App of the Week | iOS8 and the New iPhones

By now, most of us, in one way or another, have come into contact with Apple’s new iOS8. Because the operating system is the medium by which all of your (iPhone and/or iPad’s) shiny apps function, it is, in essence, the app of apps and this week’s app of the week.

The release of iOS8 has been somewhat of a mixed bag. On the one hand it brings a lot of features that Android users have enjoyed for a long time – like interactive notifications and customizable keyboards – while on the other hand it has tarnished Apple’s reputation for making products that just work (there was a “small” issue with what was supposed to be an update with bug fixes).

For the most part iOS8 is just good ol’ iOS7 with some added features and minor tweaks. Two of the most immediately apparent and accessible changes are in notifications and the keyboard.

Most notifications can now be dealt with straight from the lock screen by swiping left on them (instead of right). This action reveals new options for how to deal with whatever it is you’re swiping on. Pulling down on notifications while using the phone has the same effect. This feature has proven incredibly useful because it reduces the number of times one has to switch between apps.

For years, Android users have been able to download keyboards to replace the stock keyboard included with their phones, while iPhone users have been stuck with the (albeit pretty good) stock keyboard; the updated-for-iOS8 predictive text keyboard is both scarily good and hilariously awful at predicting the next word in a conversation. Now, however, The Big A has broken with tradition and decided to allow users to use whatever keyboards their fingers find functional. Swype and SwiftKey are both excellent choices (the former costs a dollar while the latter is gratis) that bring Android’s famous swiping motion to iOS. There is even a GIF keyboard (yes, GIF).

There is one feature that, while not immediately apparent, makes the new operating system worth downloading and worth considering truly important. That feature is increased security geared toward protecting your privacy. For one, the new system is able to scramble its Media Access Control address (MAC address) each time it joins a Wi-Fi network. In doing so, the system makes your phone virtually untraceable. Apple has also expanded the encryption used in previous iOS releases. In iOS7, Mail was pretty much the only app that took advantage of full-on encryption (no, not a technical term); now, in iOS8, encryption is open to many more apps (including Calendar, Photos, third-party apps, etc.). The upshot: not even Apple can access most of the data on your phone anymore. This is perhaps one of the biggest moves to protect user privacy in a post-Snowden era.

Of course, along with iOS8 came the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus. Bigger, thinner, and faster than their predecessors, these phones follow the same basic formula as all other iPhones, bringing marginal improvements to most of their functions. In fact, the new iPhones look similar to the original iPhone in more ways than not. The killer app may be a new NFC based payment system called Apple Pay designed to replace debit and credit cards, but the feature has yet to be activated by Apple; although, it is due this month. Both phones run iOS8 and are worth a thought if you are due for an upgrade from your wireless carrier.

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