Apple announces iOS 8 with support for third-party keyboards

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As of today, every iPhone is out of date. Not because the hardware is different, and not because there’s another iPhone out on the market for you to spend your money on, but because there’s a new version of iOS, the operating system made for Apple’s phones and tablets.

The good news is that like the past version, the update to iOS will be free, and it will bring with a host of features and changes aimed at making a phone more than a phone, connecting it your life and now your home.

“iOS 8 offers simpler, faster and more intuitive ways to use your device with incredible new features like iCloud Photo Library, a new Messages app, the QuickType keyboard and an entirely new Health app,” said Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering at Apple.

“We’re also giving developers amazing new tools to make managing your health and your home from your devices an integrated, simple and secure experience.”

Some of the features have already been mentioned by Federighi, but we’ll go through them in case you’re at all curious what they are.

For instance, the iCloud Photo Library links up with the Photos app on the iPhone and iPad to make sure your phones are easily accessible at any time when you’re online. It’s similar to Dropbox, from what we understand, except it’s specifically for your photos, and the new version of the iOS Photos app will let you adjust your photos quickly and easily.

Messages changes too, with a swipe from the side allowing you to do more than just type, with voice, video, and photo sharing possible from within a conversation.

The health app will likely grab people keen on getting in on that whole fitness thing, with the information from fitness bands and gadgets being sent to the one place, and a way for developers of these apps to have separate gadgets talk to each other. For instance, you might run with a Nike+ sensor for your shoes, but want that to talk to a TomTom watch. In iOS 8, that is something that can happen, provided the developers of the apps in question get behind it and start talking to each other.

One area we’re particularly excited for is the keyboard integration however, and there are two ways the keyboard is changing from Apple’s point of view.

The first is that Apple’s own keyboard is getting better. Now called the QuickType keyboard, it will offer personalised suggestions and hopefully stop censoring you every time you want to use profanity. Beyond this, it monitors how you talk to people (over text) and will eventually suggest words leading to phrases, making it easy for you to quickly write sentences.

Some of that research can already be found on keyboard replacements for Google’s Android, however, and that’s where the second part of Apple’s keyboard decision can be found, as Apple will now support replacement keyboards in iOS.

What does this mean for Apple iPhone and iPad owners?

Well, just like how you can on Android, with iOS 8, you’ll be able to replace the keyboard that comes with the device, and two have already been announced for Apple’s devices.

Fleksy for Android will be making a version for iOS, as will the popular SwiftKey keyboard, which is what powers the keyboards for Samsung’s Galaxy handsets since last year.

“We’re delighted Apple has decided to embrace the importance of opening its platform to third party keyboards,” said Ben Medlock and John Reynolds, Co-founders of SwiftKey.

“For more than four years, SwiftKey and our millions of users have pioneered faster, easier typing on touchscreens, leading the industry with next-word prediction and smarter autocorrection. Our technology features on more than 200 million devices to date and we can’t wait to reach more.”

Other features for iOS 8 include some changes to the design, enhanced search technology looking for information on more than just your device with venue information around you, and the ability to share apps, movies, and iBook purchases between family members using Family Sharing.

There is one catch, however, and it’s a constant one: with every release of iOS, one product get left behind.

For the release of iOS 8, that product is the iPhone 4, as iOS 8 will only be compatible with the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S, and all iPad and iPad Mini models outside of the original iPad.

Availability for the iOS 8 update is expected later this year, roughly around the same time as when OS X 10.10 “Yosemite” should be rolling out for Mac laptops and desktops, with the price of, well, free.