Technology & Science

iOS 8: 8 new things

Apple users eagerly anticipating the arrival of an updated mobile operating system on Wednesday will find iOS 8 offers features that not only address long-standing complaints but also pave the way for more streamlined use of all their devices.

Apple's mobile operating system update offers everything from Family Sharing to HealthKit app

The new operating system was first previewed by Apple CEO Tim Cook at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on June 2. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

Apple users eagerly anticipating the arrival of an updated mobile operating system on Wednesday will find iOS 8 offers features that not only address long-standing complaints, but also pave the way for more streamlined use of all their devices.

"This is probably the biggest change to the operating system since the introduction of the App Store," says Neil Bearse, director of marketing at the Queen's School of Business in Kingston, Ont.

Bearse says the biggest overarching change iOS 8 offers "is the degree of freedom that Apple has given not just third-party developers to build more sophisticated apps, but also the ability for users to customize things like installing third-party keyboards."

"They've really addressed some of the biggest complaints that users have had about the system and also some of the biggest constraints that developers have felt in the past."

Last year's update —​ iOS 7 — was more along the lines of "let's-give-everything-a-new-coat-of-paint" and a big redesign, Bearse says.

But features introduced with iOS 8, such as continuity and Family Sharing, "are all things that you're actually going to feel day-to-day, as opposed to things just looking different like last year," Bearse says.

iOS 8 will be available for iPhones from the 4s onward, the fifth generation of the iPod touch, the iPad2, the iPad with retina display, the iPad Air, the iPad mini and the mini with retina display.​

1. QuickType and third-party keyboards

Apple is talking up the arrival of QuickType in glowing terms, saying iOS 8 "brings the biggest changes to the keyboard since the very first iPhone."

The "new predictive typing" on the QuickType keyboard is smarter and more personalized, the company says, and "intelligently takes context into account, such as who the recipient is, and in which app you're typing." It will suggest favourite phrases based on how you've typed in the past.

Users will also have the ability to install another keyboard.

Bearse says everyone is "trying to solve the autocorrect issue," and that these kinds of systems are getting smarter.

"It used to be 'We improved autocorrect' and people would say, 'OK, it's still not quite what we want,' and Apple would say, 'Oh well,' " says Bearse.

"Now they're saying 'We've done our best, we hope you like it, if you want another keyboard, go ahead.' "

2. Family Sharing

Through Family Sharing, up to six members of a family can share purchases from iTunes, iBooks and the App Store without having to share accounts, the company says. Purchases are made with the same credit card, and parents can approve spending by their children.

Bearse says Family Sharing addresses a major issue parents have had — and one that has provoked anger when it's discovered kids have racked up big bills through in-app purchases in games such as Candy Crush.

"You can give your child freedom to explore these devices and explore all the apps that they might want to, but there's finally parental controls around authenticating purchases."

3. Continuity

Apple says its products have "always been designed to work together beautifully."

But iOS 8 promises much more in that department, including the ability for a user writing an email on one device to finish it off on another.

"You can pass things back and forth," says Bearse. "You can answer a phone call on your Mac if your phone's in your bag or charging upstairs."

The devices are now talking to each other, Bearse says, and "that's a really big selling feature for Apple because they've always preached 'We build the hardware, the software and the services' and now they're bringing out features that really leverage the fact that they have built these things to fit together."

4. Health app

The iPhone 6 Plus will run on the iOS 8 operating system, and include features such as a health app that could track a user's sleep patterns. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

The new HealthKit app offers users a dashboard that gathers personal health and fitness information on the devices, ranging from medical histories to fitness and diet information.

In some instances it could include how many steps you take in a day, as recorded by a processor that serves much like a pedometer in the smartphone.

"It also unlocks the potential of having this information syncing back and forth with your physician in the future in order to really give them a much better snapshot of what your day-to-day activities and your real time health is like," says Bearse.

5. More message options

Changes for messaging include a new microphone button that will allow users to record a message and then swipe to send it. Users will also be able to share their locations in the middle of a conversation.

Bearse says the voice messaging is particularly interesting given that the Apple Watch is coming next year.

"This type of Dick Tracy messaging back and forth with audio … a lot of these changes you could see were built understanding that, if somebody's interacting with this text message thread from their watch, they're not going to want to be typing back to you."

6. ​Siri may be easier to talk to

Siri, Apple's voice-activated virtual assistant, has been subject to much online mocking over everything from failures to understand questions to giving incorrect directions.

Bearse says improvements are always being made to Siri, and he's always slightly skeptical.

"I think Siri is something that when it works is great but when it doesn't work it's frustrating."

With iOS 8, users will no longer have to hit a button to talk with Siri — all they will do is say "Hey, Siri."

"It's more a usability issue rather than making it that much smarter in terms of … artificial intelligence," says Bearse.

7. Photos

Some of the features of the new iOS 8 operating system seem designed to integrate well with Apple's introduction of the Apple Watch next year. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Apple is touting the opportunity for iOS 8 users to "be the master of your photo collection."

The new photo app, among other things, will allow users to adjust light and colour with a swipe. Horizons are also automatically straightened.

But users will have to wait for the iCloud photo library. It will be available as a beta test next month.

"I would guess they've pushed back the feature because they don't want to launch it in the middle of this fiasco of people saying now Apple wants you to store all their photos in the cloud and it's not secure," Bearse says.

"So the promise is that they will have a cloud storage solution that you can access from your phone and that you can also access from your Mac."

8. iCloud Drive

Apple says iCloud Drive will give users that chance to "work with the document of your choice on the device of your choice."

Spreadsheets, presentations, PDFs, images and any other kind of document will be accessible from devices including iPhones, iPads, Macs and PCs.

Bearse says iCloud Drive is Apple's response to things like Dropbox and Google Drive.

"It's Apple really taking a step back and learning from their mistakes, of saying people want this to feel more like their desktop computer." 

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