Expanding Horizons – an iOS 8 Review

If you have even a passing interest in mobile technology, you will certainly have read one of the innumerable iOS 8 reviews that have sprung up since that operating system’s release on September 17th.

This year, Apple released what – at first glance – looks like an incremental upgrade. I won’t try and run through every detail in this post; Others have already done so, with greater depth and clarity than I can manage here. Instead, will give you my impressions after having used iOS 8 for about a month. What can your apps do now, and how does the operating system allow me to create the experiences that you want?

iOS 8 icon

It’s not all there (yet)

One of the really interesting things about iOS 8 is the tight integration between that OS and Yosemite, which is Apple’s forthcoming desktop OS. Apple has gathered these features under the name ‘Continuity’, and they intend to make our switch from Mac to iDevice completely seamless.

Imagine that you’ve worked with Push to build an iPhone/iPad app. Your user is sitting on a bus, using their iPhone to try and compose a message within the app. They’re struggling through, but it’s slow going. Once they arrive at the office though, the story changes. Sitting down at their desk, they pick up their iPad. Swiping up on the little icon in the bottom-left of the screen, opens your app on the iPad – with their half-formed composition ready to go. Likewise, they can switch from their iPhone to the equivalent app on their Mac!

This kind of seamless device switching permeates iOS 8. many of Apple’s own apps already include this functionality, even to the point that once Yosemite is released, you’ll be able to answer phone calls and send text messages on your laptop, provided that your phone is connected to the same wifi network.

The best of Continuity is yet to come, so watch this space. And get ready to install Yosemite on your Mac!

Everything Old (on Android) Is New Again

Our Android developers have been chuckling all year at Apple’s biggest announcements. Certainly the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have elicited comparisons with Samsung’s large devices. But many of iOS 8’s great features feel like old friends to Android users.

Special keyboards
Apple has finally given App developers a way to replace the default Apple keyboard. It’s no coincidence that the top apps on the App Store today are keyboards. I have been using the SwiftKey keyboard for a few weeks. It has been a strange experience to simply drag my fingers across the keyboard, but now that I’m starting to get used to it, I find that my typing speed on an iPhone is starting to approach that on a real keyboard. For me, this is absolutely shocking, but I’m loving that I can finally swipe-to-type on an iPhone.

Notification Center Widgets
Android users are familiar with the sight of small bits of apps lodged on their home screens. Now, iOS users have something similar. Developers like myself are now able to create small, focused experiences that can be placed in the Notification Center (which you pull down from the top of the screen). If you’re anything like me, I never looked at the ‘Today’ view. I just looked at the ‘Notifications’ tab. But now, the Today view is customizable to my preferences. I can see exactly which apps I want to have in there, and they’re all things I want to interact with at-a-glance. One of my favourites is ‘HoursTracker’, which allows me a quick peek at how long I’ve been working on various tasks, without even having to unlock my phone.

Kitted Out

HealthKit and HomeKit are two new tools available to us. With HealthKit, your users now have a place to hold all of their health data, and to share that data with specific people, be they healthcare providers, family members, or the world at large.

When I look at all the potential trackable data points in HealthKit, I get very excited. Imagine being able to look at all your various data points, and tease out relationships between your diet, excercise and mood. We already have a vague idea that exercise makes us feel good, that greasy burger made us miserable, and that we hate Mondays. But with HealthKit, we finally have an opportunity to be absolutely sure.

Unfortunately, HealthKit has had some hiccoughs during its launch. Apple seems to have released iOS 8.0 with a catastrophic bug in HealthKit that made it impossible for users to enter data. This problem has apparently been resolved in the 8.0.2 update, but there’s a more glaring omission that deserves mention.

Apple has billed HealthKit as a total health monitoring solution. You can monitor and input everything from your stairs climbed to your peak expiratory flow rate. I have to wonder then, why they didn’t see fit to include menstruation as a trackable health issue. This is a real disappointment from Apple, and does nothing to dispel the notion that technology is a ‘Boys Club’, where women are unwelcome. While I believe the omission to be an honest mistake, I think it reflects the fact that issues important to women are often not taken seriously by software developers, who are largely men. This is something we all have to pay attention to in the future.

HomeKit is a response to the ‘smart home’ movement that has taken hold in recent years. Many of you will have seen the ‘Nest’ thermostat; Now, Apple is giving software developers a way to tie devices like these directly into the operating system. You may soon be able ask Siri to set mood lighting for a romantic dinner; or to let you know when your kids walk in the front door. We should see some very interesting integration in the coming year, with our iDevices allowing us more control over our home than ever before.

iTunes Learns To Share

One of my favourite features of iOS 8 has been Family Sharing. Simply put, this allows you to share all the purchases of up to five apple IDs between each other. Parents can share their books, apps, movies and music, and can authorize purchases for their children. All purchases now go through the designated Family Organizer, and are put onto one credit card. This brings a measure of control to what had been a haphazard purchase process, and should finally put an end to the children buying thousands of dollars worth of ‘Gold coins’ in their favourite game.

Stay tuned to our blog to hear more about what we have to say about iOS 8 and its capabilities.

 

 

Francis has been working in software development for almost 10 years. In three cities and two continents, he has worked for a multinational engineering company, a small local software shop, and everything in between. His guiding professional principle can be summed up with the words: "It's never the user's fault."

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