iOS 8 under the microscope.
A HOST OF FEATURES TO GET EXCITED ABOUT.
If you remember anything much about last year’s launch of iOS 7, it will surely be the fact that it consigned Apple’s previous love affair with skeuomorphism – the practice of making certain software functions physically resemble their real life equivalents – firmly to the dustbin of history. With Sir Jony Ive handed responsibility for the look of the software as well as that iconic outer casing of iGadgets, we were given a feast of pleasing flatness.
You might imagine, then, that the platform’s follow-up would be something of a drab squib… maybe sporting some incremental changes here and there, but nothing all that radical, especially when so much of the rumor blog chatter about ‘radical’ stuff firmly centered on hardware, like the elusive ¡Watch that may just finally break cover at the next keynote.
Ah, but that’s where you’d be wrong. You see, Apple certainly hasn’t stood still with ¡OS 8, the list of new features suggesting that it might well live up to its press release billing as “the biggest release since the launch of the App Store”.
LET’S COVER THE BASICS FIRST…
OK, so let’s run through the basic specification sheet first. In a nutshell, the new release is all about health, messages and photos. We’re told that something called the iCIoud Photo Library will allow the same photos and videos to be enjoyed across your various ¡Devices, while the Messages app also gets new features allowing you to simply swipe to share photos, video or voice content.
Meanwhile, a new Health app embraces the craze for health and fitness monitoring that has swept the smartphone and tablet world as of late, and that’s before we mention such features as predictive typing for Apple’s QuickType keyboard and Family Sharing, which allows the likes of photos and calendars to be shared across all of the devices of a given household.
iCIoud Drive sounds exciting, too, apparently meaning that you can now be absolutely anywhere and still store and access your files. Oh, and developers are supposed to have it a bit easier with ¡OS 8 as well.
HEALTH – ONE OF THE FLAGSHIP FEATURES OF iOS 8
Those who have been perusing the online rumor pages in recent weeks will have become aware of talk of a ‘Healthbook’ app for the operating system, acting as a one-stop portal for all manner of health and fitness matters. Well, that feature did come to pass in the end, but with a more concise name -simply ‘Health’.
Health, in short, offers a comprehensive overview of health and fitness related apps and devices. Indeed, as you look through the feature list of iOS 8 in more detail, you’ll spot an emerging theme of your phone being very much the centre of things for a whole host of apps, bringing them together and even… dare we say it… allowing them to communicate with each other.
The latter development is a pretty significant one in the philosophy underpinning software design and development at Cupertino. In the past, we were used to Apple adopting something of a ‘walled garden1 approach everywhere, the relationships between different apps being pretty much non-existent. But Health allows you to permit apps to share information with each other, allowing your health and fitness to be more comprehensively managed.
Do you ever think all of those iPhones and iPads scattered around the house just serve to distance members of your family from each other? In that case, you’ll be pleased by the new Family Sharing feature that seeks to readdress the balance somewhat.
This feature enables the sharing of purchases, calendars and photos between members of the same household. As many as six members of a family can participate, and they’ll each get an Apple ID of their own.
A shared family photo stream allows everyone to see those holiday snaps without even the need to pass a camera around, while the shared calendar means that every family member can see when that next vacation or important doctor’s or dentist’s appointment is set to take place. The feature can also be used to locate members of the household and their ¡Gadgets.
Or, of course, you could just use it to snoop around your son or daughter’s purchases from ¡Tunes or the App Store. Remember that if you’re worried about what your children could end up using their iOS 8-enabled ¡Device to purchase, you can always create their Apple ID for them incorporating Ask to Buy, meaning that they won’t be able to purchase anything without getting your permission first.
GET A LOT MORE OUT OF YOUR PHOTOS
Photos are certainly key to ¡OS 8 as well. Wherever you are, as long as you have an Internet connection, you can easily enough access your photos and videos. You can fire up any enabled device, and you’ll find that your photos have been organized the same way.
That’s thanks to iCIoud Photo Library, which also allows you to automatically have the original high resolution versions of your photos and videos stored on iCIoud, while your devices simply carry the lightweight versions. There are certain minor updates in photos functionality, too, such as the option to hide an image from Collections, Moments and Years simply by pressing and holding onto it, as well as non-destructive edits that allow you to easily return to the original version of a photo.
Searching your photo library is possible now too, by such parameters as location, album name or the time a photo was taken. With a tap of the search icon at the top right of the screen, you can be shown suggestions of photos taken the same time a year ago or in the same geographical area.
When one also considers the likes of smart composition and adjustment features, enhanced photo filters, the ability to capture gorgeous time-lapse videos, a new timer control in the Camera app and manual exposure controls, it’s clear that making your photography bigger and better has been a major priority for the ¡OS 8 design and development team.
EVEN MESSAGES HAS COME IN FOR AN OVERHAUL
Messages conversations have also become more “immersive”, in Apple’s words. The sending of video messages, for example, is pretty easy – simply press and hold the camera icon to the left of the text input field After you’ve successfully framed your image, tapping the camera icon at the top takes a photo, or if you’d instead prefer to record video, you can simply hold the red record button on the right hand side. The recorded video can then be reviewed and/or sent to the desired recipient, the latter done by swiping up to the left.
Audio messages are a cinch to record as well, just by pressing and holding the microphone icon on the right hand side of the text input field. If someone else has sent you an audio message, you can play it out loud by tapping the Play button – or just raise your iPhone to your ear to listen to it.
Location sharing is another welcome feature of this part of iOS 8 – you can share your own location for one hour, until the end of the day or indefinitely, and if the friends you’re messaging have opted to share their own locations, it’s easy to see where they are in map form.
Group messaging has also seen important improvements, including the option to exit a message thread when you wish, in addition to adding or deleting contributors.
LET’S NOT OVERLOOK THE MANY OTHER FEATURES…
There’s so much more about iOS 8 to get excited about. The Mail app, for example, has definitely been in need of some update love for a while now, and sure enough, it has been brought nicely into the year 2014
with the introduction of gestures for the easy flagging, marking and deletion of messages.
You can also say goodbye to the sheer awkwardness of being in the middle of composing a message, realizing that you need to look something up and having to save the draft of your message, before loading it up again once you’ve found the information you require. Instead, you can just swipe your semi-composed email to the bottom of the screen, before instantly bringing it back up when you need to, simply by tapping the bar at the bottom of the screen.
Mail also now gives you notifications. Elsewhere, you might also be pleased by the changes that the venerable Internet browser Safari has undergone. Those who are used to the Tab view on their iPhone, for example, can now experience it on their iPad, seeing what webpages they have left open – even on their other devices.
Oh, and Siri is also getting some nice upgrades, despite this barely being referred to in Apple’s keynote. Not only does it now
recognize the voice prompt “Hey, Siri”, but it can also identify songs for you and even buy tracks from ¡Tunes.
SO MUCH TO LOOK FORWARD TO
The beta software for ¡OS 8 is now available to download, so you can have a go with it now, if you wish. For those of us who don’t want to put up with the bugs, however, the final version will be made available for free download in the fall. Just make sure that it’ll definitely be available for your device – the likes of the iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPod touch 5th generation and iPad 2 are all covered, but you won’t be able to get it for your iPhone 4.
What could be more exciting than a new iOS? We can’t wait to try out some of the above features and more, and we’re sure you’ll feel exactly the same way.