iOS 8: 8 things you need to know about Apple’s new iPhone and iPad OS

Console-style games tech, custom keyboards, home automation, health, fingerprint ID and, er, widgets – these are all part of iOS 8

Apple has revealed iOS 8, the latest version of its mobile operating system, at its WWDC 2014 event in San Francisco.

It will be released in the autumn (or ‘fall’ if you’re American) and looks much like its predecessor. In terms of features, though, this is a whole new ballgame…

1. iOS 8 brings console-quality games to iPad and iPhone

This might seem like hyperbole, but Apple’s new Metal technology significantly ramps up 3D graphics on the platform, reducing overhead and boosting efficiency.

At WWDC, a glimpse of EA’s Frostbite engine on iPad was followed by a lush Epic Games Unreal Engine 4 demo, Zen Garden, which looked stunning. You'll be able to download the demo for free when iOS 8 rolls out this Autumn.

2. You can install third-party keyboards in iOS 8

The default iOS keyboard gets an Android-like predictive word system, QuickType, so you can tab the next word you want to add; but it’s also context-sensitive, providing responses based on subject matter and even the style you use when speaking to certain people.

But that pales in comparison to the big news: you’ll be able to replace Apple's default keyboard with third-party keyboards such as Swype (which, by default, will be heavily locked down because of privacy, although you’ll be able to open up permissions if you wish).

3. Apps and devices in iOS 8 will talk to each other

This sounds mundane but it’s big news. Macs running the new OS X Yosemite and iOS devices will be able to hand off tasks to each other – for example, you'll be able to take an iPhone call on your Mac, or continue working on a Pages document on an iPad with a single swipe.

Apps will also work together, embedding entire UIs within each other. Apple’s walled-gardens-within-walled-gardens just got demolished, but without unduly affecting security.

4. HomeKit makes iOS 8 the centre of your smart home

There are loads of smart devices around, but each has its own protocols and methods of control. HomeKit brings them under one digital roof, making your iPhone the centre of their universe. Apple noted how you could use your iPhone to unlock your door, control heating, and group devices and systems into ‘scenes’.

Using Siri, you’ll be able to say “Get ready for bed” and have your smart lights dim, your smart thermostat change the temperature and your smart lock secure the front door. Just don’t lose your iPhone!

More after the break...

5. Touch ID in iOS 8 will blaze past passwords

We today mulled over Touch ID replacing passwords, and this looks like it'll come to pass soon on iOS. As of iOS 8, Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner will be opened up to third-party developers, enabling them to use the system for authentication.

Apple added that devs won’t get direct access to your fingerprint data, underlining the company’s commitment to privacy. And, perhaps, it's evidence that Apple is planning to make Touch ID more central to its iOS device line-up – anyone for a fingerprint-reading iPad?

6. iOS 8 has a new Health app

Tim Cook’s into healthy living, what with his Nike FuelBand and hiking, and iOS 8 will help you keep fit with its new Health app and HealthKit service. Right now, wearables and other kit enable you to gather data, which then lives in silos.

HealthKit provides a central place for third-party apps to contribute, which builds to a comprehensive overview of your activity and health, monitored from Apple’s Health app. Again, Apple emphasises its privacy protections, stating that apps will only get access to information you let them see.

7. A (sort of) new file system

Document management in iOS is nightmarish, with files living ‘inside’ apps. In iOS 8, iCloud Drive gives you access to app-based folders, and enables you to open files within them in different apps and save changes to their original locations.

iCloud Drive is also supported on OS X and Windows, and with iCloud usage likely to grow, extra storage pricing over and above the default free 5 GB is set to plummet.

8. Notification Center gets widgets in iOS 8

Interactive widgets finally arrive on iOS, although not quite in the manner that Android users are used to. On iOS, they’ll live within Notification Center, although they'll also exist elsewhere in the OS, for example as banners and on the lock screen. On stage, Apple demoed bidding on eBay directly from a widget; similar functionality is being rolled into OS X Yosemite.

And it doesn’t end there. iOS 8 will also bring big improvements to Mail’s interface, new editing features to Photos, a revamped Spotlight, a smarter Siri with Shazam music recognition, video and audio recording within messages (that will optionally self-destruct), and a whole bunch more – check back for our full, in-depth preview.

Devs at WWDC can get their hands on the beta now, but the rest of us will have to wait until Autumn to download iOS 8. It'll be available on iPhone 4s and up, iPad 2 and up, iPad mini and iPad mini with Retina display, and the iPod touch 5th generation. We can’t wait.

READ MORE: 7 things you need to know about Mac OS X Yosemite

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Apple still playing catch up

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