Apple released two new iPhones this month, but that's not all. It also launched iOS 8, a new version of its mobile operating system for iPhone and iPad that's jam-packed with productivity-boosting extras. It's available for all iPhones released since, and including, the iPhone 4s; and all iPads except the original iPad. Highlights for business users include a totally overhauled alert center, improved control over email and messaging, security upgrades and new ways to sync your smartphone with your desktop computer, so you can switch between devices while you work. Still not convinced? Read on for eight new features that make iOS 8 good for work.
Your iPhone helps you stay on top of new work messages, whether you're checking your email inbox or your text messages. That's why Apple revamped both the Mail and Messages apps in iOS 8 to make those daily chores easier.
For starters, you can now navigate through the Mail app using new swipe gestures. For example, swipe down on an in-progress email to minimize it and access other emails in your inbox — a useful feature when you need to quickly reference another message in your inbox. When you're ready to go back to your draft, just tap it at the bottom of your screen. Swipes also let you flag and delete messages, and even add calendar events right from Mail.
Meanwhile, Apple expanded controls for group messages. You can now name your threads to keep them organized, add or remove people on the fly and mute individual message threads. Those features could come in handy for managing group messages with employees or colleagues. Other new functionality includes the ability to easily share your location via text message, which could prove useful when you're meeting a client for lunch.
Spotlight is a powerful search engine built into iOS, and it's even better in iOS 8. Now you can use it to quickly filter apps in the App Store to find the exact software you need. You can also search for news, geographic points of interest, restaurants and a lot more. Meanwhile, if you type the name of a business contact, Spotlight will display related phone numbers, email addresses and related calendar reminders. It's an easy way to check the details of upcoming appointments and meetings without scrutinizing your calendar.
If you use your smartphone for work, a good touch screen keyboard is essential. But up until now, the keyboard in iOS has been pretty rudimentary. Now Apple has added a bunch of new features, including QuickType, which suggests words and phrases as you type, based on whom you're writing to and what app you're writing in; just tap them to insert them instantly. It might suggest more professional phrases when you're composing an email, and make more casual suggestions when you're tapping out a text message, based on your past usage.
What's even more exciting is support for third-party keyboards, which you can now download and install from the App Store for the first time. That means you can substitute the stock keyboard for a keyboard with advanced features such as "swipe" typing. If you've never tried swipe typing (popularized by apps such as Swype on Android), it lets you type out words by gliding your finger over each letter in a word without lifting your finger. For one-handed typing especially, it's faster and more accurate than tapping. Third-party keyboards can also add other features like a dedicated numbers row over top of the standard QWERTY layout.
Your iPhone can help you stay productive when you're away from your work desk, but it's not always feasible to work on such a small screen. Now a new feature called Handoff lets you transition seamlessly between your mobile device and your desktop iMac computer or MacBook laptop, and pick up right where you left off. Alternatively, you can send a Web page, or an in-progress email message or document, from your Mac to you mobile device so you can continue working on the go.
It works because iOS devices and Mac computers that are connected to the same network are now automatically aware of each other. When you're working on one device, an icon will automatically appear on the other one showing the connection; just tap to make the switch.
Touch ID for apps
Touch ID on Apple’s iPhone 5s lets you lock and unlock your phone by pressing your finger to a scanner embedded in the phone's Home button. The feature will become even more useful with the launch of iOS 8, which lets users lock individual apps using the fingerprint scanner. Small business owners who use the Mint finance app to track their spending, for example, can now secure the data stored in that app using their fingerprint. This extra security boost is good for business users who regularly access private business or client data on their mobile device. It only works on the iPhone 5s, however; Apple hasn't yet released an iPad with Touch ID.
Here's something designed specifically with business users in mind. Apple is adding new enterprise-focused features to iOS 8, including a new program that lets companies enroll to have devices preprogrammed to meet company requirements. When you order smartphones and tablets for your employees, they can come preconfigured to sync with your company's email and calendar system, right out of the box. Other options let you order devices that are preinstalled with the enterprise apps your company already uses, so employees can get right to work. Other new perks include improved security and VIP notifications that let you set special alerts for work-related emails.
Another new feature in iOS 8 lets you view and act on incoming messages and alerts quickly, so you spend less time fiddling with your phone and more time being productive. When an email, text message or calendar alert arrives, you can now act on it from anywhere — even the lock screen. When a new email arrives, for example, a small alert will appear at the top of your screen. You can swipe down to reveal the message and a keyboard, then type out your message and hit enter — all without leaving the app you're currently viewing. That means there's no need to return to your home screen to launch the Mail app when you just want to send a quick reply.
On Android smartphones, widgets are like miniature apps that run right on your home screen, letting you see information like stocks, weather and reminders at a glance. Now iOS 8 lets you install widgets on your iPhone and iPad for the first time. Instead of appearing on your home screen, they'll show up in the notification center, which you can view any time by swiping down from the top of your device's screen. The feature should be handy for business users, since it puts all the info you need to know in a single location, right alongside your alerts and messages.