updated 09:11 am EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Apple iOS 8 sets up iPhone and iPad for the future
Last year Apple delivered iOS 7, which was a massive upgrade. Not only did it bring an all-new look as well as add several new dimensions to the user interface, it also brought full compatibility with Apple's industry-leading 64-bit chip technology. This year, Apple used its WWDC 2014 to unveil iOS 8, its next-gen mobile OS. A lot of foundational work was laid in iOS 7 and iOS 8 looks to build on this adding several new and powerful features to the front end and back end. Apple is calling iOS 8 its biggest release to date, which is some statement when set against the backdrop of what it achieved with iOS 7. But when you factor in over 4,000 additional APIs and an all-new in-house developed programming language in Swift, plus some potentially revolutionary new frameworks in HealthKit and HomeKit, iOS 8 could well be the most significant iteration of iOS yet.
Camera, Photos & PhotoKit:
One area that the iPhone has continually excelled in is with its photo taking and organisation capability. In fact the latest statistics from Flickr show that iPhones occupy an incredible four of the top five places for all photo shooting devices. Each successive iPhone has advanced the camera capabilities of its predecessor, but this wouldn't count for nearly as much if Apple didn't also work to continually improve the Camera and Photos apps. The latest version of the Camera app in iOS 8 adds additional functions like time-lapse photography, which will appeal to photography enthusiasts in particular. The Photos app is getting a huge boost with iCloud Photo Library that will let you store your entire collection online; although Apple hasn't fully detailed pricing, it is a hugely welcome addition. The Photos app also picks up much finer level of control for photo editing, including the ability to adjust image horizons. New extensions in PhotoKit will also allow developers to embed the filters and other effects from their apps within Photos, so you won't need to leave the Photos app for any other touches that you want to make to your snapshots.
iCloud Photo Library allows you to store, manage, edit all your photos online
Photos in iOS 8 gives users finer controls over photo editing
The Messages app also gets some substantial upgrades in iOS 8. New controls have been added for inserting voice recorded messages for asynchronous audio messaging, in addition to standard text entry. Users are now also able to add video messages as well, for viewing right at the time of a live conversation, or for helping people see what you've been up to asynchronously. You can now also share your location in the middle of a conversation thanks to new Apple Maps integration with Messages. As with Mail, you can now also attach multiple photos and videos simultaneously through Messages, while you can quickly review multiple attachments from a thread all at once instead of having to scroll back through to find them. Each of these are welcome additions and help to make Messages a particularly powerful tool for personal and business use alike.
Messages in iOS 8 allows you to insert and share video clips
Messages in iOS 8 allows you to insert and share audio messages too
It's hard to imagine, but when the iPhone debuted in 2007 with a software keyboard, it was considered a controversial choice. However, as history has quickly proven, it was an inspired decision that allowed the iPhone display to be constantly reconfigured according to the requirements of each application, making it highly versatile. The benefits of a software keyboard also became apparent in the way that it could also be reconfigured according to input context, along with smart autocorrect functions. However, despite some tweaking along the way, Apple has been somewhat slow to add more sophisticated predictive typing capabilities. QuickType changes all of that, and makes typing on the iPhone faster than ever. QuickType is also contextually aware, adjusting word choices to suit the tone of the situation, while it also gets smarter over time while protecting this information securely with encryption. We are also looking forward to developers implementing the new keyboard extension in iOS 8, which will allow gesture typing on the iPhone across the UI for the first time.
QuickType brings fast, predictive typing to iOS 8
Family Sharing in iOS 8 is great news, especially for parents. For the first time, up to six family members can share iTunes, iBooks and App Store purchases without having to share account details to access them from the cloud. All purchases can now also be made from the one credit card, while a parent can set up to approve (or reject) app purchases that their children may want to download at any time, from any location. Account limits can also be set, forever removing situations where children may spend up on their parent's credit card. It is also now much easier to set up shared calendars, so that each family member can review and contribute calendar events to the one family calendar. Using the Find My Friends app, family members will be able to locate where everyone is on Apple Maps - this can also be disabled if necessary. This new level of cross-device integration is a major theme of iOS 8.
Family Sharing in iOS 8 makes it a lot easier to share purchased content, plus give parents much greater control over family app and in-app purchases
iCloud Drive and CloudKit:
Ever since iCloud was launched in June 2011, it has been clear that it was going to play an integral role in the whole iOS and OS X experience. In the past couple of years, Apple has invested heavily in server farms and end users are really starting to reap the benefits of this now. iCloud Photo Library is one example of how iOS 8 is taking iCloud functionality to new levels, and looks set to replace third-party solutions for many iOS and OS X users. The same can be said for the introduction of iCloud Drive. Apple's cloud services go back a well over a decade, and well before the cloud referred to as 'the cloud.' Various levels of functionality have come and gone in the meantime, but iCloud Drive is now a match for Dropbox. The addition of a new CloudKit framework also means that developers will be able to tout full iCloud integration in their apps as well. Even better, you will be able to sign into these types of apps with your Apple ID, confident that your personal information is not being shared - you will also be able to use Touch ID for authentication purposes like this and across the system as well, which will make life a lot easier.
iCloud Drive and CloudKit make iCloud more powerful than ever
As I outlined in our first look at OS X Yosemite, Continuity is one of the most significant upgrades in both Apple's latest desktop OS, as well as iOS 8. Apple has always been known for its vertical platform integration, but Continuity takes things to another level. If you are an iOS user who also uses Macs, you are going to love new features like Handoff. Handoff allows you pick up exactly where you left of on any iPhone, iPad or Mac when using apps including Mail, Safari, Pages, Numbers and Messages, among others. Developers can also support the feature in their iOS and OS X apps if they choose. iOS 8 works with OS X Yosemite you to take and make calls from your Mac by automatically connecting to your nearby iPhone. Hotspots can now automatically be set up between your Mac and iPhone as well, without the need for passwords, while you can now also share files directly between your Mac and iOS device over AirDrop. If you don't have a Mac, this is the type of functionality that might get you to buy one. If you have a Mac, but have been dabbling with Android, your next phone could well be an iPhone.
Continuity takes iOS and OS X integration to a new level
Notifications and Notification Center:
Notifications and Notification Center get notable upgrades in iOS 8. A consistent theme running through iOS 8 is that you won't need to jump in and out of apps to get things done anywhere near as much as in the past. Notifications in iOS 8 is a perfect illustration of this. When you receive a message, for example, you can now respond directly to the message from within whatever app you are currently in - a small swipe down on the message will now allow you to action it. It makes for a much more cohesive and seamless experience. Notification Center now also picks up third-party widgets as well, delivering you with information about things that matter to you. Examples could include widgets that update you on packages deliveries or the latest news from your favorite sources just to note a few of the possibilities.
Notification Center in iOS 8 picks up third-party widgets
Notifications are actionable within apps in iOS 8
Health and HealthKit:
One of the potentially revolutionary new features in iOS 8 centers around the new Health app and the associated HealthKit framework for developers. The growth in the wearables sector has thus far revolved largely around fitness trackers, which typically measure things like steps walked, calories burned, heart rate and sleep. These are often combined with mobile apps, with some users using more than one app, and sometimes more than one tracking device. The new Health app provides a dashboard that collates all of this information in easy to read cards that not only makes it easy for your apps to work together, but it can also be used to provide your health professional with more data about your activity and general well-being than ever before. As I wrote in our piece on Apple's post-PC paradigm, personal computing in the post-PC era is about making it more personal than ever before. Health and HealthKit stand to revolutionize the way we look after ourselves. An iWatch with multiple, medically approved, health tracking sensors could take this into previously unseen territory.
Health in iOS 8 could spark a health revolution
Another new developer framework in iOS is HomeKit, that will do for home automation what Health and HealthKit looks set to do for your health. As with health apps until the advent of iOS 8, there has not been a single point of coordination for home automation on your iPhone. You can buy different devices for you house to control your lights and air-conditioning, for example, but you often needed to launch different apps to make them work. With HomeKit, developers will all be able to tap into Siri, as single point of control for all your home automation devices which is a significant advancement. That imagined future in so many science-fiction scenes where people walk around controlling their complete home environment with their voice becomes a reality with iOS 8. Rumor has it that Apple could also be working on some of its own compatible products that could help spur consumer and developer interest in this space.
HomeKit in iOS 8 will bring integration and Siri voice control to home automation
Gaming - Metal, SpriteKit and SceneKit:
One look at the App Store shows that games continue to be among the most popular. Part of the reason for this is that the iPhone has continually pushed the boundaries of mobile graphics performance through hardware advancement. Apple has amped thing up on the software side in iOS 8 considerably with Metal, along with SpriteKit and SceneKit. Metal bypasses OpenGL in order to reduce the headroom between code and the GPU, with results showing some stunning improvements in performance. Apple testing has shown that developers can expect up to 10x performance boosts on graphics benchmarks. Incredibly, this has been achieved using the same quad-cluster PowerVR GPU in the A7 chip and is the type of performance boost one might only expect to achieve with all-new hardware. Added to this, SpriteKit and SceneKit will make it even easier for developers to create high performance and battery efficient 2D and 3D visual effects making iOS 8 big news for gamers. It sets the stage for the creation of games of even more games that are Apple App Store exclusives.
Gaming in iOS 8 is set to reach new levels of sophistication and realism
When iOS 8 launches this fall alongside OS X Yosemite, Apple users will have a lot to look forward to. The combination of enhancements to the front end user experience coupled with major upgrades to the backend of the platform will make your iPhone even more useful and indispensible than ever before. When you add the new Swift programming language into the mix, which will make developing applications for Apple devices faster and easier, iOS is set to reach new heights of performance and functionality. Apple has already stolen a 12 month march on the competition on the hardware and software side with the move to 64-bit technology in 2013. Now, with the impending launch of the iPhone 6 coupled with the expected launch of an iWatch, Apple is heading into 2015 very much on the front foot. According to recent estimates, the iPhone 5s is the biggest selling single handset around the globe. Apple could well be poised to retake market share from Google's Android and its archrival Samsung who now find themselves chasing Apple once again.
By Sanjiv Sathiah