iOS 8 vs iPhone 4s Round Two: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
In Round One of this series I described the trials and tribulations of upgrading a 3 generation old smartphone to the latest OS. When I left you, I had managed to get the OS installed and was facing some issues, especially performance issues. In Round 2 of our faceoff we’ll look at what works, what doesn’t, and what might or might not, depending upon how the phone is feeling that day.
iOS 8 promised many improvements, and while some of them are not available on hardware as old as mine, most are available on hardware that meets the minimum specs, which the iPhone 4s does. Some of the most anticipated changes must give Android users some smug satisfaction, as they are features they’ve enjoyed for years on their phones (along with the adware and malware … just kidding … uh, nope).
Notification Center Widgets
For years, iPhone users have been stuck staring at a lock screen that would give you the time and date and nothing else. That hasn’t changed, but iOS 8 did add Widgets to Notification Center, which you can access without unlocking your phone. In addition to widgets for Apple apps, iOS 8 opened up the extensions architecture significantly so that 3rd party apps allow you to put widgets in Notification Center to access various types of information such as weather and news. This is a handy feature that I use every day. Not as good as being able to put stuff on the lock screen, but close.
Third Party Keyboards
In the years since Steve Jobs’ death, Apple watchers have made a sport of claiming this or that “never would have happened if Jobs were still alive.” Most of these people haven’t a clue, and ignore the many times Apple turned around and did something Jobs had criticized or made fun of before. But for me, the announcement that iOS 8 would allow third party keyboards was the first time I wondered, “Would this have happened if Steve Jobs were still alive?”
For years Android users have enjoyed the ability to swipe their fingers across their keyboards to type, a method reportedly much faster than having to type things out the old-fashioned way. And now, iOS users get to do that too, along with many other things. I’ve installed two of these keyboards on my iPhone, SwiftKey and Swype, two of the best known on the Android side. I’m saving full reviews of these for later, but suffice it to say that I wouldn’t willingly go back to old-fashioned typing, even with the new predictive text Apple added in iOS 8, which seems better for gag tweets than productive use.
Perhaps the most shocking introduction to iOS 8 was extensions. Previously Apple severely restricted the extent to which apps could interact with each other. This was partly a security thing, and partly an Apple control thing. But in iOS 8 those restrctions were loosened, allowing app developers to create hooks from their apps to others, allowing editing tools from other apps to be accessible within Apple’s Photo app for instance. So instead of taking a picture then opening a new app to edit, you can access those editing tools within the Photo app. This is very helpful, although I was bummed that one limitation was the inability to change the default camera app.
A Few Others
A new feature in Mail is that e-mails from people who aren’t in your address book provide an option at the top of the screen to add them to Contacts. Apparently other options exist if you have a more interesting life than I do, such as adding dinner reservations to Calendar, but so far all I’ve gotten is the add contact suggestion.
And last but not least, a small tweak to swiping e-mails allows you to immediately delete an e-mail by swiping all the way to the left; swiping part way to the left gives you several options, but swiping all the way to the left saves me time every day.
You might notice some things reappearing here, thus the iOS 8 vs. iPhone 4s context; things exist, many of them work, but they are far from perfect on my old, creaky phone.
Things have gotten better in iOS 8.1.3, but in the beginning some third party widgets had problems working. Mostly they’d give you an error message that data couldn’t be displayed, although if you waited long enough it might; with some it never did.
While those problems seem mostly behind us, one still exists, and I’m pretty sure it’s phone related. It takes a long time for widgets to update, and there’s no indicator whether things are currently updating or not. Sometimes it takes so long you’ll get that dreaded “no data available” message before it finally does update.
Third Party Keyboards
Issues with 3rd party keyboards been documented previously, though I believe things are getting better here as well. The biggest issue I have is that sometimes your keyboard defaults back to the stock Apple keyboard. This only seems to happen when I open one of Apple’s apps (I’m looking at you Messages), and you can switch back, but it is a serious bug that needs to be fixed.
There are still a few bugs in the system, and one of the biggest once again relates to third party keyboards. Sometimes when you need to type something, not only does your third party keyboard not show up, nothing shows up. Which makes it very difficult to type. Once again this seems to be related to Apple apps and, especially, Spotlight search from the Home screen. The solution seems to be going to a third party app, bringing up the keyboard, then going back to where you were and starting again.
Extensions have also been plagued with problems early on, although I’m not 100% certain if extensions are crashing or just taking a really long time on my 4s. Nonetheless, it’s not that useful to have the tools available if you can’t succesfully save any of the work you do with them.
And The Winner Is …
You, if you have an iPhone 4s and you upgrade to iOS 8. While iOS 8 will slow your iPhone 4s down, and there are still some bugs in the system, the positives really do outweigh the negatives. This is the exact conclusion Ars Technica came to in their article, even before iOS 8 was released. Extensions, Widgets and 3rd party keyboards are just some of the biggest, most visible new features that make iOS 8 a worthy upgrade. Additions to Mail and Notification Center, Apple’s own improvements to Photos and various other tweaks, additions and changes make me confident that I made the right decision to upgrade, and if you have an iPhone 4s (or iPad 4) and have been debating, I recommend you do too.