AMITIAE - Friday 19 September 2014

Cassandra: Finding my Way Round iOS 8 - Tips, Health and SwiftKey

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


With the update to iOS 8, new apps are beginning to appear, as well as several updates for older apps that users already have installed. The last two mornings I have found up to a couple of dozen apps waiting to be updated, with many simply reporting that they were revised for iOS 8.

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The iOS 8 update also installed a couple of apps from Apple. Although I did not ask for these - like the free Winnie the Pooh book with iBooks - I am not going to make a song and dance as many did with the U2 album arrival last week.

The app called Tips is a nice little addition that explains some of the new features to users. We are able to scroll through - left to right - and the last page has a photo with the text, "Come back later for new tips" suggesting there are to be updates fed to us. At the bottom of that screen is a link to the Apple iOS web pages.

Right at the bottom of the page (to the left) is an index symbol that opens a screen with all previous tips listed. Each tip may be exported using Mail or Messages; or to Twitter and Facebook.

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Another app that appeared is Health, part of Apple's move to make the devices part of an ecology that could include medical establishments and perhaps future input via sensors and the Apple Watch. When opened there is no data displayed. The app is split into four: Dashboard, Health Data, Sources and Medical ID.

Dashboard displays feedback from input specified by the user and may be displayed by the day, week, month or year. The data displays are added using the Health Data section, where there are currently 7 sections (plus all): Body Measurements, Fitness, Me, Nutrition, Results, Sleep and Vitals.

Some of these have a large list of options. For example Fitness has 7 options: Active Calories, Cycling Distance, Flights Climbed, NikeFuel, Resting Calories, Steps, and Walking + Running Distance.

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Some (and a number of the options in the other sections) need data to be entered by the user. Others, such as Walking + Running Distance use input from sensors on the iPhone, as does Sleep, with its basic Sleep Analysis.

With each of the data entry options, a user is able to turn on the ability to Show on Dashboard. I activated a couple that would allow me to display some data right away to get a feel of the app. It is clear that by adding a wider selection of information points that a better picture of the user's general condition could be built.

A problem seems to be gaining access to some of the information needed, so if I eat a cream cake (a distinct possibility) I am unsure how to find data concerning calories; or how to add in such information for other meals (and snacks) I might consume during the day.

Likewise, I am not in the habit of checking blood pressure every day (or even every week) and the range of data types is really wide, with bioton, caffeine, calcium, carbohydrates, chloride, copper, dietary calories, dietary cholesterol, fiber . . . in just one list of 38 items, that goes right down to Zinc.

For some users, the inclusion of many types of data will enable them to have a really good picture of the state of their health; but some may stick to just a few essentials. For now.

A further section, marked Sources, currently has no entries, but this is available should I install apps that are to be developed that will link to Health and update the data sets automatically. This section therefore is available to expand the potential of the app.

A final section is marked Medical ID and is available for users to create information about themselves, such as allergies and conditions. That data can be accessed from the emergency dialler once turned on.

The Emergency Dialler is accessed when the phone is locked by sliding the screen to the right, to reveal the passcode entering page where at the bottom left is the word, Emergency. A number can be entered, but this only allows emergency numbers to be dialled. When the Medical ID is created, a link to that also appears beneath the number pad.

A problem in some countries, outside North America and Europe may be that emergency personnel will not be aware of the existence of such a feature. Perhaps some more publicity could improve awareness.

Neither app appears in the iTunes library on my Mac or in the iTunes App Store; and when I moved the app icons, the X - that allows a user to delete an app - was not available, indicating that these were part of the iOS installation (like Safari, Stocks and Photos).

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As anticipated, third-party keyboards are now allowed and I downloaded one that appeared in the app store here: SwiftKey. Starting up, I was asked to log in either by using FaceBook or Google+, although I could ignore that. Following instructions I was able to add the keyboard to the others I already use in Settings > General > Keyboards > Add new keyboard.

There is also a Full Access mode that offers predictive analysis. This is now also available in the standard keyboard that comes with the iPhone and learning how to use this is beginning to save me time with typing, although with only three chances, it is not able to predict all of what I am thinking.

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The SwiftKey app goes a little further and warns that to assist with the learning process, it wants to send my keystrokes to the developer. I was slightly taken aback with that in these days of increased awareness of data access by those who should not have it.

With Apple battening down the hatches in iOS 8, I am not sure if it is wise to allow such data to be in a developer's hands as one does not know who is standing behind the developer. I declined to allow that and just have now a basic white on black keyboard as well as Apple's black on white ones. As all that this gives me in its limited state is just another colour, I may end up deleting this.

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Back in iOS 8, the Spotlight search facility has been changed and now offers suggestions from external sources. This is also likely to appear in Yosemite. When I accessed the search panel, a number of app icons were shown although pressing each of them did nothing. Entering just one character in the text box, as before, produced a list of apps, and contacts, followed by Music, Notes, Events and Mail.

Information about the new features is available by pressing, "Learn more . . ." at the end of the Spotlight outline. The settings for searches may be changed in Settings > General > Spotlight Search, where a list of some 14 options is given.

Also in Settings > General just below the Spotlight Search item, is the new Handoff & Suggested Apps settings. This will not be available currently for most users as it depends on settings in Yosemite. This also needs to work with iCloud on both devices, and for both devices to be on the same network.

The camera app has a number of improvements, but that deserves a separate examination.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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