iOS 8 Forecast: Cloudy With A Chance of Everything I Wanted

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icloud driveToday I found out that Apple has been snooping through my diary and reading iPad Insight. That’s really the only way they could have put out such a magical keynote for iOS 8 (and OS X) today that felt like it was plucked straight from a dream. Patrick already offered his quick impressions of the iOS 8 announcement, but because there is simply so much to talk about, I wanted to offer up some of the choicest bits gleaned from today’s presentation. Today was a veritable software feast, and I hadn’t realized how hungry I was.

Calls and SMS from iPhone, Handoffs

This is exactly the kind of experiential continuity I’ve been looking for from Apple. The iPhone on iOS 8 will now act as a sort of telephony hub for the iPad and Mac, allowing them to receive texts and calls, and respond to them. Handoffs seems like it could have some very interesting uses, almost like an anticipatory AirDrop functionality. There are so many times where I walk back to my Mac and want to view the webpage on my iPhone on a big screen. Handoffs will make that step even easier, and I’m looking forward to seeing third-party apps integrate this as well. I’m also really glad that Apple included third-party support for Handoffs right from the start, instead of making us wait another year.

QuickType and Third party keyboards

One of my other major gripes with iOS has been its lack of a decent modern keyboard solution. The iPhone keyboard was pretty good when it came out in 2009, but we’ve seen a number of improvements to touchscreen input since then. QuickType is Apple’s own take on a modern touchscreen keyboard, but it doesn’t seem all that interesting from the previews. Auto-corrections and suggestions are now displayed right above the keyboard, instead of above the word you’re writing. This makes the predictions or corrections much easier to tap on, and the OS now offers three choices, instead of just one. QuickType also claims to learn from context, based on the app or person you’re talking to, but I’ll have to see that in action to really gauge its effectiveness.
What I’m much more excited about is third-party keyboards on iOS, which is a prospect very much deserving of an exasperated “finally”. Swype made one-handed typing 10,000 times easier, and keyboards like Fleksy are integrating gestures right into the keyboard in a very interesting way. Text input on iOS will receive a massive update this Fall, and I think we might see a lot of users forego physical keyboards when it comes out. That’s not to say that physical keyboards are dead — but these new input methods may make quick emails and texts fun enough that you may not want to bother lugging anything else alongside your iPad.

iCloud Drive

This release of iOS really feels like the “power user” edition, and features like iCloud Drive and Extensibility drive that home. iCloud Drive essentially enables a Finder-like interface on iOS, which allows me to navigate my files in something resembling a computer’s folder hierarchy (which is what I grew up with). I don’t mind iOS trying to obscure some of the file system by associating files with specific apps, but I’m glad they’re seeing that the file system has to advance a little more before mobile computing becomes truly comfortable. Saving a file over and over again as it goes through different apps isn’t fun, dealing with duplicates isn’t fun, and so I’m really looking forward to playing with iCloud Drive later this year. I’ll probably even upgrade to the paid storage plan, now that it’s $12/20GB or $48/200GB annually. The $48 plan could easily keep all of my recorded videos and photos readily accessible across all of my devices, which is a very exciting prospect.

Extensibility and Widgets

Extensibility sounds like Apple’s response to all those rumours of “split screen” iPad apps, and it makes sense to me. I didn’t want to have two apps on a 10″ screen, but I do want to quickly be able to leverage the power of one app while I use another. One example of this is using Skitch before sending an email off. If iOS 8 allows me to bring Skitch up to edit a photo while I’m using the Mail app, that would be good enough multitasking for me.
I’m also looking forward to seeing some creative use of widgets, which will show up on the Today screen. Widgets won’t come as solo downloads, but rather as part of apps that you install. The keynote showed topping up an eBay bid as an example of interactive widgetes, so I’m hoping to see some creative use of Reminders integration, or a half-decent weather widget.

Better Mail gestures

iOS 8 has addressed a few of my wishlist items in the email department as well. There are now quick gestures for marking an email as “unread” or deleting it outright, but my favourite new feature is the quick draft dismissal. There are so many instances where I need to tap the cancel button, tap to save my draft, and then rummage around the inbox for information relevant to my current email. iOS 8 will let me push the current email draft down to the bottom of the screen, find my email, and pull the draft back up. This is great use of the iPad’s smaller-than-a-laptop screen dimensions.

Instant Hotspot

Triggering a Hotspot on iOS 7 is the easiest it has ever been, but that’s not saying much. If you want to tether an iPhone to an iPad you’ve got to head to the Hotspot menu in the iPhone’s settings, turn Hotspot on, and then leave the iPhone on that exact screen. You’ve then got to the iPad, head to Wi-Fi, and pick the iPhone’s Hotspot from the list. If your iPhone’s screen turns off at any time during this period, the Hotspot likely won’t connect.
I’m actually not sure how Instant Hotspot will work between iPhones and iPads on iOS 8, but it should work without having to type in any passwords for activation, and it claims to be smarter about saving battery when the connection isn’t being actively used. The Hotspot is a little less relevant to me now that I have an LTE iPad Air on a 1GB plan, but since my iPhone’s 6GB plan is still way bigger, I’ll probably give Hotspot a try later this year.

Improvements to Siri and Spotlight

One of the biggest improvements Apple could make to Siri is to simply make it more reliable. There are too many times where I’ll try to do a voice search or reply to a message, but end up hearing that Siri is currently doing charity work somewhere else and is unavailable at this time. That said, the new features in Siri feel like a good mix of Windows Phone (Cortana) and Android (Google Now) capabilities.
Cortana on Windows Phone can take written input and give context-sensitive search results, and that’s exactly what Spotlight can now provide. App Store, Wikipedia, and Maps searches are now just a quick swipe away on the home screen. We’ve seen these kinds of tweaks on the jailbreak scene before, but the smoothness can’t quite compare to first-party integration directly from Apple.
Android’s Google Now currently trumps Siri for quick voice dictation and ease of search, but Siri will be playing some catch-up this fall. Siri will be able to preview dictated text as it is parsed on servers, which should make dictation a lot more accurate, since you can check on text as you go. The new “Hey Siri” voice-activation is interesting, but seems to require a power supply to work at all. That means it’s really only useful in the car, or while the iPad is charging at home. I also wonder what it will be like to say “Hey Siri” and have both my iPhone and iPad perk up — that sounds problematic and a little jarring.

Those — in a nutshell the size of a refigerator — are my thoughts on the best bits of iOS 8 thus far. Today felt like Softmas, a newfangled Pagan tradition of celebrating that which runs on hardware, and it has me very excited about the Fall.

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