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Closer look: iOS 8 preview

updated 09:11 am EDT, Wed July 16, 2014

Apple iOS 8 sets up iPhone and iPad for the future

Last year Apple delivered iOS 7, which was a massive upgrade. Not only did it bring an all-new look as well as add several new dimensions to the user interface, it also brought full compatibility with Apple's industry-leading 64-bit chip technology. This year, Apple used its WWDC 2014 to unveil iOS 8, its next-gen mobile OS. A lot of foundational work was laid in iOS 7 and iOS 8 looks to build on this adding several new and powerful features to the front end and back end. Apple is calling iOS 8 its biggest release to date, which is some statement when set against the backdrop of what it achieved with iOS 7. But when you factor in over 4,000 additional APIs and an all-new in-house developed programming language in Swift, plus some potentially revolutionary new frameworks in HealthKit and HomeKit, iOS 8 could well be the most significant iteration of iOS yet.

Camera, Photos & PhotoKit:
One area that the iPhone has continually excelled in is with its photo taking and organisation capability. In fact the latest statistics from Flickr show that iPhones occupy an incredible four of the top five places for all photo shooting devices. Each successive iPhone has advanced the camera capabilities of its predecessor, but this wouldn't count for nearly as much if Apple didn't also work to continually improve the Camera and Photos apps. The latest version of the Camera app in iOS 8 adds additional functions like time-lapse photography, which will appeal to photography enthusiasts in particular. The Photos app is getting a huge boost with iCloud Photo Library that will let you store your entire collection online; although Apple hasn't fully detailed pricing, it is a hugely welcome addition. The Photos app also picks up much finer level of control for photo editing, including the ability to adjust image horizons. New extensions in PhotoKit will also allow developers to embed the filters and other effects from their apps within Photos, so you won't need to leave the Photos app for any other touches that you want to make to your snapshots.

iCloud Photo Library allows you to store, manage, edit all your photos online

Photos in iOS 8 gives users finer controls over photo editing

The Messages app also gets some substantial upgrades in iOS 8. New controls have been added for inserting voice recorded messages for asynchronous audio messaging, in addition to standard text entry. Users are now also able to add video messages as well, for viewing right at the time of a live conversation, or for helping people see what you've been up to asynchronously. You can now also share your location in the middle of a conversation thanks to new Apple Maps integration with Messages. As with Mail, you can now also attach multiple photos and videos simultaneously through Messages, while you can quickly review multiple attachments from a thread all at once instead of having to scroll back through to find them. Each of these are welcome additions and help to make Messages a particularly powerful tool for personal and business use alike.

Messages in iOS 8 allows you to insert and share video clips

Messages in iOS 8 allows you to insert and share audio messages too

It's hard to imagine, but when the iPhone debuted in 2007 with a software keyboard, it was considered a controversial choice. However, as history has quickly proven, it was an inspired decision that allowed the iPhone display to be constantly reconfigured according to the requirements of each application, making it highly versatile. The benefits of a software keyboard also became apparent in the way that it could also be reconfigured according to input context, along with smart autocorrect functions. However, despite some tweaking along the way, Apple has been somewhat slow to add more sophisticated predictive typing capabilities. QuickType changes all of that, and makes typing on the iPhone faster than ever. QuickType is also contextually aware, adjusting word choices to suit the tone of the situation, while it also gets smarter over time while protecting this information securely with encryption. We are also looking forward to developers implementing the new keyboard extension in iOS 8, which will allow gesture typing on the iPhone across the UI for the first time.

QuickType brings fast, predictive typing to iOS 8

Family Sharing:
Family Sharing in iOS 8 is great news, especially for parents. For the first time, up to six family members can share iTunes, iBooks and App Store purchases without having to share account details to access them from the cloud. All purchases can now also be made from the one credit card, while a parent can set up to approve (or reject) app purchases that their children may want to download at any time, from any location. Account limits can also be set, forever removing situations where children may spend up on their parent's credit card. It is also now much easier to set up shared calendars, so that each family member can review and contribute calendar events to the one family calendar. Using the Find My Friends app, family members will be able to locate where everyone is on Apple Maps - this can also be disabled if necessary. This new level of cross-device integration is a major theme of iOS 8.

Family Sharing in iOS 8 makes it a lot easier to share purchased content, plus give parents much greater control over family app and in-app purchases

iCloud Drive and CloudKit:
Ever since iCloud was launched in June 2011, it has been clear that it was going to play an integral role in the whole iOS and OS X experience. In the past couple of years, Apple has invested heavily in server farms and end users are really starting to reap the benefits of this now. iCloud Photo Library is one example of how iOS 8 is taking iCloud functionality to new levels, and looks set to replace third-party solutions for many iOS and OS X users. The same can be said for the introduction of iCloud Drive. Apple's cloud services go back a well over a decade, and well before the cloud referred to as 'the cloud.' Various levels of functionality have come and gone in the meantime, but iCloud Drive is now a match for Dropbox. The addition of a new CloudKit framework also means that developers will be able to tout full iCloud integration in their apps as well. Even better, you will be able to sign into these types of apps with your Apple ID, confident that your personal information is not being shared - you will also be able to use Touch ID for authentication purposes like this and across the system as well, which will make life a lot easier.

iCloud Drive and CloudKit make iCloud more powerful than ever

As I outlined in our first look at OS X Yosemite, Continuity is one of the most significant upgrades in both Apple's latest desktop OS, as well as iOS 8. Apple has always been known for its vertical platform integration, but Continuity takes things to another level. If you are an iOS user who also uses Macs, you are going to love new features like Handoff. Handoff allows you pick up exactly where you left of on any iPhone, iPad or Mac when using apps including Mail, Safari, Pages, Numbers and Messages, among others. Developers can also support the feature in their iOS and OS X apps if they choose. iOS 8 works with OS X Yosemite you to take and make calls from your Mac by automatically connecting to your nearby iPhone. Hotspots can now automatically be set up between your Mac and iPhone as well, without the need for passwords, while you can now also share files directly between your Mac and iOS device over AirDrop. If you don't have a Mac, this is the type of functionality that might get you to buy one. If you have a Mac, but have been dabbling with Android, your next phone could well be an iPhone.

Continuity takes iOS and OS X integration to a new level

Notifications and Notification Center:
Notifications and Notification Center get notable upgrades in iOS 8. A consistent theme running through iOS 8 is that you won't need to jump in and out of apps to get things done anywhere near as much as in the past. Notifications in iOS 8 is a perfect illustration of this. When you receive a message, for example, you can now respond directly to the message from within whatever app you are currently in - a small swipe down on the message will now allow you to action it. It makes for a much more cohesive and seamless experience. Notification Center now also picks up third-party widgets as well, delivering you with information about things that matter to you. Examples could include widgets that update you on packages deliveries or the latest news from your favorite sources just to note a few of the possibilities.

Notification Center in iOS 8 picks up third-party widgets

Notifications are actionable within apps in iOS 8

Health and HealthKit:
One of the potentially revolutionary new features in iOS 8 centers around the new Health app and the associated HealthKit framework for developers. The growth in the wearables sector has thus far revolved largely around fitness trackers, which typically measure things like steps walked, calories burned, heart rate and sleep. These are often combined with mobile apps, with some users using more than one app, and sometimes more than one tracking device. The new Health app provides a dashboard that collates all of this information in easy to read cards that not only makes it easy for your apps to work together, but it can also be used to provide your health professional with more data about your activity and general well-being than ever before. As I wrote in our piece on Apple's post-PC paradigm, personal computing in the post-PC era is about making it more personal than ever before. Health and HealthKit stand to revolutionize the way we look after ourselves. An iWatch with multiple, medically approved, health tracking sensors could take this into previously unseen territory.

Health in iOS 8 could spark a health revolution

Another new developer framework in iOS is HomeKit, that will do for home automation what Health and HealthKit looks set to do for your health. As with health apps until the advent of iOS 8, there has not been a single point of coordination for home automation on your iPhone. You can buy different devices for you house to control your lights and air-conditioning, for example, but you often needed to launch different apps to make them work. With HomeKit, developers will all be able to tap into Siri, as single point of control for all your home automation devices which is a significant advancement. That imagined future in so many science-fiction scenes where people walk around controlling their complete home environment with their voice becomes a reality with iOS 8. Rumor has it that Apple could also be working on some of its own compatible products that could help spur consumer and developer interest in this space.

HomeKit in iOS 8 will bring integration and Siri voice control to home automation

Gaming - Metal, SpriteKit and SceneKit:
One look at the App Store shows that games continue to be among the most popular. Part of the reason for this is that the iPhone has continually pushed the boundaries of mobile graphics performance through hardware advancement. Apple has amped thing up on the software side in iOS 8 considerably with Metal, along with SpriteKit and SceneKit. Metal bypasses OpenGL in order to reduce the headroom between code and the GPU, with results showing some stunning improvements in performance. Apple testing has shown that developers can expect up to 10x performance boosts on graphics benchmarks. Incredibly, this has been achieved using the same quad-cluster PowerVR GPU in the A7 chip and is the type of performance boost one might only expect to achieve with all-new hardware. Added to this, SpriteKit and SceneKit will make it even easier for developers to create high performance and battery efficient 2D and 3D visual effects making iOS 8 big news for gamers. It sets the stage for the creation of games of even more games that are Apple App Store exclusives.

Gaming in iOS 8 is set to reach new levels of sophistication and realism

When iOS 8 launches this fall alongside OS X Yosemite, Apple users will have a lot to look forward to. The combination of enhancements to the front end user experience coupled with major upgrades to the backend of the platform will make your iPhone even more useful and indispensible than ever before. When you add the new Swift programming language into the mix, which will make developing applications for Apple devices faster and easier, iOS is set to reach new heights of performance and functionality. Apple has already stolen a 12 month march on the competition on the hardware and software side with the move to 64-bit technology in 2013. Now, with the impending launch of the iPhone 6 coupled with the expected launch of an iWatch, Apple is heading into 2015 very much on the front foot. According to recent estimates, the iPhone 5s is the biggest selling single handset around the globe. Apple could well be poised to retake market share from Google's Android and its archrival Samsung who now find themselves chasing Apple once again.

By Sanjiv Sathiah

by MacNN Staff



  1. bobolicious

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 08-15-02

    ...and the question of privacy remains...

    ...pure genius or pure evil, perhaps only time (and any eula) will tell...,2817,2399848,00.asp

    ...and do we blame apple - or is it just the job description under corporate law to serve shareholder interests...?

  1. nowayoutofmymind

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-11-07

    So much work on features and no on spent some time to revert this ultimate failure in graphics design for the iOS 7? Still the same silly, cheap looking, sometimes even stupid icons? Still the same childish and truly ugly color scheme? Still the same inconsistency in icon design? Shame...

  1. Grendelmon

    Senior User

    Joined: 12-26-07

    What's a button? Nobody knows...

  1. qazwart

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 04-10-01

    Unfortunately, Continuity needs Bluetooth 4.0 in order to work. Older Macs can run Yosemite, but Continuity won't work. By the way, I like iOS 7 design over the older iOS 6 design in many ways. The older design was getting crufty. iOS 7 is a wee bit too flat. Showing buttons would be nice, and the iOS 6 "blue glow" Caplocks made it obvious when you had the cap locks key on. However, on the whole, the iOS 7 design is much better.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    As someone who started off not liking the iOS 7 design (before it came out), actual use with it has changed my opinion. I have no problem figuring out where to press, though for those who prefer it there is a setting that makes the buttons more obvious, and I understand iOS 8 adds to that somewhat. The hate for iOS 8 seems fairly mindless, inspecific and simply whining against change as far as I can tell (Apple people do this all the time -- a lot of them have "conveniently" forgotten how much they hated Snow Leopard, only now they love it and hate anything since then). I'm certainly more productive in iOS 7 than I was under iOS 6.

  1. Grendelmon

    Senior User

    Joined: 12-26-07

    Originally Posted by chas_mView Post

    As someone who started off not liking the iOS 7 design (before it came out), actual use with it has changed my opinion. I have no problem figuring out where to press, though for those who prefer it there is a setting that makes the buttons more obvious, and I understand iOS 8 adds to that somewhat.

    I was extremely skeptical about iOS 7 before it came out. I was even more skeptical after reading articles on Ars regarding the performance on an iPad 2, which is the only device I have that will run it. Apple refused to fix the April 2014 Facetime bug in iOS 6 (my 4th gen Touch must use Skype now- thx... Apple!) and the only "solution" was to upgrade my iPad to iOS 7. Skype worked okay with my remote relatives as long as both people had the app running and were signed in... the notifications while idle suck. So, we all recently dove into iOS 7.

    At first, (and after being forced to upgrade iTunes as well) I was surprised how well the upgrade went, although I did take several precautions. iOS 7 didn't seem that bad. I do enjoy exploring new operating systems. But after a couple of week of playing with it, the novelty has certainly worn off. The performance on my iPad 2 is acceptable, although my battery life has been trimmed by about 30% and my memory pageouts have gone up 100%. There are some other bugs I've noticed. But the UI design is a catastrophe. Yes, I enhanced the button shapes in the "Accessibility" which helps some, but it's really sad that I even have to do this.

    The whole design reminds me of when Google switched their Gmail and Plus websites to the "minimalist" garbage. Wasted white space, thin fonts, etc. My point is that iOS 7 looks like a trimmed down HTML-rendered operating system. The only reason I don't regret upgrading to iOS 7 is because my kids can Facetime with the grandparents now. Unless the performance of iOS 8 is better on my iPad 2, I probably won't bother... unless Apple comes up with another reason to force me to "upgrade."

  1. HappyPhil

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-08-09

    I agree that the minimalist industrial interface of iOS 7 has taken the fun out of my iPhone just as assuredly the minimalist industrial interface for Mavericks did to OS X.

    Mavericks was easy to fix, I simply got a new HD , installed Mountain Lion and used pre-Maverics versions of iPhoto, iMovie, Pages, etc. All my apple computers are happy with this, and so am I. However, it is not so easy with my iPhone.

    I like the new features that came with 7, it is just the illegible ugly interface that I find difficult to accept. I would think that someone could design an App to overwrite the crap graphics of 7, (and soon 8), with the more pleasantly shaded, round-edge, artfully colored graphics of iOS 6. That would be a big time money making App for some clever person.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Whom are you agreeing with?

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