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6 great features coming to both old and new iPhones this week in iOS 8

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Maybe you weren’t one of the four million people who pre-ordered an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus last week. And perhaps you don’t want to stand around in line trying to get Apple’s newest iPhone this coming Friday. Don’t dismiss your older iPhone just yet: iOS 8 arrives on Wednesday and will bring a number of new functions to your old handset. And some of them reduce the advantages that Google Android phones have had for some time.

ios 8 on iPhone

I’ve been using the iOS 8 beta for several months and I’m convinced that some Android phone users — more than with prior iOS and iPhone updates — will make the switch to iOS for two reasons.

First, the new iPhones bring the large-screen experience that some [company]Google[/company] Android devices have offered for several years. And second, [company]Apple[/company] has opened up iOS a bit more, letting developers and users have more control over their phones. (Note that my comment about Android users switching is just an observation and expectation; I’m not suggesting one is “best,” as I use both platforms for different reasons.) And of the 554 responses from Android users to our poll on this topic in June, more than 42 percent of respondents said yes, iOS 8 and the new iPhones may have won them over.

Here are a few of the standout iOS 8 features that will come to both old and new iPhones later this week.

1. Interactive notifications

I’ve always felt that the way iOS handles notifications lags behind the competition. Apple improved this with the Notification Center in iOS 5 and now those notifications get more useful, regardless of the app you’re using. You can reply to an iMessage or accept an incoming calendar invite while surfing the web, for example.

imessage interactive notification

This saves time from switching back and forth between apps. The function doesn’t just apply to native iOS apps, either; developers can add this interaction to third-party apps.

2. More sharing options

Android has always excelled at sharing content from a mobile device thanks to its intents system. At a high level, any app installed on Android can automatically appear as a sharing method without any user configuration. By contrast, iOS has only let you share content with Apple says you can share content with. In iOS 8, you’ll see more sharing options aside from Mail, [company]Facebook[/company], Twitter and such because developers can add their own apps to that list. That means you can expect to share photos directly to third-party apps such as Instagram or Snapchat, for example, and perhaps web content to Evernote. Pocket has already announced its support for direct sharing in iOS 8 and here’s what it will look like:

Pocket Share Option

3. A new native keyboard as well as optional third-party keyboards

Finally! Since keyboards aren’t one size fits all, this is one of my most anticipated additions to iOS 8. SwiftKey, Fleksy and others who make keyboards for Android have already declared their intent to support iOS 8 or offered beta versions of their keyboards. Look for new swype-style input methods, gestures and other keyboard customizations on both old and new iPhones as soon as this week. Here’s a sneak peek at SwiftKey for iOS 8:

Apple has improved the native iOS keyboard as well. Look for iPhones old and new to have better contextual word suggestions that vary based on the message type. When in iMessage, for example, suggestions will be brief conversational words as opposed to a more robust vocabulary in Mail.

4. Handing off the experience between devices

Google’s cloud sync efforts have long offered easy ways to start an activity on the phone and later continue it in the browser. You can open a link in the mobile Chrome browser, for example, and see that same page in Chrome on the desktop. Apple is adding a similar function in iOS 8 called Handoff but takes it a step further.

ios 8 handoff

Many native apps — think Safari, Pages, Maps and Calendar — will support Handoff. Start a Pages document or email on your iPhone and you can pick up where you left off on a Mac or iPad. Handoff isn’t just for Apple apps, though; developers can add the function to their own apps too.

5. Continuous communication with Continuity

Although the feature won’t arrive until next month, iOS 8 brings what Apple calls Continuity. It’s akin to Handoff but is specific to communications. You’ll be able to use your Mac or iPad for voice calls with Continuity because the devices will all be connected, in a manner of speaking: With iOS 8, the iPhone acts as a communication hub and OS X Yosemite or iOS 8 on an iPad can handle calls or messages via a Wi-Fi connection. Google’s own Hangouts app has similar features as the company is unifying calls, Google Voice and texts through the app.

6. Got widgets?

The iOS 8 Notification Center has long had widgets; it’s just that they were pretty limited and, unexpectedly, were native applets. The weather, calendar and stock market information that appears in iOS 7 with a downward swipe is pretty much it. With the new iOS 8 software, Apple is adding developer support for such widgets and you’ll be able to pick and choose which ones you want to see. A few developers have already shown concept widgets, such as Hue connected light controls and a widget that shows how much cellular data you’ve used in the current billing cycle, so there’s virtually no limit to which widgets might become available this week and beyond.

Dataman iOS widget

One more thing

One last thought: Yes, Google clearly led the way on many of the features just now arriving in iOS 8. And we can debate which platform is superior, or which is the leader, but that’s ultimately pointless.

So before engaging in such useless commentary, keep in mind what I said in June:

Sure, we could all argue about who borrowed from whom, but at the end of the day, does that really matter to consumers? At this point, most of the major smartphone innovation has come and gone; now companies are down to refining the experience until the next big thing arrives. So when spending hard-earned money on a smartphone, consumers are (hopefully!) going to pick the one that best meets their personal needs. The “best” handset on the market is the one that works best for you.

For some, Android is the one that works best, while for others it’s iOS, Windows Phone or even BlackBerry. There’s no wrong choice. But thanks to competition over the past several years, there are plenty of better choices than there were not too long ago.

10 Responses to “6 great features coming to both old and new iPhones this week in iOS 8”

  1. It’s not that there is no wrong choice. It’s that there is no right choice. Both iOS and Android have glaring problems that are quite fixable. I know these problems are soluble because it is almost always the case that a glaring problem on iOS is not a problem at all on Android, and vice versa. Here are 2 examples, one from iOS, one from Android:

    I assume apps are still not allowed control of system-level features such as volume control in iOS 8? smh

    Scenario: I’m using my iDevice in bed. My wife is asleep. If I turn the volume down, that only affects whatever I am doing at the moment, and that is usually Sound Effects. Then I click on a link to a video, and the video BLARES until I can turn its volume down.

    On Android, any developer can build an app that gives me separate simultaneous control over all the different types of volume controls (you might be surprised to learn that there are 8 of them: phone ringer, alerts, alarms, music/media, phone voice, speaker, Bluetooth phone, Bluetooth music/media playback).

    That app can let me set up custom profiles that allow me to specify each of those 8 different types of volume. So I can have a profile for a noisy environment, a different profile for most normal use, and, yes, a profile for when I’m in a meeting or when my wife is asleep.

    Apple’s insistence on the walled garden means I can’t do any of this in iOS, because Apple hasn’t deigned to open up the interfaces to apps. And that lack of control and customization is why I switched from iPhone to Android, and why I’m thinking about switching from iPad to a Chrome tablet or Chromebook.

    Meanwhile, an absurd and embarrassing failure of Android is its inability to do a full backup and restore, something Apple has rightfully provided for iOS devices forever. After all these years, this is not just difficult on Android, it is impossible, and Google should be ashamed.

  2. duncanator

    I am one of those android users that have pre-ordered the iphone 6plus. I currently have a Nexus 5 and really like it, but if you are getting a phone on contract, it has to be an iPhone simply because of the out of contract price.

    I am switching back because of the screen size increase, swipe keyboard, and app sharing that I’ve come to love in android. I’ve owned the GS2, 3, and 4, and will never go back to a Samsung phone because I detest touchwiz and the slow pace of updates by both Samsung and my carrier. I switched to the Nexus line because of the rapid updates and lack of carrier apps, something that I also get with an iPhone.

    I like both phones, but need to change it up a bit. I’m sure I will swap sim cards now and again to see what android L will be like.

  3. Your item #2 isn’t something Apple is stealing from Android. It’s something Apple is stealing from … Apple. Android Intents is basically a ripoff of “Filters&Services” from NeXT’s OS and development model (ie. the foundation of MacOSX and IOS, obtained when Apple bought NeXT). It has actually been there, in the background, on OSX all along. It just hasn’t been widely advertised. But, on OSX, if you go to the Application’s menu, there’s a Services menu. Any app can add things to the Services menu, and define what data it takes in and what data it sends back. Then other Applications can leverage that functionality.

    One example: Before any apps at all had been written to support web features (back in 1991 and 1992), OmniWeb (Omni Group’s web browser) added a service “Open URL”. It would take a string of text that you highlight in any text field, and try to open it as a URL. Just highlight text in any app (mail, word processor, terminal window), and do Option-U … and OmniWeb would open it in a new window. The mail/word-procressor/terminal apps didn’t have to be modified in any way shape nor form.

    That’s Services. But the same basic API and OS-daemon that implements Services also implements Filters. Imagine Photoshop only supported, say, 1 image format. And someone else wrote a library of every possible image format, and would convert them to/from that one Photoshop format. It just registers this ability to input and/or output those other formats with Filters&Services, and suddenly Photoshop knows how to read and write those other data formats … without Photoshop ever having a single piece of code changed. And without the Filter author needing to know anything about Photoshop. Nor do they have to write this Filter around a particular app’s plugin API — this becomes available to any app on the system that supports any one of the input or output formats that the filter supports.

    So, my point is: this isn’t new to Apple’s OS team and Developer tools. It’s not something they’re stealing from any other platform. They developed this capability back in 1988, via the team they acquired from NeXT. The only thing “new” here is that they’re finally publicly supporting it for the first time since the NeXT acquisition in 1996.

    I will grant that MAYBE that is because they’ve seen that a similar feature (almost certainly inspired by NeXT, Openstep, and Gnustep … or my rambling/ranting about this feature for the last 20 years to anyone that will listen) show up in Android and become a popular bullet item in Android’s arsenal. My only point is: don’t be fooled into thinking it was an innovation created by Android, being stolen by Apple.

    It came from Apple (via NeXT).

  4. Michael Bond

    As a former iOS user and current Android fanatic, I have to admit that I have been considering switching back at some point. With iOS opening up and the screens getting bigger, plus the fact that Google’s ecosystem is mostly accessible within iOS, there is less and less separating the two experiences at this point.