iPhone 6 in Review

iOS 8's hidden revolution goes way beyond the iPad and iPhone

Handoff, Touch ID, extensions, HealthKit, CloudKit, and HomeKit are all part of a larger plan that moves liquid computing forward

[UPDATED 2:00pm PT] While the world has obsessed over iPhone 6 details such as its size and whether it will use a sapphire screen (it won't) and whether Apple would finally reveal the long-rumored iWatch later today (it did: the Apple Watch), a more important development has been happening to the iPhone and iPad: iOS 8. Announced in June and shipping on Sept. 17, iOS 8 heralds a major shift in how iOS apps work with each other and the rest of the world.

Although I've been a beta tester of iOS 8 since June, the import of these changes wasn't so obvious as a user. To see the bigger picture, it took a conversation with Ojas Rege, vice president of strategy at MobileIron, a mobile management company that tends to see management as a way to enable people to get the most out of their devices, not as a way to stymie users. It should help you build guardrails, not prisons. Rege was surprised that so many IT execs he's spoken to haven't paid much attention to the iOS 8 beta, perhaps because it introduced very few new IT management features.

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That blithe reaction is a mistake, Rege believes -- and he's right. There are several key changes in iOS 8 that Apple has announced but not provided much detail on, even to developers in the iOS 8 beta program. From what Apple has revealed publicly, they share a common notion: Making apps more collaborative with each other, breaking iOS free of its highly restrictive containers. Those containers have made iOS incredibly secure, but they also mean the interapplication cooperation we have on PCs and Macs can't happen in iOS.

Now much of it can, and not just within iOS but with other devices, including the oncoming slew of health and fitness devices running some form of iOS (as the Apple Watch does) -- all those wearables people keep expecting to show up -- as well as the growing number of Bluetooth-enabled devices and iBeacons-connected systems.

Here are those revolutionary, related technologies that have been announced by Apple but largely ignored since -- but shouldn't be:

These are sort of like browser plug-ins that run as systemwide resources for apps to use. So far, they've garnered attention for fairly mundane uses like alternative keyboards and social network integration into iOS's Share sheet. There's nothing wrong with those uses, but when developers finally get to explore these in Xcode and take advantage of each other's extensions, the nature of an iOS app could well change. When apps can use common services developed by more than Apple, watch out!

Touch ID
Apple introduced its fingerprint scanner in last year's iPhone 5s, as a way to unlock the device and validate iTunes purchases biometrically. One goal was to encourage use of passwords, which most iOS users don't enable. Touching a fingerprint reader is much easier, so it should bring passwords to many more iOS devices. In iOS 8, Apple is making Touch ID available to third-party apps for use it as a biometric password.

That should be a big deal for enabling mobile payments, as Apple today it announced it's doing with its Apple Pay service, but that's not all. Building access cards, medical sensors, and more would benefit hugely from access to Apple's hardware-secured biometric system, as would corporate data access on a more granular level. Constantly having to enter a password to stay connected or access certain files is a pain, but tapping a finger on the Home button is not. Security made easy -- without requiring a keyboard -- is a key advantage in a world of devices.

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