iOS 8: Overview and app development possibilities

Published on Aug 04, 2014 in iOS Developers Resources
iOS 8 Cover

Apple announces iOS 8 as the biggest iOS release ever, for developers and everyone else. Their aim is to create “the most natural experience”, where each enhancement has a real purpose. iOS extensions will be the best and main feature of the new OS: they will be the solution to the lack of communication between apps on iOS. Extensions are a way to make a specific app feature available outside of its containing app and inside a separate "host" app.

Extensions are a way for third-party applications to talk to each other, and they bring the user the capacity to extend and personalize the functionality of the OS. So the user will be able to decide what extensions he wants to use or delete, whenever he wants. Until now, iOS has been a closed platform in terms of software and strict enforcement of sandboxing rules, personalization and extensibility, so Apple users never enjoyed some of the benefits Android users enjoy. Allowing third-party apps to communicate with other apps is one of the problems extensions want to solve, although not all parts of iOS can be changed or "extended" by third parties; third-party apps still can't directly share all of their data with one another. Apple will define some pre-set "extension points" to show developers where they can add material. These points are: Today extensions (or widgets), Share extensions, Action extensions, Photo Editing extensions, Storage Provider extensions and Custom keyboard extensions.

Like all third-party apps, all iOS extensions are downloaded from the App Store, but Apple won't allow developers to offer apps that are just extensions. Each extension has to live within a "containing app," and this must offer some functionality to the user.

iOS 8 characteristics

What makes iOS 8 Apple’s most advanced mobile OS is the complete experience it will bring you, the ecosystem it will create with all your iOS and Mac devices. As they say in their website “It’s the fact that you can now see (and edit and organise) every photo you take on all your devices. That you can add your voice into a text message. And that your health and fitness apps can now communicate with each other, with your trainer and even with your doctor”.

Many of these extensions will apply to both iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, which will be launched this autumn. OS X Yosemite will improve all your apps and it will allow your Mac and iOS devices to work together. They will be connected like never before. So, both operating systems will integrate, creating a big ecosystem, which will be a great advantage if you work with a Mac and an iPhone, for example. This way, both devices will activate new features automatically when they detect they are near from each other.

Some of these new features include answering iPhone calls or sending and receiving text messages directly from your Mac. Thanks to Handoff, you will also be able to start something on your Mac and pick it up on any other iOS device you want, and vice versa: all the iOS devices will synchronize and will know what was the last thing you were doing. So you can start writing a document on your Mac, and finish it on your iPad or iPhone. In addition, app developers can also integrate Handoff in their apps.

Possibilities for app developers

Apple provides developers (who are working on new features right now) with deeper access and more tools. Some of the improvements include new keyboard options and more ways to share your content, like helpful shortcuts to the people you talk to most. Apple has created new tools for app developers to build the new generation of apps and games, which will make the Mac experience richer. Developers will have the opportunity to build features from their apps directly into OS X, so you’ll have access to them even when you’re not using the app itself. Now it will be easier for developers to share more code across the two platforms, while still building customized experiences for each one. With iCloud-connected apps, you will be able to share data between each other and between your devices. Thus, for instance, you will be able to control your favourite Mac games wirelessly with your favourite Made for iPhone controller, by simply connecting your iPhone or iPod touch to the controller.

From now, for example, all your photos will automatically be in iCloud Photo Library, viewable and editable on all your iOS devices. It will also include new editing tools, which promise to be amazingly powerful. Besides, finding a picture from your entire library, on any of your devices, will be easier than ever: you can search by location, date or album name, and iOS 8 will also give you suggestions based on your preferences (as your favourite photos).

You will also be able to add voice to any conversation (which WhatsApp already offers), or send a video of what you’re seeing the precise moment you’re seeing it. iOS 8 will also provide you the smartest keyboard ever, which will make typing easier by suggesting contextually appropriate words to complete your sentences, and even recognising who you’re writing to and if you’re in Mail or Messages: it will be capable to distinguish your tone and thus know if you’re typing an email or a message.

Another feature, Family Sharing, will let you share your pictures, calendar, locations iTunes, iBooks and App Store content and purchases with up to six members of your family.

iOS 8 will also be very focused on health, so with its HealthKit it will track your daily activity, heart-rate, calories burned and sleep. Now, all your health and fitness apps can talk to each other, improving your total experience.

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