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Apple grows organically: a look at the changes coming with iOS 8

A more interesting unveiling — one that has been long awaited — was the keyboard upgrade that comes with iOs 8.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook dedicated a significant section of his presentation to previewing the new iOS 8 during the Apple World Wide Developers Conference on June 2, 2014. David Paul Morris / Bloomberg
Apple chief executive Tim Cook dedicated a significant section of his presentation to previewing the new iOS 8 during the Apple World Wide Developers Conference on June 2, 2014. David Paul Morris / Bloomberg

It comes as little surprise that Tim Cook’s keynote was the highlight of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2014 (WWDC14) in San Francisco this month. And with the tech giant’s chief executive dedicating a significant section of his presentation to previewing the new iOS 8, the keynote offered glimpses into the surprises that lie ahead when users start downloading the new operating system later this year.

Like Steve Jobs before him, Tim Cook typically enjoys kicking off his keynote presentations with a series of statistics, and things were no different at WWDC14. IDC enjoys stats just as much as Apple does, so before we get going let’s take a look at the most impressive ones mentioned:

• There are 1.2 million apps in the App Store …

• … and to date, 75 billion apps have been downloaded.

• Over 800 million iOS devices have been sold since inception, including 100 million iPod Touches, 200 million iPads and 500 million iPhones.

• 90% of the installed base is running the latest iOS 7 operating system.

Given the potency of these stats, it’s little wonder that Apple places such an emphasis on the iPod, iPad, and iPhone product lines that run on iOS. Last year, Apple introduced a major design overhaul with iOS 7, and for 2014 the company will continue with the design language of iOS 7, while bringing advancements in features and functionality with iOS 8.

A major feature unveiled at WWDC14 was Continuity, which brings with it some much-anticipated features. In summary, Apple wants its users to be able to seamlessly switch between devices that are near one another, starting off on a second device from exactly where they left off on the previous one. For example, the new Handoff feature allows users to begin composing an email on an iPhone and when they reach home finish composing the exact same message on a Mac or iPad.

The enhancements don’t stop there. SMS messages were previously only visible on an iPhone, but with iOS 8 they will now show up on any iOS device or Mac, with the added feature of users being able to respond to them from any Apple platform. And thanks to the new features inherent in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite for Macs, users can now even make and answer calls on their none-iPhone devices as long as the phone is near the selected device.

Apple’s Messaging app also comes with some much-needed upgrades, bringing it more into line with the current crop of competition. The new version of the app in iOS 8 allows users to send video and audio messages, share their locations, and even enable self-destruction features. While such offerings are already widely available through services such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, among others, it was imperative that Apple follow suit in order to attract users to spend time on its platform over the others.

Meanwhile, the new interactive notifications feature allows users to instantly respond to a notification (SMS, Facebook, Mail, Calendar, etc.) directly from the notification window itself without ever having to leave the first application.

A more interesting unveiling — one that has been long awaited — was the keyboard upgrade that comes with iOs 8. Apple’s iOS keyboards have come under heavy criticism when compared to their Android and even Windows counterparts. However, with iOS 8 the company plans to silence its critics by upgrading the stock keyboard to include a predictive text feature that learns the user’s writing habits and provides options accordingly. And if users are still craving something completely different, they will for the first time be able to download a third-party keyboard.

Siri, Apple’s voice-activated virtual assistant, will also receive some upgrades, chief among them being a new hands-free feature. Just like with Android, users will be able to say “Hey Siri” to activate her, and then follow those words with a command. Siri will also be able to notify users of what song they are listening to thanks to a new integration with Shazam.

Another welcome addition to the list of new features is Extensibility, which will at long last allow apps to talk to each other by enabling them to share certain aspects of their capabilities with other apps. In further developments, Touch ID will no longer be limited only to Apple’s own apps, and users will have the ability to display widgets from third-party developers in the notification bar.

While Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is generally reserved for previews of future software releases, that didn’t stop the rumour mill from churning out speculation around a potential iWatch unveiling. Unfortunately, this didn’t materialize, with the audience instead being offered an insight into Health, a standalone app that acts a hub for all of the user’s wearable devices. The app essentially collects and stores health and fitness information in one place on the user’s iPhone while integrating with various third parties.

Another hub that was showcased was HomeKit, Apple’s latest foray into the connected home space. This app works in a similar way to Health, but integrates with smart devices around the home, such as lights, door locks, webcams, garage doors and thermostats, enabling users to manage these devices from the comfort of their iPhones and iPads. Apple has already announced a number of leading companies as partners for the Health and HomeKit apps, but IDC expects several more to be added to the list.

WWDC14 certainly set the stage for an interesting year ahead. While nothing truly groundbreaking was unveiled, the numerous features and advancements that were highlighted signal a much-needed and long-awaited upgrade to Apple’s user experience. Those wanting to download the latest iOS 8 will have to wait until the autumn, which is sure to be a busy period for Tim Cook and his colleagues as the all-new iPhone 6 will be launched at around the same time.

With the embers of Apple’s developer conference already beginning to cool, all eyes now switch to the much-anticipated Google I/O conference set for San Francisco later this month.

Saad Elkhadem is a research analyst at IDC MEA

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