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
|Version||iPhone OS 2||iPhone OS 3||iOS 4||iOS 5||iOS 6||iOS 7||iOS 8|
|Tentpole Features||App Store|
Cut, copy, and paste
In app purchase
Push notifications (redux)
iBooks for iPhone
FaceTime over cellular
Shared Photo Streams
iOS in the Car
iWork for iCloud
Notification Center enhancements
|Additional Features||Contact search|
Quick look enhancements
|Open GL ES 2.0|
|Panorama mode||120fps Slow motion|
Open GL ES 3.0
|240fps Slow motion|
iOS was introduced back in 2007 with the original iPhone and has been expanded, refined, and improved ever since. Rather than repeat coverage of features that shipped in previous versions, here are reviews of all of those versions for the sake of context and completeness.
- iOS 7.1 for iPhone and iPad
- iOS 7 for iPhone and iPad
- iOS 6 for iPhone and iPad
- iOS 5.1 for iPhone and iPad
- iOS 5 for iPhone and iPad
- iOS 4.3 for iPhone, iPad
- iOS 4.2 for iPhone | iOS 4.2 for iPad
- iOS 4.1 for iPhone
- iOS 4 for iPhone
- iOS 3.2 for iPad
- iOS 3.1 for iPhone
- iOS 3.0 for iPhone
- iPhone 2.2 for iPhone
- iPhone 2.1 for iPhone
- iPhone 2.0 for iPhone
Compatibility and updating
iOS 8 is a free update for anyone using an iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad mini, iPad mini Retina, or iPod touch 5.
You can update over-the-air (OTA) on-device or over USB using iTunes on Mac or Windows.
- How to install iOS 8 on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad using Software Update
- How to install iOS 8 on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad using iTunes
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 — 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.
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 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.
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 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 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 (opens in new tab), 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.
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 (opens in new tab), 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.
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.
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.
That means, if Storehouse (opens in new tab) 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.
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.
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 (opens in new tab) 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.
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.
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.
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 (opens in new tab).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.