the “new Apple” – the Apple that listens to users, creates massive opportunities for developers, and borrows heavily from the jailbreak community, all in an effort to make iOS the best it can be – then I welcome it. The direction they’re taking looks to be a well-planned, much-needed course of action, and the myriad of new and useful features coming to iOS this fall is exciting to say the least.

What’s your favorite iOS 8 feature? Even if you can’t pick just one – I know I can’t – use the comments to let us know what you’re most excited about for iOS 8’s release this fall.

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  • Christian Mejía

    iOS 8 wasn’t really exciting at all. Maybe because I’m not a developer.

    • Eni

      if devs are happy, we are happy as well.

      • Der Faust

        just wait til we get our hands are what they are cooking ! :)

    • Merman123

      Wait , what???

    • http://twitter.com/jmarsh5 Justin Marshall

      These devs are going to create some things that will get you excited.

  • unkown man

    i m excited for METAL,unreal engine 4,zen garden and other games

  • Jonathan

    Very well done article. Even though I’m not a dev, these are still some awesome features for the devs. :)

    • nazcorp

      Agreed. This was an awesome article!! Very thorough and well though out. This is a prime example of professional journalism (except minor spelling or typos). I can look past mistakes if the article is well written.

      • http://idownloadblog.com/ Timothy Reavis

        well thought* out ;)

      • Anonomous.TECH.man

        Lol

      • nazcorp

        Lol.

      • Mohammed

        Lol,you made my day

    • SteveZ

      Didn’t you say you are a “Developer, iOS themer, and graphic designer”

      Well, we should never believe what people claim on the INTERNET!

      • Jonathan

        A web dev, but not an iOS dev, but still a dev. Learn iOS language is on the list though..

        People comment about my profile a lot. Do they like stalk me or something? 0_o

      • SteveZ

        Man, you are too active to be a dev!
        = =

      • Jonathan

        I’m not a dev 100% of the time man. I’ve got a life.

      • im2slick4u

        “iOS Language”

        Before you touch the code you should probably know what the language is actually called.

      • Jonathan

        Since there’s 2, kinda, I called it iOS language.

        So you don’t call me stupid, Swift and Objective C.

      • McBobson

        We don’t stalk you. Your profile appears when we hover our mouse over your profile. Don’t be paranoid!

      • Jonathan

        I know. I was just teasin’ lol.

  • Eyal^S

    Im super excited for the keyboard features and the interactive notificiations but if I had to choose it would’ve been the interactive notifications because its just more useful for me.

  • Mike M. Powell

    I really hope apple reduced the size of banners n add some sort of quick compose :(

    • im2slick4u

      Both of those are a no as of the current beta, I’m sure a quick compose work around is possible through a talented developer making a Today view widget. Stock quick compose won’t be seamless enough for Apple to let it fly without something like activator, which Apple will also not let fly.

  • JayDee917

    I’ve been running iOS 8 beta for a month and half now, and so far iOS 8 hasn’t been a major or even minor change at all. Most people can’t tell the difference, and when they ask me to show them what’s different, all I can think of is showing them the updated messaging app and keyboard. Everyone’s response is something like, “that’s it?”

    iOS 8 was much more of a developer’s update, so we won’t really understand how major the changes are until apps are updated with iOS 8 support. Personally I’m very excited for the official release.

    • Tommy

      Totally agree to that one.

    • Nkala11986

      Sure

    • Âböuðèh Äðrã

      Sure it was more of a developer’s update, that’s why you won’t feel the difference now. Just wait until the developers show you what they can do differently :)

    • Ashish Maheshwari

      those changes will make a big difference when devs start using them in their apps. over the course of few months we’ll notice some big and some subtle but much needed changes :)

      personally im really happy how iOS is shaping up, not like those gimmicky features that samsung adds to stock android :| (stock android is really fast and cool)

    • Kr00

      The changes aren’t flashy and in your face, but under the hood, the changes are massive. The connectivity Apple has implemented in iOS 8 is leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else. iOS 7 heralded in the UI change, iOS 8 brings the power of the software up to a level even Android users will wish they had.

  • JoshuaHulgan

    This will arguably be the best iOS update since the iPhone was introduced.
    Definitely looking forward to this one.

    • John

      It will only be successful if developers implement the updates, which means that we have to contact the developers of our favourite Apps and make sure they make the Apps play nice with iOS 8.

      • JoshuaHulgan

        True, but for the most part they won’t need to hear from us. If their ear has been to the ground they know these are some of the biggest requests from iPhone users in years that Apple has fulfilled. They know if they want a successful app and to be competitive to implement these features where they apply.

  • Joseph A. Ahmad

    I have to say, iOS 8 is a pretty feature packed release. The ONLY let down I have is that a Siri API wasn’t released, or at least an offline mode, that would have put me over the top for iOS 8. I mean let’s remember, Hand-Off/Continuity, a Touch ID API, third party keyboard support as well as predictive typing, quick photo or video sending, quick voice memo recording, the health app which has tons of potential, spotlight and safaris’ ability to search for articles and bypass actually using a search engine, Photos, iCloud Drive, Mail, Extensions, and of course, Family Share. I mean let’s be honest, having the ability to share a music album with your whole family, but also making sure the kids don’t have access to anything too explicit is something that should have been implemented years ago. Not having to sign in with mom’s apple id and having the ability to purchase all those in app purchases (or hoping mom restricts access anyways) is probably the best part. And this is something that can be said in response to parents who are hesitant about getting their child an iPod Touch or iPad without actually getting them an iPhone. They can restrict the access on the device and all that good stuff.

    • Kr00

      Its impossible to give you the power of Siri offline. It requires some very powerful computing behind the scenes at split second timing. Just not possible with current hardware. The required drive space alone makes it impractical, at the moment.

      • Maxim∑

        Yeah, the processor just compresses/decompresses the audio but all the work is done at Apple’s NC data center in the US

      • Joseph A. Ahmad

        You’re telling me Siri can’t get an offline mode for placing phone calls, reminders, text messages, and simple tasks like that? I’m not talking about compressing web searches, wolfram|alpha data, and stuff like that, but that would be cool. That’s definitely difficult to do.

      • Kr00

        Do you understand how the system works?

      • Joseph A. Ahmad

        For web-based search like wolfram|alpha, twitter, bing, iTunes/App Store, and location based services? It will pull from the iCloud data center. And the current predicament is that placing a call, sending a text and so on will do that same thing as opposed to be able to simple stuff like that offline. I don’t think this is that difficult to accomplish.

      • Kr00

        Took you how long? A week?

      • Joseph A. Ahmad

        I’m sorry that I am not constantly signed in, I wish I could be more often. But seriously, it’s definitely possible, especially with voice control being able to take music requests. But then why not use voice control? Because it’s terribly inaccurate.

      • itpromike

        So how does Android do it then? Google Now is works perfectly fine offline and doesn’t go out to the network for voice recognition at all yet has been shown to be faster (because it doesn’t require network) and more accurate… ‘Siri is too powerful for offline’ just doesn’t make sense and sounds like an excuse.

  • Jerem

    I think continuity could be a great feature… if only there were synced notifications. We are supposed to switch between devices seamlessly, but if we have to clear notifications everywhere, I’m not convinced.

    • Ashish Maheshwari

      they will definitely be synced mate, without sync they wouldnt mean anything at all :)

  • jake kneller

    I feel iOS 8 is just all the changes that weren’t put in the redisigend iOS (iOS 7) which to most was just new ui and the control center

    • jake kneller

      If iOS 8 would have been iOS 7 the users would have been much much more impressed

  • Oryan Hàim

    If my iPhone on iOS 8 beta right now, when the ios 8 is going to release for public ,will I gonna need to restore my phone as new? Or Apple allow me only update from the beta to official,?

    • Kr00

      You can’t update from betas to the GM once released. You will have to download via iTunes and update from there.

  • hkgsulphate

    Best feature is as at least can finally shut droidfans’ mouth for not having widgets

    but wait, why is the community excited for the 3rd party keyboards more than the widgets? Weather anyone?

    • Timothy

      Don’t we already have a weather widget…?

  • Dan

    Looking forward to iOS 8. Apple really copied::coughs:: I mean innovated interesting features.

    • Ashish Maheshwari

      copied? which ones? except the third party keyboards :p

      • Dan

        I was going to enumerate, but pretty much all the functions you see could either be had with jailbreak tweaks or previously available on other phone OS’s.

        Don’t get me wrong, I have an iPhone so I’m happy it will be available.

      • Ashish Maheshwari

        i m not getting you wrong mate :)

        yeah many functions are taken from the jailbreak community, but thats a good sign. bringing good features to stock iOS so that the masses can use it :)

        also features like continuity, extensibility and TouchID API are pretty good and innovative ones. The truth is, no other smartphone maker (even laptop makers) have a fingerprint scanner as good as iPhone 5s :)

  • Matt Dowdy

    I’m most looking forward to swipe keyboards and voice activating siri, coming from android this will make my transition complete

  • Kr00

    A great article, well written and informative. Thanks.

  • JustGetFlux

    If Apple would just allow Flux in the AppStore, and we get some options to hide app labels and also get a stock SwipeSelection, I probably wouldn’t see a reason to jailbreak anymore.

  • sandy_locke

    Can someone help me to know which features will need iCloud ? I don’t use it, and need to know if iOS 8 will be worth it for my use … Thanks :)

    • Eni

      iCloud drive for example

      • sandy_locke

        Yeah, obvious :) I’m talking particularly of features which link to a Mac. For instance, handsoff or continuity. Will I need iCloud to make them work ?

    • http://summified.com/ Ry L

      It’s already worth using…why don’t you use it?