When Apple introduced iOS 7 in 2013, it was a huge overhaul of the operating system that runs the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. From a complete user interface redesign to new features to lots of under-the-hood improvements, iOS 7 was a major leap forward. The changes introduced in iOS 8 aren’t nearly as flashy, but in some ways they’re even more dramatic and important than those from iOS 7. Read on for insight into fourteen awesome features iOS 8 will bring to your device.

1. Handoff

ios-8-handoff

This is the coolest, and most unexpected, feature Apple introduced with iOS 8. Imagine that you could be working on a text document, editing an image, or writing an email on your Mac. Then, when you’ve got to head out for work, you bring your iPhone or iPad with you and can keep working on that document without doing anything other than opening your device. With Handoff, all of your devices know what you’re working on and stay automatically in sync so your work follows you anywhere you go. Handoff requires iOS 8 and Mac OS X 10.10, and works with built-in apps and with compatible third-party apps.

2.Healthkit

ios-8-healthkitAnother big change introduced in iOS 8 is one of its new built-in apps, Healthkit. This app allows you to store all kinds of personal health information in a single app, from weight to how you’re sleeping, from blood pressure to medical conditions, and more. Healthkit can draw data from the iPhone 5S’s M7 co-processor for things like steps taken—and you can expect that the app will become even more valuable and useful when third-party apps start sending data to it, to say nothing of integration with the much-rumored iWatch.

3.Customizable Keyboards

ios-8-swypeAndroid users have long sung the praises of Swype, an alternative keyboard that makes writing on phones simpler and more accurate. Android users have said that being able to do things like install your own keyboard makes their platform better. They won’t be able to say that anymore: In iOS 8, users will be able to install their own custom keyboards, including Swype.

4.App-to-App Communication

ios-8-app-communicationThe iOS has lots of great built-in features that it makes available for all apps to use—think of the sharing screen that pops up when you tap the box-and-arrow icon for one; it’s the same in every app because it’s a part of the OS. Those features have always worked one way: the OS provides them and apps can use them. In iOS 8, apps are now as powerful as the OS when it comes to sharing features; apps will be able to provide their own features for other apps to use. This means that your favorite social media app can provide sharing features to other apps or a music app can supply audio functionality to non-music apps. It may not seem like a big deal, but now the functionality of your apps won’t be limited to only what the OS can offer.

5.iOS to Mac AirDrop

ios-8-icloud-driveFinally! When AirDrop, a cool wireless file transfer system, was introduced in iOS 7, it was limited to moving files between iOS devices. That was useful, but not nearly as useful as being able to move between iOS devices and Macs. With iOS 8, that’s now possible, which will make moving files that much easier.

6.Family Sharing

ios-8-family-sharingA lot of families share their CDs, DVDs, and books. But in our age of digital entertainment, it’s hard to share downloads in the same way. Apple’s solved that problem with Family Sharing. With this feature set up (and the same credit card on file for all users), everyone will have access to each other’s purchase for immediate and free download.

7.iCloud Drive

ios-8-icloud-drivePractically anyone who has used Dropbox, the online file syncing service that keeps all of your devices updated with the latest versions of your files, loves it. iCloud provided some similar features in the past, but with iCloud Drive, Apple now has its own version of Dropbox. With it, you can upload a file to your iCloud Drive, access it from any compatible device, and then any changes you make to it will be available anywhere.

8.Easy Access to Favorites

ios-8-app-communicationA lot of the changes in iOS 8 are user-interface refinements that make common tasks easier or more appealing. One of the best of those (that we’ve seen so far, at least) is the new way to get at your favorite and recent contacts. Instead of tapping an app and searching for someone, simply double tap the Home button like you’re going to switch apps and your most-used contacts will appear at the top of the screen. Tap the contact and you’ll be able to call, text, or FaceTime them right away.

9.Touch ID for Apps

touch-idThe Touch ID fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5S is a pretty cool way to secure your phone. But the feature is limited to unlocking your iPhone and entering your Apple ID password when buying things through the iTunes and App Store apps. Not anymore. In iOS 8, third-party apps will be able to take advantage of Touch ID to safeguard their content. That will be great for financial apps, secure-messaging tools, and much more. Makes you wonder if Touch ID will be showing up on other devices this year, doesn’t it?

10.Share Your Location

ios-8-share-locationWant to let people know where you are so they can easily get to you? Now you can share your GPS coordinates with friends and family through Messages. This feature is perfect for when you’re out and about and want to make it easy for your friends to get directions to your exact location. No more phone calls that begin with “where are you?” .

11. Improved Notification Center

ios-8-notification-centerNotification Center is useful for getting information from alerts, but it doesn’t do much more than that. Unless you have iOS 8. In that case, you can respond to all kinds of alerts from within Notification Center. Answer texts, post to Facebook, respond to Calendar invitations and much more without ever having to jump to other apps. Just like with easy access to favorites, this is another way that iOS 8 makes doing common tasks faster and simpler.

12. Send Audio Clips via Messages

ios-8-voice-messagesForget boring old texting. In Messages on iOS 8, you can record and send audio clips with just a few gestures—without leaving the Messages app. The feature supports sending video, too, so your communication will be more lively and fun.

13. Homekit

HomeKitHome Automation—the ability to control your home and its appliances from your smartphone or computer—is going to become a more and more common part of our lives in the next few years. If you’ve got a Nest thermostat or Wi-Fi-connected lights, you know how cool Home Automation can be. So far, it’s been a fragmented market with no standards, meaning every system works on its own but doesn’t interoperate. Homekit may change that. This feature of iOS 8 allow Home Automation companies to ensure that their products can be controlled from an iPhone.

14. Under-The-Hood Improvements

promo_ios8These changes are harder to write about in a short space and for an audience of end users, rather than developers. Suffice it to say, though, that iOS 8 has added a boatload of really cool features to improve the performance of devices in gaming (expect to start seeing console-quality graphics on your iOS devices soon), processing (a new programming language that runs faster), and many more areas. You won’t necessarily ever know these features are here, but you’ll benefit from them and your device will be all the better for them.

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