When it shows up in the coming weeks, Apple's iOS 8 is set to bring several new features, including its HealthKit and HomeKit platforms, to the iPhone and iPad. Many of the advances are consumer-oriented and focused on creating a seamless experience across iOS devices and Macs running the forthcoming OS X Yosemite.
Even with that consumer focus, however, there are some incredible features for business users in iOS 8.
When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone in 2007, the feature that stood out most from competing phones was its whole-device display and onscreen keyboard. Although Apple pioneered that keyboard, other platforms have improved upon it as well as the associated auto-complete and auto-correct capabilities. Every other platform offers users a choice of auto-complete guesses to choose while typing a word -- delivering much better productivity and avoiding the occasional embarrassing gaffe of iOS inserting the wrong word (many of them shared on Damn You Autocorrect). Similar functionality will debut in iOS 8.
Another feature, long touted by Android users, is custom third-party keyboards. These too will be available to iOS users thanks to the new extensions system that Apple has developed across both iOS and OS X. That system allows apps to extend their functionality into other apps and system events. Several popular keyboards for other platforms have already promised iOS offerings.
Extensions for storage and collaboration
Extensions aren't limited to keyboards. They also allow apps to insert options into the standard share sheet of other apps, and Apple has promised more traditional file management in iOS 8 as well.
Although some apps already have the ability to send content to another app (typically the standard iOS apps from Apple) or to a third-party cloud service, such functionality is far from universal and when even when available, there are often limitations. The result is often a multi-step process to create, edit, save, and share content across multiple apps or services.
Streamlining these these workflows will be significant for mobile collaboration and productivity. Removing the barriers between apps and services that can access the same types of content will make it much simpler to accomplish tasks that require more than one app or that access multiple data stores -- on a device, cloud service, or enterprise storage solution.
In addition to streamlining workflows, extensions will make it easier to multiple people working with the same set of content -- a report, project, or information for a specific client or manager -- to share information and collaborate. Easy access to third-party and external services should also ease syncing of information across devices and systems as well.
Better mail management
Although there are third-party email clients for iOS, most of us stick with the built-in Mail app. Doing so offers a range of options for businesses, not the least of which is the ability for organizations to secure email using Exchange ActiveSync and/or the managed account capabilities that Apple introduced in iOS 7.
Mail has gotten improvements in every iOS release and iOS 8 is no exception:
- New gestures will make it easier to flag messages for later follow-up.
- The ability to designate specific emails and email threads as VIP (in addition to the existing ability to set specific Contacts or email addresses as VIP) allows you to look for and receive notifications of important responses.
- Exchange users will finally be able to set auto-reply messages from within Mail.
- Messages from external addresses will be able to be marked in red, making them more obvious and increasing message security.
- Secure email using S/MIME will also be able to be enabled on a per-message basis.
One of the most convenient features of Exchange and other corporate calendaring options is the ability to see the whether or not individuals will be available for a meeting or event when creating or modifying it. This ability has been a standard feature on the desktop, but not in the standard iOS Calendar app -- until iOS 8.
Calendar is also gaining the option to notify attendees of a meeting that you're running late by email without needing to launch Mail.
Touch ID makes security easier
iOS 8 expands the capabilities of Touch ID, which is available to iOS devices with a fingerprint scanner. Currently this means just the iPhone 5S, but new iOS devices expected this fall will probably include Touch ID sensors and supporting hardware.
In iOS 8, developers can leverage Touch ID as an alternative to passcodes and username/password combinations. This includes apps for accessing cloud services and other secure public resources, password managers (1Password has already announced and demoed support for Touch ID), and accessing secure on-device storage. This feature is also available to enterprise app developers, meaning businesses can build Touch ID into enterprise apps as a security or authentication option. In all, it will be easier for users to secure sensitive content, apps, and services.
Actionable notifications and widgets
Notifications in iOS have always left something to be desired. Although the current Notification Center feature is a vast improvement over the early days when notifications would show up as alerts and then vanish once you'd seen them, there's room for improvement, particularly as notifications become a more common way of handling business tasks and communication.
iOS 8's Notification Center will expand in two major ways. First, it will let users respond or interact with the app that generated a notification directly in Notification Center -- deleting or marking emails, responding to messages, accepting meeting invitations, and other quick and common tasks -- without leaving the app you're working in. That streamlines many tasks and reduces the impact that notifications can have on mobile productivity.
Second, developers will be able to create custom widgets that appear in the Notification Center's Today page, much like weather, stocks, and calendar items appear on it in iOS 7. Those widgets may include static content or provide an interactive experience. The advantage here for business users is that apps that key information from specific apps can be made available at a moment's notice for review without needing to launch an app or two switch between multiple apps.
Apple's so-called Continuity features that enable seamless integration between Macs and iOS devices could also have a major impact on those that use both a Mac and iOS device(s) for work.
The first is Handoff, the ability for a task to be started on an iOS device and then finished on a Mac and vice versa. This ability could have significant impacts on common tasks like email and messaging.
Second is the ability to send and receive both texts and calls on a Mac paired with an iPhone.
Third, and probably most significant, is the automatic hotspot feature that allows a Mac to use an iPhone or iPad's cellular connectivity to access the Internet. This feature offers ease of use and has the potential to offer greater security and performance than public Wi-Fi networks. It's also worth noting, however, that business users could find features like Handoff blocked on managed devices as a security measure, particularly if those devices are corporate-owned.