iOS Bulks Up with iOS 8

On June 2, at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple unveiled the next version of its iOS mobile operating system among many other announcements. iOS 8 will introduce a bevy of features, many of which have huge platform implications.

Many of the new features, both consumer-facing and developer-oriented, seem to be pointed squarely at the “power users”. Such users are the ones who may have switched to or prefer Android because of a lot of capabilities in that operating system which iOS did not have or allow until now. But let’s just consider it the natural evolution of the iOS platform, now at over 800 million users (a stat Apple CEO Tim Cook stated in his keynote at the event).

Let’s take a look at some of the key features that Android and to a lesser extent, Windows Phone offer, which lure customers to those platforms, and how iOS 8 has responded to those.

  • Third party keyboards
  • Actionable notifications
  • Widgets
  • App-to-app communication and sharing
  • Google services, including the contextual Google Now
  • Larger choice of devices of various form factors, mostly larger screens

Keyboard improvements

Windows Phone introduced Word Flow, which is to this day, the best predictive keyboard I have used. It is a way by which the system can provide the next few words that you may be about to type, based on what you start typing. For example, if you type “how are”, there is a good chance you want to type “you” next, and the predictive nature of the keyboard will prompt “you”, and maybe a couple of other options like “things” or “the”. iOS gets such a feature finally. It is very similar in nature to Word Flow but obviously it is something the iOS keyboard has missed all this time. No more.

iOS 8 Predictive Keyboard
iOS 8 Predictive Keyboard

Third-party keyboards

In what I thought was a surprising move, Apple also announced that they are going to let third parties provide their keyboards so customers can replace the system keyboard with a third-party keyboard. That is huge because the likes of Swiftkey and Swype have made a name for themselves in the Android world, and users of those keyboards claimed it is a big enough reason for them not to move back to iOS. Already, several key names have announced their keyboards are coming to iOS 8, which is not surprising at all.

iOS 8 Third Party Keyboards
iOS 8 Third Party Keyboards

Interactive notifications

Apple’s Notification Center, while a decent imitation of Android’s notification center, is a bit clunky. Even the upcoming Action Center in Windows Phone 8.1 does a better job managing notifications. So it is no surprise that Apple decided to make some changes and one of the big changes is the interactive notifications. Android has this feature already, where quick actions can be taken on notifications that land in the notification center, without opening the apps. Interactive notifications aim to do the same, and more importantly, Apple has decided to open it up to third parties from day one. That means, developers can enable quick actions like Facebook’s Like and Comment, Twitter’s Retweet and Replies, etc. directly in the Notification Center. Obviously it is a big deal on Android because of the productivity gains, and it was about time iOS implemented the same. (As a part-time Windows Phone user, I do hope this feature is on its way on that platform as well. It is badly needed.)

iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Calendar
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Calendar
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Mail
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Mail
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Messages
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications Messages
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications 3rd Party
iOS 8 Interactive Notifications 3rd Party

Widgets

The other big improvement in the iOS Notification Center comes in the form of widgets. This has been another ding against iOS until now because Windows Phone first introduced Live Tiles which enable quick information that app developers can provide to customers via the app icon(s) flipping and updating. Android later added widgets which were sub-sections of the apps that could be placed on a home screen and provided snippets to live information to the customers. With Widgets, iOS 8 somewhat addresses this “gap” by enabling developers to provide live updates, although in the Notification Center, not in the app icon or on the home screen like the competition. So the widget will look like a notification but it will have more real estate and will be able to take more forms vs. a text update. For example, score updates during a game could show the two team names and scores by quarter.

iOS 8 Widgets
iOS 8 Widgets

This is hugely welcome news, for customers and developers alike. For customers, it means more than just text updates and for developers, it is somewhat of a parity with other platforms as well as another way to keep their customers engaged with the app.

As for app-to-app communication, Apple has made it possible for apps to communicate and share data with each other. Although the details are more important than the announcement in terms of how useful this feature is, it is remarkable that after so many years of keep each app limited to itself, Apple has decided to enable inter-app communication which has been a stable in Android as well as Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

When it comes to Google services, they are already available on iOS in the form of various apps, including Google Now. Although this has prompted many customers to consider Android, where the integration with the phone is even tighter, I suspect it will also make it easier for them to make the return trip going from Android back to iOS.

Finally, although perhaps it may be an even more compelling reason for normal users to try Android, there is this thing about larger screen phones. It is rumored and by now almost a given that Apple will be introducing phones with larger screens this Fall, which is usually when they update their hardware. A larger screen iPhone will almost certainly be a hit, if the popularity of large screen devices running Android are any indication. It will be interesting to see how Apple handles the application UI. When they introduced the iPad, they had an elegant (although ugly) option of a “2x” mode. It will be interesting how they handle the larger real estate and yet, make developers’ work to address the larger screen, minimal.

Some other important updates from Apple with regard to iOS, not so much related to Android, but definitely showing signs of bulking up:

iCloud Photo Library

Until now, the Photostream feature backed up photos from all our iDevices automatically, but it was limited in storage. Apple also announced at WWDC that they are moving to an “iCloud Photo Library” which would store all photos *and* videos in full resolution, from all our iDevices. The first 5GB is free but instead of the currently expensive storage purchase options, Apple is also introducing inexpensive storage that can be purchased for what they refer to as iCloud Drive. Effectively, much like SkyDrive camera Roll in the Windows world, and Google+ Photos in the Google/Android world, the iCloud Photo Library is the entire photo library, always available in the cloud and all the Apple (Mac and iOS) devices and Windows 8 PCs. All edits made on one device are instantly available on all other devices. For a company that has not been at the forefront of well-implemented cloud services, the proof of the pudding will lie in the tasting, but as of now, it seems like Apple gets it and is on the right track. Also, in another move that shows Apple is opening up in a way they have not done traditionally, they have enabled other apps to integrate their editing tools and filters within the new Photos app.

iCloud Photo Library
iCloud Photo Library
iCloud Photo Library
iCloud Photo Library

Messaging updates

In what seems like a carpet bomb attack on WhatsApp, Facebook messenger and Snapchat all at once, Apple’s iMessage will now support audio messages, video messages, group messaging and automatically disappearing messages. Apple also added the ability to share location which is very handy when coordinating meetups with groups. So instead of relying on several different apps (and therefore, different logins, different address books, etc.), you can do the same with the default messaging app, only as long as everyone you communicate with is on iPhone :-) But that has been the modus operandi for Apple from day one, so there is nothing out of the ordinary in that strategy.

iOS 8 Messaging Voice
iOS 8 Messaging Voice
iOS 8 Group Messaging Details
iOS 8 Group Messaging Details
iOS 8 Group Messaging
iOS 8 Group Messaging
iOS 8 Share Location
iOS 8 Share Location
iOS 8 Expiring Messages
iOS 8 Expiring Messages
iOS 8 Messages Record Video
iOS 8 Messages Record Video

iOS 8 is claimed to be a bigger update than when Apple announced the mobile App Store and it certainly seems like there are many huge changes coming in iOS 8 for iOS developers which may end up increasing the app quality gap between iOS and Android even more than it is today. iOS is still usually the first platform for mobile developers to build their innovative solutions and experiences. With these changes, despite the rocketing market share of Android devices, Apple is poised to make it even more worthwhile for developers to build for their platform(s).

 

(All images via Apple’s website)

Facebook Messenger Gets Voice Messaging for iOS and Android, Tests VoIP

Today, Facebook pushed an update for its Facebook Messenger app, which now enables users to send voice messages, and are also testing VoIP calling in Canada. The new updated version for Android and iOS devices is now available for download on Google Play Store and Apple App Store respectively.

The updated iOS and Android Messenger apps come with a new “Record” button alongside the photo and camera buttons. Tapping on the “Record” button will open the toggle option, and you then need to push and hold it to record your message. Once you’re done with recording your message, you can send it across to your friend. Also, if you don’t like what you have recorded, you can simply slide it off to discard it.

Facebook Messenger Voice

The voice message service is available to all users. Facebook also says that it is currently testing VoIP calling feature. This allows users to establish a P2P connection and make calls using their existing data plans. However, the VoIP feature will be available to Canadian users of the iOS Messenger app at launch.

Users in Canada can use the VoIP feature by logging into their Facebook Messenger app, open any conversation that you have had with your friend, and tap the “i” button in the top-right corner and select “Free Call.”

Although the voice messaging feature will not be used too frequently, it still is a good feature to have, and makes the app even more complete. Also, users who have been using voice messaging apps like Voxer can now uninstall it and use Facebook’s new voice messenger. However, it is very unfortunate for Voxer and similar app services.

The voice messaging feature will only be available only on mobile, and Facebook has no plans to add voice messaging to its website. With the new version supporting voice messages, the social media giant continues to focus on improvising mobile user experience. Along with the VoIP feature, we can also expect Facebook to add the ability to video chat with friends.

Reliance Offers Unlimited Facebook Messenger Access For Just Rs.16

We have a good news for Facebook addicts. Most of the operators in India have already launched the unlimited BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) plan, which allows the BlackBerry users to enjoy unlimited BBM access for just Rs.129 per month. Along similar lines, Reliance Communications recently launched the new Facebook Messenger plan.

You can subscribe to this plan for just Rs.16. It comes with a validity of 30 days. The new Facebook Messenger plan offers unlimited access to Facebook Messenger without subscribing to any other data plans. This plan will prove to be extremely useful for those who does not want to subscribe to any costly data plans, but still want to get in touch with their Facebook friends on the go.

Sadly, this pack is currently available only for pre-paid subscribers. The plan is auto-renewed every 30 days unless the user unsubscribe it manually. Facebook Messenger is currently available for iPhone, BlackBerry and Android. You can also use Facebook Messenger even if you do not have a Facebook account. Similar to WhatsApp, the new Facebook Messenger for Android allows you to sign up with just using your name and phone number. You can download the app from fb.me/msgr.

Nilanjan Mukherjee, Wireless Chief Revenue Officer, Reliance Communications Limited said,
“We have always been at the forefront of offering innovative products with incredible affordability for our customers and the launch of Facebook Messenger Plan is yet another step in that direction. We are confident that ‘Facebook Messenger Plan’ with unlimited usage of Facebook without any extra data charges is set to provide a compelling new experience with incredible affordability to smartphone users across the country on our superior network. We are hoping this offer to trigger a significant shift of youth customers using smartphones to our superior network.”

Facebook Messenger For Android Updated; Sign Up With Just Name And Phone Number

We have good news for Android smartphone and tablet users. Facebook recently rolled out a new update for its not-so-popular Messenger app. The latest update brings the ability to sign up with just your name and phone number. You heard it right! Now, even if you have not yet created a Facebook account, you can still use the Facebook Messenger app and connect with your friends on the go.

This feature was already available on the popular cross-platform mobile messaging app, Whatsapp, which allows you to sign up with just your name and phone number. The first countries to get this feature are Australia, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Venezuela. Facebook will roll out this feature for users in other countries in the coming weeks.

Similar to Whatsapp, the Facebook Messenger app allows you to send messages and images to anyone on your phonebook and does not even require a Facebook log-in. Currently, this update is available only for Android users and the company is planning update their iOS app in the coming days.

Facebook Messenger for Windows Officially Released

Facebook has officially released the Facebook Messenger app for Windows, which was leaked in December by an early tester. I suppose that many users have downloaded the leaked Messenger app and tried out its features. However, for those who have not tried it out, you can now download the officially released public app from the Facebook Messenger page.

With Facebook Messenger for Windows, users can easily access notifications, see real-time updates, and even chat with friends who are online right from their desktop. It more or less acts like a smaller version of your browser window through which you can access your Facebook account.

Facebook Messenger for Windows

Apart from all that, an interesting feature in the Facebook Messenger for Windows is the Dock feature. The dock button is placed at the bottom-right corner of the app, and clicking it will move the entire Messenger to the right-side of your desktop, just like the ticker and the chat that is placed on the right side of your Facebook profile.

The ticker, which is apparently the most annoying feature on Facebook, updates in real-time, but unlike the feature where users can simply click on an update and read or comment right there, isn’t available in the Facebook Messenger app. Instead, clicking an update will open it a new browser window, which is somewhat frustrating.

Facebook Messenger for Windows - Chat

According to Facebook, “Messenger lets you use Facebook without being on www.facebook.com. You will now be able to stay in touch anytime, no matter what you’re doing.”

Although the app updates in real-time, the only disadvantage is that clicking on any update, the user is sent back to the browser window. Facebook should have implemented the actual features of the ticker available on Facebook, and allow users to view or add comments right from the desktop app itself. To what Facebook says above, this is completely contradicting it.

The chat feature works very much similar to how it works on Facebook.com. Users can chat with multiple users at the same time by switching tabs placed at the bottom of the app. The chat feature in the app also supports the available Facebook smileys.

Users don’t have to worry anything about privacy issues, since the app automatically makes use of the privacy settings that you have set with your Facebook Account.

Logging In – To log into Messenger, click on the Facebook icon in your Windows system tray. Once the app opens, enter your email and password.

Facebook Messenger Icon on Windows

Logging Out – To log out from the Facebook Messenger, just right-click on the Facebook icon in your Windows system tray and select “Log out.”

Facebook Messenger for Windows works only on Windows 7. Windows XP and Windows Vista users will need to wait, as the company has stated that there is a possibility of the app arriving on these platforms as well. Mac users on the other hand, will have to wait a little longer until a version for Mac system is released. Facebook Messenger for Mac is on its way, which we hope that it will be released soon. Facebook, however, denied commenting as to when Facebook Messenger for Mac will be available for download.

According to Facebook, the leaked version of the Messenger for Windows was apparently a “test” application, and has publicly released the app with all bugs removed. It is recommended that you download and reinstall the app from the Facebook Messenger page.