3 great iOS 8 features for now, and 3 for later

Enjoy better camera tools, messaging, and keyboard right now, and look forward to seamless sharing and collaboration as iCloud grows

Published: September 17, 2014 10:00 PM

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If you're an iPhone user who's not in the market for the new iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, there is still and upgrade waiting for you. On Wednesday, Apple released iOS 8, the latest version of its mobile operating system, for most late-model iPhones and iPads (see below for compatibility info). iOS 8 supports some features beyond the capabilities of most current Apple devices, such as the upcoming bump-and-go Apple Pay system, but there are plenty of updates with more universal benefits. Some are pretty great now, such as messaging, camera, and keyboard tweaks. Others involving Apple's enhanced iCloud-based services promise to be much more useful as households add more devices that support iOS 8, and still others require OS X Yosemite for Macs, which will be available in a few weeks.

 I’ve only had a few hours with iOS 8 on an iPhone 5, but I already see three features that most people will likely appreciate instantly, and three that will become important later. Here they are:

Three improvements you'll appreciate right now

More predictive text predictions. iPhone’s old single-word predictive-text feature was an industry laughingstock and almost not worth using. Not only did it often get things wrong, but iOS also put the burden on you to prevent its computer-generated gaffes from being inserted into your messages by clicking on a tiny “x” next to the word suggestion.  But iOS 8’s new QuickType keyboard is a big, big step forward. Not only does show you three suggestions for next words in a sentence, but the app will also make those suggestions based on the context of what you've already typed. These suggestions appear just above the keyboard. For instance, when I typed the word “Thanks” at the beginning of a sentence, the QuickType interface suggested “for,” “to,” and “so,” as next words. Of course, QuickType also corrects spelling as you type. These types of real-time word suggestions are common on other mobile OSs, but iPhone users will find the new system to be real improvement. Apple could have made it even better, however, by increasing the number of suggestions.

One conversation, many messages. Some people would rather text their friends than talk to them, but iOS 8 blurs the distinction by turning messaging into a profoundly mixed-media affair. The Tap To Talk feature within Message lets you send a voice or video recording from at any point during the text message. Sending a voice recording is the easiest. Just raise the phone to your ear and start talking. You can share your location, too, with the people you're messaging (which isn't really new) and set a time limit for making that data available. In fact, all of your multimedia transmissions, except photos, will disappear from your thread in short order, unless the person at the other end decides to save them.

You can also save your fondest group conversations so that you can pick up where you left off more easily, and you can check in or out of threads as your availability or patience permits.

Photo editing and organization. While the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus boast better cameras, new iOS 8 tools let you improve photos and video from the already superb cameras on late-model iPhones—before and after shoot them. For instance, the Smart Adjustments feature lets you change the overall light level in your pics after you tap to focus on your subject. Apple said the Photos app automatically adjusts contrast, exposure, and more to compensate for the changes you make with Smart Adjustments. You can also change levels and make color adjustments on photos and videos already in your gallery.

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Three features that promise to get better with time

Family Sharing. Apple’s doing its bit to keep your family in its fold. iOS 8 allows up to six people to freely share each others' iTunes movies and music, as well as iBooks and apps across accounts--without sharing account IDs and passwords. Parents can keep a tighter lid on expenses by herding purchases under one credit card and using their mobile devices to monitor and approve their children's spending. But some Big Brother aspects to Family Sharing may not be for everyone. Family members can track the location of each other's devices on Maps via GPS, and keep a group calendar, complete with reminders. At least you can easily hide your location in Maps with just a tap.

Continuity. Those who live completely within Apple's hardware ecosystem will soon be able to use Handoff to push work in progress from one Apple device to another. If you started creating a document on your iPad, a prompt will pop up on your Mac so you can continue working from there. A message started on your iPhone can be completed on an iPad. But you’ll need to set up an iCloud account, which is Apple’s answer to Google Docs.

If you get a call while you’re working on your Mac, caller ID will pop up on the desktop screen, and you can answer from the computer. That works no matter where in the house your iPhone is sitting. You’ll also be able to make calls from a Mac or iPad by tapping or clicking on phone numbers that appear on a Web page.

If you’re using a MacBook in a spot without Wi-Fi, the new Instant Hotspot feature on the iPhone will detect your laptop and automatically set up a hotspot.

Widgets. iPhone’s notification Center is already quite good, but one new iOS 8 feature is the ability to add Widgets to the Today section of the Notifications Center. This can give you access to app data, such as weather details in your area, without having to launch a separate app. Right now the selections of app widgets are limited to a handful of the usual subjects: traffic conditions, calendar, stocks, etc. But look for more widget options as developers add this feature to their apps.

Mike Gikas

Devices that support iOS 8:

  • iPhone 4S
  • iPhone 5, 5s, and 5c
  • iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
  • iPad 2, 3, and 4
  • iPad Air
  • iPad Mini and Mini 2
  • iPod Touch 5G

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