Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 8.0 | iLounge Article

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Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 8.0

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Messages

The Messages app in iOS 8 includes some useful usability enhancements that take it a step further along the path of being a full-featured instant messaging platform.

Pictures, Videos, and Audio Clips

Most notably, you can now easily send and receive quick pictures, videos and audio clips directly in the Messages app. A new microphone button appears in the bottom right corner, and the camera button now does double-duty—a single tap allows you to attach photos from your photo library as before, but you can now tap-and-hold to bring up options to snap a quick photo or short video clip. Both use the front-facing camera by default, although the usual camera toggle control appears in the top right corner to switch that around.

Tapping and holding displays a circle with photo and video buttons, and there are actually some different gestures supported here; simply doing a tap-and-hold-and-release leaves the buttons on screen, at which point you can simply tap the appropriate button to either take a picture or begin recording a video. Photos are sent out right away, while videos give you the opportunity to preview the video, send it out, or discard it entirely.

However, you can also tap-hold-and-slide your finger to activate the features directly. Sliding up to the camera icon allows you take a quick selfie and send it out right away, while swiping right to the video record button will begin recording a video. In the latter case, the video keeps recording as long as you hold your finger on the record button, and stops recording when you release your finger, or alternatively you can swipe left to the “X” to cancel/discard the video or swipe up and to the left to send it out right away.

The microphone button uses similar gestures for recording audio clips. Recording begins as soon as you tap-and-hold on the microphone button, and stops when you release your finger. You can then preview the audio recording, send it out, or discard it. As with recording video clips, you can also tap-hold-and-swipe to record and then send or discard in a single motion.

Since these types of messages can quickly eat up the available storage space on your device, the Message section in the iOS 8Settings app adds new options for automatically discarding received audio and video messages after 2 minutes, or retaining them indefinitely. A “Keep Messages” setting has also been introduced here to allow users to automatically purge older Messages history from their device to conserve space, and a “Raise to Listen” option allows you to automatically listen to received audio messages simply by holding your iPhone up to your ear.

Notably, the Video Messages expiry setting only applies to videos recorded within the Messages app using the quick video settings above—videos sent from the Photo Library or recorded from the standard “Take Photo or Video” option are not affected. Similarly, photos or videos taken using the tap-and-hold shortcuts are not saved to the Photo Library, although you can of course decide to save them directly from the Messages conversation thread as with any other image or video.

In addition to the “Read” and “Delivered” status indicators in the Messages app, a new “Kept” status has been added to indicate whether the recipient has retained an audio or video message, as opposed to letting it expire. Note that since pre-iOS 8 devices do not support expiry options at all, this will always show “Kept” when sending to these devices.

The options when simply tapping on the camera icon have also been enhanced, providing a preview of the most recent 20 photos in your Photo Library to allow you to more quickly send out recently snapped photos. Tapping on an individual photo from this list will zoom in and select it, and you can scroll left or right to select additional photos and attach them all in a single operation.

Contact and Location Information

Messages in iOS 8 also expands the contact information screen and integrates some of the “Find My Friends” features directly into the Messages app. Tapping “Details” in the top right corner of a conversation screen will now open up a separate screen with additional options; the contact photo and name are normally shown at the top with the usual buttons for placing an audio or video call or opening the contact information screen. Additional options appear allowing you to send your current location out as a one-time map attachment or share your location with the other person. When sharing your location, you can choose to share for either an hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely, and of course you can choose to stop sharing manually whenever you’d like.

If the other user is sharing their location with you, whether in iOS 8 or using Find My Friends in an older version of iOS, you’ll see a map above their contact info as well as a general location name and location age shown below their name.

Scrolling down further will display thumbnails of all of the attachments stored in the current Messages conversation. Tapping on any of these will open them in a standard Photos-style browsing view, from which you can swipe left and right to scroll through, share individual items, or browse in list form instead.

Do Not Disturb

A “Do Not Disturb” toggle also appears on the “Details” screen allowing you to disable notifications for any individual Messages conversation. This can be useful for automated SMS notifications or group conversations that you’re not actively involved in.

Group Messaging

Group Messaging has also been enhanced in iOS 8 giving you more chat-room style control of your conversations. You can now give your conversations a name to more easily keep track of them, add and remove members at any time to an existing thread, or even leave the conversation entirely.

Location sharing can also be used in group conversations to see where everyone is on a single map.

Note that you need to have at least four people in a group chat to be able to remove yourself or others from it, presumably since you need at least three people in a group chat for it to be a group chat.

Family Sharing

In our Ask iLounge column over the years, we’ve received—and tried our best to answer—many questions from families wondering how to best manage iTunes purchases and other iCloud content amongst couples, parents, and kids across their collection of iOS devices. Most solutions thus far have always been kludgy and less than ideal at best, usually involving sharing one account for purchases while using separate accounts for things like calendars, contacts, and e-mail. While this works in some situations, it’s always a headache when things need to be split up later, such as when kids move off to college.

The good news is that with the release of iOS 8, Apple finally addresses this with a new feature known as Family Sharing, allowing purchased media content, apps, and other information to be shared across up to six iTunes and iCloud accounts grouped into the same family. One account is chosen to be the “organizer” for the family, which can then be used to invite up to five additional iTunes/iCloud accounts as members.

Sharing Purchases

Once a family is set up, all of the purchased content from any of the individual accounts can be shared with all of the rest. Any new content purchased with any of the individual family accounts is paid for using the credit card associated with the family organizer account, however that content remains associated with the account of the user who purchased it. Content is only shared so long as accounts remain part of the family group; if a user leaves the group, all of their purchased items—both before and after joining the family—go with them and are no longer available to other members of the group.

In other words, when working within a Family Sharing group, all users can share content across all accounts, but each user effectively still “owns” their own media content and apps. Parents can also control purchases by kids in the Family group—attempts to purchase an app by an iTunes user under 13 years of age will automatically require approval from the Family organizer account or another designated parent/guardian account;  this requirement can also be optionally enabled on a per-member basis for kids over 13.

Parents receive approval requests on their own iOS devices; tapping a request shows the details of the app in question with “Decline” and “Accept” buttons at the top. Alternatively, parents can also approve a request directly on the child’s device simply by tapping the link at the top of the request screen and entering their own Apple ID and password.

Once Family Sharing has been enabled, the “Purchases” section in the App Store will also allow family members to browse purchases based on the member that purchased the content. Note that individual family members can still hide purchases, in which case they will not be available from this view. Unfortunately, there is not yet any way to transfer purchases between accounts, and based on past experience, we’re not anticipating that this will be possible any time in the foreseeable future.

Note that with the advent of Family Sharing, you can also now create accounts for children under 13—an option that wasn’t previously available due to various legal and privacy requirements. To do this, scroll down to the bottom of the “Family” section in your iCloud settings and look for the “Create an Apple ID for a child” option. You’ll be required to provide the child’s date of birth, and verify some parental information, and the new account is then automatically added to the family group, with “Ask to Buy” enabled by default. Once the child turns 13, the account is converted automatically to a full iTunes account, and you can loosen the reins and toggle off “Ask to Buy” if you so choose.

While Family Sharing is definitely a great step in the right direction, it also isn’t without a few other limitations that are important to keep in mind. First among these is that in-app purchases are completely excluded from being shared. While this may be fine for things like in-game currency, many apps are provided as free “lite” versions with IAP’s used to unlock or upgrade to a full version. Family members will want to be careful about dealing with apps like these, since the full version “unlock” will not be shareable among family members. Those apps that provide a full version as a separate, paid download, should still be fine, however.

Another important consideration is that developers will have to “opt-in” for Family Sharing. This process appears to be somewhat automatic for apps that are still being maintained on the App Store, since developers will need to do this to continue selling their apps. However, it appears that developers may not be required to enable Family Sharing for customers who have already previously purchased their apps.

Sharing iCloud Content

Once you enable Family Sharing, you’ll also see a Shared Photo Stream in the Photos app, Shared Calendar in the Calendars app, and Shared Reminders list in the Reminders app that all family members are automatically subscribed to. These work in the same manner as other Shared Photo Streams and Calendars except that the member list is automatically determined by those in the Family Sharing group.

Note that other iCloud content such as Contacts and Notes remain separate. Notably, iCloud Storage is not shared across family members either—each member gets 5GB free and must purchase their own storage upgrades individually if they wish to buy more storage for features such as backups, iCloud Drive, or iCloud Photo Library.

Location Sharing

Family members also automatically have their locations shared with each other via Find My Friends or the iOS 8 Messages app, although as with any other location sharing, this can be disabled temporarily or permanently. Family Sharing doesn’t provide any specific way to prevent this for younger members, although standard iOS Parental Controls can be used here to lock this setting down in the same manner as before.

Family Sharing also integrates all of the devices with Find My iPhone enabled into a single list that can be accessed by any family member.

iCloud Drive

Although iCloud has allowed documents and data to be stored and synced between multiple devices since its inception, the approach has always been very application-centric, requiring individual apps to build their own iCloud interfaces and limiting iCloud data availability on a per-app basis. In short, iCloud was a place to store data for individual apps, but didn’t provide any kind of more open file system in the way that users of services like Dropbox or Google Drive had some to expect.

With iOS 8, Apple has expanded this into iCloud Drive, effectively providing a file system interface into the nebulous iCloud Document and Data storage repository. Users of OS X Yosemite will be able to browse iCloud content in much the same way as any other folder, and a unified interface on iOS 8 will be available to third-party apps taking advantage of iCloud Drive.

Much like iCloud Photo Library, however, iCloud Drive on iOS 8 is only half of the solution; OS X Yosemite will provide the other part of the equation once it ships later this year. Most importantly, iCloud Drive is built as a separate, new service from the old iCloud Documents and Data feature, and the two are not interchangeable or compatible. iCloud Drive is currently disabled by default, and anybody using OS X Mavericks and exchanging files with iCloud should probably opt-out of this option for now, as upgrading to iCloud Drive on iOS 8 will break synchronization of data with any currently shipping version of OS X. Also keep in mind that the process of upgrading to iCloud Drive is not reversible.

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