In less than a month, Apple will kick off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. Apple typically uses this event to unveil new versions of its mobile and desktop operating systems, and WWDC 2014 should be no different.
See also: How iOS 8 Will Fix Apple Maps
At last year’s event, iOS 7 was easily the star of the show. The new version of Apple’s mobile operating system was packed with the most striking visual and functional changes since the very first iPhone launched in 2007. iOS 7 was the first version of iOS directly managed by Apple’s lead designer, Sir Jony Ive, who took over “human interface” duties in late 2012 after longtime iOS chief Scott Forstall got the boot following the disastrous launch of the Apple Maps app as part of iOS 6.
Considering iOS 7 was generally betterreviewed than its predecessors, iOS 8 is expected to arrive with plenty of polish as well as some new features. (Apple typically releases the latest version of iOS to the public just a few days before launching its newest iPhone, which usually takes place in the fall.) But what can users actually expect from iOS 8, even before its presumed unveiling at WWDC 2014?
Return Of The Maps
Two years ago, Apple replaced Google Maps with its own homegrown solution as the default navigation app in iOS 6. In short, it didn’t go so well: Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a public apology, and the company fired Forstall, as well as the manager directly responsible for Maps in iOS 6.
Apple didn’t have much time to focus on Maps in time for last year’s release of iOS 7—an effort that required borrowing engineers from the Mac team in order to ship on time. But this year, Apple is expected to release a major update to its Maps app that will reportedly accommodate local businesses and those that commute via subway, bus, train, taxi, biking or walking.
Apple bought a host of mapping companies in 2013, no doubt to help bolster its Maps offering in a year’s time. Apple purchased Locationary, HopStop, Embark Inc., WiFiSLAM, and may have also purchased a company called BroadMap, which prided itself on managing, sorting and analyzing maps data.
The WiFiSLAM acquisition could mean Apple plans to offer indoor maps for malls and other public places. According to a patent issued to Apple in 2011, Apple has envisioned augmented reality functionality for Apple Maps that would allow users to see visible points of interest nearby using the compass embedded in every iPhone. In other words, it could be Apple’s version of Street View—one that doesn’t require cars with Apple logos to drive around and take pictures.
Making Health An Open Book
Many believe 2014 will be the year Apple finally lifts the curtain on its health-oriented smartwatch. But Apple first has to add the health functionality to its mobile operating system before anyone can use these much-rumored iWatch features.
In March, 9to5Mac posted “complete recreations of screenshots” of a new iOS app called “Healthbook,” citing “multiple sources working directly on the initiative’s development”:
Healthbook, like the existing Passbook app, is expected to offer biometric information based on your sleep and and physical movements in simple cards with tabs for different health and fitness components. According to the images, iOS 8 users might be able to access information about their blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, hydration levels, oxygen saturation and respiratory rate—directly from their mobile device.
Obviously, one big main question is how Healthbook will get its data. The M7 motion coprocessor within the iPhone 5S—and, one would assume, the next-generation iPhone—can measure several movement-based biometrics. But it’s likely the new Healthbook app will pull data from a first-party accessory—the iWatch, or possibly even Apple’s next-generation EarPods—as well as third-party apps and accessories like the Nike Fuelband and Jawbone Up.
Last year, Apple introduced its streaming music service, iTunes Radio, as part of the Music app in iOS 7. For the release of iOS 8, however, the site 9to5Mac has reported that Apple will separate iTunes Radio from the rest of the music app to increase the visibility of the ad-supported service (iTunes Match subscribers don’t have to listen to ads as they stream music).
Apple is also expected to add song recognition capabilities to the Music app thanks to a partnership with Shazam, the popular song identification app. That integration would presumably give users the option to purchase a newly identified song through iTunes.
An Expanded iCloud
Introduced in 2011, iCloud lets users store documents and files and have them sync across all Apple computers and mobile devices. According to 9to5Mac, the company is reportedly building mobile versions of Preview and TextEdit, the company’s apps for PDF viewing and simple word processing, respectively, in time for the release of iOS 8.
Apple’s voice assistant Siri may be able to tap into a new slew of third-party apps in iOS 8, as reported by The Information. Apple has a few unique partnerships with OpenTable and WolframAlpha to help power Siri, but Apple might be working on enabling third-party integrations that don’t require custom business deals.
Besides Siri, Apple may also unify its Notification Center, doing away with the “All” and “Missed” categorizations, while Game Center could actually disappear as a standalone app, instead turning into a feature integrated into games themselves. CarPlay, Apple’s integration with built-in car displays, will also reportedly get support for Wi-Fi connections so users don’t need to rely on a Lightning cable.
One More Thing
There’s one more rumor out there, though it’s a bit of a long shot. In January, the Wall Street Journal suggested Apple would tie a mobile payments system to its Touch ID fingerprint scanner, which was introduced in last year’s iPhone 5S and will likely be included in this year’s round of iPhones, as well as iPads.
In an earnings call with investors in January, Cook said mobile payments is an area “we’ve been intrigued with,” adding “it was one of the thoughts behind Touch ID.”
Touch ID can currently help iOS users purchase digital music and video via the iTunes Store and App Store. In iOS 8, Apple may expand this functionality to payment for physical goods and services through a number of partner apps. If you’re wondering which companies Apple might partner with initially, look no further than the apps available for Passbook, which features airlines like Delta, American and United, sports associations like the MLB, ticketing companies like Fandango and Ticketmaster and Starbucks.
Correction, 11:45 a.m. PT: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Healthbook screenshots had first surfaced on the Chinese social network Weibo. Thanks, Mark!