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WWDC 2014: Apple giving Google a run for its money with new iOS 8 features

Handoff seamlessly syncs mobile with desktop applications.
Handoff seamlessly syncs mobile with desktop applications.
Apple, Inc.

Apple hosted its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) this morning, where the company’s next iteration of the iOS mobile platform was announced and shown off in great detail. With iOS 8, Apple is moving closer to continuity with its “traditional” computing operating system, OS X (the new version of which was also announced at the conference).

Apple is aptly dubbing these features “Continuity” features. For example, utilizing something called “Handoff,” an iOS device will be able to detect when it is near a computer running OS X and allow the user to effortlessly send in-progress documents, emails, and even open web pages between the two. Similarly, OS X Yosemite (the user-friendly version nickname) will be able to find nearby tethering-enabled iOS devices through the normal Wi-Fi toolbar.

View and respond to text from your Mac
View and respond to text from your Mac Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

View and respond to text from your Mac

Text messaging may also be traded off between phone and computer. With iOS 8, iPhone owners are able to push their SMS messages to other Apple devices. Think of how iMessage works already, but now extend that functionality to all text messages.

Another neat Continuity feature is how phone calls are treated across operating systems. OS X will now display a Called ID of sorts as a pop-up notification, giving the user the option to either accept or decline the call. Motorola owners could liken this to the Motorola Connect browser extension, which essentially does the exact same thing. Going further, however, users may now make calls through their computer–kind of. The call itself may be placed with OS X, but is still connected through an iPhone. The Mac used to place the call, though, acts as a speakerphone for the call.

Reply to texts from the notification itself
Reply to texts from the notification itself Apple, Inc.

Reply to texts from the notification itself

Continuity isn’t all that Apple has been up to with iOS 8. There are tons of additional features within the mobile OS itself. One such example are inline actions for notifications. When a notification tells a user that a text message was received, swiping down on the notification opens a text input field below it, where the message may be replied to without opening the actual Messages app. The same principal applied to other apps such as Calendar. Notifications will also now appear on the lock screen, allowing users to interact with their notifications how and when they want, a feature we saw pioneered by Motorola’s Active Display. Apps can also utilize widgets in the notification center.

Apple finally upgrades keyboard features
Apple finally upgrades keyboard features Apple, Inc.

Apple finally upgrades keyboard features

Possibly one of the biggest breakthroughs for iOS is in its keyboard. With a feature Apple is calling “Quicktype,” iOS 8 has finally implemented next-word prediction into its native keyboard. Based on context, Quicktype populates three possible words to succeed each word typed. The predicted words can be inserted by tapping on the word itself. Over time, Quicktype will learn a user’s typing style specific to any given contact. It may not be anything to “wow” Android users who have been made familiar to this feature over the years with both native and third-party keyboards, but it’s a big deal for iPhone owners who have had to suffer with Apple’s much neglected input method.

Speaking of which, another huge announcement made at this year’s WWDC is that iOS 8 will support third-party keyboard apps such as Swype. Popular swipe-input keyboard for Android, SwiftKey, has been tweeting about it all day. For the first time ever, iPhone users have a kind of flexibility oft touted by Android owners. Apple has also opened up TouchID for use in third-party apps for login purposes.

Tap to talk
Tap to talk Apple, Inc.

Tap to talk

In addition to opening up the OS a little to third-party developers, it would appear Apple has borrowed a few ideas from popular apps such as Snapchat and HeyTell. Holding the new “Tap to Talk” button allows users to send recorded audio messages in Messenger rather than typing out a reply. Photos sent in iMessage can now be fitted with an expiration, which will make the image unavailable after a preset number of minutes.

"Hey, Siri!"
"Hey, Siri!" Apple, Inc.

"Hey, Siri!"

Similar to the “OK, Google” voice command to initiate Google Now, Siri will now listen for “Hey, Siri” to launch hands-free. It utilizes streaming recognition, too, rather than analyzing an entire request after it has been made.

Improved multitasking
Improved multitasking Apple, Inc.

Improved multitasking

There have been a few additions to how iOS manages multitasking, as well. Double pressing the Home button still brings up the app switcher, but above all of a user’s open apps is a list of recent contacts. By tapping on someone in this list, options appear to call, text, or FaceTime with that person.

Apple hopes to make switching between tabs in Safari a bit easier, too, by implementing a “top down” view which essentially displays thumbnails of all currently open tabs. The tabs are then grouped together by site.

Share content with family
Share content with family Apple, Inc.

Share content with family

Indicating certain contacts are family enables a slough of new sharing features, not found on other mobile operating systems. Family members can share a calendar, a photo stream, and even purchases (i.e. apps, music and movies). To deter abuse of this feature, Apple requires all family members–which may consists of a maximum of six people–to use the same credit card for purchases. To prevent younger family members from racking up a huge credit balance, children can ask their parents’ permission to make a purchase. Asking for permission triggers a pop-up on the parent’s device and give them the option to review the request or put it off until later.