19 ways Apple's iOS 8 promises to streamline your workflow

iOS 8 may not be flashy, but it includes a boatload of improvements designed to help you complete everyday tasks as quickly as possible.

Apple WWDC iOS9

A 'giant' release

Although Apple’s developer community has crafted numerous iOS apps for business, the iPhone’s emphasis on games, music, photos and social networking has cast the device as a relatively frivolous lifestyle accessory. But this reputation may change with the advent of iOS 8, Apple’s forthcoming update for the iPhone and iPad. 

Apple made sure to point out two themes at its Worldwide Developer Conference: how Mac and iOS devices will increasingly talk to one another, and just how useful each platform really is. In the next few slides, we’ll talk about the most important iOS 8 productivity features, and how you’ll benefit from them once they’re available.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Actionable lock screen notifications

As notifications have begun appearing on mobile platforms, there’s been one nagging problem: Many apps still require that they be launched before you can take any action.

But Apple’s new iOS 8 notifications feature lets you take action directly from the lock screen, keeping things simple, quick, and effective. This has been an Android mainstay for a while, but is finally coming to iOS.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Richer notifications

Today’s iOS 7 does a nice job of allowing you to see your calendar for both the current and next day in the notifications screen, along with messages and alerts you either saw or missed. iOS 8 will present this information in a richer mode, adding a bit more interactivity while still maintaining the promise of “information at a glance” that characterizes the most useful mobile platforms.

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Widgets have been an Android staple for years now. And, of course, Live Tiles have displayed dynamic, real-time information updates on the Windows Phone home screen ever since Microsoft released that OS. Now widgets are finally coming to iOS in version 8.

It’ll be up to Apple’s developer community to make them useful, however. 

Apple WWDC iOS9

Quick text responses

We’re instinctively programmed to respond quickly to texts and phone calls. With iOS 8, texts will pop up in a small notification, which you can slide down to respond to. A keyboard will also pop up to allow you to type in a response. The upshot is that you’ll never have to leave an application to communicate, saving time and retaining your focus.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Recent contacts

In addition to launching your most frequently used apps, iOS 8 will allow you to double-tap the home button and quickly access your most recently engaged contacts. This is obviously a handy feature for calling your spouse or children, or simply calling back your boss, who wants to discuss a client presentation. And from the Recents menu, you can either call or FaceTime your contacts.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Swiping down drafts

A number of iOS 8 improvements seem designed to help overcome Apple’s emphasis on razor-sharp focus: Broadly speaking, Apple has historically encouraged you to do one thing, complete that task, and then move on to another. But within the new Mail app, iOS 8 allows you to swipe down a draft email in progress in order to find something else in your inbox. Consider it quasi-multitasking. It will probably be a major hit with users.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Better predictive typing

This announcement provoked a bit of scorn from those watching, including myself. But if Apple can accurately guess what you’re going to type next (based on its analysis of what you’ve typed before), then improved prediuctive typing could be quite useful. We’ve already discovered that the iPhone has the best mobile keyboard, and better predictive typing could improve it further.

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Third-party keyboards

And if you don’t want to use Apple’s keyboard, you don’t have to. Apple’s iOS 8 now supports third-party keyboards like SwiftKey and Swype, which include their own predictive algorithms and fancy bags of typing tricks.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Spotlight suggestions come to iOS 8

Like OS X “Yosemite,” iOS 8 will take advantage of Spotlight (and reportedly replace Google search with Bing). Spotlight will suggest apps, mail contacts, and other topics of interest. Searching for “movies,” for example, will bring up both relevant apps as well as a list of movie showing times in the area. You access Spotlight Search by swiping down from the home screen.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Terrific group messaging

Messaging features rarely make headlines, but Apple still gave iOS messaging capabilities a thorough going-over. Ad-hoc messaging groups can be quickly formed on the fly, and adding photos and even audio appears to be both quick and easy.

Apple WWDC iOS9

'Snapchat' audio

If texting takes too long—or for whatever reason, doesn’t do the job—Apple’s iOS 8 allows you to quickly add an audio clip to your messages. Audio and photos within messages are “cleaned up” periodically, giving iOS 8 users an ephemeral, Snapchat-like experience.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Location sharing

Location sharing is still a problem for families and friends across multiple platforms, but it’s finally getting easier for those who share a common operating system. Group messaging in iOS 8 allows you to share your location for a fixed period of time or indefinitely, placing icons of your location on a map. This is a welcome feature for people converging on a central meeting place.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Dropping out

And, of course, the converse of a constant stream of chatter is the ability to drop out. I’m not seeing anything in iOS 8 that automatically turns on a “do not disturb” option during meetings, but the OS does allow people to simply mute or drop out of group chats when they please.

Apple WWDC iOS9

VIP threads

Certain emails—like an offer letter from a prospective employer—are absolutely vital, but can easily get lost in the shuffle. Now a “VIP thread” in iOS 8 will let you assign top priority to an email before you receive it. And when you do receive that desired email, it will notify you on your lock screen. This seems like a thoughtful addition that Google will quickly copy.

Apple WWDC iOS9

iCloud Drive

Just like in OS X Yosemite, the new iCloud Drive feature in iOS 9 allows anyone to quickly store and load files in iCloud, which syncs automatically across a user's iOS devices. This is something that Windows has offered with OneDrive (and Google with Google Drive), but the rollouts on both competing platforms have been a bit bumpy.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Family sharing

It seems obvious in retrospect, but the new “family sharing” model in iOS 8 is sure to be a big driver for Apple sales. As long as you and your family have a collection of iOS devices, you can share not just photos and calendars—but also apps and music, too. It’s sort of an ecosystem within an ecosystem, for you and your family. Up to six devices are supported on the same credit card.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Quickly find your devices

Similar to how Apple's group messaging features allows you to quickly locate friends and family, the "All Devices" portion of iOS 8 help you nail down where that lost iPhone has wandered off to.

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Touch ID verification

Third-party apps can now take advantage of Apple's TouchID fingerprint sensor for authentication. Apple showed this using the Mint financial app, but there's no reason this couldn't be used for a line-of-business application.

Apple WWDC iOS9

Apple's Healthkit dashboard

Apple also announced a number of other iOS 8 features that were less relevant to productivity, including HealthKit, its new SDK for surfacing data from a variety of health and fitness devices and cloud servives on a single dashboard. (Though, come to think about it, keeling over from a heart attack is probably the ultimate detriment for productivity.)

In general, Apple’s new iOS 8 seems designed to supercharge the parts of your digital lifestyle you find most tedious, and get them out of the way. As for the rest of your day, well, there’s always a nice movie from the Apple iTunes Store.

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