Apple unveils iOS 8: Dev tools, fitness and third-party keyboards
Apple has taken the wraps off the latest iteration of its mobile operating system. The new version of iOS uses the same design language as its predecessor while adding a range of tweaks to the user experience, a richer feature set and a fresh suite of developer tools.
A range of small tweaks
The way that users interact with messages has been subtly tweaked with the latest release, with interactive notifications allowing users to pull down and instantly respond to messages, as well as accepting or declining alerts and requests from the lock screen. Double tapping the home button will provide, in addition to recent applications, direct access to favorite contacts.
Another small tweak has been made to the typing experience known as Quick Type, providing next word suggestions that are specific to the user and the recipient (similar to Android keyboard app SwiftKey). Users can also use gesture based interactions to send audio messages, pictures and videos instantly in Messages by holding on the appropriate button, then swiping up towards the thread.
Shazam has also been integrated into Siri, with users being able to identify songs that are playing and purchase the identified track (from iTunes, of course) without having to leave the app. Lastly, the freshly announced iCloud Drive adds much needed features that now bring it in line with services such as Dropbox and Google Drive, chief among which is the ability to see and manipulate files in a more traditional file system. iCloud Drive will sync with the new OS X Yosemite, as well as Windows devices.
A number of these features such as Quick Type word suggestions have been available in Google’s Android operating system for a while, so while some of these addition are new and will leave users exited, others are simply giving to OS feature parity with its Android rival.
Health and sharing
Surprisingly, there wasn’t as big a focus on fitness as many expected before the event, though the company did provide a hint at what is to come when its inevitable wearables hit the market.
HealthKit monitors users' vitals such as blood pressure, interacting with third party applications such as Nike+ to provide a more personalized user experience (Apple CEO Tim Cook sits on Nike's board, so that collaboration isn't too surprising). The service is also able to interact with a wide range of healthcare apps, allowing them to create personalized treatment plans and user specific notifications.
A new sharing feature allows users to access purchased content with up to six family members who all share the same credit card, with the card owner being automatically notified when a family member attempts to use the card.
The Photos and iCloud Drive apps have also been more closely integrated, with automatic back ups to the cloud. While Photostream has been doing that since iOS 5, it would delete older photos. Now everything stays in the cloud, and you can easily search for it from any device. If you run out of space (you get 5 GB free for your iCloud Photo Library), Apple will sell you extra storage, starting at US$0.99 per month. The Photos app has also been updated with simple editing tools, with a desktop equivalent promised early next year.
App Store improvements
The ever popular App Store will also receive some small but effective tweaks. An “explore” tab will be added, as well as trending searches, related search, a continuous scrolling list and recommended apps. This hints at a more editorially driven experience, with Apple better able to curate and provide the best apps to casual users. A similar Editor’s Choice system is already in place on the Google Play Store for Android.
Users will also be able to buy App Bundles, containing a range of related apps at a discounted price. Additionally, there will be short video previews of apps on the App Store. One last feature was announced, known as TestFlight – a service that allows developers to invite users to beta test their apps (TestFlight was previously a third-party app testing service that was acquired by Apple earlier this year).
A huge range of new tools added to the developer side of iOS. Here are a few of the key upgrades.
Key to the changes is a new tool known as Extensions. This allows developers to enable their apps to utilize features from other apps and advertize their own, such as using a photo editing software inside the native Photos app. Additionally, developers can now create widgets that appear in the notification center.
The ability to install system-wide third party keyboards has also been added, something that is certain to be a popular change. Apple's demo showed popular (Nuance-owned) trace keyboard Swype running on an iPhone. Additionally, developers can now enable Touch ID fingerprint authorization within their own apps.
Apple is hoping to take a big role in home automation, with secure pairing allowing only your chosen iOS device to interact with smart features in the home. We didn’t hear too much about this today, but it's something the company is seeding with developers and hardware producers, which will likely see this expand into a connected ecosystem of apps and hardware in the near future.
A new tool known as Metal was also introduced, designed to make graphics processing faster and easier than before. This should translate into significantly more complex graphics in iOS games, with detail improving by an order of magnitude. A “Zen Garden” tech demo from Epic games showed the potential of the new tool, with some impressive results.
A new programming language was also announced named Swift, designed to be fast, modern and safe, while performing significantly better than Python or Objective-C. The program was designed from the ground up to allow developers to see the results of their coding in real time, making development easier.
iOS 8 will be available this (Northern hemisphere) Fall to consumers, and is available as a beta to developers now. It will be compatible with iPhones 4s and later, iPads 2 and later, and the iPod touch 5th-generation. You can read more at Apple's iOS 8 page below.