News by Andrew Kameka on Monday June 02, 2014.
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There are bound to be comparisons to Android and Windows Phone when it comes to Apple iOS 8. Not because Apple's new operating system looks any more like those software packages than iOS 7 did, but because the latest version of iOS has marquee features that have already appeared on those platforms. Regardless of who did it first, Apple believes it did well and it has finally introduced oft-requested changes to iOS that will appear on iPhones and iPads later this year. Here are the best new features.
Furthering the continuity factor is the growth of iCloud into iCloud Drive. Files can be stored in iCloud folders and have tags that will be organized across devices and platforms. An iPhone or iPad user will also benefit from a search app that does a better job of locating files. iCloud also works on Windows computers and costs 99 cents per month for 20 GB of storage or $3.99 for 200 GB.
Apple's push into HealthKit is to create a unified place to see health tracking information. Health showcases calories burned, sleep data, cholesterol, blood sugar, and other health stats. Getting some of the information will require accessory devices or secondary apps but Apple has created a set of developer tools called HealthKit designed to standardized the way that information is displayed within the Health app. You can also create a medical ID showing conditions, allergies, and medications taken so medical personnel can access that information in an emergency.
App bundles are a new feature that will give developers the option to sell multiple apps or games a single price. If a developers sells 10 apps for $1.99 each, he or she can decided to have a special bundle that sells all of them for $14.99 instead of the individual cost of $19.
Apple's also making pushes into the home with HomeKit, a way to centralize the "smarter home" concept into iOS. There will be a number of partners that work with Apple to tie into iOS 8 and let an iPhone control thermostats, garage doors, home locks, lights, and other devices. Users will be able to group items and connect with Siri, so a vocal command to "Go to sleep" will make sure all doors are locked, dim the lights, and adjust the thermostat to keep the house warm.
OS X continuity
Apple made connection between iOS and OS X a key part of the update. One of the major ways of doing this is making Mac computers capable reading and sending iMessage or SMS. It can even display caller ID for incoming calls or use the computer to answer and place phone calls even if the iPhone is plugged into another room. There's also the presence of AirDrop to transfer files wireless between iOS and OS X devices, Instant hotspot to turn an iPhone into a wireless hotspot for Mac, and a new "Handoff" that can bring up the last thing you did on another device. Handoff can see the document created on an iPhone and open it on a Mac. It can also start an email on a Mac, finish on an iPhone, and then send it off.
Siri and search enhancements
Siri is now hands free if plugged into a car and prompted by a "Hey Siri" vocal command. It's also been updated to support 22 languages and can use Shazam to automatically identify a song. Spotlight has improved search in other areas by offering local and web search that is informed by context. Search for "Giants" and you'll see iMessages with the word as well as news on the baseball team. Search for Grand Canyon and you'll get directions or a Wikipedia entry. Spotlight can search the App Store, iTunes, iBooks, Safari, Maps, websites, or movies.
Notification actions and widgets
Apple is taking a page from Android and adding interactive notifications and widgets. When a notification comes in for a message, users can drag down to enter their reply without having to launch the messaging app. The same is true for Twitter or Facebook. There will also be widgets that show up in the Today center that can provide sports score updates or news from selected apps.
The Sharing option has been "opened to all developers," which hopefully means iOS 8 will introduce the ability to have apps work together without friction. A photo editing app will be able to take advantage of extensions that allow them to edit a photo from the gallery app. An app like Bing will be able to translate foreign languages within the browser. In addition to expanding the sharing options, Apple lets other apps take actions or embed select tools within another app. It is not as universal as it is with Android's "Share" function opening up content in other apps, but it does provide a far better interactivity than previous versions of iOS.
The new App Store will let users save money by making purchases that include deals from developers, and the new iTunes will make purchases accessible to family members. If Dad buys a season pass to Parks & Rec, Mom will be able to watch it on her device as well. Up to 6 people can share iBooks, iTunes, and App Store purchases without having to give up their password. There are also options to pay for items with the same credit card and kids can request to make purchases. The parent can then review and then approve the purchase from his/her device or deny the request. Families can share photos to a special iCloud album, use a calendar that everyone has access to, and locate each other's devices.
In addition to announcing that the iOS 8 keyboard will support predictive text, iOS has added the ability to replace the keyboard completely. If you're interested in using swipe gestures, Swype can be set as the keyboard. If you want a better predictive text experience that learns from your actions, the default app can do that, but Swift Key will be able to introduce its own solution. These will be system-wide changes that set alternative keyboards as the default input method.
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.