iOS 8: Release date, first impressions, and more.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past two months (and I hope you haven’t), you should’ve heard that Apple’s newest iteration on their mobile OS, iOS 8 is coming out soon. When? What’s so special about it? We’ve heard your cries, and we have answers.

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Design

Design between iOS 8 and iOS 7 is roughly the same. And although it’s still a huge departure from iOS 6, which I loved, it is still beautiful. It has bright, bold colors, and the font, Helvetica Neue, is always very legible and crisp. Visually, iOS 8 is completely identical to iOS 7. However, there are myriad improvements under the hood.
Performance
The performance between iOS 8 and iOS 7 is comparable. Which is to say it is perfect. It is fluid, responsive, lightweight, and it just works. iOS 8 is supported on the iPhone 4S and up. But none of this is important. Why? Because everything here pales in comparison to developer improvements and UI additions.

Features

This new version of iOS add some pretty incredible features. A couple examples are active notifications, new multimedia in iMessages, new predictive keyboards, iCloud drive, health, and finally, continuity.

Photos

The photos app has been updated. You can now search your whole library for images based on location, time, and other factors.
There’s smart editing. You can select from cropping, rotation, filters, and smart adjustments. The most notable is smart adjustments. Smart adjustments lets you change two settings: light and color. Light basically lets you increase or decrease the brightness of a scene. Color makes images more or less vibrant. No need to touch saturation, highlights, contrast, or any of that.
There’s third party filters and a new shooting mode: time lapse.

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iMessages

iMessages is new and improved with multimedia improvements, group messaging improvements, and location sharing.
The aforementioned “multimedia” refers to the ability to send voice messages along with text and photos. In the place of the original single camera icon to the left of the text field, there’s also a microphone icon on the right. Tapping and holding each of these brings up a clever radial menu and begins recording. When done, the audio or video, or photo message is sent. Audio auto-deletes after a little while, but you can opt for it to save.
Group messaging now features the ability to name groups. You can kick people out, go on do not disturb, or leave altogether. You can also view all attachments in the conversation in one place.
Finally, you can share your location for a set amount of time — useful if you’re trying to meet up for a picnic.

Keyboard

Also new and noteworthy is the keyboard. It has been upgraded with Android-like predictive text suggestions, support for third-party keyboards, and adaptive typing.
Similar to *gasp* Android, there is now a suggestion field above the keyboard. However, it is better than Android, because it is contextual. Example: in iMessages, your friend asks you if you want to go to dinner or a movie. Your keyboard will recognize the choice, and before you ever start typing, it will suggest “dinner”, “a movie”, or “I don’t know”! It also learns your typing styles to different people.
Now third-party keyboards is pretty obvious: you can download special other keyboards from other sources.

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iCloud Drive

iCloud drive is similar to the current iCloud setup with one key difference: it allows you to access every file in your cloud and add new ones manually. Think Dropbox, but native to your device, with no setup.

Health

Health is an awesome addition. There are four main sections: Dashboard, Health Data, Sources, and Medical ID.
Dashboard shows a collection of cards representing different health metrics. These can include your calories, your weight, how far you’ve run, or even heart rate taken from an Apple Watch. You can tap each card to display a menu with more information.
Health data is a menu that shows all the different data you’re tracking and lets you add or remove them. This can include your fitness, your vitals, or different body measurements.
Sources shows all the different source apps for health data.
Medical ID shows your medical conditions, your doctors, your daily medications, and is accessible from the lock screen just in case, you know, something happens.

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Active Notifications

My favorite by far, active notifications let you interact with apps without leaving the one you’re in. For example, you get an iMessage from your Mom. You’re watching a video. Instead of clicking the notification, leaving the video, replying, then going back and having to start the video over, with active notifications, you just pull down on the notification, and a text box will appear. You can click on it, then type your reply, hit send, and go back to watching the video. All without leaving the app.

Speaking of notifications, Notification Center has been revamped, with the unread and notifications panels joined. You can now dismiss individual notifications by swiping them away, eliminating the old target practice method of hitting little “x”s.
The neglected notification center “today” view has also been upgraded. Now it has widgets. Basically, a widget is a little menu projected from an app that is accessible outside the app. You can customize “today” by moving, adding, and removing widgets.

Continuity

Continuity is a collection of features. It used Bluetooth, Point-to-Point WiFi, and iCloud to seamlessly transfer tasks between all your devices.

Example: you start writing an email on your phone. When you get home, you want to finish it on your Mac. You put down your phone and your Mac automatically figures out what your iPhone is doing, automatically launches Mail, and picks up where up you left off!
There’s also automatic hotspots, calling from Mac, and texting non-iPhones from your Mac.

Developer

Now here’s a couple of things I’m drooling over.

  1. Swift: a new programming language for making iOS apps. It’s fast, fun, and easy to use.
  2. Extensibility: apps can now extend themselves into other apps, projecting UI elements, etc. example: custom camera filters
  3. Over 4000 new APIs (application programming interfaces)

 

Final Thoughts

iOS 8 is being released Wednesday, September 18, 2014. It’s got tons of cool features we’ve wanted for a while, like active notifications, and some great new developer toys. I would have liked for something like home screen widgets, but overall, a very solid release.