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iOS 8 Review: The Problem Solver

Apple looks to resolve iPhone gripes large and small with its new operating system, iOS 8.

Apple Inc.

Quick, look at your iPhone. What bugs you about it? Maybe you wish it had a bigger screen, like some of your friends’ Android phones. You might long for an on-screen keyboard with smart features like predictive typing. If you’re still using an iPhone 4s, it might run annoyingly slow.

Apple feels your pain.

At least, that’s the message the company is conveying with the release of its new iOS 8. This free software update to the iPhone operating system seems to have an answer for your biggest gripes, checking them off the list, one by one. It also throws in some new features that you won’t know you needed until you try them. And it gives you faster ways to navigate your phone.

It does all of this — yet it isn’t obviously different-looking from the mobile OS that you already know, so you’ll find it familiar.

I’ve been testing iOS 8 for the past week on both of the new iPhones, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which have the largest iPhone screens yet. Though it had a couple hiccups, like the Mail app crashing a few times, it’s a fast, solid and fresh version of iOS that users will like.

Apple’s iOS 8 will be available for download Wednesday morning. It runs on six models of iPhones as far back as the old 4s, as well as on six versions of iPads and the most recent iPod.

There’s no way I can cover every feature available in iOS 8, but I’ll walk you through some of my favorites.

Texting with your voice

Problem: Typing takes too long, and speech-to-text makes a lot of mistakes.

iOS 8 solution: Send audio messages — short recordings of your voice that the recipient plays to hear — in place of texts.

If you despise typing on a glass keyboard, or you want to hear people’s voices again after years of gauging their emotions by smiley face emojis, this feature is for you.

Apple’s new method for communicating is called Tap to Talk. It only works when you’re texting someone else via iMessage, meaning that other person is also using an iPhone. Instead of typing in a text box, you raise your phone to your ear and wait for a soft (nearly inaudible–Apple should fix this) beep, then speak what you want to say. As soon as you lower your phone, the message sends. Likewise, when you receive an audio message, just raise your iPhone to hear the message and it will immediately play.

As the Tap to Talk name suggests, you can also tap and hold a microphone icon to record a message for someone, then tap an Up arrow to send it or tap a Play button to hear your message before sending it.

Since audio messages take up a lot of room, these messages automatically delete two minutes after they’re heard — unless the recipient chooses to keep the message by tapping a Keep option.

If you’re more of a visual person, tap the camera icon to the left of your text message, then slide up to take a selfie and immediately send it (danger!). Or tap the camera icon and slide right to capture a video that immediately sends when you lift your finger (double danger!).

Along with Tap to Talk, you can use an improved version of the speech-to-text option that was available with previous iterations of iOS. Or you can take advantage of Apple’s predictive-text keyboard technology, which suggests words it thinks you’ll type next and gets smarter over time. Third-party keyboard apps like SwiftKey and Swype finally work on the iPhone; here, my colleague Bonnie Cha reviews how these keyboards work.

Faster navigation

Problem: Getting around iOS takes too many clicks, feels clunky.

iOS 8 solution: Swiping, clicking and glancing at better navigation options saves you time.

In iOS 8, you can reply to a banner notification — like a text — by simply tugging down on the top-of-screen notification to open a text box. From there, you can write a reply, send it and continue on with whatever you were doing. This means no more leaving your current app to shift to messages for replying.

To save your thumb from stretching to reach on the new, bigger iPhone screens, touch (don’t click) twice on the iPhone Home button to turn on Reachability — a feature that moves the whole screen down toward you.

In iOS 8, when you double-click on the iPhone’s Home button to switch between apps, you see all apps, as well as a top-of-screen list of Recents — the people you communicated with recently — represented by icons. Swipe these icons to the right, and you’ll see your Favorites — the people you’ve told the iPhone you like the most. Tap on any person’s icon and pick from a horizontal list of options for communicating with them.

Mail now lets you swipe to the right on any email in its list to mark a message as Unread or Read. Swiping hard to the left immediately trashes a message, which helped me to quickly clean out emails I didn’t want. At the top of each email message, iOS 8 prompts you to add a person’s information to your contacts. For example, if you don’t have a phone number that a friend lists in her signature, select Add to Contacts at the top of the message — or just tap Ignore if you don’t want to save that number.

If you’re near certain stores, say Dunkin’ Donuts, and you have an app for that store, the app’s icon will appear on the bottom-left lock screen of your iPhone. This is Apple’s way of reminding you that you have the app, and can use it. Swipe up on that lock screen icon to open the suggested app.

Share and share alike

Problem: Families have trouble sharing their music and apps.

iOS 8 solution: Family Share now lets families see and use one another’s content.

Pick the most reliable person in your family, and iOS will designate that person as the Family organizer. He or she invites other family members, and pays for whatever they buy — music, videos, games on iTunes, apps in the App Store or iBooks — using one credit card.

Family Share is limited to six family members, and it gives parents more control over their kids’ purchases. Using their iOS 8 devices, parents can approve or reject anything the child wants to buy, if he or she is under the age of 13. These digital permission slips are also usable for parents with kids who are under 18.

Once Family Share is on and working, every member of the family’s content appears in one big account. To get someone else’s content on your device, click on it to bring it down to yours. If a parent has something he or she would rather not share with a kid, that item can be hidden from view, so the kid (or any other family member) doesn’t see it.


Problem: Apple made your iPhone and your Mac, but these two don’t do much with one another.

iOS 8 solution: Start calls on the Mac and finish them on the iPhone, use Handoff to continue using the same app on either device, or use AirDrop to transfer files.

Start a phone call from the Mac by selecting a number in Contacts, then continue the call on an iPhone running iOS 8 by tapping a green bar on the iPhone. I tried this several times, and it worked without a hitch — I just wish it also worked the other way around, handing calls from iPhone to Mac.

Continue using apps that you had opened on the Mac or iPhone from right where you left off — this is called Handoff. These apps include Safari, Mail, Notes and Reminders, among others. Also, take advantage of AirDrop, a one-step solution for sharing files between your Mac and iPhone.

Though these and other Continuity features are part of the Yosemite Mac operating system update, which won’t be out until next month, they’re worth mentioning now. Yosemite is available as a public beta, so you can download it to your Mac in its unfinished state. Once downloaded, your Mac and iOS 8 iPhone can work in harmony.

You’ll be sure to find loads of other goodies in iOS 8 that I couldn’t fit here. This new operating system is familiar enough that you’ll know how to use it, while also easily learning some of its delightful new features.

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