Since the announcement of iOS 8’s launch, supplemented with news of Yosemite and iPhone 6/6+ and the Apple Watch’s arrival, people have been torn between those saying that Apple is late to so many parties (large screen, wearables, widgets, etc.). The other suggesting that this is the kind of move that reworks the entire platform from the ground up and needed to take its time. Perhaps it is both. It does not matter to either camp because iOS 8 is out. It is the most natural evolution of a platform. If you own a compatible Apple device, you should get an upgrade. Let us walk you through why.
The first impression of this upgrade was that it was slightly less exciting than when iOS 7 came out. There is a reason for that gap. The shift from iOS 7 to iOS 8 is every bit as paradigmatic as 7 was from 6. iOS 8 is a shift towards a reworked back-end that opens up the platform a little to give developers more power and freedom. Developers will already know what iOS 8 can do for them, so we needn’t go into those details, but to summarize, the concept of metal brings developers closer to the hardware, opening up new realms. Games will perform better, they will look better, they will have better AI and algorithms at the backend not seen outside of a gaming console. So many manual controls have been put in the hands of developers, there will be custom keyboards, custom widgets (of sorts) and so many other features that when put together, will finally bring about the paradigm shift. Their motto, after all, was “Huge for developers. Massive for everyone else.”
The hardware pre-requisites for the upgrade are an iPhone 4s or newer, iPad 2 or newer, iPod 5th Gen and both iPad Minis. It is said that you need to be on 7.1.2 before upgrading to 8, I cannot verify this as all my devices were already on 7.1.2, but let’s assume that’s true (does not make a difference if you are headed to 8 anyway).
Let us first talk about features that are new to iOS 8 and what they mean to us users. There’s an app named Tips whose only job is to tell you about all the nifty new features that you can enjoy, so that’s a quick guide built right into the OS.
Any time a message appears, you can tap on it to compose a quick reply, similar to Mavericks’ notification response. It is a very handy feature that allows you to respond to texts without having to close any apps. For gamers, that’s an uninterrupted Clash of Clans session. For chronic texters, it is an efficiency boost. This is a much needed and a most welcome upgrade.
Smart Quick Access
This is a feature that I have not been able to try out (nor was it announced at the keynote), but the internet is full of tales of how when a user walked into a Starbucks, related apps became aligned in quick access. Though due to these rumors, it is not clear how this feature works (location based) or which apps are compatible at this point, but we do know that this feature will come in handy and then some. Additionally, if you are browsing a website that requires you to enter your credit card information, Safari will give you the option to take a picture of your credit card which, through OCR (optical character recognition), it will use to fill out online forms. This seems like a helpful feature, though I am sure our lives would have gone on the same had it not existed. It is interesting to see that Apple has planned even for areas that will eventually become concerns somewhere down the line.
Extensions are a means through which the system can trade functionality. These feature 6 main categories, we will gloss over the parts that are not directly related to end users:
- Actions – Like running other apps’ functions from within another app
- Custom Keyboards – Detailed Below
- Widgets – Detailed Below
- Document Providers – Trading documents of one app with another
- Photo Editing – More freedom granted, so better photo editors will be en route
- Sharing – More than images can now be shared with external sources
The sorest of spots with the avid Android fans. Apple now has widgets. Apple’s display of widgets is less of a playground when compared to Android, but it gets some parts of the job done. You can edit what information you get in notifications. This includes any apps that support widgets, like Evernote. They took the core idea behind widgets and implemented it in a controlled environment and it seems to be working.
I imagine we will be spending quite some time with these over the next few weeks, with unique custom keyboards coming out every few days. It will be interesting to see where this ends up and if indeed the idea behind Apple’s original keyboard can legitimately be improved upon. You can start with SwiftKey, it is free and every bit as powerful as its Android counterpart.
The name of their financial tool utilizing the NFC. It already exists in some incarnations of other smartphones, but Apple Pay takes the simplicity of purchasing from the App Store and applies it to every day transactions like paying for a pair of shoes or your coffee. Moreover, the security is at a different level. Your biometric data is encrypted and stored on the device, making for a much more secure system. This will need to be tried out in real world scenarios to truly judge its security and efficacy.
This features allows you to connect 6 other devices with your account, they can use their own iCloud account too, but they will be part of your package, with these 6 contacts, you can share books, apps, music and movies. All you need is a working credit card to get things started.
Now this is the coup d’etat for iOS and Mac OS X. Through a low power listening mode (bluetooth), you will be able to pick up half composed emails on your Mac, you can text via your Mac and you can even take calls via a connected Mac. We will go into details for this when the final build of Mac OS X Yosemite rolls out.
This time around, Apple has been very poised towards health monitoring. It simply collects all the information from various sources (apps and wearables) and turns it into pure data. You could see this information represented in virtually any way you want and the health app will do it for you. I imagine it must do exceptionally well with the Apple Watch. There is an option for a Medical ID, that you can create with relevant information. This is to provide your medical information in case of an emergency. It will have all the information about your allergies and medical conditions, this can be accessed without unlocking the phone. This last one I am a staunch supporter of. If something were to happen, such a comprehensive rescue guide will be of the utmost importance.
Imagine Dropbox, it is like that, only with the added advantage of all of iCloud’s services. Mac users beware, if you enable iCloud Drive, then you will not be able to gain access to your storage without iCloud Drive, which means you will need iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. When that comes out, go ahead and upgrade so as to continue accessing files normally. This feature came along as expected when we reviewed the Yosemite beta.
Now let us analyze the improvements that have been made to different aspects of this platform.
You needn’t even keep the button pressed anymore, just like Google Now, you can say the words “hey Siri” and it will automatically kick in. Siri will respond faster, understand you better and the best of all, has a shazam integration built in. All you have to do is ask Siri what song is playing, and Siri will track that song down for you. A little convoluted compared to the simple method of using shazam, but if that is what people want, they shall have it. Additionally, there is a dictation option that works quite well now, though some say it is right up there with Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition, I wouldn’t put it that far, but much farther along than the one on iOS 7. Unless you don’t speak English or are in a quiet environment, you will not need to use the keyboard at all.
Camera and Photo Editor
There is a new custom exposure setting that you can adjust, leading way into other libraries made available for developers (some brand new uber powerful apps are definitely on their way). There is also, the time-lapse feature that takes images at set intervals and assembles the result into a video, you will get to know this feature quite intimately as it is sure to flood your social media feeds very soon. This, along with the photo timer, is sure to generate some business for mobile photography accessories.
There is an update to the photo editor too, with a slew of options now offering you the kind of editing power not seen outside of sophisticated photoshop software.
There is now a more direct method of sending video messages, you can do so from within the iMessages app. Of course you could already do this with Whatsapp ages ago, but it is still a welcome upgrade to the native app.
The existing keyboard, though can be replaced with a third party device, however, the native Apple keyboard has undergone some overhauling too. It attempts to predict your next words for you in a suggestion box (akin to HTC’s keyboard) as you type along. You can swipe down the suggestions to hide them.
There are still going to be features of this platform that we have not yet explored, some salient, some prominent, but either way, they will be interesting no doubt. It has been Apple’s style to give you a group of options and then sneak in a few more without telling anyone so that we are pleasantly surprised when we finally get our grubby little paws on it.
Despite all the hate for being an Android rip-off iOS 8 is attracting, it is important to note that with iOS 8 and iPhone 6’s large screen displays, two of Android’s three key selling points have just been shot like skeet in the olympics. We now have customizations and we have large displays in Apple. Android has a cheaper price tag going for it, which for sturdier devices is just as prohibitively expensive, so now the arguments are really going to heat up.
I like iOS 8 very much, for two reasons, I like what it does and I like what it represents. By the time Android L rolls out, I wonder how many flagship phones will get their updates? Because iOS 8 is available even on a 4 year old device.
For developers, this is a whole new world, the platform is simpler to develop for and the available tools are growing at an alarming rate. Metal will give us incredible games, developer boosts will give us apps that squeeze every ounce of functionality. You should get it. Now I can’t wait for Yosemite so I can take calls and respond to texts on my computer. The paradigm is truly shifted.