7 new features in iOS 8 to be excited about
While Apple's new mobile operating system is mostly about catching up to the competition, there are some noteworthy innovations.
By Nathan Olivarez-Giles, The Wall Street Journal
On Monday, Apple (AAPL) introduced iOS 8, the latest version of its iPhone and iPad operating system -- touting the new software as the most significant iOS release since the App Store appeared in 2008.
While that may be an extreme comparison -- the App Store's arrival was a watershed moment in mobile computing -- there are definitely lots of new features to be excited about.
Smart and swappable keyboards
If you've ever used an Android phone, you likely know the joy that is gesture typing. Rather than pecking out words tap by tap across a cramped keyboard, gesture typing allows you to glide across a screen, letter by letter, to send correspondence.
Keyboard apps such as SwiftKey and Swype work amazingly well, and even stock Android has built-in gesture typing. With iOS 8, Apple plays catch up, opening its devices to system-wide third-party keyboard apps. SwiftKey, Swype and many others are one the way.
Apple's stock iOS keyboard may not get built-in gesture typing this time around, but it does have new predictive typing that learns from you. Apple calls it QuickType, and as you rattle off a sentence, it will suggest contextually appropriate words. QuickType guesses which words you might want based on what app your using (mail versus messages) and to whom you're sending a note to -- boss or buddy? (SwiftKey and Swype already offer similar prediction features as well.)
Messages with video and audio chat
Apple's Messages app is set for an update that should make it more competitive with the likes of Snapchat and WhatsApp, and hopefully fix some lingering problems as well.
In iOS 8, you'll be able to create voice and video snippets to post along with your text and photos. You can also share your location for a set period: an hour, through the end of the day, or indefinitely. And, with a tap, you can view all the attachments in a conversation -- all the photos and videos -- without having to scroll through text to find them. Apps such as Viber, WhatsApp and Snapchat have offered features like this for some time, but the new Messages app brings Apple more or less up to date.
Health and HealthKit
While most of the features we're looking forward to on iOS have been available elsewhere for some time, health is one area where Apple is getting ahead of the curve. In iOS 8, Apple will launch a new app called Health that will serve as a destination to monitor health data being generated by your phone, other third-party apps and wearable devices. Here you'll be able to see sleep data, calories burned, your heart rate and other metrics.
Beceause of a larger platform move by Apple called HealthKit, your other health and fitness apps will be able to talk to it and to each other. Some apps, such as the Mayo Clinic medical app, will even take advantage of a HealthKit feature that lets your doctor tap into this data, too -- with your permission, of course.
Samsung (SSNLF), one of Apple's biggest rivals, is working on a similar initiative that brings health data into one place -- and similarly introduces a common platform for health data from partner products -- but it hasn't yet said when its take on this will be available. Apple's Health app will ship this fall in iOS 8.
TouchID in third-party apps
Currently, Apple's TouchID fingerprint sensor can be used to unlock an iPhone 5S and to make iTunes and App Store purchases. That's it. Samsung's Galaxy S5 smartphone has a finger print sensor too, and it's used as a security measure for a number of third-party apps. In iOS 8, the TouchID will also be opened up to third-party apps. It's not the most exciting move, but it's one that makes sense. Another example of Apple keeping up with the Joneses, er, Androids.
Family Sharing for multiple Apple accounts
This is a feature that you'll either be ecstatic for or want nothing to do with. Family Sharing allows multiple iOS users -- with multiple Apple IDs or iCloud accounts -- to share books, music, movies and apps they've purchased. Buy the new Pharrell Williams album once and everyone can get access to it.
What's nice is, you finally don't have to share IDs or passwords to make it work. Another nice feature parents will love: the ability to set limits on what can be bought from Apple. You can set it up so that kids have to ask permission (a notification to approve or shoot down a purchase is sent to the parent's phone) before buying something from iTunes, iBooks or the App Store. But, make sure you know what you're sharing -- and with whom. Family Sharing can also include sharing your location and the location of your Apple devices.
iCloud drive gets better and cheaper
The promise is simple, but important: With iCloud Drive you can access any kind of file on any device. Dropbox, Box, Google Drive -- there are a ton of cloud storage offerings out there, and until now, iCloud's limited capability has kept it from being a serious contender. Apple says that iOS 8 -- along with the forthcoming OS X Yosemite update for Macs -- will change that.
The prices are good, too: 5GB for free, 20GB for 99 cents a month, and 200GB for 3.99 a month. (Until this release, Apple charged $8 per month for just 50GB.) But, the question remains over whether or not this will actually work reliably. Anyone who's used iCloud for photo or music storage knows that the service hasn't always worked as advertised.
Spotlight search hits the Web
Spotlight search will be updated in iOS 8 to reach beyond what's on your phone (contacts and apps), and include the maps, email, movie listings, Wikipedia entries, trending news and other Internet sources. Apple says Spotlight will even be smart enough to recognize context like the location you're currently in, to offer up the most relevant search results. As nice as it sounds, it also reminds us of the context awareness that Google (GOOG) Now has offered on Android for a long time. While it's another catch-up update, it's a good thing for iPhone users.
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