In what has already sparked much heated debate on tech discussion forums across the Internets, Apple has finally unveiled iOS 8 at today's Worldwide Developers Conference in California.
As well as being Apple’s biggest iOS release to date, it’s also one of the most promising for everyday smartphone or tablet users drawn to the intuitive design of Apple software.
Along with plenty of improvements and shortcuts, iOS 8 also introduces a few exciting new features that Apple hopes will prove indispensable to consumers. Here’s a wrap-up of what was previewed in San Francisco today.
Apple’s notification centre is more interactive and time-saving than ever before, with users now able to reply directly to text messages by swiping down from the notification bar from within other apps or even the iPhone lockscreen – without having to leave the app they’re currently using and open Messages.
The Notifications Centre will also allow users to add third-party ‘widgets’ – for example, Twitter, eBay or news – that you can access without needing to pause what you're doing and open a separate app. You’ll be able to double-tap to complete simple tasks such as liking Facebook posts, and Notifications will also let you access a list of your most-used contacts for quick messaging and calling.
Photos and Camera
The new and improved Photos app allows easy viewing and editing of all your photos and videos across your Apple devices. Edits and changes made to a photo on one device will automatically appear on your other enabled devices, as well as in your iCloud Photo Library.
The app also features Smart Editing tools and an updated, more efficient Search feature, that includes auto-suggestions based on recently viewed or added media. There will also be additional options in the Camera app, including separate focus and exposure controls, to really get the most out of your photos without the need for installing third-party extensions. And for the first time, iOS users will be able to record time-lapse videos.
Keyboard and QuickType
The phrase ‘Damn you AutoCorrect!’ may be a thing of the past with Apple’s improved predictive keyboard, which will apparently offer smarter auto-complete suggestions that are tailored to the person you’re messaging. Called QuickType, the new keyboard learns from the context of the texts you’re writing, as well as your messaging history, and will bring up suggested words or phrases based on the contact with whom you’re communicating.
iOS 8 will also include the option to install and use third-party keyboards across iPhones and iPads, and will finally include a Braille keyboard to assist those with vision impairments. We’re not sure how the feature will work, but props to Apple for attempting to make their devices more inclusive to people with disabilities.
A completely new feature, Family Sharing allows up to six members of one family to share media such as iTunes purchases, photos, and reminders across all their Apple devices, so long as each account is linked to the one credit card. Each family member will have their own Apple ID and have access to shared family photo streams, calendars and location info.
In a useful tool for parents, Family Sharing also includes an Ask to Buy feature, which notifies parents when their child is attempting to buy an app or iTunes item by sending a purchase request. Parents will also be able to prevent children from accessing specific apps without parental approval, meaning less worry for parents about their offspring racking up sky-high App Store or iTunes bills.
The updated Messages app will now include the option to send quick and easy audio and video messages instead of text – users just need to swipe to the left of the small camera icon to record and send media. In a move obviously inspired by Snapchat, you’ll also be able to send ‘self-destructing’ messages, pictures and videos, which will expire after a set time. The app will feature integrated location sharing to let contacts know where you are during your conversation.
Apple also revealed that group threads will be much more manageable, with iOS 8 incorporating the ability to name threads, remove yourself or other contacts from a conversation, and apply Do Not Disturb status to individual participants to avoid being bothered by notifications.
Apple’s interactive personal assistant will now be hands-free. Simply say ‘Hey Siri’ and the feature will switch on automatically, awaiting your instructions. Siri will also include Shazam integration for instant song identification, and will be heavily incorporated into the new HomeKit smart home feature – meaning HomeKit users will be able to ask Siri to adjust lighting, room temperature, and other settings. Siri will also respond to dictation in a further 22 languages in iOS 8, and you’ll be able to purchase content from iTunes from Siri directly.
We were expecting the inclusion of what was rumoured to be called the ‘Healthkit’, a one-stop app that collects all your personal health and fitness data from other applications, and organises it for easy access. The Health app will allow users to monitor and manage health info such as fitness, sleep and nutrition, and integrates with third-party apps - including Nike+ and the Mayo Clinic - to build a comprehensive and interactive health profile for each user.
One of the most exciting new additions to iOS 8, HomeKit is Apple’s foray into home automation via smart devices. Eventually, you’ll be able to control all compatible household products (such as lights, security systems, and appliances) through Siri, making your iPhone or iPad a universal remote for controlling your environment.
You’ll be able to search through more than just your apps, contacts and messages with the improved Spotlight feature – the tool will now pull up iTunes results, as well as Wikipedia articles, news reports, Maps information, and more.
One of the big buzzwords of WWDC was ‘continuity’; the concept of making moving between your various apple devices seamless and simpler than ever before. New features include the ability to share files between your mobile devices and your Mac via AirDrop and the new 'Handoff' option, and instant use of your phone’s cellular service as a Wifi hotspot when your Mac requires a wireless connection.
When can I get it?
Although a beta version of iOS 8 IS available now for developers, the final consumer version won’t be out until later in the year.
iOS 8 will be compatible with iPhone 4S and up, as well as the iPad 2, iPad Air, iPad with Retina display, iPad mini, iPad mini with Retina display, and the iPod Touch 5th generation.