6 great features coming to both old and new iPhones this week in iOS 8

Maybe you weren’t one of the four million people who pre-ordered an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus last week. And perhaps you don’t want to stand around in line trying to get Apple’s newest iPhone this coming Friday. Don’t dismiss your older iPhone just yet: iOS 8 arrives on Wednesday and will bring a number of new functions to your old handset. And some of them reduce the advantages that Google Android phones have had for some time.

ios 8 on iPhone

I’ve been using the iOS 8 beta for several months and I’m convinced that some Android phone users — more than with prior iOS and iPhone updates — will make the switch to iOS for two reasons.

First, the new iPhones bring the large-screen experience that some [company]Google[/company] Android devices have offered for several years. And second, [company]Apple[/company] has opened up iOS a bit more, letting developers and users have more control over their phones. (Note that my comment about Android users switching is just an observation and expectation; I’m not suggesting one is “best,” as I use both platforms for different reasons.) And of the 554 responses from Android users to our poll on this topic in June, more than 42 percent of respondents said yes, iOS 8 and the new iPhones may have won them over.

Here are a few of the standout iOS 8 features that will come to both old and new iPhones later this week.

1. Interactive notifications

I’ve always felt that the way iOS handles notifications lags behind the competition. Apple improved this with the Notification Center in iOS 5 and now those notifications get more useful, regardless of the app you’re using. You can reply to an iMessage or accept an incoming calendar invite while surfing the web, for example.

imessage interactive notification

This saves time from switching back and forth between apps. The function doesn’t just apply to native iOS apps, either; developers can add this interaction to third-party apps.

2. More sharing options

Android has always excelled at sharing content from a mobile device thanks to its intents system. At a high level, any app installed on Android can automatically appear as a sharing method without any user configuration. By contrast, iOS has only let you share content with Apple says you can share content with. In iOS 8, you’ll see more sharing options aside from Mail, [company]Facebook[/company], Twitter and such because developers can add their own apps to that list. That means you can expect to share photos directly to third-party apps such as Instagram or Snapchat, for example, and perhaps web content to Evernote. Pocket has already announced its support for direct sharing in iOS 8 and here’s what it will look like:

Pocket Share Option

3. A new native keyboard as well as optional third-party keyboards

Finally! Since keyboards aren’t one size fits all, this is one of my most anticipated additions to iOS 8. SwiftKey, Fleksy and others who make keyboards for Android have already declared their intent to support iOS 8 or offered beta versions of their keyboards. Look for new swype-style input methods, gestures and other keyboard customizations on both old and new iPhones as soon as this week. Here’s a sneak peek at SwiftKey for iOS 8:

Apple has improved the native iOS keyboard as well. Look for iPhones old and new to have better contextual word suggestions that vary based on the message type. When in iMessage, for example, suggestions will be brief conversational words as opposed to a more robust vocabulary in Mail.

4. Handing off the experience between devices

Google’s cloud sync efforts have long offered easy ways to start an activity on the phone and later continue it in the browser. You can open a link in the mobile Chrome browser, for example, and see that same page in Chrome on the desktop. Apple is adding a similar function in iOS 8 called Handoff but takes it a step further.

ios 8 handoff

Many native apps — think Safari, Pages, Maps and Calendar — will support Handoff. Start a Pages document or email on your iPhone and you can pick up where you left off on a Mac or iPad. Handoff isn’t just for Apple apps, though; developers can add the function to their own apps too.

5. Continuous communication with Continuity

Although the feature won’t arrive until next month, iOS 8 brings what Apple calls Continuity. It’s akin to Handoff but is specific to communications. You’ll be able to use your Mac or iPad for voice calls with Continuity because the devices will all be connected, in a manner of speaking: With iOS 8, the iPhone acts as a communication hub and OS X Yosemite or iOS 8 on an iPad can handle calls or messages via a Wi-Fi connection. Google’s own Hangouts app has similar features as the company is unifying calls, Google Voice and texts through the app.

6. Got widgets?

The iOS 8 Notification Center has long had widgets; it’s just that they were pretty limited and, unexpectedly, were native applets. The weather, calendar and stock market information that appears in iOS 7 with a downward swipe is pretty much it. With the new iOS 8 software, Apple is adding developer support for such widgets and you’ll be able to pick and choose which ones you want to see. A few developers have already shown concept widgets, such as Hue connected light controls and a widget that shows how much cellular data you’ve used in the current billing cycle, so there’s virtually no limit to which widgets might become available this week and beyond.

Dataman iOS widget

One more thing

One last thought: Yes, Google clearly led the way on many of the features just now arriving in iOS 8. And we can debate which platform is superior, or which is the leader, but that’s ultimately pointless.

So before engaging in such useless commentary, keep in mind what I said in June:

Sure, we could all argue about who borrowed from whom, but at the end of the day, does that really matter to consumers? At this point, most of the major smartphone innovation has come and gone; now companies are down to refining the experience until the next big thing arrives. So when spending hard-earned money on a smartphone, consumers are (hopefully!) going to pick the one that best meets their personal needs. The “best” handset on the market is the one that works best for you.

For some, Android is the one that works best, while for others it’s iOS, Windows Phone or even BlackBerry. There’s no wrong choice. But thanks to competition over the past several years, there are plenty of better choices than there were not too long ago.