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

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Handoff
This cool technology uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct to let a Mac pick up where you left off on the iPad or Phone. And it's key to letting Apple Watch apps and iPhone apps collaborate. It's a clear example of what I call liquid computing, in which the focus turns from the device to what you're doing (the workflow, in technical parlance). Right now, Handoff works only on iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, and only on certain Apple apps on recent hardware (which is probably why enterprises aren't paying it the attention it's due, Rege suspects).

Expect that to change: Handoff will no doubt become able to connect different apps across iOS devices and Macs -- maybe even Windows apps if Apple opens up more of iCloud to Microsoft's OS. Surely it will make its way to other Internet of things devices, not just the Apple Watch and, I bet, the Apple TV. When workflows become liquid across apps and devices, it's a new ballgame for apps and app developers.

The Kits: CloudKit, HealthKit, and HomeKit
Apple announced its CloudKit, HealthKit, and HomeKit APIs at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. All three are critical to growing areas of technology interoperation: cloud services, medical data and sensors, and home automation (door locks, thermostats, furnaces, alarms, even lighting). (There's also WatchKit, but that's more an extension to iOS apps than for non-iOS devices.)

Every vendor wants into the Internet of things, which is evolving into three distinct spheres. The Kits are part of Apple's IoT play, but they're also about creating a broad fabric of technologies that interact, using iOS as the nexus. Although they may seem to be about devices, these Kits are really additional components of the liquid computing notion that extensions, Touch ID, and Handoff all represent. No one else has so many pieces across the stack as Apple, and these three are core.

There's also a fundamental, nontechnical dimension: As Ryan Faas reported at CITEworld, Apple's new licensing rules for HealthKit and HomeKit forbid the use of the information they gather for advertising, marketing, and other such privacy-invading purposes. That's necessary for people to trust the apps and hardware that take advantage of the Kits -- and allow them to interoperate. Apple CEO Tim Cook underscored that privacy commitment today both for HealthKit and for Apple Pay.

There's also CarPlay, iBeacons, and Siri
These liquid technologies didn't start with iOS 8 -- Apple plots its course years ahead and tends to execute its strategy in phases. Other Apple technologies already out there were earlier pieces in the liquid puzzle.

One is iBeacons, a protocol for determining your location and making appropriate information and even activities occur on your iPhone based on that location. It's been out for a year, with measured uptake as developers digest what it can really do. Still, Apple's iBeacons protocol is simpler than many other Bluetooth beacon APIs, so it's also become universal in beacons hardware. Thus, iBeacons has the critical mass to get location-aware services up and running -- then interacting with the Kits, extensions, and so on.

Then there's CarPlay, Apple's now-two-year-old technology to make car infotainment systems hubs for your iPhone and iPad -- and their apps. The uptake has been slow, as carmakers take years to adopt new technology. (Remember how long it took to get Bluetooth and USB ports in car stereos? CarPlay requires much more engineering and safety compliance than either of those.) I view CarPlay as part of HomeKit, a digital hub in your car that has special needs, given you can't crash a house but you can crash a car. Again, the interoperability of Apple's other initiatives make CarPlay more powerful.

Finally, there's Siri, Apple's voice-based assistant. Google and Microsoft have their own equivalents, but Siri is more fundamental to Apple's strategy than Google Now or Microsoft Cortana are to theirs. Siri is a key interface to not just iPhones, iPads, and (soon) Apple Watches but -- you can bet -- to IoT devices and services that use HomeKit and HealthKit. You already see that in CarPlay, whose iOS in the Car predecessor version is a Siri interface to your infotainment system. Siri makes it more possible for people to interact with more objects, which means there'll be more items to interact with each other in Apple's growing environment of liquid computing.

While you salivate over the truly cool hardware Apple announced today, remember that the foundational advances are in iOS 8, we already know what they are, and developers can take advantage of them in truly revolutionary ways -- if they decide to.

This article, "iOS 8's hidden revolution goes way beyond the iPad and iPhone," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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