updated 10:51 pm EDT, Fri June 6, 2014
New options give photo buffs even more reason to use native Camera, Photos app
This is the first of a series of articles rounding up the various known and little-documented new features in Apple's forthcoming OS updates for the Mac and iOS devices.
While Tim Cook, Craig Federighi and others discussed iOS 8 in some detail during the keynote presentation at Monday's WWDC kickoff of the week-long developer conference, time constraints prevented the company from going into great detail about more than a handful of marquee features. As developers and beta testers are discovering, however, Apple has stuffed the upcoming update full of new and enhanced features both minor and major in the year since iOS 7 debuted, including some with tremendous future potential.
In this first installment, we thought we'd look at one of the areas most heavily used by iPhone users beyond the calling functions themselves: the camera and Photos organizational app.
In addition to a new Time Lapse video mode that was briefly discussed during the keynote, the Camera app in iOS gains separate focus and exposure controls, and allows third-party apps direct control to these elements rather than forcing them to write their own. Third-party apps have offered these features before, but Apple's implementation adds not just an exposure control, but the ability of the user to manipulate it with a real-time preview.
Apple is also implementing the option of automatic syncing with a users' iCloud account in iOS 8 - that is, a full-resolution copy of every photo or video (even RAW files) taken on iOS devices is automatically uploaded to the cloud for storage - optionally leaving only a lightweight display-ready "thumbnail" on the device, freeing up storage. In principle, the idea sounds great - until one remembers than iCloud only offers 5GB of storage for free, which would be quickly filled with camera images and videos. Luckily, Apple has dramatically reduced the cost of additional iCloud storage, with 20GB more space available for $1 per month, and other tiers up to 1TB.
The first time a user opens the Camera app, the system will ask for permission for the app to access the two cameras on iPhones and iPads (at least in the first beta of iOS 8, anyway). This may seem a bit of a no-brainer to most users, but it also gives the users a chance to manage which third-party apps can have access to the cameras -- as well as allowing employers and enterprise managers to let the smartphones and tablets be used in environments where picture-taking is forbidden, such as certain military installations or other secure areas. An ability for the user to disable the cameras may foreshadow a future ability of remote admins to also disable the cameras in company-issued iPhones and iPads based on where the employee is located.
The iOS 8 beta also contains diagnostics controls, where users can not only turn on or off the sending of diagnostic data to Apple in the Privacy section, but can see the specific data that has been sent if permission has been given. Presuming this feature is retained in the final release, it will give users who have concerns about "phoning home" a look at what exactly is being transmitted, which should reassure most users.
The accompanying built-in Photos app will also sport new features, some of which are aimed at making it easier to find photos. There is, for example, a dedicated search button at the top of the collections screen, offering several categories users can employ to filter down large photo collections into subsets that make finding a particular image easier, such as by location or date. Photos taken near the current location can also be displayed in results based on location.
The iOS 8 update also brings a way to "favorite" particular photos, creating an automatic album of the same name. Albums are also created based on third-party apps the images may have been edited in or if they are non-still images (panoramas, time-lapse movies, regular videos and so on). The "Camera Roll" album is replaced by a "recently added" smart folder. All albums can now be ranked in any order the user chooses, compared to iOS 7 where My Photo Stream and the Camera Roll were always on top.
The Photos app also gains the ability to hide photos in iOS 8. "Hidden" photos will still be visible in the Albums view, but omitted from Moments, Collections and Years. Filters are also enhanced, now allowing third-party apps the ability to let Photos access their own filters directly within the app. This feature will grow more useful as camera app developers connect their products to Photos using the new safe extensions framework in the new OS.
Editing has also been revamped somewhat, with straightening photos and cropping grouped together and made more precise, and an all-new "Smart Adjustment" tool that offers more customizable automatic correction of images, which can then be tweaked with revealed adjustment sliders. Adjustments are non-destructive and can be previewed in real time. The redeye removal tool and auto-enhance buttons have been relocated to the top of the screen.