Hands on with Apple's iOS 8 (pictures)

Apple's latest mobile operating system iOS 8 was unveiled at its annual developer conference. ZDNet takes it for a test drive to show you some of the new features.

Apple's latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, becomes the big brother in the Apple ecosystem.

Unveiled for the first time on Monday at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, California, Apple  lifted the lid on a number of feature additions to its mobile platform  — some of which are aesthetic, but many run to the core of the operating system.

Apple executive Craig Federighi, who heads up the company's software engineering helm, described the new features — many are designed to interact and communicate better with the Mac, including Continuity work sharing, a new Health app for activity and medical tracking, and a wealth of enterprise-focused features.

ZDNet explored some of the new features and functionality of iOS8, and gave it a test-drive following the announcement.

Though some of the features highlighted during the keynote are not yet available — such as iCloud Drive, a competitor to Dropbox and other file-storage services — additional components are expected to land in the coming weeks and months before its September-October launch date.

Here are the cherry-picked best features, and how they work.

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The first screens you'll see: the lock screen and home screen. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

iOS 8 lands with mostly the same user experience as its immediate predecessor, iOS 7, following its massive overhaul of the interface. Sporting a new background wallpaper, there are a couple of additions. You'll note a small icon in the lower-left corner, which allows the user to carry on their work from their Mac, running the latest OS X 10.10 version, like documents and image editing.

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Siri now recognizes the songs you're listening to. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Siri now lands with Shazam music recognition, which includes the ability to buy the song (if it's available) from the iTunes Store, benefiting both companies. Just hold down the Home button and ask Siri, "what am I listening to?" and the voice-activated assistant will do the rest.

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The Camera app has a new self-timer of three or ten seconds. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

A useful, long-time missed feature in the Camera app now lands with a self-timer, allowing you take pictures at a three- or ten-second delay.

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The Photos app now has an intelligence search function. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

The Photos app has also seen improvements (more on that later), and now includes a search feature to help you nail down that particular moment in time. However, it seems to works best with geotagging enabled. A fully-fledged desktop version of the Photos app will be coming to the Mac in 2015, according to Apple.

One of the highlights (and highly rumored) of the iOS 8 announcement was the unveiling of Health, an app that can hook into various apps and services, with the aim of working together to bring you the most comprehensive data possible.

And, if you're ill — or getting sick — alert the people who need to know.

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The new Health app includes a quick-glance dashboard. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

The Health app takes all the data collected from wearable tech and Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensors you use, and puts it in a readable and legible format. From sleep patterns to blood alcohol content, calories burned and blood sugar, it's a one-stop shop for monitoring your well-being.

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Your Medical ID gives others a quick look at your vital stats. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

But if you get sick and you need others to know what your basic vital statistics are, you can create a Medical ID — available right on your Lock screen. It can include things like allergies, blood type, and any medical conditions you have. This might, for instance, help emergency medical staff determine the best course of action sooner rather than later.

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Emergency services can access your Medical ID from your lock screen. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Clicking the "Emergency" button will bring up the dial-screen to make a call to police, fire, or paramedics. But it also allows you to select the Medical ID you created.  

iOS 8 also lands with a number of productivity tweaks, and things that will be handy (albeit indirectly) not only to the consumer, but also the business customer. And those who are always in a rush.

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You can now send, along with text, bursts of voice and video. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

With iMessage, you can now send bursts of voice if you aren't always in the mood for typing. Typically just a few seconds long, push and hold the record button — like "push-to-talk" — and it will send the message over the data network. 

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Mail now lets you swipe either way for time-saving shortcuts. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

In the Mail app, a number of features have been "borrowed" from Dropbox-acquired Mailbox, including these swipe features. Swipe to the right and you can easily mark a message as read, and swipe all the way to the left and you can delete a message on the fly. But swipe gently to the left and you can select more options.

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You can be notified on thread replies, and change away messages. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

On thread emails, such as those where a number of people have been added to the list, you can be notified of important updates. Also, you have the option to set out-of-office messages on Exchange-based email, including Office 365 accounts.

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Swipe-down options and lock screen options. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Receive a message within an app? You can swipe down on the notification and reply without having to leave the app you're in. Also, from the Lock screen, you can selectively mark messages as read or send them straight to the trash if you don't want to read them.

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A more refined, granular Notification Center. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

And the Notification Center has also received a few improvements. Users can now selectively choose which options they want to see in their list of notifications, including weather and stocks. It gives the user more granular control over what they're seeing — either from the Lock screen, or from any other app.

Apple's latest mobile operating system is packed with time-saving features, including the ability to contacts favorites on the fly, and share your location with your friends and colleagues if you're in a busy area.

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In the multitasking pane, you can now reach your favorite and recent contacts with a simple swipe. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Double-tap the Home button to access multitasking. That's not new. But now you can see your favorite and recent contacts to easily call or text someone on the fly. Apple is using the real estate it had in the multitasking pane to try to make accessing those more regular contacts easier.

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Spotlight now draws in more data sources, making searching your device and the Web far easier. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Spotlight, iOS 8's native in-built search facility, can now not only search the Web and Wikipedia, but also check out local restaurants near your location, check movie times, and search locations on the map — as well as look for apps and music that you might want to download.

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Need someone to find you? Share your location on the fly. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Apple's intelligence QuickType keyboard can predict who you are talking to (either a formal email or a friend over text message) and adjust its predictive results accordingly. It works well, and can respond to most written dialog. And if you want to share your location, you can — just by dropping it in an iMessage. 

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The Camera app now comes with native image-editing features. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Apple's native Camera app now comes with photo adjustment technology, which can change the light and the color of images — particularly if you're in a very bright or very dark area. You can tweak your snaps quickly, and share them with friends with a few taps on the screen. You can also adjust the rotation of the picture so that it lines up with the grid lines you are given, which is handy if you took a picture with one hand or at a jaunty angle.

Considering hundreds of millions of iPhone users have a camera right in their pocket, it wouldn't make sense if Apple didn't improve the Camera app.

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Move over, Instagram. You can now add filters to your snaps. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter all land with their own image-filter technology. Now Apple's waltzing in with its own array of filters, all in aid of making your photos look better. Simply tap the middle filter icon and you can adjust your photo style with just a few taps of your finger.

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Making a time-lapse? There's an app for that. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

Time-lapses have become all the rage. It records at about ten-times the speed of a regular video, allowing you to take a long movie and shorten it down to just a few moments. Take that beautiful sunset or that meteor shower, and you're already on the way to award-winning video success.

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Your family can now make purchases — with your permission. Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

And last but now least, Family Sharing allows you to share purchased content, such as movies, music, books, and apps with members of your family. It can support up to six people on the same credit card. It can also allow you to accept an app or music purchase over the air if one of your family members tries to download a paid-for app. Just one click lets you approve it, or deny it.

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