iOS 8 review | iMore

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Last year Apple stripped iOS bare in order to redefine how we do things. This year they build atop everything that came before in order to redefine what we can do.

iOS 8 is the latest version of the operating system software that powers every iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. That's hundreds of millions of mobile devices used day in, day out, by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

It includes updates to Messages and Photos, an all-new Health app, a predictive keyboard and contextual Spotlight, improved Mail and Safari, Family Sharing options and Continuity workflows, and there's Extensibility, which allows for interactive notifications, custom keyboards, custom sharing and action options, custom photo filters and effects, widgets, iCloud Drive, and custom storage providers.

There are also new frameworks like HomeKit for home automation, manual camera controls, Touch ID authentication for third party apps, SpriteKit, SceneKit, and Metal for games, and a new programming language called Swift.

Yang to iOS 7’s yin, iOS 8 is a functional rejuvenation that counterbalances last year's visual refresh. And just like last year, when iOS 7 was called the biggest redesign since the first iPhone shipped in 2007, iOS 8 is being called the most important upgrade since the App Store launched in 2008. So, is it?

Previously in iOS

Continuity

The core idea of Continuity is that your experience and workflow shouldn't be interrupted when you own and use multiple Apple devices — it should be enhanced.

If you have a photo on your iPad you should be able to beam it straight to your iPhone. If you have cellular data on your iPhone you should be able to instantly share it with your Mac. If you start an email on your Mac, you should be able to keep typing on your iPhone as you leave the room. And if your iPhone beeps or buzzes from the other room, you should be able to answer the call or respond to the text right from the iPad in your hands.

Once upon a time it was enough for everything to "just work". Now it all needs to "just work" together.

This makes Apple's Continuity a fundamentally different approach to computing than Microsoft's "Windows everywhere" or Google's "everything in the cloud". There's no convergence of interface or single truth store on a server. Apple is keeping the Mac the Mac, and keeping the iPhone and iPad the iPhone and iPad. They're keeping each device distinct yet making them all work together in service of the human being who's using them.

It's not about one design or one data center. It's about one person.

The end result is this — whether it's in your pocket, your bag across the room, or plugged in at your desk upstairs, your activities now go with you from device to device, wherever you go.

Note: Some of Continuity's features, namely everything that involves the Mac, will require the upcoming OS X Yosemite update. Since Yosemite is still in beta and unlikely to launch before October, it's impossible to review those features until then. However, many of the iPhone and iPad Continuity features are available now.

AirDrop

AirDrop has worked between iPhone and iPad since iOS 7 launched last year.

Nothing changes between them with iOS 8. Come next month, however, AirDrop will also work between iPhone and Mac, and iPad and Mac.

Instant tethering

Continuity tethering

Tethering has likewise worked between iPhone and iPad for a long time. New with Continuity and iOS 8, however, is the idea of Instant Tethering.

As long as your devices are all logged into the same iCloud account (Apple ID), your iPad Wi-Fi can connect to your iPhone without requiring a password or any special setup. Just look for your iPhone in the list of available Personal Hotspots.

Tap it, and you're online.

Handoff

Continuity handoff

Handoff takes Continuity a step further. With Handoff, as long as your iPhone and iPad are logged in with the same iCloud account and you're within range of Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) you can start working on one device, put it down, pick up the other, and keep right on working, right where you left off.

Enforcing proximity might seem like a constraint, but it's actually a good idea, and in keeping with Handoff's person-centric approach. It prevents private websites you're visiting, emails or messages you're composing, or documents you're working on from accidentally getting pulled over to a machine that's logged into your account, but at another location outside your physical control.

For example, if you're working at home, you don't have to worry about your stuff popping up on a device at school, or if you're at the coffee shop, you don't need to worry about it popping up on your work computer.

Handoff is available for Mail, Safari, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar, Contacts, and third-party App Store apps that add the functionality.

There's been no word yet on Handoff working with music, video, games, or other forms of media, but it's hard not to imagine it being on the roadmap.

Continuity handoffContinuity handoffContinuity handoff

Websites can also handoff to apps and vice-versa.

For example, if you're perusing Facebook.com on Safari on your Mac, and then pick up your iPhone to leave the room — assuming the developers have implemented it — the Facebook app will open in the exact place you left off.

Continuity handoff

Continuity handoffContinuity handoff

Basically, when an app or browser is launched, brought back to the foreground, or tabs are switched, Handoff identifies the current activity you're doing — composing an email, reading a particular web page, editing a specific Numbers document, etc. — and starts to broadcast it.

Other devices within proximity identify the activity and call up the appropriate icon for its app. On the iPhone or iPad, the icon is placed either on the bottom left of the Lock screen or, if the device is unlocked, to the left of the Home screen in the multitasking card interface (the one you get to by double clicking the Home button.)

Swipe the icon up on the Locks screen and use Touch ID or your passcode to authenticate, or tap the card in the multitasking interface, and Handoff will request the activity from the originating device. If you're using iCloud Drive, only the state of the document needs to be transferred. If you're on the web, only the URL. Otherwise, whatever you're working on will need to get sent across. Once that happens, however, you're taken to the app and your activity is resumed right where you left off.

For example, if you were composing an email on your iPhone and you walked within range of your iPad, the Mail icon would appear on the Lock screen. Swipe up, enter your passcode, and the Mail app would launch, the compose sheet would slide up, and the contents of your draft would populate, ready and waiting for you to finish, right where you left off.

Phone and SMS/MMS relay

Taking and making calls from your iPhone on your iPad works in a similar way. As long as you are logged into the same iCloud account on all your devices, and your iPhone is on the same Wi-Fi network, you can use Continuity for calling.

When your iPhone rings, Continuity shows you the same phone interface on your iPad. Swipe the incoming call notification on your iPad to answer, or, if you're giving some big fancy keynote or are otherwise busy and can't answer, choose to ignore the call, or even to respond with an iMessage or SMS message to let the caller know you'll get back to them ASAP.

Continuity callingContinuity calling

Making calls from your iPad is just as easy as receiving them. Any time you have a phone number in the built-in Contacts app, Calendar app, or Safari web browser, tapping it will give you the option to call. Choose it and your call will be placed using your Wi-Fi connection to your iPhone, and your iPhone's connection to the cellular network.

If you have more than one iPhone — not necessarily a day and night iPhone, but an old and new one, a Verizon and Rogers one, or a work and personal one — Continuity will also let you answer calls to either number on either phone, as long as both are logged into the same account and on Wi-Fi.

And, hey, if you do have a few extra iPhones or iPads or iPod touches lying around the house, you now have a phone system with extensions, just like the old cordless phone days...

Somewhat non-intuitively, you can go into Settings, FaceTime and toggle iPhone Cellular Calls to Off for any device you don't want to have on the relay network.

Coming in October, the iPad (and Mac) will be able to use the same system to send and receive SMS (short messaging service) and MMS (multi-media messaging service).

Yes, your green bubble friends will now be with you everywhere as well.

Extensibility

iOS apps exist in sandboxes intended to keep them safe, and to keep your data private and secure. For a long time that meant they couldn't talk to the system or to each other. As much as attacks were locked out, workflows were locked in. And so, as users, we had to devise a lot of convoluted workarounds. Extensibility in iOS 8 changes all that.

Extensibility brings widgets to Notification Center, custom sharing and action options to Share Sheets, custom filters and effects to Photos, custom keyboards system-wide, and ubiquitous file access via iCloud Drive or third-party document providers like Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive. In other words, it phenomenally expands the capabilities of iOS, while at the same time maintaining the security and privacy of the sandbox.

With Extensibility, instead of having to devise workarounds, we'll be able to get on with our workflows.

Roughly two years ago Apple ported their cross-communication protocol, XPC, from the Mac to iOS. They also separated the original Springboard (the iOS windowing manager) into a new Springboard focused on foreground tasks, and a new service called Backboardd focused on background tasks. To that they added a daemon to run the extension system, to enable a host app — the app hosting the extension — to request interface and functionality from a container app — the app that containing that interface and functionality — with iOS handling all transactions in between.

This way the app sandboxes are maintained, but we can punch very specific, very temporary holes in them to get specific things done like bidding on eBay from the Lock screen, posting to Pinterest from the Share Sheet, using a Bing action to translate a website in-place, applying a VSCO Cam filter inside Photos, pulling up a Swype keyboard in Messages, or opening files from iCloud Drive and saving them back to Dropbox.

So now, instead of having to devise workarounds, we'll be able to get on with our workflows.

Interactive notifications

Interactive notifications — sometimes called actionable notifications — are just one of several forms of push interface in iOS 8 — of functionality that you once had to go chasing around the phone or tablet to find but that's now brought right to where you are.

For example, in previous versions of iOS, when a message came in, an invitation was sent your way, news was shared with you, etc. you couldn't do anything about it, not without leaving your current activity first.

With very few exceptions, like the snooze button on the alarm, you'd have to tap the notification, get sent to the corresponding app, reply to the message, accept the invitation, read the news, etc. and then be left to find your way back to original app you were using.

Now, with iOS 8, you can reply to a message right from the banner, accept an invitation right on the Lock screen, or favorite a piece of news directly in Notification Center. Whether you're playing a game, watching a movie, or editing a spreadsheet, interruption is minimized and app switching is potentially eliminated altogether.

Interactive notificationsInteractive notificationsInteractive notificationsInteractive notifications

The level of interactivity that a notification can provide depends on its alert style. Two actions are the maximum that can be shown in the limited space of the Lock screen, Notification Center screen, and banners. Three or four actions are can be shown on modal popup alerts, however, where interface space is more plentiful.

For example, on the Lock screen, in Notification Center, or as part of a banner, you might see "Accept" and "Decline" as actions available when an invitation comes your way. On a popup alert, however, you might see "Accept", "Maybe", "Decline", and "Block".

On the Lock screen and within Notification Center, you swipe from right to left to reveal actions. Destructive actions, like trashing an email, are color-coded red. Relatively neutral actions, like dismissing an alert or declining an invitation, are color-coded gray or blue depending on whether they're on the left or right side.

So, if you get a Message notification and your iPhone is locked, you can swipe on the notification, tap reply, and instantly be given a text entry field and keyboard, as well as a microphone button if you prefer to talk rather than type. Same if you see a Message notification in Notification Center.

For banners, you pull down to reveal actions as buttons. For popups, the actions are immediately visible — the buttons are right there.

For example, if you're on the Home screen or in another app and a Message notification banner comes up, simply pull down and you get the same text entry field, keyboard, and microphone option. Even if you're in the Messages app, replying to someone else, you can use the interactive notification system to reply to other people without leaving the conversation with which you're currently engaged.

There's still a limit to how much you can do in a small, notification-sized interface, of course. For more complicated or demanding actions, like viewing a shared document, you'll still get sent off to the appropriate app. However, since one of the primary use-cases for mobile is triage, for most things, most of the time, your days of constant app switching will be over.

Interactive notifications invitation

Interactive notifications exist within containers. Think of them as mini apps all their own. This helps make them more reliable. For example, you can tap the Like button on a Facebook notification even if the main Facebook just got jettisoned by the system for hogging too much memory. The latter has no effect on the former.

This also helps make interactive notifications more secure. Because iOS handles all the presentation, the app you're in has no way of knowing what the notification says or what data it contains. Answer an iMessage while still in Facebook and Facebook is completely oblivious to what you're doing and what you're typing. Your notifications are completely private and safe.

For Lock screen notifications, developers can also choose whether to require a passcode for any action. For relatively neutral actions, developers can choose not to require a passcode. For anything destructive or anything that could compromise your privacy, they can choose to force passcode entry.

In the latter case, the passcode doesn't unlock the iPhone or iPad, it merely enables the interactive notification to launch. When you're done, you're returned to the Lock screen.

If you're nervous about exposing interactive notifications on the Lock screen, they can still be disabled on an app-by-app basis from within the Notification Center section of Settings, and Notification Center can be removed from the Lock screen in the Touch ID & Passcode section of Settings.

Interactive notifications invitationInteractive notifications invitation

In addition to interactive notifications, there are few other new notification features in iOS 8. First, the payload size of push notifications has been increased from 256 bytes to 2 kilobytes. That should help developers make better, more robust notifications.

Because iOS 8 separates the concepts of user and remote notifications, while we still have to opt-in to receiving user notifications, we are now automatically opted-in to receiving remote notifications, including silent notifications (the kind that trigger background content refreshes). We can still choose to go to Settings and turn this off on an app-by-app basis, of course, but it means apps will act they way we expect them to act by default.

iOS 8 also adds something else new — location notifications. Technically possible in previous versions, they were a bit of a hack. Now, the functionality has been streamlined and allows for notification when someone enters or exits a region, either for the very first time, or every time.

That OS X Mavericks got actionable notifications last year, and iOS only this, shows how much work it took to make them a reality. Still, there's a ways to go. For example, so far only Messages allows for quick-reply within a notification, not mail or social networks, which shows there's still a ways to go. Overall, however, it's a well-architected system that provides tremendously convenient new functionality.

Today view widgets

The idea of "widgets" date back to the early days of graphical user interface (GUI) computing. The Xerox Star, Apple's Lisa and Macintosh, Microsoft's Windows, and others, all used the idea of the desktop as their metaphor. While that included things like files and folders, notebooks and ledgers, it also included tools like calculators and calendars. The pixels may have been chunky, the colors next to nonexistent, and the internet still just a dream, but it was a beginning.

With the rise of ubiquitous online connectivity, widgets took on a new roll: dedicated, glanceable information containers. Apple introduced their vision of web-based widgets in OS X Tiger with Dashboard.

The iOS home screen was never meant to be a destination but rather a transport. Not to stop and stare at, but to quickly find and get into apps.

The original iPhone was supposed to include a version of OS X-style Dashboard widgets, namely Weather and Stocks. They wouldn't have looked or acted any differently than any other full-screen iPhone app, but they would have been built like Dashboard widgets, using Apple's web technologies instead of native Objective-C. Since the presentation was to be no different, and the limits of WebKit at the time meant performance wasn't as good as native apps, they were ultimately rewritten in Objective-C anyway.

Other platforms, including Nokia (pre-Windows Phone) and Android went ahead with widgets. What's more, they distinguished them from full-screen apps by making them smaller and letting them live on the home screen, amid the app icons. Power users loved them, but few mainstream customers embrace them.

For Apple, the iOS home screen was never meant to be a destination but rather a transport. It was never meant for anyone to stop and stare at, but to quickly find and get into apps. When the App Store made apps more abundant, Apple added Spotlight as an ancillary way to help do just that.

Notification Center changed things. It could be pulled down from anywhere, including the home screen (and eventually the lock screen), and more importantly, from inside any app. Instead of having to leave what you were doing to go find information, you could pull that information to wherever you were, whenever you wanted, and then go right back to what you were doing with very little cognitive load. It wasn't perfect, but it was better.

iOS 7 split notifications and widgets apart, putting widgets in their own Today view, moving Weather to the Today Summary, and adding support for Calendar, Reminders, predictive location, and the Tomorrow Summary. Yet they were still limited to built-in apps and services.

iOS 8 WidgetsiOS 8 Widgets

iOS 8 and Extensibility take it to another level, allowing App Store apps to offer up their own Today view widgets — helpful information status indicators, simple, interactive utilities, and ways to launch into the full app when and if needed — easily accessible from anywhere on the iPhone or iPad, informational and interactive.

PCalc, for example, can make a full-fledged calculator available to you as a widget from anywhere and everywhere you can pull down Notification Center.

If you've used Notification Center's Today view in iOS 7, you already know how custom widgets work in iOS 8. You just pull down Notification Center from the lock screen (if enabled), Home screen, or from within any app, and if you're not already in the Today view, you simply tap the Today tab at the top.

Built-in widgets provided by Apple include Today Summary, Traffic Conditions, Calendar, Reminders, Stocks, and Tomorrow Summary. However, at the bottom there's a now an Edit button and a notification area that tells you how many new third-party widgets are available to install. Tap the Edit button and you can enable or disable any of the built-in widgets and reorder them any way you like. Tap the New Widget notification and you can add any new, custom widget that has become available.

iOS 8 WidgetsiOS 8 Widgets

New widgets become available when you install apps from the App Store. If the app includes a widget, the widget notification area will tell you about it. Tap the widget you want added, and it's added. Once added, you can order App Store widgets just like the built-in widgets, and remove them if and when you decide you no longer want or need them.

For example, if you download PGA TOUR, you can enable a widget that shows you the current round of a tournament in progress, the leaderboard, and any favorite players that you designate.

iOS 8 WidgetsiOS 8 Widgets

Or, if you download a social networking app, it could include a couple of status entries, and maybe a Show More option to see even more entries. A package tracker app's widget could keep you up-to-date on all your deliveries. Breaking news, latest weather — all of those, and more, could provide glance-able widgets right in the Notification Center Today view.

Like the new notification system, the new widget system in iOS 8 is interactive. So, not only can the widgets provide you with snippets of information, they can also allow you to perform minor tasks as well.

For example, an auction widget can show you the items you've last bid on and whether or not you're currently being outbid, but also allow you to up your bid right there in the widget and retake the lead. A social widget can let you glimpse a few entries in your timeline and Like or Repost right from the widget.

What widgets can't do is invoke the keyboard, which means widgets can't take text input the way a Messages quick reply notification can. Complex actions are also beyond the scope of widgets. So, for example, you can't change which stocks are shown in the Stock widget. They simply reflect the stocks shown in the Stocks app. In order to change the widget, you have to change the app.

To maintain security and privacy, Notification Center owns the widget and it communicates only with Notification Center, not with its container app at all. That not only makes it secure, and prevents data from moving between apps, but makes it robust. A calculator app doesn't have to be running for its widget to work in Notification Center, and if it is running, the system can still jettison it to free up resources without affecting the widget.

When a widget does need information from its container app, it goes through iOS, and through privately shared data resources.

It's taken a long time for custom widgets to arrive on iOS, but there's every indication Apple has done them in the right way and put them in the right place.

Sharing extensions

iOS 8 Sharing Extensions

With sharing extensions, you no longer have to wait and hope for Apple to make a deal with your favorite social networks just so you could have them integrated into iOS. You no longer have to copy a URL, switch to the social or IM app you wanted to share it from, paste it in, and then go from there. You no longer have to take a photo or video, switch to the social network app you wanted to upload your content with, pull up the camera roll, search for and pick the photos or video you wanted to upload, and then go from there.

Now, any app you download from the App Store can hook into the Share Sheets and give you the option to share or upload your content with other members and to the service. It's basically like a plugin that lets you share comments, photos, videos, audio, links, and more right from Safari or Photos or any appropriate apps that hooks into the Share Sheet system.

For example, if you took some great photos or videos at a party and you want to quickly make a visual story out of them, you can just tap the Share button, tap the Storehouse extension, and share directly from Photos.

If you're in Safari and you see a great new iPhone case on iMore. You can simply tap the Share button, scroll across to Pinterest, and tap the icon to pin it. The sharing extension gets full access to Safari, so you can swipe through all the available images of that iPhone case and pick just exactly the one you want to pin, to exactly the board you want to pin it.

You get the sharing extensions when you download the apps, and you also get the ability to customize your sharing options. Scroll all the way to the right on a Share Sheet and you'll see a special "More" icon. Tap it and you're taken to the Activities panel where you can toggle on or off all the sharing options (with the exception of Messages and Mail), and move all of them around into any order you like.

iOS 8 Sharing ExtensionsiOS 8 Sharing ExtensionsiOS 8 Sharing ExtensionsiOS 8 Sharing Extensions

That means, if Storehouse is something you use a lot, you can move it to one of the first few slots. If Facebook is something you use never, you can switch it off and not worry about it taking up space and slowing you down.

Just like the rest of Extensibility, sharing extensions balance convenience with security. The app you're sharing from is the host and the service you're sharing to is the container. For example, if you're in Safari or Photos, that's the host application. If you're sharing to Storehouse or Pinterest, that's the container.

When a share extension is invoked it communicates securely through iOS to the host app for things like posting permission or content. The developer needs to make sure all of that is available in a container that both the app and the extension have access to, but is otherwise secure in and of itself. iOS will then handle things like background video uploading, leaving the extension free to handle the user interaction.

Like with widgets and interactive notifications, instead of going somewhere else and hunting around for what you want to do, share extensions brings the functionality to you. It's more efficient, it's more convenient, and it's just plain better.

Action extensions

Share Sheets in iOS have another name behind the scenes — activity view controllers. That's fitting because, in addition to providing sharing options, they also provide for other "activities", like action options. Traditionally, that's been system options such as copy, save, print, etc. However, just like custom sharing options have now been made available in iOS 8, so too have custom action options.

And like custom sharing actions, this means you're no longer bound to options supported by Apple and Apple alone. Now any app can add an action extension that increases the utility and diversity of other apps and of iOS itself.

Now any app can add an action extension that increases the utility and diversity of other apps and iOS itself.

You're also no longer forced to, for example, leave Safari, go to 1Password, use the in-app browser, or copy the password to the clipboard and find our way back to Safari just to log into a website. With action extensions, everything just works, right where you need it, right when you need it.

So, for example, instead of Apple and Microsoft making a deal to get Bing translate built into Safari, Microsoft can make an action extension to the Bing app and, thanks to Extensibility, it'll be available just like the built in options.

Likewise, 1Password can make an extension to unlock and fill your passwords on websites and, as long as there's a Share button, in apps as well.

Getting to an action extension is simple. If you're in Safari and you want to login to iMore, just tap the Share button. From there, scroll horizontally and tap More, then flip the 1Password extension to on. (It'll be there as long as you've downloaded the 1Password app from the App Store first.)

Go back to the Share sheet, tap the shiny new 1Password action option, and 1Password's familiar interface will slide up and ask for your master password. Fill that in and 1Password will fill your iMore credentials in.

Action ExtensionsAction ExtensionsAction ExtensionsAction ExtensionsAction ExtensionsAction Extensions

To help keep things manageable, action extensions tell iOS their context — whether they work on text or images, form fields or something else — and iOS will only present that work in that context. So, if you select text, you won't get image action options.

You can also arrange action extensions in any order you like. Scroll to the end of the action options on the Share Sheet, tap the More button, and slide any item in the list up or down. Unlike custom share options, however, you can't toggle any of the default system actions off, but you can toggle the custom ones

Still, that means if you use the 1Password action extension to autofill your passwords all the time, you can put it into one of the first few slots. Then it's always immediately available, no scrolling required, whenever you tap the Share button.

Action extensions also maintain the security and privacy of iOS through a host and container relationship. For action extensions, the app you're sharing from is the host and the service you're sharing to is the container. For example, if you're in Safari, that the host application. If you're using an action like filling a password from 1Password or translating text from Bing, those would be the containers. Beyond security, that provides reliability — neither 1Password nor Bing in those examples would have to be running in advance, or persisting in the background, for the action extensions to be invoked.

When an action extension is called, it communicates securely through iOS to its host app for things like the authentication and password information or the translation libraries. That's then sent back to the container app so the action can complete.

What all this means is simple — iPhone and iPad owners will get to spend less time jumping between apps and more time getting things done within the apps they're already using. And that's a huge win.

AirPlay

With iOS 8, AirPlay no longer requires your iPhone or iPad to be on the same Wi-Fi network as the Apple TV you want to beam content to.

Now, you can use point-to-point Wi-Fi for peer-to-peer AirPlay, which can come in handy for meetings at other offices and visits to friends alike.

iCloud Drive and Document Picker

One of the design goals of the original iPhone and iPhone OS was to liberate mainstream customers from the burden of the file system — to prevent documents being strewn over a desktop or buried in a hierarchy. Sure, some people loved file systems and others learned to cope with them, but to many more they are simply confusing, inaccessible, and inhuman.

For the Photos app, Apple provided a simple repository which included the Camera Roll and an ImagePicker so that other apps could pull images out and, eventually, save them back. It was a duplicative procedure, however, and it only worked with photos and videos in that repository.

File management on iOS was inefficient to the point of insanity. Now it's fixed.

For other types of files, Apple provided next to nothing. You could access and edit them freely from within the app that created them, but they were "private" — invisible to any other app. The best you could do, if you needed a file to escape its app jail, was to go to the original app and, if implemented, use the "Open In..." functionality to export a copy to another app. At that point, however, they were treated as separate files and changes made in one app weren't reflected in the other.

It was inefficient to the point of insanity. Now it's fixed.

iCloud Drive and its associated Document Picker are new features of iOS 8 that replace the old Documents in the Cloud system with a new one that allows the app you're using to open files created in a different app, import them, move them, or export them right back out again, all without creating any unnecessary steps, complicated workflows, or duplicate copies.

Everything is still backed up and synced to all your devices, but now everything is also available to all your apps. For example, Scanner Pro.

iCloud DriveiCloud Drive

To maintain security and privacy, all files created by an app are kept safe and secure inside that app's container. However, apps can now make those containers "public" — to make them visible to other apps.

So, with iOS 8, when you tap to open a file, and choose iCloud Drive as your source, instead of just the files associated with the app you're in, you'll see folders representing all the other apps installed on your iPhone or iPad that have their containers set to public. Tap on one of the folders and you see the files contained in that app.

So, as long as you remember which app created the file, you'll have an easy way to find it. If you can't, there's a handy search box. You can also change the view from grid to list, and in list view you can quickly sort by date, name, and even tags.

Yeah. Tags.

Once you find your file, tap on it, and you punch a hole in the sandbox just big enough to for the file to fit through.

The file will remain accessible to the current app and to you, right alongside the internal files. iOS keeps its preview thumbnail and name — along with an optional annotation to show which app it comes from — readily available. In other words, your inter-app permission is persistent.

So, of example, if you're in Pages and tap to open a file, then tap iCloud Drive, and you see the Editorial App folder, you can tap on that, and then tap on your Bucket List file. Pages will then open a version of the file and let you work on it. Changes you make will be saved back to the version in Editorial. And Bucket List - Editorial will, from then on, be listed alongside all your local Pages documents.

Same with an image you started in Brushes but want to continue in Prototype, if both apps choose to support it. Same with a chess game you want to email to a friend so they can continue it for you in their version of the same chess app.

Instead of opening files, iCloud Drive can also be used to import them. For example, if you wanted to bring slides from one Keynote deck into another, the file with the additional slides could be imported instead of opened. Likewise if you wanted to import an image into a Pages document.

Documents can be exported to other apps if you don't want to keep a copy in the current app.

iCloud Drive and Document Picker are quantum leaps forward when it comes to file handling on iPhone and iPad. I could quibble about there being no iCloud Drive app on iOS, so i can't simply browse all my files, or that there doesn't yet seem to be a way to access Document Picker from within the Mail app so you can add arbitrary files, like there is the ImagePicker for photos. As a first step, however, both iCloud Drive and Document Picker are terrific.

Document provider extensions

Previously in iOS, there were two ways to work on files contained in online storage providers: Download you're provider's app, find your file, and use "Open in..." to push a copy out to the app you want to use, or hope your provider's service was supported by the developer who made the app you want to use.

Not every app supported every provider, however, and there was no clean way to round-trip file.

Document provider extensions fix this by hooking into the same Document Picker interface that Apple presents for iCloud Drive.

When you install an iOS 8 app that supports document provider extensions, the associated service will be added to the Document Picker options list. So, for example, you open a text editing app and then tap to create a new file or open an existing one, the Document Picker interface would come up and, if you had OneDrive for iOS 8 installed, you'd see OneDrive as an option there right alongside iCloud Drive. Same for Dropbox.

An enterprise could even disable iCloud Drive, if they didn't want employees using it on their work devices, and provide their own, corporate storage services right in the Document Picker instead. (Hello IBM partnership.)

Like with iCloud Drive, by default, no app can access the container of another app. Getting around that requires an explicit action like opening Document Picker and tapping an external document. Document Picker runs "out-of-process" for that reason — so it can see all apps in all public containers.

When you're in an app and call up the Document Picker, then choose a document provider extension, it's Document Picker and not the host app that calls up the interface. Likewise, it's the Document Picker system that performs actions like open on the files and moves them to the host app so you can work on them. All access is controlled by an isolation layer.

It looks like Apple has given document provider extensions as much access and functionality as their own iCloud Drive, and that's remarkable when you consider the long history of iOS. And like iCloud Drive, document provider extensions make for a quantum leap forward when it comes to file handling on iPhone and iPad. In fact, since there's no iCloud Drive app, but document providers already have apps, they arguably can serve some workflows even better by providing a centralized repository where all files can be browsed, accessed, and organized.

Hopefully in the future we'll see document picker functionality pushed out even further in iOS, for example into Mail or Calendar for attachment handling. That's the best thing about Extensibility — as much as it gives us now, with both Apple and developers involved, there's sure to be even more to come.

Touch ID

Touch ID is Apple's fingerprint identity sensor currently available on the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus. It's what lets you authenticate to unlock your phone and authorize iTunes purchases on your account. With iOS 8, it's also what allows developers to let you authenticate and authorize App Store apps as well. That way, everything from your password manager to banking service to private photo vault can be both secure and convenient.

When you put your finger on a Touch ID-equipped Home button, the metal ring around it detects the capacitance and wakes up the sensor. A high resolution photo of your fingerprint is then taken, converted into a mathematical representation, and sent over a hard-wired connection to the secure enclave of the Apple A7 or Apple A8 system-on-a-chip. If the data doesn't match, a "no" token is released and you need to try again, or enter a passcode or password. If the data does match, a "yes" token is released, your iPhone unlock is authorized, or your iTunes or App Store purchase gets authorized.

Previously, however, there was no way to secure those tokens for developers. Enter the Keychain.

Touch ID in iOS 8Touch ID in iOS 8

KeyChain is Apple's secure database for passwords. In iOS 8, it's KeyChain that receives the "yes" or "no" token from the secure enclave following a successful Touch ID authentication, and KeyChain that provides or withholds credentials to apps accordingly.

That means Touch ID — and your fingerprint data — can stay safely locked within the secure enclave, but it can still be used in place of a username/password combo to more conveniently fill in passwords and otherwise authorize any app on the App Store.

Also, thankfully, Touch ID can also now be used as a second factor for increased security in a third party app. (i.e. Touch ID instead of passcode vs. Touch ID in addition to passcode.)

In addition to apps, Touch ID can also be integrated into action extensions. So, for example, 1Password could use Touch ID to authenticate you before showing you your passwords inside its own app. A 1Password action extension, however, could be called from within Safari or any app with a Share button and allow Touch ID to authenticate you so the extension can auto-fill your password fields.

The Touch ID interface is owned and controlled by iOS, not by the App Store app that calls it. Only upon successful determination of authentication status, opt-out to password, or canceling out altogether can an app regain control.

Also, for security reasons, Apple and iCloud do not back up Touch ID protected items, and don't sync them between devices. In other words, your data is never put up on the internet or onto anyone's servers, including Apple's. Not ever.

Developers also never gain access to your fingerprint data in their apps. It all stays tucked away safely in the secure enclave.

Entering passwords on mobile devices, especially the kind of unique, pseudorandom passwords we're supposed to be using, is so onerous many of us simply stop using them at all. Touch ID helps by making a biometric authentication system available that's both easier and faster to use. And now it can help us on the web and inside apps as well.

Talk about your killer features.

QuickType keyboard

Apple's original virtual keyboard didn't offer the tactile feedback of traditional hardware keyboard. It did, however, allow its layout to be changed to suit different apps and languages, the letters to present multiple variations, and the interface itself to disappear so almost the full face of the phone could be given over to content. Back in 2007, it was a multitouch revolution. But now it's 2014 and the state of the art of keyboards has changed. So, with iOS 8, Apple has responded with a new keyboard system called QuickType.

QuickType supports multiple languages and variants, including U.S. English, U.K. English, Canadian English, Australian English, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai.

Rather than auto-correct, QuickType presents contextual predictions. As you type, words populate the bar above the keyboard based on what QuickType thinks you'll want to enter next. See the one you want, hit it, the word is entered, and QuickType starts trying to predict the next one.

QuickType keyboardQuickType keyboard

To help up the odds that QuickType will give you the right word, Apple is analyzing not just the letters being entered but what you're writing about, the type of app you're using to write in, and even the person you're writing too. For example, if "dinner" and "movie" appear in an iMessage, QuickType will weigh the prediction towards those words for your answer. If you're writing in Message, QuickType may suggest less formal words than it would if you were writing in Mail. Likewise, if you were writing to a friend, QuickType might suggest more slang than if you're writing to a co-worker.

If you're writing in Messages, QuickType may suggest less formal words than it would if you were writing in Mail. If you were writing to a friend, it might offer more slang than to a co-worker.

How many letters (key presses) the contextual prediction actually saves you will depend on how well the system works and, frankly, how predictable you and the situation are. QuickType will, however, learn as you use it, so odds are it'll get better over time.

In order to balance prediction with privacy, Apple does place limits on what QuickType can and can't do. For example, all learning for the prediction system is kept on-device. Your typing patterns aren't shared with Apple or anyone else. That does mean you can't sync between devices, so have to "train" your iPhone and iPad separately, but it also means you don't have to worry about your keystrokes falling into the wrong hands.

If you don't like predictions, simply tap the same key you use to switch to other language (or emoji) keyboards and turn them off, or grab the edge and pull it down to hide it.

For those who do choose to use QuickType, however, it provides a good balance of speed and ease of use. It's lightweight but, once you get used to it, savvy enough to make typing better and faster on mobile. Most of all, QuickType brings Apple's own keyboard predicting and suggesting into the modern era.

Custom keyboards

For a while now Apple has let developers create and deploy custom keyboards, but those keyboards could only exist within their own apps. For example, Apple itself created and deployed a custom, spreadsheet-optimized keyboard for Numbers.

VNC and Remote Desktop apps have used custom keyboards that include OS X or Windows-specific modifier keys. Social network apps have added rows to the default keyboard that include @mention, #hashtag, and even camera access characters above and beyond those in the default keyboard type layouts. SwiftKey and other third-party keyboard companies have even created note-taking apps just to make their custom keyboards available on iOS within those specific apps.

Now, however, custom keyboards can break free of their app jails and be used system-wide, in every app, and for almost anything. They can almost completely replace the default, system-wide iOS keyboard with ones of their own devising. Not only does that include favorites from other platforms, like SwiftKey, or from apps like TextExpander, but it opens the door to ones that offer new languages, novel input methods, special options, and more.

SwiftKey for iPhoneSwiftKey for iPhoneSwiftKey for iPhone

Like other extensions, custom keyboards get installed when you download their app from the App Store. So, for example, to install SwiftKey on your iPhone or iPad, you download the SwiftKey app. The SwiftKey app's custom keyboard extension will then make itself available system-wide.

Unfortunately, unlike widgets, there's no visible indicator for when a custom keyboard is available to install. For example, the keyboard selector key doesn't change color or show you a notification.

So, the keyboard app has to tell you — or you have to remember — to go into Settings, General, Keyboards and activate it yourself, just like you would the Emoji keyboard or any other keyboard you wanted to add.

Custom keyboards in iOS 8Custom keyboards in iOS 8Custom keyboards in iOS 8Custom keyboards in iOS 8

Once a custom keyboard is enabled, however, you can switch to it by tapping the keyboard switcher key (looks like a globe or an emoticon smiley face, depending on the app you're in), again, just like switching to the Emoji keyboard.

While custom keyboards can, for the first time, exist beyond the confines of their own apps, there are still several limitations placed on them. Some of these are philosophical — Apple has strong opinions on security and privacy. Others are technical.

To start with, by default custom keyboards are restricted to the local device. They can't access the internet without explicit permissions. They also can't be used in secure text fields, like those for passwords. That's to prevent key-logging activity. (Where a malicious app steals what you're typing.) If the keyboard does want to add server-side intelligence (which can improve the system), syncing, or anything else that goes online, it has to ask your express permission.

What's more, whenever you move to a secure password field, third party keyboards are temporarily disabled and the standard iOS 8 keyboard is presented instead. This is not only to prevent key-loggers, but to prevent anyone at all from having any access to your passwords whatsoever.

In all of those cases, the default iOS 8 keyboard will replace the custom keyboard, and then return to it when eligible input fields become available.

That does create some inconsistencies in the experience, but for the very best reasons. Overall, however, custom keyboards are an excellent addition to the system and one that will no doubt make iOS work better for many people.

Messages

According to Apple, Messages is the most popular app on iOS. Given the enormous demand for instant messaging (IM), and the integration Apple provides with traditional carrier SMS and MMS, that should come as no surprise. Neither, then, should the attention Apple's giving Messages in iOS 8. Not only is Apple making audio, video, photo, and location sharing faster and more ephemeral, they making conversations tracking easier, and, thankfully, group messaging a lot less maddening.

Sound Bites in MessagesSound Bites in Messages

With previous versions of iOS, if you wanted to send a voice message you had to leave the Messages app, go to the Voice Memo app, record what you wanted to say, and then use the Share Sheet to send the recording through an embedded version of Messages. Again, you had to go off in search of functionality.

With Messages in iOS 8, however, that functionality now comes to you.

To make voice messages — Apple calls them "Sound Bites" on OS X Yosemite and Apple Watch — easy to send, even one handed, Apple is introducing a new, radial control. While it can be a little confusing and stressful at first, it becomes incredibly efficient once you're used to it.

Touch your thumb or finger down on the microphone button and hold it there. The mic instantly becomes a red record button and a circle expands out around it. Talk as much as you want, and then slide your finger up to the upwards pointing arrow to send the recording, or left to the cancel button to trash it instead.

And... that's it.

Apple is fully embracing the modern instant-sending trend of instant messaging. And yes, it’s disconcerting to error-prone old-time message-senders like me, who've come to depend on a second glance and a deliberate button tap to make sure we don't embarrass ourselves more than is absolutely necessary. But it's the new normal. It's how all the kids send all their selfies and stickers these days, and it's the way everything but text strings will soon be sent.

To help mitigate panic, if you're unsure what to do, pull your finger off and the interface will just stay there, waiting, send and cancel circles lingering. That way you can take your time, come to terms with them, and decide what you really want to do.

Apple is also reassigning the "Raise to Speak" gesture for Messages and sound bites.

Previously, the accelerometer, proximity, and infrared sensors, could determine when you lifted your iPhone to your ear and automatically engage Siri for you. Now, if you have a voice message on your Messages screen or a voice message notification on your Lock screen, lifting your iPhone to your ear automatically starts playing that voice message back for you. Take your iPhone away from your ear and it automatically pauses. Bring it back to your ear and it automatically resumes right where it left off.

Moreover, once the voice message has finished playing back, you can lift the iPhone to your ear and automatically start recording a voice message reply. Pull the iPhone away from your ear, and your reply gets sent.

The Messages app or Lock screen will tell you what action will be performed when you lift your iPhone by placing a small "Raise to listen" or "Raise to talk" label beneath the wave-form message, just so there's less chance for confusion.

If you dislike the very idea of "Raise to...", you can disable it in Settings. If you do like it, however, it becomes ridiculously easy to sling voice messages back and forth, walkie-talkie style.

Sound Bites in MessagesSound Bites in Messages

Photo/video messaging works essentially the same way as voice messaging, although the interface is a little more complicated because there are options to juggle — photo and video — rather than just one.

Tap and hold the camera icon to activate the front-facing FaceTime camera for a quick selfie. If you'd rather take a picture of someone or something else, you can tap the switch button to choose the rear-facing iSight camera instead.

There's no shutter button like there is in the Camera app. Instead you slide your finger up the radial interface just like you do to send a voice message. However, in place of the upward pointing arrow, there's a second camera button. Reach it, let go, and your picture is taken and sent.

Likewise, you don't slide to the side to cancel. You slide back to your original finger position in the center, which is now a yellow X button.

Sliding to the side brings you to the video button. Touch it and it and it starts recording instantly. Slide back and it's canceled. Slide up to the now-present upward pointing arrow an it's sent.

Again, trying to do both photos and videos in the radial interface results in a higher complexity, but you can still pull your finger off an study the options at your own speed until you get them.

Sending photos in MessagesSending photos in Messages

Also, the camera button still lets you add photos and videos the old-fashioned way if you want to, but with a decidedly new-fangled twist.

Instead of immediately going to the Photo Picker, you get a new sharing sheet with big, easier-to-see thumbnails of your most recent photos, and old-school options to go to the Photo Library or take a photo or video.

You can swipe through the thumbnails to find exactly the photo you want. Tap on one, it gets a check mark placed on its bottom right corner, and the entire thumbnail set gets bigger. You can then keep swiping and checking off additional images.

Once you've chosen all the photos and videos you want, tap Send to confirm and they're on their way.

Photos in MessagesPhotos in MessagesPhotos in Messages

Of course, making it easier to send photos, videos, and voice means people will likely send more of them, which means all that media will consume even more space on everyone's iPhones and iPads.

Well, no. To help preserve both storage space and privacy, iOS 8 makes media messaging ephemeral.

For all messages in general you can choose, universally, to keep them forever, for 1 year, of for 30 days. For audio and video messages you can choose, each independently, to have them expire never or after 2 minutes. Even if you choose to have them expire after 2 minutes, there's a "Keep" button beneath every one of them that lets you override the settings and retain them indefinitely if and when it's important to you.

And you'll be alerted when someone chooses to keep your media messages, so there won't be any surprises.

Keeping Sound BitesKeeping Sound Bites

With messages expiring, you no longer have to worry about gigabytes of hard-to-delete media clogging up your iPhone and iPad. Also, like Snapchat, you don't have to worry about personal and private messages subsisting any longer than you want them to.

Your messages come in, you hear or see them, and unless you want to keep them, they simply fade away...

That includes both individual and group messages, the latter of which is also getting a much needed overhaul in iOS 8.

Where previously, once added to a group, you had no hope of labeling it anything useful, and no hope of escaping the beeping and buzzing of ceaseless chat even if you never asked to be included, now all the control is right where it belongs: with you.

The improvements all sit comfortably in a new Details screen off to the right of the the conversation thread. Tap on the Details button from any individual or group conversation and you're taken right there.

Right up top, if the conversation has more than one participant, you can add a Group Name. While in some cases you may prefer to be constantly reminded of who exactly is in a conversation by leaving the default participant name scheme intact, there are times a group name can be better.

For example, if you use a persistent iMessage group for your team, instead of it being called Peter & Ally, it can be called iMore Editors to distinguish it from casual conversations with the same people. If you're on an excursion with a bunch of family members, it can be called Disney Trip. Labels like Secret Birthday Plans, WWDC After Dark, Avengers Initiative, can all make group conversations more identifiable, whether you keep them for a day, a month, or always.

Messages detailsMessages groups

Below the group name option is a list of everyone in the group, shown in contact list format. That means you can see their avatar, their name, and have one-tap access to calling or FaceTiming them, or going to their full contact sheet.

There's also a big, bright button for adding additional contacts to the group, as well as a handy toggle to go into or come out of Do Not Disturb mode for just that specific group conversation, and an option to leave the conversation altogether.

All of this combines to make it incredibly easy to add people to your group chat, leave a group chat that no longer involves or interests you, and even temporarily suspend beeping and buzzing for when you don't want to leave but also don't need to be alerted every time some overly chatty chatters get their message ping-pong going.

The Details screen also makes it easier to share location. Previously, like with voice messaging, you had to go to a different app, in this case Maps, and share from there. To share persistently you had to install Find my Friends.

Locations in MessagesLocations in MessagesLocations in Messages

With iOS 8, you simply have to tap to send. Like voice or photos, it's instant. No confirmation required. And that's a little scary. For something as sensitive as location data, being able to send it as a result of an accidental tap shouldn't be possible. Hopefully Apple adds a confirmations step in there in a future update.

Apple has also moved some Find My Friends-style functionality right into the Messages app as well. From the same Details view you can choose to share your location for one hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely. So, whether you're meeting friends at a bar, trying to keep the group together at a theme park, or staying permanently on the map with your partner and kids, it's both simple and obvious.

That persistent location sharing requires two steps to complete — tap to share, tap to choose duration — is heartening. So is the notification delivered when someone stops sharing location with you.

In addition to contact and location, the details screen also makes it easier to manager all the attachments that have been shared over Messages.

Attachments in MessagesAttachments in Messages

Previously, if you wanted to find a specific photo or video in one of your conversations, you had to swipe up through the messages until you saw it, or tap any photo or video and then switch to list view and swipe through the thumbnails.

While you can still do that if you really want to, you can now also scroll to the Attachments section at bottom of the Details view and get a patchwork of thumbnails representing all of the recent photos and videos that are part of the conversation.

Tap a photo or video and you get the full screen version, along with the share button and the old-school list-view button.

Overall, Messages in iOS 8 is a substantial improvement. It may not have every single feature found in BlackBerry Messenger, derivatives like Whatsapp, or mega-services like LINE, but it closes the gap considerably. It also keeps things relatively focused and simple.

Likewise, even though iMessage still isn't cross-platform, and remains unavailable to Android and Windows customers, when SMS and MMS relay arrives in October, other Apple devices including the iPad will at least be able to send SMS and MMS via the iPhone to "green bubble friends" on other platforms.

Photos, iCloud Photo Library, and Photo extensions

With iOS 8 and the upcoming OS X Yosemite Apple is making Photos part of the core operating system experience. That includes helping you store and manage your photos and videos across your full range of Apple device and the web, edit them non-destructively, apply custom filters, share them where you want them, and find them again when you need them.

A major part of this is replacing the old Camera Roll backup and Photo Stream sync services with the new iCloud Photo Library. Built on Apple's new CloudKit framework, iCloud Photo Library won't just store 1000 pictures for up to 30 days, it'll store all your pictures — and all your videos — for as long as you want, up to as much storage as you're willing to pay for.

Note: It's currently unclear whether iCloud Photo Library will launch alongside iOS 8 or at a later date. In the interests of completeness, I'll cover how it works for now and update on availability when more information is available.

All photos and videos are stored at their full resolution and in their original formats, including RAW. Whether that means new Camera API or apps will eventually allow for RAW files to preserved right off the iPhone or iPad, or it's merely referring to RAW files being pulled off cameras using the iPad camera connections kit, either way all your media will be kept with its full potential intact.

iCloud Photo Library will store all your pictures — and videos — for as long as you want, up to as much storage as you're willing to pay for.

iCloud Photo Library also includes syncing the organizational structure of any and all albums you make, and the differential files for any edits you've made to the originals, to all of your devices — iPhone, iPad, Mac, and even Windows via the web.

So, if you take a picture with your iPhone, it'll quickly appear on your iPad as well. If you edit a photo on your iPad, those edits will quickly be applied to the version on your Mac as well. If you favorite a photo on your Mac, you'll be able to pull it up on a browser on a Windows PC and see it right there in the favorites album.

There's a bigger advantage as well.

iOS devices are currently limited to between 8GB to 128GB of storage. Many people have 16 or 32GB devices. In an age of 8mp photos and 1080p video, that fills up fast. So, keeping photos and videos all locally on the device is a problem because you'll run out of space, and sooner rather than later. It's especially bad if you're anxiously trying to capture a special moment only to be told there's no space left and then having to quickly, under stress, figure out which older moments you're willing to sacrifice.

Purely offloading all photos and videos to the cloud isn't a perfect solution either. If they're all stored online and you end up with a slow, limited, or non-existant internet connection, you lose immediate access to any photos or videos not stored locally on your device. That's also a problem.

Apple's solution is to cache a manageable portion of photos and videos on your device and keep the rest of them safely up on the cloud. Recently added and viewed photos and videos are the most likely be cached locally, and potentially in scaled-to-device sizes to make the most efficient use of storage.

There might be some situations where a photo or video you haven't viewed in a while isn't available in full resolution when you're offline, but for most people most of the time, it will be far, far better than either losing content due to the 1000 photos/30 day limit, or running out of local storage on the iPhone or iPad.

iCloud storageiCloud storage

The bad news there is that Apple is holding the free line at 5GB, which is ludicrously low. The slightly better news is that Apple is dropping the price for increased storage from the current $40 a year for 20GB to $12 a year ($1.99 a month) for 20GB, and from a mind-boggling $100 a year for 50GB to $48 a year ($3.99 a month) for 200GB. Where previously 50GB was the hard limit, there are now tiers that include $9.99 a month for 500MB and $19.99 a month for 1TB.

Overall it still isn't what Google or Microsoft may be offering in terms of free or cheap storage, and probably not what Apple could really afford to give to solve the problem of photo backup, but it's way, way better than what came before.

Also better is the ability to favorite photos and videos. Beneath every photo or video there's a heart icon and if you tap it, that photo or video becomes a favorite and will automatically appear in the new favorites folder on that device and, thanks to iCloud Photo Library sync, on all of your devices.

It's a great way to make sure the photos that matter most to you are easier to find.

iCloud favoritesiCloud favorites

However, not all photos are going to be amount your favorites, and you're going to want to find any of them at any time anyway. In other words, if you store a ton of photos and videos you need to provide people with a better way to find a particular photo or video when they want to. Apple's going to try and do that with smart suggestions.

In iOS 8 when you begin a search the screen gets pre-populated with several default options like nearby, one year ago, favorites, and home. Tap on any one of those and you'll see photos and videos geotagged close to your current location, taken a year ago from the current date, those you've hit the heart button on, and those geotagged to where you live.

You'll also see a list of any recent searches you've made in case you want to run the same one again.

If none of those are what you want, you can start typing a new search and Photos will start to match it based on months of the year, city and other geographic names, and the names of your albums.

Photo searchPhoto searchPhoto search

Editing is also getting smarter with iOS 8.

Previously, you could rotate photos in 90 degree increments,remove redeye and auto-enhance, apply built-in color filters, and crop to standard or free-form ratios. In Photos for iOS 8... well, the editing becomes detailed. For example, you can rotate to any angle in any direction. Better still, Photos can identify things like the horizon line and automatically straighten your photos for you.

There's still a magic wand tool, so if you want one-touch auto-enhancement, you can have it. But you can also edit now based on light, color, or black and white. For example, if a photo is too dark or too washed out, you can pick the simplified light meter tool and just drag to a better, clearer image. You can do the same with the simplified color meter and drag to make skies pop and skin shades glow.

Photos in iOS 8Photos in iOS 8Photos in iOS 8Photos in iOS 8

Under the hood, iOS is manipulating a bunch of different settings, but all you have to worry about is sliding left or right — everything else gets calculated for you.

Now, if you prefer more manual control, you can have those too. You can open up light and individually adjust exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, and black point.

You can even teach yourself about these settings by using the simplified light meter at first and then opening it up to see what Photos is actually doing. Repeat that often enough and you'll start to see how each one affects the whole.

You can do the same with color, of course, and individually adjust saturation, contrast, and cast, and you can open up black and white and individually adjust intensity, neutrals, tone, and grain.

Photos in iOS 8Photos in iOS 8Photos in iOS 8Photos in iOS 8Photos in iOS 8Photos in iOS 8

The best part is that the edits are non-destructive. They're applied on top of your photo, not into it, so you if you change your mind you can go back later and change any individual edit you've made. That way you don't lose the edits you do like just to fix the ones you don't.

It also makes it quick and easy for Apple to sync those edits over, since they're just syncing the list of those edits.

Now, while the built-in filters didn't change, that's no longer a problem. You can use third party filters right from inside the Photos app.

Beyond Apple's tools, with photo extensions, you get the ability to access filters and effects from any app right inside the built-in Photos app.

Previously, if you wanted to edit a photo in multiple apps, you had to go through a laborious process that involved opening the app, finding the photo in Camera Roll, importing it, editing it, exporting it back to Camera Roll, switching apps, finding the photo in Camera Roll, importing it, editing it, exporting it back to Camera, and repeating those steps again and again for every app you wanted to use.

Moreover, edits were destructive so, if you're on app 4 and want to change something you did in app 2, you have to start over again from that point. It was inefficient to say the least.

With iOS 8 and photo extensions, you simply open the built-in Photos app, find the image you want to work on, use the built-in Photos editing and filtering tools, then tap a button, access the editing and filtering tools of a third-party app without having to switch, without having to save, and just keep on going.

For example, let's say you have a terrific picture of your child that you want to make just that much more terrific. You can open Photos, tap on Edit, and then tap on the ellipses/extensions button. From there, you'll see the icons for every app that's registered a photo and video editing extension with iOS.

Tap on VSCO Cam, and the VSCO Cam interface comes up with all your familiar, go-to filters. Tap on Waterlogue and the Waterlogue interface comes up with all your familiar, go-to processing options. When you're done, the filtered, edited photo is saved right back to your Recently Added folder (the new name for Camera Roll in iOS 8).

iCloud Photo Library will then sync the edited photo or video automatically synced across all your Apple devices.

Hiding photos in iOS 8Hiding photos in iOS 8

What's more, if the extensions are aware of the new adjustments methods in iOS 8, then all the edits and filters you apply will be non-destructive. That means you can go back to an extension and change the edits or filers from any point in the process.

(If the extension is not aware of the new adjustments methods, iOS will bake off the last edited version of the photo and apply the next set of adjustments to that, so you get the same results, but lose the ability to go back beyond that point.)

Either way, Photos becomes your single stop of editing and filtering. And sharing.

With sharing extensions apps can hook into the system-wide Share Sheets and present a way to upload your photos and videos to any website or service. For example, instead of having to switch to the Storehouse app and upload from there, you can now invoke Storehouse's share extension right from within Photos. (See above)

You can also still set up Shared Photo Streams for friends and family who don't use Apple devices or iCloud and, as part of Family Sharing (see below you can automatically set up a shared family album for pictures and videos, so you can all keep up-to-date with each other, comment, favorite, and more.

If, instead of sharing, you want to make a photo vanish from view, just tap and hold on it and select Hide from the popup menu.

What's more, the venerable Camera Roll has been replaced with Recently Added, and there's a new Recently Deleted album as well in case you trash a picture or video by accident.

Photos in iOS 8 isn't another attempt to bring iPhoto or Aperture to the iPhone or iPad. Photos is something new. It makes integration and ubiquity priorities, and though you don't get all the space you may want — or need — for free, you get the potential for far more than ever before. Apple has also kept the tools simple on the surface but provided more granular options for those who want them.

Best of all, with Extensibility they're letting App Store apps tie straight into Photos, both for filters and transformations, and for sharing. That means, as much as Apple has improved Photos in iOS 8, developers will be able to improve it even more.

Camera

The Camera app isn't getting a large amount of new features in iOS 8, but the camera system is getting a huge update. What's the difference? The built-in Camera app is staying simple and easy for everyone to use. But behind the scenes, Apple is giving developers an incredible amount of control so they can make much more powerful, much more professional-level camera apps.

For the Camera app specifically, Apple has added a delay timer. Tap the timer icon at the top and choose between off, 3 second delay, and 10 second delay. Hit the shutter button and the LED flash will pulse once a second to count you down, and then bust mode will engage and take 10 shots in quick succession. So, for example, if you're taking a family picture and you want to be in it, you can set the timer, run and join the group, and then hopefully get at least one photo where everyone is smiling with both eyes open at the same time.

Camera timerCamera timerCamera timerCamera timer

iPad, which didn't originally get the panoramic camera mode gets it now. There's also a new time-lapse camera mode. Swipe to choose it, tap to start it, and it'll take photos at dynamically chosen intervals and combine them together into videos. When you watch them back, everything will look like it's in extreme fast-forward. Rooms will get painted in moments, cars will stream through the darkness with trails of light behind them, clouds will fly by overhead while the sun sets only to rise again. It's a great effect.

Time lapsePanorama

Apple is also surfacing their new manual exposure compensation controls in Camera, albeit only the exposure bias portion. With it, Apple's automatic exposure algorithms still handle all the heavy lifting in terms of shutter speed and ISO, but you get to nudge it around a little bit.

To access exposure compensation, tap the screen to focus. When you see the sun icon, swipe it up to bias the exposure brighter, or swipe it down to bias the darker.

Exposure biasExposure biasExposure bias

Exposure compensation is expressed in f-stops. +1 f-stop doubles the brightness, -1 f-stop halves the brightness. Current iOS devices can bias between -8 and +8.

Apple is also providing full-on manual camera controls for focus, exposure, exposure compensation, and white balance to developers. That means that, while they won't be available in Apple's Camera app, they will be available in App Store apps.

With manual focus you'll be able to focus on anything you want, from macro to near-infinity, with controls functionally akin to to turning the focusing ring on a traditional camera lens. With manual exposure you could, for example, choose to minimize noise in a lower-light setting by cranking down the ISO and, if you're stable enough, cranking up the duration. With manual white balance you'll be able to adjust temperature and tint, and even set a custom value using a gray card.

Apple is also providing full manual camera controls for focus, exposure, exposure compensation, and white balance to developers. They won't be in Apple's Camera app, but they will be available in App Store apps.

Again, not in the Camera app, but in App Store camera apps, right where everyone from the pros to the enthusiasts want them.

To say this is a major release for photographers would be to greatly undersell it. With iOS 8, Apple is taking the best automatic camera on a smartphone and making a run at the title of best manual camera on a smartphone as well. That Apple isn't including all the new controls in their own Camera app, but is leaving them for developers to implement might even allow for the best of both worlds.

Casual photographers can stay comfortable in the largely automatic, easy and simple to use confines of the Camera app, and developers can make App Store apps that offer those full on manual controls. They can appeal to those pros, those artists, and those experimenters.

Health and HealthKit

Health is a new, built-in app. It serves as both a repository for all the health-related data accumulated by your iPhone, your apps, and your accessories, and a dashboard to help you make better, more visual sense of it. In other words, Health is a front-end for your quantified life.

All this because the iPhone, primarily due to its highly mobile form factor and constant connectivity, has become a platform upon which a plethora of health and fitness apps and accessories are built. There's an Apple M7 motion coprocessor in the iPhone 5s and an Apple M8 in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. They collect activity data in as power-efficient a way as possible. There are also a half-dozen or more fitness bands, as well as scales, blood pressure readers, blood sugar readers, sleep trackers, and more. There's even a Bluetooth fork. And, coming next year, the Apple Watch.

Health and the HealthKit framework break down the silos, bringing together all your health data together in one, convenient, easy to reference place.

In addition to apps that collect and track data, there are apps that let people manually enter data, like what they ate or how they felt at a specific time of day. There are apps that perform statistical analysis and provide graphical reports on data to help you better visualize specific metrics. There are apps from healthcare providers that let you send your information back to them to keep your records up-to-date.

Yet all that data about activity and sleep, diet and nutrition, mood and medication, vital signs and test results, all remains locked into the silos of all those individual apps.

Health and the accompanying HealthKit framework breaks down those silos. It brings together all that data together and puts it all in one, convenient, easy to refer to place. The hope is that the whole is more valuable than the sum of the parts, both for the human being using it, and for any medical professionals we expressly choose to be involved.

It includes a dashboard section, where you can place the readouts most important to you. For example, steps if you're working with a fitness tracker, or blood sugar, if you're diabetic. From here you can quickly and easily tab through day, week, month, and year views.

HealthHealthHealth

There's a Health Data section that lets you see everything, including All, Body Measurements, Fitness, Me, Nutrition, Results, Sleep, and Vitals. Body measurements include fat percentage, mass index, height, lean body mass, and weight. Fitness includes active calories, distance, flights climbed, NikeFuel, resting calories, and steps. Me lets you enter birthdate, biological sex, and blood type. Nutrition stores a long list of food, mineral, and vitamin types from biotin to zinc. Results stores a wide variety of test results from blood alcohol content to peripheral perfusion index. Vitals can keep track of blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate.

Each shows its graphical widget, the ability to show data, add data, share data, and a toggle to put them on or take them off the dashboard. If you want to change up what's in your dashboard, or want to drill down into data that you don't need often, but do need at that moment.

The Sources section lists the apps and accessories that are currently connected to Health via HealthKit. Over time you might grant permission for more and more apps and accessories to access your data, and it's helpful if there's a place where you can review all of that and decide what, if any, cleanup is needed.

The Medical ID section lets you create a Lock screen card that shows your birthdate, medical conditions, medical notes, allergies and reactions, medications, contacts, blood type, organ donor information, weight, and/or height. None of this is included in health data or shared with other apps, but will be presented to first responders who might need it to properly treat you in case of emergency.

It can be accessed when your iPhone is locked by tapping Emergency, then Medical ID. And yes, there are some privacy implications to making that information accessible from the Lock screen, but just like a Medicalert bracelet, each of us will have to weigh that against the risks and benefits, depending on our own, personal health situation.

HealthHealthHealth

On their own both Health and HealthKit are ambitious and impressive, but Apple has even higher goals in mind for both. Apple is hoping to revolutionize the healthcare industry.

They're partnering with the Mayo Clinic, for example, to integrate with HealthKit so, for example, a patient's blood pressure reading is automatically compared with expectations and, if anything is amiss, their doctor is immediately alerted for follow up.

Apple is also partnering with Epic Systems, which powers hospitals serving hundreds of millions of Americans, so that patients at many major institutions can use Health to faster and more conveniently share their information with their doctors.

More, no doubt, will follow. Which is why privacy is so important.

Health and HeathKit can make it incredibly convenient to store, retrieve, sync, and share health and fitness information. But as we all know, convenience is in perpetual conflict with security and privacy. A place where all of our data, from different apps and accessories, can get aggregated together and not only presented back to us, but to other apps and shared with healthcare professionals means the underlying system needs to be privacy-first.

Convenience is in perpetual conflict with security and privacy.

It looks like that's exactly what Apple is doing with Health and HealthKit. Before an app can access any data in HealthKit it needs to get express permission. Likewise, before any data can be shared, we need to be the ones who initiate the sharing.

Because health data is incredibly sensitive, Apple goes above and beyond the usual permission system to allow us to authorize or deny access per object type. So, if an app only needs step data, we can only authorize step data and not give it access to anything else.

Read and write permissions are also kept separate per object type. That means we can let a step tracker save data to HealthKit, but not read any data saved there by other apps.

To manage all this, Apple is using authorization sheets — I know, right? — which, instead of a simple popup, provides granular yes/no toggles for each type of data sourced and shared.

Apple also won't let developers know if a specific type of information has been blocked, because that knowledge in and of itself can compromise privacy (i.e. blocking blood sugar might betray diabetes).

We'll have to wait until people test the system in the real world to see how robust and resilient the system proves, but Apple's priorities seem well placed.

At least for iPhone users. Health and HealthKit are currently iPhone only. iPad users need not apply. Hopefully that'll change in the near future. Some people, including the elderly and those with high level medical needs, might not have an iPhone but might have an iPad.

It remains to be seen whether the general public embraces Health, or if they'd be happier with an iPhone that spewed cheeseburgers from the Lightning port. However, I'm optimistic that Apple's optimistic. Worst case, Health being there, on the Home screen, with its cheery heart icon, will encourage people to think more about health and fitness. Best case, as any one element becomes important, the system itself will make it easy to add other elements in. And there's nothing better than virtuous cause becoming a virtuous cycle.

HomeKit

HomeKit is the name for Apple's home automation framework. With HomeKit, your iPhones and iPads will have a rational way to configure, communicate with, and control "the internet of things" around you, including connected lights, speakers, security systems, appliances, and more. Both locally when we're home and remotely when you're away, through apps and through Siri, Apple's virtual personal assistant.

Note: There's no Home app for HomeKit the way there's a Health app for HealthKit. Apple hasn't made their own front-end management app, they've simply provided the backend framework for developers. Still, HomeKit is interesting and important, and worth exploring.

HomeKit is based on a "Home Manager" and a common database, stored in iOS, that contains all the information about the home, its rooms, the accessories inside them, and the services and characteristics of those accessories. Having everything stored all in one place makes for a more consistent experience across apps. so, for example, whatever you have set up in your light control app, will be the same in your speaker control app. Same home name. Same room names. Same accessory names.

Home Manager, as the name implies, lets you manage "Homes", including designating a primary home if you have more than one. Each home has to have a unique name so you can specify which one you're referring to, including via Siri. For example, you can have "Main" and "Vacation" as home names.

With HomeKit, our iPhones and iPads will have a rational way to configure, communicate with, and control "the internet of things" around us.

Home are made up of "Rooms". Rooms also have to have unique names, but only within their Homes. So, for example, you can have "Main Bedroom" and "Vacation Bedroom". Again, that's so you can refer to them specifically, and so can Siri.

Rooms can be grouped into "Zones". These could include, for example, "Upstairs" and "Downstairs". Any number of rooms can be grouped in a zone, and the same room can exist in multiple zones. However, zones also need unique names within the home, for you and for Siri.

Rooms are what contain your "Accessories". Accessories are the specific physical devices connected to your iPhone or iPad — the scales, speakers, locks, etc. Accessories also need unique names within a home, so they can be specifically accessed by you or Siri. So, "Main Bedroom Lights" and "Main Bedroom Speakers" are fine. "Main Bedroom Lights" and "Main Kitchen Lights" are not. (If you have multiple similar accessories in different rooms, you'll have to get more specific or creative with their names.)

Accessories have "Services". These represent what an accessory can do. Services may or may not have names. If they're meant to be commonly used or accessed via Siri, they'll need a unique name to the home, just like the accessory itself. For example, a light bulb that lights up is a service that needs a name. Other services include garage door openers, door locks, thermostats, IP cameras, switches, and custom services.

If a service is not meant to be commonly used, and would be better accessed via an app interface, they shouldn't have a name. For example, a maintenance function that updates firmware shouldn't have a names. Apple also defines some default service types, which Siri recognizes through natural language as well.

Services can be grouped into "Service Groups." These could include, for example, "Night lights" that includes room lights, garage door opener lights, outside lights, and appliance lights, or "Party speakers" that pipes audio around the house. Service groups can include any number of services from any number of different accessories, and are intended to make it easier to control specific services across a range of accessories. The same service can be included in any number of different groups, so the same light can be in "Night Lights" and "Game time", but each service group needs a unique name per home for you and Siri.

Services have "Characteristics". Characteristics are the interactive part of services. For example, whether a light bulb is on or off (the power state) is a characteristic. They're not named but they're recognized by Siri because Apple has defined certain types, like power state, lock state, target state, brightness, model number, current temperature, and custom characteristics.

Some characteristics are read-only, like current temperature. Some are read-write, like asking for and re-setting the temperature. Some are write-only, like commands. So, for example, you can command any accessory to "identify" and it'll flash, beep, or otherwise show or tell you what and where it is.

To help developers and manufacturers think outside the presets, HomeKit allows for custom services and characteristics to be defined. They're not understood natively by Siri the way Apple-defined services and characteristics are, but they allow for potentially much greater and more diverse functionality.

Actions write to characteristics. For example, close the garage, lock the doors, turn off the lights, turn down the temperature, etc.

Actions Sets are collections of actions that are executed together. For example, "Good night" could make sure your garage door is closed, front door is locked, night lights are on, day lights are off, TV is off, and coffee maker is set to help wake you up in the morning. "Game time" could make sure the lights are set to red, the sound system is on max, and everything else in the house is off or muted. Action sets aren't executed in a specific order. They all just happen as soon as they can, all at once if possible. Again, an action set needs a unique name per home for you and Siri.

Triggers execute action sets at predefined dates and times. They can be single use or can be set to repeat. They can have delays built-in. Triggers can't be used through Siri, but they can be run by iOS in the background, unlike the rest of HomeKit, and also require unique names per home.

Taken together, action sets and triggers let you create "scripts" to automate the control of any and all of your HomeKit compatible accessories.

HomeKit, like HealthKit, and like PassKit before them, will depend on the quantity and quality of manufacturers and developers that support it.

Because there's no built-in Home app, if a HomeKit app is launched and no "Home" is detected, the app has to walk you through creating and naming it, then creating and naming the rooms in it, then providing the accessory browser so you can find and add accessories to the home, name them, and assign them to the proper room. HomeKit can also report back to any app whether or not an accessory is accessible or not accessible, for example out of range, offline, turned off, etc.

There's a special kind of accessory called a bridge. It's used when an accessory has several parts but only the main part can connect to Home Kit. For example, if an amp can connect to HomeKit but the speakers use an incompatible format, the amp would serve as a bridge to the speakers. Once a bridge is added, you can add the satellite accessories as well, and the bridge will handle the heavy lifting of translating between HomeKit and whatever format they use. So, add the amp, control the speakers through the amp.

Thanks to the integration with Siri, HomeKit also looks like a huge win for accessibility. Voice control plus a consistent experience across apps will hopefully lead to more apps and accessories being more accessible to more people with visual impairments.

HomeKit, like HealthKit, and like PassKit before them, will depend on the quantity and quality of manufacturers and developers that support it. If past history is any indication, that means we'll get some amazing apps and accessories, some okay apps and accessories, and some barely thrown together web views meant to control gizmos of dubious construction and utility. As much as we complain about the level of control Apple exerts, we often complain even harder about those things outside Apple's control.

Traditionally, though, Apple has paid even closer attention to the quality of hardware partners than to the App Store. How long it will take for our favorite lights, speakers, security systems, etc. to update for HomeKit remains to be seen. However, iDevices, iHome, Sylvania, Texas Instruments, Cree, Chamberlain, Marvell, Skybell, August, Honeywell, Haier, Schlage, Philips, Kwikset, Broadcom, netamo, and Withings have all already been announced. More, no doubt, are to come.

Not surprisingly, Apple takes HomeKit security and privacy very seriously. They've built it, reviewed it, and then reviewed it again. There's end-to-end encryption between connected devices and accessories, and adding a new accessory requires a setup code that comes from the accessory, typically on the packaging or a label. Likewise, Apple stresses that they don't believe privacy includes storing information about your home and your accessories on their servers.

Locally, HomeKit apps can only be used while in the foreground. That makes sure people can see just exactly what's going on and when, and never have to worry about something happening secretly in the background. The only exception to this is triggers, which give iOS the ability to set off an action set. However, they need to be expressly set up by the user to do so.

HomeKit tackles a big, complex problem and tries to make it small and simple enough to fit onto our iOS devices and into our daily life. There will almost certainly be kinks to work out and updates to come. However, if HomeKit comes even close to fulfilling its potential, we're going to find ourselves at the beginning of something truly remarkable, for our iPhones, our iPads, and for whatever comes next.

App Store

The App Store is still a mix of triumph and tragedy. It's got over a million apps in it but it's still too hard to find the best and most relevant of those apps. One of the reasons is that Apple still hasn't fixed search, at least not as far as I can tell. There's still no "sloppy search" to automatically widen results, compensate for spelling mistakes, filter out spam apps, or provide nearest neighbor results when nothing exact presents itself. There's also still no social surfacing of apps that are popular among your friends.

Spotlight searchApp store locations

All that being said, Apple has made several improvements to the App Store for iOS 8. Spotlight,(see above), can now show results for both apps you have installed, and apps available for download on the App Store. Similarly, the Lock screen can show suggested apps based on your location, both apps you have installed, and apps available for download on the App Store. The icon for suggested apps shows up on the bottom left of the Lock screen, the same place as Continuity's Handoff apps. (You can disable either or both in Settings.)

Before you begin a search you even get a list of Trending Searches so you can discover what other people are looking for. When you search, instead of the side-scrolling card-based interface that so inefficiently showed off search result in iOS 7, there's a a new continuous scrolling view. It keeps the extra information and immediately visible screenshots of the cards, but lets you scan through even large numbers of apps quickly and easily, just like the pre-iOS 7 list views did.

App Store searchApp Store searchApp Store search

The Nearby apps tab has been replaced by a new Explore tab that includes popular nearby apps as well as categories and subcategories that let you drill down by type, feature, and more.

It's better but, at least where I live, it still doesn't provide me with much of anything interesting. At home, because I'm close to a train station, I get transit apps. At the coffee shop, because it's near a series of store, I get coffee and banking apps.

Social might be better here than local.

Different apps are presented in the the Explore tab categories than the Feature app categories. I'm not sure why, but they seem to be better. Perhaps there's more editorial muscle behind them in the Explore tab. If so, it still seems duplicative and I'd rather get the better results on the main page.

App Store ExploreApp Store ExploreApp Store Explore

Apps can now be badged by the App Store editorial team. For example, apps can be badged with "Editor's Choice" if they've been recently featured in that section, or as "Essential" if they're made it onto the list. The editorial team is one of the App Store's greatest assets and making them more visible in more places is better for everyone. As Apple themselves mentioned during the Beats acquisition, there's nothing like human curation. You may not notice the difference between a list populated by an algorithm and a list populated by human beings, but you can feel it. More of this, please.

App Store badgesApp Store badges

App Previews will let developers add short 15-30 second videos to their app listings as well. They're shown first in the section traditionally dedicated to screenshots, and like screenshots, they're meant to give you a better idea of what you're buying before you buy it. And because iOS is much more dynamic and interactive than it used to be, video works much better than stills. Developers can even add sound effects, and musical scores from their apps and games to make them even more immersive, and captions to elaborate on features. (Features only available via in-app purchase need to be disclosed.)

What developers can't do is show people, hands, devices, or anything beyond the screen of their apps. The idea is to show off the app and its interface, not run an ad.

Developers can also offer up bundles of apps in iOS 8. They can't bundle their apps with apps from another developer, but they can bundle up to 10 of their own apps together and make them available, all at once, with a single tap, at a reduced price.

So, if Educational Apps Unlimited wants to make Letters Unlimited, Numbers Unlimited, Places Unlimited, and Cooking Unlimited — each normally $1.99 — all available in a bundle together for $6.99, they can do that. All apps have to be available for sale separately as well, but if you've bought any of them previously, just like "complete my album", you can "complete my bundle" and get the remaining apps at an even lower price.

There are some other restrictions as well, and given then rise of freemium apps, not all developers will want to, or be able to, take advantage of bundles. But for those who can and do, it looks like at least a chance to cross-promote and maybe cross-sell more of their apps. And who knows, if it works, maybe we'll see more of it. It's not hard to imagine cross-developer bundles, App Store editorial bundles, even bundles that serve as playlists from you and me. The potential is huge.

Behind the scenes, Apple has given iTunes Connect — the web-based portal developers use to manage their apps — a complete overhaul, and they've bought and re-launched TestFlight, a service developers can use to beta test their apps.

To top it all off, Apple has improved their 2D gaming framework, SpriteKit, ported over their 3D gaming framework, SceneKit, introduced the thinner-than-Open-GL framework, Metal, and what's more — debuted a new programming language called Swift, which includes great new features like Playground for more visual development.

It'll likely take years before Swift supplants Objective-C, but Apple is clearly preparing for that day, and that's good for all of us. In other words, when Apple called iOS 8 huge for developers, they undersold it.

Family Sharing

With Family Sharing, as long as everyone in your family is using the same credit card, you can share each others apps, music, movies, TV shows, and iBooks, even if they were all bought on different iTunes accounts (Apple IDs).

Best of all, parents can control what their children spend on apps. If a child wants to buy and app or in-app purchase, a notification gets sent to the parent who can then choose to dismiss it or review it.

Family Sharing is set up by an organizer who can then invite up to six additional family members to join. If children are under the age of 13, as long as they're using Family Sharing under the supervision of a parent or guardian, they can now have their own iTunes accounts as well.

Once you set up Family Sharing in iCloud Settings, you also get a shared photo album that everyone can contribute to and comment on, a shared calendar that everyone can make and track appointments on, and the ability to share location in a unified family place. Even Find my iPhone can be used to help track the entire family's devices.

Family SharingFamily SharingFamily Sharing

Of course, it's not perfect yet. Not all content is available for Family Sharing, since publishers have to opt-in. Hopefully most will, but if we've learned anything over the last few years is that hope in publishers isn't always fulfilled.

Also, you can only start or join Family Sharing twice in one year. After that limit's reached, you have a wait a year to start or join Family Sharing again. That's almost certainly a concession to publishers who want to make sure Family Sharing isn't used a a way to steal content.

Overall, however, Family Sharing can make it faster, easier, and better to manage and share content and data at home.

Siri, Spotlight, and security

Siri

Siri, Apple's virtual personal assistant, didn't get as many new features as it has in years past, but it did get the ability to identify songs via Shazam. Let Siri listen to what's playing and Siri will tell you the track's title and give you the option to buy it from the iTunes Store.

Siri speech recognition and the associated Dictation feature has been much improved as well. Instead of tapping the microphone button, talking, finishing, and then waiting for your speech to get rendered as text, iOS 8 processes what you're saying while you say it. In other words, the text-to-speech is streaming, and you'll actually see the words appear and adjust as you're saying them, and they'll be done rendering almost as soon as you're done talking. It's a big improvement.

When your iPhone or iPad is plugged in, you can now choose to activate Siri by voice alone. Just say "Hey Siri". (Sadly, "Hey, seriously" activates it as well, so perhaps a more distinct term will eventually have to be adopted.) It is great, however, for when Siri is charging at your bedside or on your desk, while you're driving and plugged in, or while you're cooking or otherwise have your hands full.

Hey SiriHey Siri

HomeKit, Apple's new home automation framework for developers and manufacturers (see below is also fully integrated with Siri so you can, for example, say "goodnight Siri" and have your doors lock and lights go out.

Apple still doesn't want to take user data and manipulate it on their servers, which means Siri still won't do the kind of aggregation necessary for Google Now-like features. That's a philosophical issue, however, not a technical one.

Spotlight

Spotlight is Apple's system-wide search feature, and with iOS 8 it's getting some new smarts, including location and context awareness, so it can help you find not only what you're looking for on your iPhone or iPad, but on the web as well.

Back in 2009 when it was first brought to iOS, Spotlight lived to the left of the main Home screen and its primary purpose was to help people find all the apps they'd stuffed onto their phones in a post App Store, later post-folders world. With iOS 7, Spotlight became part of every Home screen, available at the top with just a swipe. Over time the information it could provide had grown as well, encompassing contacts, music, notes, events, mail, reminders, messages, and options to push the search out to the Web and Wikipedia.

With iOS 8, Apple is bringing context and location awareness to Spotlight as well. For example, if you type in the name of landmark, like Point Reyes, you'll be given the option to immediately open it in both Wikipedia and Maps. You can also get information for local restaurants and movie showings, recent news and sports results, and the most relevant website.

SpotlightSpotlightSpotlight

You can still search for music, videos, iBooks, and apps on your iPhone or iPad. However, Spotlight will not only give you results based on what's already on your device, but now it'll show you what's available in the iTunes, iBooks, and App Store as well. So, if you hear about a great new game or a hot new book, you don't have to launch a store and then search. You can swipe down, type in the name, and go straight to the app or title in the store.

All of this might not make Spotlight the text-based natural language Siri front-end I've been pining for, but the context and location awareness makes it an important step in that direction.

Fast contact access

Back in iOS 4, following the introduction of third-party multitasking, Apple made a double-click of the Home button reveal a fast app switcher dock so that you could quickly move between your recently opened apps. The interface was great for drawing your attention to the apps, but it provided no context for the state of those apps, and it left most of the screen empty and unused.

With iOS 7, the fast app switcher was redesigned to use a card-style interface. It let you easily see the current state of apps, but it still didn't fill the screen, especially the new, taller aspect ratio screen introduced with the iPhone 5.

iOS 8 puts fills the extra space above recently used apps with contacts. More specifically, it shows you the avatars for favorite contacts on the left and recent contacts on the right.

MultitaskingMultitaskingMultitasking

You can swipe to scroll the contacts, just like you can the apps, and if you tap one, you get options to call them, message them, or connect to them via FaceTime video or audio.

If your relationships are... complicated... and you don't like the idea of your recent contacts being glanced at when you're switching apps, you can turn recent contacts off completely in Settings.

I'd prefer the ability to simply flick individual contacts off-screen, like you can app cards, both for the flexibility it would afford and the catharsis it would provide, but all-or-nothing is still better than nothing-but-all. And, it does make the multitasking interface more of a one-stop, mission control style spot.

Settings

The Settings app typically contains a wealth of new an interesting changes come iOS update time, and iOS 8 is no exception. Starting at the top, the Notification Center section has become Notifications, and Today View toggles have moved out of Settings and into the Today View page of the Notification Center pull-down proper. That's to enable management of the new Today View widgets, which makes more sense in-place than it does in Settings.

Gone also is the toggle to allow Notification View and Today View on the Lock screen. It's moved to the Touch ID & Passcode section. You can still disable specific notifications from showing on the Lock screen from within the notification settings, however.

Individual app notification settings pages have also been reorganized, with the alert style options moving to the bottom and the rest consolidated together. There are new, universal Allow Notifications toggles at the top of many apps, so you can turn them off quickly and easily.

SettingsSettingsSettingsSettings

General Settings has a new section called Handoff & Suggested Apps. You can use it to toggle Handoff on or off, as well as suggested apps both local (my apps) and downloadable (App Store apps).

Text Size has been moved from General to the new Display & Brightness section. There's a new Grayscale option in Accessibility, subtitles and captioning has moved to a new subsection called Media, and Physical and Motor has been renamed Interaction.

Zoom has gained numerous new options, including Follow Focus, Zoom Keyboard, Show Controller, Zoom Region (window vs. full screen), and Maximum Zoom Level (from 1.2 to 15).

Speak Screen lets you swipe down with two fingers to have the content of a screen read out loud. You can choose from a variety of voices and speeds.

SettingsSettingsSettingsSettings

There's a new Battery Usage section that, in theory, is similar to OS X Maverick's battery shaming. However, while things like Phone: Low Signal can show you real sources of battery drain, if you use Tweetbot all day, don't be surprised if that's top of your list — not for drain but simply because you won't stop tweeting.

That said, Battery Usage does show when background activity is the source of power consumption, which can be useful information. As can an app showing up high in the list when you don't use it much.

SettingsSettingsSettings

Restrictions now have toggles for iBooks and Podcasts, reflections of their new status as built-in apps.

Keyboards now lets you add custom keyboards from apps you've downloaded, and there's a new toggle for Check Spelling.

SettingsSettingsSettings

International has been renamed Language & Regions, and has new Other Language and Advanced sections.

Wallpapers & Brightness has been separated into separate Display & Brightness and Wallpaper sections. Display & Brightness includes brightness, text size, and bold text.

SettingsSettingsSettingsSettings

Touch ID & Passcode now contains the toggles to turn off Today and Notification Center access from the Lock screen.

SettingsSettings

Privacy now includes sections for Camera, Health, and HomeKit.

Location Services now includes a section for Share My Location and, in addition to an on/off toggle, lets you control which other Apple devices in your possession can share location, and clearly shows you the avatars and names of anyone and everyone your location is currently shared with.

Instead of binary off/on switches, you can now set app location access permissions to always, never, or the new "while using the app".

SettingsSettingsSettingsSettings

There also a new Diagnostics & Usage section in Privacy that you can use not only to grant or revoke permission for the data to be shared with Apple, but share it with developers, and see a list and full details of what has been shared.

iCloud Settings now include your avatar and the setup for Family Sharing. iCloud Drive replaces Documents and Data, and includes the ability to see which, if any, apps allow you to be looked up by your email address. And iCloud Photo Library (still in beta) replaces Photo Stream for sync. There's also quick access to Mail and Share my Location settings.

Under Find My iPhone, you can now opt-in to having your iPhone or iPad send its last known location to Apple in the event the battery runs out and it's about to shut down. The theory here is a criminal who steals it and hopes to thwart Find My iPhone by running down the battery has yet one more roadblock in their way.

SettingsSettingsSettings

iTunes & App Store moves higher up the list, and includes the ability to toggle off suggested app recommendations, both local (my apps) and downloadable (App Store apps).

SettingsSettingsSettingsSettings

Mail, Contacts, Calendars lets you set the Swipe Options for the new Mail gestures, including swipe left to mark as red or flag, and swipe left to mark as read, flag, or archive. You can also choose to have email addresses marked in red by domain name for added, more visual security.

You can choose to turn off contacts in the app switcher interface for added privacy, and can select alternate calendars, like Chinese, Hebrew, and Greek, show week numbers, and invitees who decline.

SettingsSettingsSettings
SettingsSettings

Messages gives you the option of keeping individual messages forever, for 1 year, or for 30 days, for expiring audio and/or video messages after 2 minutes or never, and for toggling Raise to Listen off or on.

FaceTime adds the ability to toggle iPhone Cellular Calls to Off for any device on which you don't want to accept Continuity call relays.

Safari now offers Duck Duck Go as a search engine option. You can also toggle Search Engine Suggestions, Spotlight Suggestions, Quick Website Search, and Preload Top Hit on or off.

Camera replaces Photo Stream with iCloud Photo Library (currently still in beta). It also lets you toggle Summarize Photos on or off.

App settings pages now also include shortcuts to that apps Notification settings and Privacy settings. With them you can easily see and set just exactly the level of notification vs. disturbance and functionality vs. privacy you want for each app. Apps can also send you hear directly, making it a really convenient place to manage the permissions for your apps.

SettingsSettingsSettings

Tips

Tips is a new built-in app for iOS 8 included by default in the Extras folder. Launch it and you're presented with a series of tips on how to use the new features in iOS 8. There's one tip per page and you can either swipe between them or tap to get a list and tap to go to specific tips.

The tips are animated and you can like them and share them. iOS will send you notifications about the tips, but you can turn those off in settings.

TipsTipsTips

These might come off as annoying to veteran iOS users, but with the platform getting more powerful and more sophisticated, they might also come off as welcome by new owners and the very large mainstream customer base that buys them.

As much as it irks me, not everyone reads iMore or even surfs the web for information to help them get more out of their devices. Tips is right there, right on the phone, and that means people will see it or be notified about it, and informed and empowered by it.

They may also be intrigued enough to jump on the web and search for even more, hopefully bringing them to iMore and sites like iMore.

And that's a good thing for everyone.

Safari

Safari searchSafari searchSafari tabsSafari tabs

With iOS 8, Safari gains not only several new features, but a massive boost to some of its core technologies. When you activate the smart search field, you now get a range of new options including thumbnails for favorite sites and folders of sites, the ability to add a current site to favorites or request the desktop version, if available. You get thumbnails for frequently visited sites. Spotlight is also integrated into the smart search field. Start typing and, for example, Wikipedia results will show up alongside top hits and search suggestions.

You can now use iCloud tabs to close tabs on other devices. You can close tabs on other iOS devices as long as they're not powered off. You can close tabs on Macs as long as they're not powered off or sleeping. Also, if you switch to Private Browsing mode, iOS no longer offers to either keep or close your existing tabs, but rather moves them aside and starts a second set of private tabs.

There's a new tab treatment on iPad that lets you not only see open pages using the iPhone-style rolodex, but multiple rolodexes that group pages from the same domain together. The sidebar from the upcoming OS X Yosemite also makes an appearance on the iPad, organizing all your bookmarks, Reading List, and Shared Links, all in the same place. And as a bonus, you can add RSS to Shared Links now as well.

Under the hood, Safari for iOS gains the new fourth-tier LLVM (FTL) stage for JavaScript processing. Low-level virtual machine (LLVM) is Apple's existing compiler technology. Tying the two together allows Safari's JavaScriptCore to gain, where appropriate, optimizations previously only available to native C and Objective-C code. Still just-in time (JIT), FTL takes longer but can achieve higher performance, a trade off that can result in even faster execution in some situations.

There's also a new version of WebView, the version of Safari developers can embed in App Store apps, that can access the faster JIT-based JavaScript engine. The same security improvements that allow for Extensibility now allow for embedded browsers to be first-class when it comes to performance as well.

Apple was the first to launch a real web browser on mobile and both Apple and their open-source WebKit team are continuing to stay at the forefront of not only feature but technology as well.

Security and privacy

In addition to the numerous security and privacy improvements listed above, including the architecture of Extensibility and Continuity, and the new unified privacy listings for apps, there are new encryption and protection features for enterprise.

Apple has also added MAC address randomization as well. That means, when you're walking around and not intentionally connected to a Wi-Fi router, the real MAC address of your iPhone or iPad is hidden. Why is that important? Because shopping centers and stores have begun to use MAC addresses to track you through their premises.

Yeah. Creepy.

MAC address randomization stops that.

Apple has also closed numerous potential 'back door' data leaks that were identified earlier in the year, including file relays.

Overall the already excellent security and privacy protections in iOS has gotten even better.

Bugs

Every year shipping iOS is a marathon of sprints with the launch of new iPhones serving as the finish line. No matter how big the redesign, like last year, or the functionality boost, like this year, iOS has to ship two days before the new iPhones hit the shelves. I say that not to excuse any feature delays or bugs, but to explain the constraints under which Apple and their engineers work. For something as big as iOS, which needs to run on as many devices as iOS, there are going to be some stumbles along the way.

Last year re-springs (Springboard crashes) were a problem. This year Apple has delayed SMS relay until October, and pulled HealthKit until later this month. There are also several issues with everything from extensibility to MAC address randomization to VoiceOver support, to... you get the idea.

No doubt many of these will be addressed by iOS 8.0.1, which Apple has already been testing internally for quite a while. If you're reading this review on launch day or thereabouts, chances are you'll be hitting one or more of those bugs head-on. If you're reading this months from now, after iOS 8.1 has shipped, you may have long since forgotten them.

Again, this is nothing unique to iOS 8. Every X.0 release has its issues. But the bugs absolutely need to be fixed.

Productivity

Calendar

Calendar in iOS 8 now supports alternate formats, including Chinese, Hebrew, and Islamic. You can enable them in Settings, along week numbers. If you have Family Sharing enabled (see below, you'll see your family calendar here as well, along with any appointments entered by anyone in the family.

For business people, iOS 8 now shows you availability, so you can schedule meeting times that work for everyone on the team. You can also mark meetings as private, create events that repeat at custom intervals, and even send email right from Calendar to keep all participants informed and updated.

Mail

Mail in iOS 8 now lets you store multiple drafts out of the way so you can quickly look up something else or simply come back to them when time or situation allows.

From a new message, swipe down to file it away as a draft. Then go about your business. When you want to continue the email, you'll find it at the bottom of the screen and you can restore it with a single tap.

If you have multiple drafts, you get a 3D rolodex interface just like Safari tabs so you can quickly find just exactly the one you want to keep working on. And just like Safari tabs, you can tap the X button to delete them, or just grab them and throw them away to the left.

Drafts in MailDrafts in MailDrafts in Mail

Data detectors — the service that finds and flags important information like contact numbers or calendar invitations — are now much easier to see and use. Moved from simple colored links, they're now given a banner-style treatment at the top of the email, with interactive notification-style buttons to quickly add them or ignore them.

Triaging mail on the go has also been improved. New gestures let you quickly swipe right to mark a message as read or unread, or swipe left to flag it, trash or archive it, or to get more options. You can also swipe all the way left to trash it immediately. Excellent.

MailMailMailMail

For enterprise, you can now use S/MIME signing and encryption on a per-message basis and you can mark individual mail threads as VIP to better keep track of them. You can also setup automatic Exchange replies for when you're out-of-office.

Third party email apps are getting increasingly popular, but with iOS 8, Apple is showing the built-in Mail app can still hold its own, especially for those who prefer the unified inbox.

Phone

Apple has enabled Wi-Fi calling in iOS 8. However, only T-Mobile in the U.S. and EE in the U.K. have been announced as supporting it. Other carriers have said they will, but only at some point in the future.

Also, Continuity (see above now lets your iPad answer calls when connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your iPhone, with the same interface as the Phone app.

Notes

Notes in iOS 8 gains the same rich text formatting — bold, italic, and underline — as Mail has enjoyed for a while. Also like Mail, you can now use the editing popup menu to insert photos into a note.

NotesNotesNotesNotes

Maps

There were a lot of rumors leading up to iOS 8 that Apple would be significantly improving the built-in Maps app with features like the return of transit directions. While Apple has acquired companies proficient in transit, none of that has made it into the app, at least not yet. Still, a lot of improvements have been made, both in terms of features and back end data.

Since Maps is a service, it's easy to forget that Apple, like any provider, can continuously improve things like satellite imagery, landmark quantity and quality, and listings for businesses, restaurants, movie theaters, and more. It's sort of like a child you see every day as opposed to only once a year — you only realize how much they've grown when you haven't looked for a while.

That's not to say there still aren't problems, because there are. Search being one of them. Finding a place, even a place you think should be incredibly easy to find, often isn't.

MapsMaps

Maps has, however, been better integrated into the operating system. Spotlight (see above) can now return points of interest (POI), restaurants, movies, and other location information. right in the search results. As with Siri in the past, this essentially makes maps available everywhere. All you have to do is type.

Likewise, Messages (see above) is also now tied into Maps. Its new Details view provides quick access to a wealth of additional, contextual information including the locations of people you're messaging with, if they choose to share it and only for so long as they choose to share it.

Unique to the Maps app, however, is Flyover City Tours. While at first glance Flyover might seem like "street view "for Superman, it remains a great way for everyone to get a better sense of cities near and far, and a fantastic way to virtually tour places you can't see in person.

Apple has improved Flyover support in general as well, bringing it to over 80 cities world wide now and counting. With iOS 8, City Tours takes it in further.

Tap the Flyover Tour button on a supported city or landmark popup, or on a locations detail view, tap Flyover Tour. Tap that and Maps will take you on a sweeping animated tour of the area. It's like going on a virtual helicopter ride with points of interest clearly labeled.

Maps Flyover ToursMaps Flyover Tours

It's a bit of a tech demo, but it's also entertaining and informative. I wouldn't just sit there and watch a city tour in lieu of the next episode of Arrow, but if I were traveling to some place new, I'd absolutely run though it once.

Maps Place CardsMaps Place Cards

Even more informative are the new place cards. Maps already provide a wealth of information, including street address, telephone number, and website, directions, hours of operation, and the aforementioned popular apps nearby. iOS 8 enhances that with additional data like category and price as well as inline photos and reviews from Yelp, and a link to take you to the Yelp apps check in feature.

For China, Maps is adding vector-based map tiles, which a provide better quality, better zooming experience, and turn-by-turn navigation. China remains a significant growth market for Apple, so bringing them up to parity with North America is not only good business but smart business.

Overall Maps is showing steady improvements and mistakes are being corrected faster than ever. It's still going to take a while, a lot of effort, and a kickass team to not only bring back transit but take Maps to the next level.

Weather

WeatherWeather

The built-in Weather app for the iPhone now shows 9 days of forecasts, up from 5. It also no longer hides all the detail information behind a hard-to-discover gesture. Where previously you had to tap the large temperature readout to see them, you can now simply scroll to the bottom and it's all right there — sunrise, sunset, chance of rain, humidity, wind speed and direction, wind chill factor, precipitation amount, pressure, visibility, and UV index.

To get all this, Apple is switching from the original iPhone weather provider, Yahoo!, and going straight to the source, the Weather Channel.

Weather aficionados will no doubt stick with their favorite of the dozen or so App Store apps that provide radar and other advanced features. But for most people, the built-in Weather app is now much more serviceable.

And more

iOS 8 also includes new features specific to the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and other, future hardware. That includes things like Apple Pay and adaptive UI.

I'll cover all that, and more, in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus reviews.

iOS 8: The Bottom Line

iOS 8 feels like Apple took every wish list item on the web and checked them off one-by-one. Interactive notifications? Done. Widgets? Done. Inter-app communication, custom keyboards, document picker? Done. Done. Done. New programing language? #%$&*% Done!

That it took so long isn't entirely a surprise. There are only so many hours in the day, even for a company as big and successful as Apple. In the beginning, they made a conscious choice to prioritize interface and interaction, security and privacy, over everything else, including functionality.

Now, eight years and as many version later, almost all that functionality has arrived, and on a platform with an even more modern interface, more appealing interactions, and better security and privacy than ever.

That's not to say there aren't still rough patches. Some of this stuff is very new. There'll be bugs that need to be squashed, edge cases that need to be figured out, and apps that need to be updated.

I've been using iOS 8 all day, every day, since the first beta launched in June. I've had no unusual issues with battery life and, since the final release, no unusual issues with stability either.

In this case, believe the hype. iOS 8 is in every way the biggest functional release for iPhone and iPad since the App Store.

As much as last year's redesign set the stage for next generation of interface, this year's new architecture sets the stage for the next generation of apps.

And that's really exciting.

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