Apple's Health app and other new features in iOS 8

Many of the new features coming in iOS 8 are hidden under the surface or need developer pickup before they can be used, but there are a number of additions that beta testers can try out today.

iOS 8
Image: Apple

Apple's WWDC keynote was chock full of new features, some for the end user and a ton for developers. Though not as sexy as new hardware, Apple's iOS ecosystem relies on developers to make the apps that keep bringing users back.

The new developer features are an incredibly opportunity for app makers, but it will be a few months before the end users begin to see the fruits of their labor.

Instead, here's a look at some of the new features that consumers will enjoy when iOS 8 comes out this fall.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery.

1. Access apps from the lock screen

In iOS 7, apps like the official Starbucks app could put notifications on the lock screen to prompt user activity. In Starbucks' case, when users were located near a Starbucks, they could get single-swipe access to the coffee chain's digital payment system. Now, instead of a large notification, iOS 8 puts a small logo in the bottom left corner that can be swiped upwards to access certain features.

Figure A shows how the Starbucks and Apple Store apps can be accessed right from the lock screen when users are in those establishments.

Figure A

Figure A
Apps can be accessed from the lock screen.

2. Responding to a notification in iOS 8

In iOS 8, when users receive a notification that could require some action, such as a text message or a comment on Facebook, users can respond directly from the notification without leaving the app they were in.

Figure B shows how the user can respond to a text message with Siri or via a typed message. In the WWDC 2014 keynote, Apple executives showed how Facebook could add a "Like" button to a notification.

Figure B

Figure B
Users can respond to a text message with Siri or via a typed message.

3. Battery Usage indicator in iOS 8

Keeping an eye on battery status is a fact of life for mobile device owners. In the past, it would sometimes be difficult to determine when an app was misbehaving and taking more battery life than it should. Now, with iOS 8, users can see what apps are using the most power (Figure C) and make adjustments accordingly.

Figure C

Figure C
The Battery Usage indicator.

4. Family Share in iOS 8

A useful new feature for families is Apple's Family Share (Figure D). With it, families can share music, movie, book, and app purchases across as many as six individual accounts with one credit card. Family Share even allows children to request permission to purchase apps, with a notification sent to parents to approve or deny.

Figure D

Figure D
Apple's new Family Share.

5. Audio messages in iOS 8

Users can now send brief audio messages within iMessage, "borrowing" a feature from other popular chat programs like WhatsApp. Users can press and hold the microphone button to record a message (Figure E), then swipe up to send it. The recordings will automatically delete themselves to avoid filling up a device with unneeded messages, though users can manually decide which messages to keep.

Figure E

Figure E
You can send brief audio messages in iOS 8.

6. Apple's new Health app in iOS 8

Apple's new Health app was the topic of a lot of discussion ahead of the keynote. In the end, Apple didn't seem to spend much time on the app, but it certainly holds a lot of potential.

At the moment, the Health app acts as a repository for health data sent by other apps, including calories burned, hours of sleep, heart rate, blood pressure, weight, and more (Figure F). It acts as a unifying force for health-related data that was previously spread across a multitude of different apps.

Many analysts expect the app's functionality to be expanded with the release of the rumored iWatch this fall.

Figure F

Figure F
The Health app in iOS 8.

7. Siri improvements in iOS 8

Apple has made improvements to Siri as well. She can now listen to songs and tell you what's playing via new integration with Shazam (Figure G), and when the phone or iPad is plugged into a power source (say, in the car), you can say "Hey, Siri" and then begin dictating normally.

This is truly hands-free, even if it also was "borrowed" from Android.

Figure G

Figure G
Siri in iOS 8.

What iOS 8 features -- if any -- are you most excited about? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

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