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Apple Announces iOS 8, Comes with Third Party Support for Widgets and Keyboards

By Sidney Wong - on 3 Jun 2014, 4:00am

Apple Announces iOS 8, Comes with Third Party Support for Widgets and Keyboards

At this year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple took the wraps off its latest mobile operating system, iOS 8. Dubbed the biggest release since the launch of the App Store, iOS 8 brings a host of new features that makes the user experience more complete.

The App Store is home to more than 1.2 million apps and Apple is making it easier for users to find the apps they want.

As the central feature of its platform, Apple today introduced new features to the App Store which include the ability for developers to sell app bundles at discounted prices, enhancing the search function with the Explore tab and related app searches. The App Store also provides app previews via short videos and unveiled a new Editor's Choice logo for "the best apps". 

iOS 8 now supports third party keyboards.

For the first time ever, Apple opened up the keyboard to developers. You can now select your favorite third party keyboard to use on an iOS 8 device. Not to be outdone by developers, Apple also introduced a new predictive typing keyboard called QuickType.

QuickType learns from your typing history and style, and adapts accordingly to the sentence context and apps that you are using. For example, it knows what the conversation in a text message is about and offers choices like "yes, "no", "dinner" or "movie". It also offers word choices based on the apps you use; more casual word suggestions are presented in iMessage than Mail app.

Messages is the most frequently used app on iOS, hence Apple added new functionalities to improve the user experience.

Third party messaging apps are popular among smartphone users due to their ability to send voice messages, and Apple knows that it has to upgrade its Messages app to match the competition. Known as Tap to Talk, this feature enables you to send voice and video messages through the Messages app. To hear a voice message, you lift the iPhone to your ear and listen to it as if it's a phone call. The voice and video messages can be preset to self destruct after listening or viewing to free up storage space on your iOS device.

You have more control in group messaging; not only can you name the thread, you also can add or remove participants. There is an option to enable "Do Not Disturb" so that notifications from the group chat do not interfere with what you are doing. 

Other new, intuitive features introduced in the Messages app are the ability to share your location in the middle of the conversation, view all the photos/videos shared in a thread without having to scroll through the conversation, and the option to send multiple photos/videos at once.

Widgets are now supported in the Notification Center of iOS 8.

Widget support has finally arrived on iOS! Apple opened up iOS for developers to start building widgets for their apps. Unlike Android where widgets are placed on the lock screen and/or home screen panels, iOS 8 only allows you to pin the widgets in the Today View of the Notification Center. For example, you can view the scores of ongoing matches from SportsCenter and even manage your biddings on eBay.

The Health app will record health and fitness data on your iOS 8 device while the HealthKit is a tool for developers to make apps to work with the Health App. 

With the HealthKit tool and Health app, iOS 8 devices will be transformed into fitness and health trackers. The Health app collates your health and fitness data (heart rate, calories burned, blood sugar, cholesterol) in one dashboard for easy viewing. You can create an emergency card with the essential health information such as blood type, allergies and medications.

The Healthkit tool lets you manage the different types of data collected by the Health app and select which data to be shared with other health and fitness apps. Apple is currently working with Nike, Mayo Clinic and other health care providers to integrate the various health and fitness apps.

Apple is moving beyond the iPhone and iPad; it is planning to take over your home with the HomeKit.

Similar to the HealthKit tool, Apple brings a "common network protocol", HomeKit, for connecting and controlling other smart devices such as locks, lights, cameras , doors, thermostats and switches. Apple is also running a certification program alongside HomeKit to ensure that these smart devices work with iOS 8 devices. 

According to Apple, HomeKit ensures that there is only securing pairing between the smart devices and your iOS 8 device so that "only your iPhone can open your garage door or unlock your door". HomeKit can control individual devices or group them into scenes so that you are able to control all of them at once. Apparently, HomeKit will feature Siri integration which will see you using voice commands to control the smart devices.

Apple states that it is currently working with companies in home automation such as iHome, Philips and Honeywell to make HomeKit a competent smart home solution by establishing a common protocol for the smart devices to work together. 

 Apple did not forget about Siri; in fact, the digital voice assistant has some new features!

Apple's digital voice assistant has some tricks up its sleeves in iOS 8. It is integrated with Shazam to help you identify songs, hence you no longer need to download or use other third party apps. Siri also can be used to purchase iTunes content. It also streams what you say in real time and can be activated by speaking "Hey, Siri", in a similar fashion as how Android users say "Ok, Google" on Android 4.4 KitKat. Apple also added 22 new dictation languages for Siri.

 You can act on notifications in iOS 8.

One of the chief complaints for the notification panel in previous iOS versions is the inability to act on them. You only can tap on them to view them in the respective apps or remove them from the Notification Center. Now, iOS 8 allows you to act on the notifications. 

For example, you can reply to a text message and accept or decline a calendar invite from the lock screen. Third party apps such as Facebook are also supported. You can like or comment on a Facebook post that you are tagged in.

The iOS 8 beta software and software development kit (SDK) are available now for iOS Developer Program members at developer.apple.com. The iOS SDK is touted as the biggest developer release ever with over 4,000 new APIs for developers. This means that when iOS 8 arrives later this year, there should be an abundance of apps created by developers to make use of the new features (Notification Center widgets, third party keyboards, HealthKit and HomeKit).

These are the devices that will receive the free update to iOS 8 later this year.