iOS 8 arrives on Wednesday, September 17. Remember, like all iOS updates, this is free to everyone who has an Apple device that can use it. In this case, that’s all iPhones from the 4S upwards, all iPads from the iPad 2 upwards, and the latest iPod Touch. It’s like getting a whole new iPhone or iPad for free. This is part of the fun of the “Apple ecosystem.”
As a developer, I’ve had a chance to use 8 for a little while, and I have a couple of thoughts, and a couple of tips to hopefully help make the transition easy for you.
The first thing you should know is that this isn’t like iOS 7. Everything is more or less in the same place. You don’t have to get used to a whole new world again. So rest easy in that regard.
Before updating, it’s best to make sure you have a current backup, just incase things go sideways. Hopefully you’re already set up with automatic iCloud backups. Go to Settings, tap on iCloud, then scroll down and tap on Backup. If that isn’t on, turn it on. This will make it nearly impossible for you to lose anything important should your phone get lost or stolen. (While you’re in the neighborhood, go back up one screen and make sure “Find My iPhone” is on. This will let you go to a website and lock your phone if it’s ever lost or stolen.)
The other way to backup your phone prior to the update is to connect to iTunes, go to the phone/pad’s summary screen, and click the manual Backup Now button. Now you’re ready to go!
Keep in mind that if you’re updating on launch day, you might not see an available update for a few hours as Apple rolls out the files to a few servers at a time.
If your pad or phone has some room on it, the easiest way to get 8 is to go to Settings, then tap General, then tap Software Update. And install. But plenty of people have filled up their phones with pictures (as well they might,) and the update might complain that there isn’t enough room.
The next best way to update is to hook your device up to iTunes. Wait! First, run Software Update on your Mac to make sure you’ve got the latest iTunes. Phew. Okay. Now. Plug in your phone or pad, and it should just come up and ask you if you want to update. If not, try going to the device’s Summary screen in iTunes and clicking “Check for Updates.” If iTunes also complains that there isn’t enough free memory, check out what you’re syncing from iTunes. Maybe turn off music syncing or TV show syncing. Those usually take up a lot of space. Hit apply, and that should free up some room on the device. Then try to update again. Once the update is complete, you can go back and turn on the syncing you turned off. All will be as it was, music and whatnot restored.
One more note about updating: as you go through the welcome screens for 8, you’ll be asked if you want to share diagnostic data with app developers… something like that, I forget the exact wording. And it assures you that no personal data will be shared. This is true. And please tap “yes.” It’s a huge help for us developers to be able to tell when one of our apps has crashed. The data Apple sends us also tells us – in a completely aggregate and unidentifiable way – what kinds of devices our users are using. For example, it might say that 70% of my users are on the iPhone 5S. Or that 90% are on the iPad. Oh, well, then I’d better make sure my app looks great on the iPad. See? It’s a big help, and it absolutely doesn’t infringe on your privacy in any way. Thank you.
Oh, also among the welcome screens will be an offer to upgrade to iCloud Drive. That one you should refuse for now. Why? Because it only works with OS X Yosemite, and that won’t be out for another month or so.
So, once you have 8 installed, what are some new things to look for? As I said, it isn’t as disorienting as 7 was. Let’s see… what’s cool?
The Photos app has some great new editing features. It’s much easier to adjust brightness, contrast and color in ways that magically just make a picture look better. There are also more filters, and the crop and straighten tools have been combined in a neat way.
The camera now has a stop motion feature, which can be fun. I set my phone down pointed at my cat for half an hour.
The burst mode for still pictures lets you choose the one you want in an easier way.
There’s now a countdown timer at the top of the screen so you can set it and run to get in the shot.
They’ve also improved the speed and accuracy of facial recognition, so it’s easier to search for photos of a particular person in your collection.
Oh, I should mention Spotlight search. Just drag downward on your home screen and you’ll get a search bar that now looks not just on your iPhone, but everywhere for everything. Wikipedia, sports, movie times, news, nearby places… the works.
I just typed in “giant.” It found the website for the New York Giants, the song “Birdhouse In Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants which is on my phone, and a message I sent a few hours ago with the word “giant” in it. Oh, and apparently a giant 30 foot crack appeared in Mexico somewhere.
Siri has learned a couple of new tricks. If your phone or pad is plugged in, you can just say, “Hey Siri” and then ask her something. If you’re listening to music, you can ask her, “What song is that?” She’ll listen, consult Shazam, and then tell you.
Now, there’s a crapload of stuff Siri can do already that people just don’t know about. I just said, “Hey Siri, show me the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy.” Yeah, it worked. “What percentage of a plan?” I can also ask handy car-related things like, “What was the last text I got?” and she’ll read it back and ask if I want to reply. I can dictate the reply, and she’ll send it. I never have to look at the phone. Okay, but that’s not new…
What is new for Siri and also for dictation is that the words appear as you speak them instead of waiting for you to finish your monologue. So now you know right away if it’s messing up.
(For you kids who don’t know, dictation is that little microphone there next to the space bar. I actually rarely type anymore. I just talk and let the machinery do all the work. Hey, it IS 2014, after all…)
Meanwhile, the keyboard itself has undergone a bit of a revision. It will now try to guess the three most likely next words – or even phrases – that you’re going to type. And it learns your habits over time to become more accurate.
Third party developers can also create new system-wide keyboards now. So look for 5,000 different emoji atrocities in the App Store next week!
Text messages have learned many new tricks, as long as the other person is also on 8 (despite everyone saying, “Oh, I hate 7 soooo much!” over 90% of all pads and phones are now running it. You’ll have plenty of friends to play with on 8 very soon, I guarantee.)
First, you can record audio and video clips right into the conversation, just by holding down the little microphone or camera. If 10 seconds of audio will save you a minute of typing, go for it! Or have the grandkid say, “Hi!”
Whether it’s just two people or a group chat, you can offer to share your location. “Holy crap! Privacy,” you spit as you foam at the mouth. Don’t worry. You can choose to send one “ping,” or choose to turn it on for just one hour, or just for the rest of the day. So if you forgot that you left it on (and it’s only on for the other people in the conversation,) it will automatically expire. In any case, it’s a great way to get everyone over to the oak tree you’re waiting under… you know, the one next to that sign… no, not THAT one…
And speaking of voice, if you have an iPad as well as an iPhone, and you’re in the living room reading your iPad while your phone is in the bedroom, and someone calls… guess what? You can now answer the call on your pad! As long as both devices are using the same iCloud account, you can actually make and receive calls on the iPad as if it was your phone. This all happens over wifi or Bluetooth or some such, so there’s no way for a phone company to charge you extra for it. Very handy if there are stairs or the caffeine has worn off.
On top of that, next month when OS X Yosemite comes out, you’ll be able to do the same thing with your Mac!
Finally, there’s Family Sharing. If you and your life mate and/or offspring have devices with different iCloud accounts, you can now associate them together. They’re still separate, but you can now share each other’s music, movies, books, calendars, contacts, photos, and even location (if so desired.) If you have kids, you can also set up a parental control where an alert shows up on your screen if they try to buy an app or make an in-app purchase. You can choose to approve or deny the request.
So those are (to me) the high points. There’s a bunch of other stuff in there for you to find. Oh, there’s also a new app called Tips to help you find features you didn’t know existed. Keep in mind that downloading it on the first day might take some time. Half a billion people are going to want to get it.
Oh, one last thing. A few of Apple’s competitors have been making hay about the celebrity nude picture crime, saying that iCloud is not secure. That isn’t the case. A small number of the total imagery came from iCloud accounts. Of those, none were the result of what we might call “hacking.” No magical “back door” was discovered. It was simply a matter of (over a year’s time) the criminals researching their targets and guessing at passwords and security questions based on personal details (i.e., scouring old Jennifer Lawrence interviews to see if she ever mentions the name of her first dog.) That is how the thieves operated. Use a strong password and unless you suddenly become famous, there is nothing to worry about. If you do become famous, hire me as your computer/video guru for $250K a year and I’ll handle it.