Apple iOS 8 preview: Opening Up
It's the kind of thing to be happening in a galaxy far, far away. Apple opening up iOS to developers, while Google is moving towards an Apple-like unified experience across platforms and screen sizes. The simplest way to put it is that Material Design comes a year after the visual overhaul of iOS 7 - if anyone wants to see a more than just chronological relation they very well can.
Anyway, with the re-design delivered, iOS 8 (still a developer beta) goes back to work under the hood - in a continued bid to catch up to Android - not so much in terms of features (certainly not content) but flexibility in dealing with third-party apps and extensions. One of the highlights is Apple's U-turn on one of their most conservative policies.
The company has finally given the developer community a more open access to the platform and unlocked many popular core capabilities. Having been granted access to over 4000 iOS APIs, third-party apps will integrate with the Notification Center, Sharing and Action menus, Keyboard, Photos app, among others. Even TouchID is expected to be opened up, potentially making the fingerprint scanner a really big deal.
iOS 8 is trying to polish an already elaborate and attractive user interface and improve the performance with more intuitive menus, better Spotlight, Family Sharing options, iCloud Drive, better keyboard, better Photos, etc. The Handoff feature between iDevices and Macs is a big thing as well.
Let's try and summarize all the new additions to iOS 8:
- Third-party widgets in Notification Center
- Third-party sharing options and actions within system apps
- Third-party keyboards, adaptive default one
- Handoff support with Mac OS X Yosemite - continuity from any iOS 8 iDevice to Mac OS X, instant automatic hotspot, SMS/MMS/iMessages and voice call handover
- Safari: plugin support, Private Browsing per tab, bird-eye tab view for iPad
- Camera: Instant Burst Mode, Time-Lapse, separate focus and exposure, Panorama for iPad
- New Photos app with smart editing, search, third-party filters
- Better Spotlight with automatic internet suggestions from popular services such as Wikipedia, Maps, IMDb
- Improved Siri with voice activation, Shazam integration, 24 new dictation languages
- Refined UI in multi-tasking, Mail, Messages, Music
- Health pack
- Updated App Store with category browsing, Beta apps, Bundles
- iCloud Drive with 5GB of free storage
- Family Share - share and control content across Apple IDs using the same credit card, children app purchase requests
- Battery usage per app statistics
- Tips app
- Integrated iBooks with auto night mode, Book Series support
- Rich Text Editing in Notes
- Wi-Fi calling support
- Travel time notifications
- FaceTime call waiting
- TouchID fingerprint sensor to be available to third-party apps
- Improved accessibility, In Case of Emergency card, TouchID to exit Guided Access, Braille keyboard
- Flyover city tours
- Enterprise easy setup
- China gets lunar calendar, turn-by-turn navigation, better weather data
- STILL very much dependent on iTunes for uploading files and multimedia
- No common file storage shared between apps
- Air Drop works only between selected devices running iOS 7 or later
- No lockscreen access to third-party developers
- Limited default video decorder support
The app-specific file storage is still an annoyance and so is iTunes being your only means of file upload (the cloud is an option but not a solution). To be fair, these are things users of Apple's mobile devices can obviously live with and perhaps see nothing wrong - but it's a fact that competing platforms don't impose this kind of limitation.
With the new tools made available to developers, there may be clever ways around that - the benefits of the opening up of the platform could go beyond the day-to-day interaction with the device and the performance. We'll know in a couple of months.
For now, let's concentrate on the novelties in iOS 8, which will be available this fall for the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPod Touch 5, iPad mini, iPad mini 2, iPad 2, 3, and 4, as well as the iPad Air.
DISCLAIMER: This preview is based on the currently latest iOS 8 beta 4, which we installed on an iPhone 5s. Hence it only reflects the changes made with this release of the beta iOS program. The final release of the iOS 8 is expected in the fall of 2014.