iOS8 – A Developer’s Review

Since the introduction of the iPhone, each new iteration of the device has brought with it a new version of iOS.

With the announcement of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus…. we take a deep dive into iOS8

Updates over the past seven years have included an app store, copy/paste, push notifications, multi-tasking, and turn-by-turn navigation. We’ve grown accustomed to using all of these key features day-to-day, and each incremental update shows just how far iOS has come since version 1.0.

With the announcement of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus earlier this week, we take a deep dive into the iOS8 operating system that will push onto our devices on September 17th.

Here’s what you can expect from the new features you’ll be using every day.


CAMERA

The camera has always been a point of distinction for iPhones, and subtle improvements in iOS8 give it even more appeal:

TIME-LAPSE

When you’re in camera mode, sliding right now reveals a new mode called Time-lapse – which, as its names suggests, creates time-lapsed footage by snapping a series of photos over time at dynamic intervals. The just-released Hyperlapse app by Instagram stole some of this mode’s thunder, but after iOS8 releases, I have a feeling users may opt for the built-in convenience.

Time-lapse videos are fun to make and allow for another form of visual expression. The resulting videos have a professional polish and feel, as demonstrated in our captures below. The possibilities of a smartphone camera continue to expand and impress.

EXPOSURE ADJUST

iOS8 will debut a new focus lock and exposure adjustment that you’ll now use every time you take a photo. Brightness can be manipulated easily by sliding up or down after tapping to focus around a subject. The new approach is more intuitive and simple enough to use to dial each image in appropriately. I think this is an improvement over tapping around the screen to find the right light, and should be more visible to users who didn’t even notice the focus feature in the legacy iOS impacted exposure.

BRIGHTNESS CAN NOW BE MANIPULATED BY SLIDING UP OR DOWN ON A DIAL IN CAMERA MODE.

BRIGHTNESS CAN NOW BE MANIPULATED BY SLIDING UP OR DOWN ON A DIAL IN CAMERA MODE.


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MAIL

Though there’s no known study to confirm it, it’s very likely that Mail is the most used app on your iPhone. Two powerful updates in iOS8 should make you more efficient and productive when it comes to managing your inbox.

EMAIL SWIPE GESTURES

Apple has expanded the email swipe gestures introduced in iOS7 to include a new set of actions. Swiping right allows you to quickly mark a message as unread. While swiping left now reveals “More” and “Flag” options. Quickly swiping left across the message will also delete the email entirely.

Flagging an email inside a mobile device doesn’t yet sync across to the desktop-class Mail app

I immediately started using the “Delete” gesture to more quickly pare down my inbox, and those who receive emails in droves will also find it to be a great time-saver.

The flagging feature was also one I’ve started using more often; unfortunately, though, flagging an email inside a mobile device doesn’t yet sync across to the desktop-class Mail app, so flagged emails on mobile may differ from those flagged on the desktop. This is something I hope gets cleaned up in a revision update, given the new focus on continuity between iOS and OS X.

EMAIL DRAFT

The other great new feature in Mail is the ability to multi-task within the app itself. Composing emails often calls for the need to copy links, photos, or contact information from your inbox to a new email, and previous versions of Mail made that task cumbersome.

In iOS8, you can now pull down the email you’re composing to get full access to your inbox again, allowing you to search through your inbox, cut/paste photos or text, and look up contact information. The draft message sits elegantly in a container at the bottom of the screen, ready for you to pull back up with ease when you have the information you need. You’ll also enjoy how you can store multiple drafts; flipping through them works in the same manner you flip between multiple tabs in mobile Safari. Often, I’d wait to send particular emails until I got to my MacBook, but the new feature allows me to compose more complex emails on the go and be more responsive.


iOS8-group-messaging-audio-messaging-feature

MESSAGING

The messaging app gets its biggest makeover since it began supporting MMS in iOS3.

VOICE MESSAGING

A new microphone icon on the right of the messaging pane allows you to record and quickly send audio bites by simply holding down the icon and swiping up. The receiver can just as seamlessly listen to that clip by raising the phone to his or her ear.

Recorded audio is filtered… [and] the resulting clip sounds like you’re speaking through a Darth Vader mask

Similar functionality exists for sending pictures or video. Holding down the camera button allows you to quickly send a snap or a video in line with your conversation.

In practice, I never got the point of adding audio clips and found a hard time thinking of a practical use for it. I’m sure I’ll be proven wrong, but when audio gets involved, it seems just having a proper phone call would be preferred over the mix of texting and sound clip listening.

The recorded audio is also filtered in a way that makes the sound reproduction poor. Apple has something in place here to isolate your voice from background noise, but the resulting clip sounds like you’re speaking through a Darth Vader mask.

GROUP MESSAGING

Group messaging, by contrast, has new usability features that I think people will take advantage of right out of the gate. Tapping “Details” inside a group chat now brings up a summary dashboard with a quick view of all contacts involved, all pictures shared, and a “Do Not Disturb” slider allowing you to mute group messages that get too distracting.

Apple has had the ability to source the locations of our friends in a handy map since iOS5 through the Find Your Friends app. The service, however, has failed to reach wide adoption because of the resistance to add “opening another app” into an entire group’s routine. The ability to see and share locations through a message dashboard will likely see these capabilities get more use. The location pane’s availability for messages between yourself and one contact may also help make this service become more of a habit.


iOS8-continuity-features-mac-ipad-iphone

CONTINUITY

Many of us now work across a variety of devices (iPhone, iPad and Mac), and Apple’s new Continuity features aim to make our workflow across those devices a lot more seamless — but you’ll need iOS8 or an OS X Yosemite (the latest Mac operating system) for the features to work.

HANDOFF

The first major Continuity utility is Handoff, a background process that will detect when one of your Apple devices is near another and offer a chance for you to hand off work between them.

Use cases demonstrated at the iOS8 presentation included reading a web article on your iPhone, then handing off to read on your iPad; working on an a Pages document on your iPad and then finalizing on your Macbook; and composing an email on your Mac and then finishing it on your iPhone. You can imagine the upgrade in ease of use when devices start working together with this amount of integration.

The lack of reliability makes me doubtful that Handoff will work seamlessly out of the gate

Using the latest betas of both OS X Yosemite and iOS8, Handoff rarely worked across the core apps it currently supports (Mail, Pages, Safari, etc). The app icon wouldn’t always appear in the dock menu of the OS X device and vice versa. The lack of reliability makes me doubtful that Handoff will work seamlessly out of the gate with the official releases. It is, however, a promising feature that will be a delight to use once the kinks get worked out.

REMOTE PHONE

One of the unexpected conveniences of Continuity is the ability to make (or receive) phone calls on your Mac or iPad (as long as your iPhone is connected to the same Wi-Fi network). This is a brilliant feature that again just enhances the way you’ll do work.

In beta, voice quality on calls through a MacBook matched those of a typical speakerphone experience. Some bugs still need addressing (sometimes accepting a call on the Mac will end the call, for example), but it worked much more reliably than Handoff. The final version should be pretty solid.

PERSONAL HOTSPOT

Similar to Remote Phone, your in-range iPhone can now more easily offer its data connection as a personal hotspot for your Mac — you simply choose your phone in the Wi-Fi options.

With the latest betas, this again was a feature that rarely worked. We often were treated to “Can’t establish connection” problems when initiating on our MacBook. It’s a great, subtle feature, but may require a few updates before “it just works,” as advertised.

AIR DROP

Airdrop, the wireless transfer utility introduced in OS X Lion, finally supports transfers between iOS and OS X. Airdrop has become a feature I use regularly to more efficiently transfer files to coworkers in the office, and new mobile support will see that efficiency carry over into my own inter-device workflow. It’s exciting to have this capability, but it doesn’t work flawlessly yet.

YOU'LL HAVE TO TOGGLE AN "AIRDROP WITH OLDER MACS" BUTTON IF YOU WISH TO EXCHANGE DATA WITH ANYONE NOT RUNNING OS X YOSEMITE.

YOU’LL HAVE TO TOGGLE AN “AIRDROP WITH OLDER MACS” BUTTON IF YOU WISH TO EXCHANGE DATA WITH ANYONE NOT RUNNING OS X YOSEMITE.

Airdrop between Macs still has issues (sometimes a nearby computer isn’t discovered), and likewise, the discovery between iOS and OS X isn’t always consistent. The response time when attempting to send files across platforms is often slower than you’d hope, often requiring a several-second wait for the users in range to be discovered. Other times, devices can’t be discovered at all, and you have to resort to the old way of doing things. Another caveat is that the new Airdrop runs in a different mode than the former version. This means you’ll have to toggle an “Airdrop with Older Macs” button if you wish to exchange data across anyone not running OS X Yosemite.

Continuity is an ambitious feature set providing several practical ways to help you get more work done. I would expect it to take a few upgrades across both iOS and OS X for it to work with the reliability you expect for Apple software. The promise of these features, however, does come at the cost of more closely cornering you into the Apple ecosystem and a quick upgrade cycle. Using these features to their full capacity requires the latest OS on all your devices, including OS X Yosemite for Macs, and using these OS upgrades on legacy hardware will create a less responsive experience. It’s no secret that Apple designs and optimizes its latest software with the latest hardware it will launch on, and running on anything less often evokes the “why doesn’t my iPhone work like it used to” groan.


WIDGETS

During the iOS8 presentation, Apple was excited to announce the support of widgets (through the Notification Center). The demonstration showed how an eBay widget would allow a user to make a last-minute bid, and how an ESPN widget could show you live scores from the teams you follow. This capability is Apple’s attempt to check off another popular feature request, but by limiting widget support to the Notification Center, it’s hard to view the feature as anything more than a hack.

If Apple (or Jony Ive) is searching for an elegant solution to widgets, they need look no further than this beautiful concept by Jay Machalani.

Widgets are a need as the home screen evolves into a dashboard of utilities, and with the upcoming Apple Watch at-a-glance functionality, will be the new standard. It’s going to be difficult for widgets to catch on in Apple’s ecosystem until they live in the space where we normally interact with our apps: on the home screen.


EXTENSIBILITY

The system behind a lot of the new features in iOS8 are due to Extensibility — Apple’s transfer protocol that gives third-party apps a way to project themselves into core services like the keyboard, Notification Center or iCloud Drive.

This undercover feature has potential to cause a huge shift in how we interact with our apps. Our phones and what we do with them are now defined by the apps we install on them. And over time, as we add app over app, our home screens become a segregated mess of utility and duplicity. Extensibility can solve all that by putting Instagram filters in line with the Camera app, Shazam listening features built into Siri, Skype buttons inside of FaceTime, etc. The use of apps may soon be more natural, efficient and unified. I’m looking forward to seeing how developers utilize this new accessibility.

KEYBOARD

The new iOS8 also introduces some key changes to the keyboard – an experience that has remained largely unchanged since iOS1.

PREDICTIVE TEXT

You’ll notice a new predictive text keyboard layer on top of the standard QWERTY keyboard that lets you pick through words for quicker completion. This is nothing new for Android users, but Apple does offer some innovation in that the predicted words are contextual to your conversation. This means composing an email with a business client will prompt words in context with that email or contact, and similarly, composing a text message with a friend will prompt more casual words you may often use. This built-in intelligence is best seen when someone presents options to you via text (such as, “Should we get drinks on East 6th or Rainey St?”). You’ll see those options spelled out in the predictive text layer, allowing you to reply in two taps.

In practice, it takes time to adapt your gaze to that other layer, and you’ll likely have to train yourself to make it a part of your routine. The feature set here though, is key for Apple Watch – a device so small texting would make for a poor experience.


There are several other features coming to iOS8 and you’ll enjoy discovering them when the software pushes to our devices on September 17th.

This is a big update with lots of core changes and requested utilities that’ll enhance your user experience. Those conveniences may cost you though, as running iOS8 on our iPhone5 ran hot and caused a severe loss in battery life. These assessments were all made with the latest beta5 as of publishing, and a final “Gold Master version” is expected to release before the final version of iOS8.



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