It's a year since Apple unveiled a flatter look for iOS 7 but beyond that, and a more efficient manner of multitasking and the addition of Control Centre, it was much the same as we've seen for years. Apple's iOS 8 changes that, launching in the Autumn.
"This is a giant release" said CEO Tim cook " It has incredible developer features so that you can extend your developer experience and build apps you just couldn't before".
There's now a refined Notifications Centre. Notifications are now interactive -- just hold down on a notification to respond to it. It's a feature that works from the lock screen too -- an event invite can be accepted or declined directly from the lockscreen, for instance. You can even like a Facebook post direct from a Notification.
The Notifications Centre will also support light widgets, with apps offering drop-down real-time updating information from the notifications view.
Double tapping the Home button now also throws up recent contacts as well as multi tasking options -- Facetime, call, and messaging options are available in this view, giving you another place to get in touch with your pals from.
Apple is looking to achieve greater synergy across its devices with a new push it's calling "Continuity". This introduces a Handoff feature -- letting devices in proximity of each other interact and share data. If you start an email on your iPhone, you Mac will be aware and offer you a prompt to finish the message on the computer, or share a Safari tab from one device to another with just a swipe. Air Drop now supports file sharing across Mac, iPhone and iPad devices, too.
Call integration is also included as part of this feature. If your phone is in range of your Mac, you can use your Apple laptop or computer to answer an incoming call, leveraging off the iPhone's cellular connection and using the computer as a giant speakerphone.
Third party keyboards can now finally be added to iOS, with enterprise grade security protecting your musings.
This is in addition to context-sensitive predictive text suggestions. It will suggest more formal words if your are talking to a contact you've designated as a boss, for instance, while suggesting food-y words if you're discussing a dinner date.
Mail managing is easier than ever -- pull a message and you can access flagging and deleting options. Add an event to calendar direct from mail, and mark a message as read with a swipe too. Drag a message from your inbox all the way across and it will quickly delete it too. Composing email is improved -- access the rest of your mail in compose view by dragging the pane down to see the rest of your inbox -- handy if you want to copy and paste details from an older message.
The Spotlight Suggestions feature that's also in Yosemite OS X is now included. Tapping into web data, you'll search not only items on your phone, but also from websites and the App store. It's not unlike the universal search tool available in Windows 8.
iMessage now has a tap-to-talk feature, letting you send voice and video messages directly through the app. Group messaging now supports named message threads. You can remove users from a thread, as well as silencing an individual in a particularly chatty thread.
Using the Handoff proximity feature, proper SMS support comes to iMessages. That's beyond SMS support on the iPhone -- regardless of the delivery method, Mac and iPad messaging apps will now see those green SMS bubbles too when automatically synced with a nearby iPhone on the same Apple account.
Safari and Extensions
Safari will now support extensions -- Apple used the example of Bing Translate within a Chinese webpage, instantly re-rendering its text in English. This could really open up Safari to some interesting added features when in the hands of the right third-party developers.
Extensions will extend into other apps -- if you want to use one app's photo-editing options before sending an image in another, providing the developer has allowed its app to communicate with another, you'll be able to do so.
Safari has a new Birds Eye tab view too -- ideal for iPad users, you can see dozens of tabs from a single place, without the need for scrolling.
Photos are now supported by a library built completely around iCloud syncing. Likely marking the beginning of the end of iPhoto. It also includes touch-friendly image editing options, letting you touch up shadow and highlight points with a smudge of your greasy fingers.
iCloud Drive lets you work with a single version of a document across all devices, without problematic file copy issues. Third-party apps can automatically send information up to the cloud, making sure every bit of data from every file a developer allows -- no matter its origin -- is synced across devices, even Windows ones.
Health and HealthKit
The HealthKit API is being introduced, acting as a single place where applications can send health tracking metrics, letting even third-party applications tap into a central repository of all your fitness goal. Beyond third-party devs, health professionals can also make use of the feature -- with compatible software, a doctor can send out test results to a patient direct to the partnering Health app. And, on the flipside of that, patients can send updated data back to their doctors the same way.
Family Sharing is now supported, letting up to six (credit card sharing) family members access media purchases from their own Apple accounts on a single device. Kids can make purchases through an iPad with your card, for instance, which you will need to greenlight through a notification on your personal iPhone device.
Third-party applications can now use Touch ID fingerprint scanning as an authorisation option. Presumably, you'll be able to use your thumb print to access your banking details, or pay for a purchase.
Siri never stops listening now, going one step closer to becoming a HAL-like nightmare. Still, it'll help when working hands-free -- a simple "Hey Siri" command will fire up the assistant at any point without touching the home button. In addition, it allows for the newly-integrated Shazam to be accessed in moments with a Siri command, identifying a song for you with a voice command.
Metal 3D Engine
Finally, iOS 8 will support Metal, Apple's new 3D rendering engine. It's claimed to deliver "console-level" visuals to app gaming (I'm sure we've heard that before), and is backed by major games devs including Epic.
Image credits: Engadget