Apple spent a significant amount of its WWDC 2014 keynote focusing on iOS 8, which takes the flat iOS 7 design and only rounds it out with new features.
That means instead of a dramatic redesign, you can expect this year’s mobile operating system update to tie everything together with the overarching theme of “convergence.”
iOS 8 will feature tighter Mac integration while loosening the restrictions on Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor. New software kits are also bringing once fragmented security and health gadgets together.
While there was no mention of an iPhone 6 or an iWatch at this year’s WWDC, Apple seems to be setting the stage for a new wearable device by the time iOS 8 is ready for public release.
Developers can get their hands on iOS 8 right now, but everyone else has to wait a few months for the official release date, estimated to be a little over three months from now.
History has taught us that iOS updates exit beta as soon as the new iPhone is ready to launch, and that has happened in September in years past.
Apple is making quite a few changes in its upgrade to iOS 8, but there’s no reason to think that it won’t be joined by the iPhone 6 and “new product categories” like an iWatch this fall.
When it comes to iOS 8 compatibility, Apple is sticking to the update scheme of requiring the iPhone 4S and above and iPad 2 and above.
Both the iPads mini and iPad mini 2 tablets and the forever alone iPod touch 5th generation are also going to work with the new iOS, just like they did with iOS 7. No one new is left behind.
iOS 8 works on just as many devices as iOS 7
It’s important to note that all of these iDevices use Bluetooth 4.0, a low-energy version of the antenna that many wearables require for constant syncing.
The compatible iPhones and iPads have been powerful enough to handle Bluetooth-connected hardware accessories, and are clearly durable enough to take on Apple’s tweaked software.
Touch ID for all
Up until now, Apple’s fingerprint scanner has been limited to bypassing the lockscreen and buying iTunes Store content, but iOS 8 changes all of that as app developers get access to the five-digit login tool.
All sorts of apps will be able to use the biometric scanning home button instead of pesky passcodes. So far this only applies to the iPhone 5S, but Touch ID is likely to come to the iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2 later this year.
Forgetting your password may be a thing of the past
At WWDC, banking service Mint.com illustrated how third-party Touch ID authentication will expand beyond its lockscreen and iTunes confines.
Imagine, “Forget password” becoming a thing of the past as the pores in your fingertips act as a much more unique method of protecting your valuable data.
Of course, Apple went out of its way to say that even though you trust many app developers with your bank account data, they won’t have access to your biometric information. It’s locked away in the A7 processor.
SMS and phone calls on Mac
iMessages has been a wonderful cross-compatible tool for chatting on iOS devices and Macs – at least until you try to leave your iPhone behind for an Android.
iOS 8 SMS messages will finally appear on your iPad and Mac computer
Apple deserters, however, may be lured back to iOS 8 with SMS and voice calls being folded into iPads and Macs, just like blue iMessages currently pop up on Apple tablets and computers.
It’s a pain to have to fetch your phone for a single SMS from an Android user, especially when you’re sitting in front of a 13-inch MacBook Airscreen that’s fully capable of handling text messages and phone calls.
Incoming phone calls can be answered on the tablet or computer too
Of course, enabling text messages and phone calls to a Mac requires upgrading it to the newly announced OS X Yosemite, but that’s a piece of cake since it’ll be free and arrive around the same time as iOS 8.
Handoff and WiFi hotspot
iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite are going to be joined at the hip with the Handoff feature that lets you pick up where you left off between devices.
Finish that email on the computer or on the road seamlessly
Starting a project or email on an iPad or iPhone will let you finish the task on a Mac with no annoying overlap. There’s no need to reopen windows or rewrite text on the computer. And it works going the other way too.
What if you don’t have access to the internet on your computer or iPad to get the job done? That’s where the Instant HotSpot feature will come into play, easing the messy personal hotspot setup of iOS 7.
Group messages with voice and video
Group messages is also being enhanced for iOS 8 thanks to new features. You’ll be able to add and drop people from conversations and silence non-stop incoming message annoyances via a group-specific Do Not Disturb toggle.
Sharing your location for a set period of time is also going to be a part of iMessages, essentially forking over the concept from Apple’s underused Friend My Friends app.
Sharing your location with friends is great for big, crowded outings. Never again say ‘I’m my this big tent thing. Do you see me? No? It’s big. And a tent.’
Location sharing, when it was part of the standalone app, was ideal for meeting up in a crowded location like a baseball stadium or concert, and now it’ll get more use within iMessages.
Multimedia within iOS 8’s iMessages app should be more useful too. Inline voice and video messages with Snapchat-like clips that self-destruct are coming to this mobile OS update.
For the times when you do actually respond to texts and calendar reminders on your phone instead of a Mac computer, iOS 8 adds convenient interactive notifications.
Respond with an ‘On my way’ lie, reply with an excuse to get out of dinner, snooze on picking up James – all from the lockscreen
Like OS X Mavericks, these notifications can be dealt with in a few simple taps thanks to inline responses. There’s no need to mess with the lock screen in order to take action right away.
iOS notifications have come a long way from taking up the entire middle of our phone screens, and iOS 8 makes them feel like even less of a nuisance.
Quicktype keyboard and extensions
Apple claims its iOS 8 keyboard is its “smartest keyboard ever,” and there’s no reason to doubt that since its Quicktype feature adds long-awaited predictive texting that’s akin to SwiftKey and Swype.
The candidate row appears above the keyboard with three word-finishing suggestions and then next-word best guesses. It even varies depending on the app that’s open to match your tone for each app, from casual iMessages to formal emails.
Apple’s Quicktype (left) finally offers suggestions, while Swype (right) does all that and more
If someone asks you a question, Quicktype will also automatically offer choices like “Yes” and “No” and, optionally, learn your contacts to spell everyone’s name correctly.
Better yet, Apple won’t limit users to the pre-installed keyboard. “Extensions” finally bring Swype and open up iOS 8 to new third-party sharing options, photo editing tools, custom actions and notification center widgets.
There’s always a lot of potential when a platform as large as Apple’s opens up its ecosystem to outside developers. Look at what it did to the App Store.
Extensions by forward-thinking developers may be long overdue, but it’ll finally be here with iOS 8.
iCloud may actually be useful
Prior to today, there was very little reason to use the ridiculously small 5GB of free space Apple included with iCloud. It was always easier to use a more capable and less expensive Dropbox account.
That all changes when iOS 8 launches alongside iCloud Drive, Apple’s new rival to Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Microsoft OneDrive and the dozens of other file sharing services that have sprung up in recent years.
Files in your iPad. Just don’t expect music. You go to iTunes for that! Bring money!
It still costs money over the 5GB limit, but at least more file types can be stored and synced. This includes documents, presentations, spreadsheets, PDFs and images.
What’s really cool about the forthcoming iCloud-enabled iOS Photos app is that every picture and every edit is saved across all of your Apple devices automatically. Better yet, there are new tools and filters in iOS 8.
Apple didn’t announce an iWatch-tied Healthbook app at WWDC, but it did unveil a more plainly named Health app and the developer-focused HealthKit API.
It’s intended to bring together all of the fragmented health and fitness gadgets into one secure location, whether the fitness device deals with your heart rate, calories burned, blood sugar and cholesterol.
Track calories burned, sleep, nutrition and more with the Health app
There’s also an emergency card accessible from the lock screen, just in case.
Nike and the MayoClinic are on board with HealthKit in order to deposit health stats into the centralized Health app, and Withings’ Blood Pressure Monitor was a part of Apple’s WWDC presentation.
The more that existing products like the Fitbit Force and Jawbone Up24join this initiative, the more iOS 8 users will find this to be the health equivalent to Apple’s coupon and ticket stub-collecting Passbook.
Apple also plans to tie together smart home electronics with its HomeKit framework for connected devices so that you control everything without getting up off the couch.
Everything but Nest was mentioned, of course
Locking doors, turning off lights, adjusting the thermostat and shutting the garage won’t even require tapping your iPhone 5S touchscreen, it turns out.
Instead, these actions can be triggered with Siri voice commands as simple as saying “Siri, I’m going to bed” in order for the computerized assistant to put you into something of a human “safe mode.”
Siri and Spotlight updates
Siri does more than look after the house and save you on your electricity bill. Apple’s voice assistant is going to start responding to “Hey Siri” as soon as you update to iOS 8.
This safer, hands-free way of activating Siri is joined by the service’s ability to identify songs using Shazam’s recognition software, purchase iTunes content and recognize up to 22 languages.
Search, whether it’s by voice or spotlight, is faster than ever
Siri is also going to become a better listener with iOS 8 thanks to streaming voice recognition. Now the wavy lines and words that appear on screen will match what you’re saying in near-real-time.
When voice search isn’t feasible in a loud environment, you can turn to the more reliable iOS 8 Spotlight . Like its OS X Yosemite counterpart, it searches Wikipedia, the news, nearby places, the App Store and more.
Finding things, whether it’s via Siri or Spotlight, shouldn’t be a problem in iOS 8, as Apple is finally taking on Google’s handy voice search.
Features being saved for iOS 9?
There’s a lot going on with iOS 8, but chief among the changes Apple failed to implement is true split-screen multitasking, which Samsung and LG have offered on their Android tablets and larger phones.
Public transit directions via Apple Maps is missing in action as well, and Google Maps is benefiting the most from this. Hopefully its implementation was delayed to iOS 8.1 instead of next year’s iOS 9.
Apps for photo previews and a TextEdit application, also previously rumored for WWDC 2014, didn’t make an appearance either, and the status of Game Center is still unknown. Apple hasn’t killed it off just yet.
As the iOS 8 beta begins to update with new features every month, there are bound to be more surprises leading up to the official release date, which is expected to happen in September.
Coupled with iPhone 6 and an iWatch, it should be enough to keep Apple users from defecting to Android, unless of course Google IO 2014 is a showstopper on June 25.