New iOS 8 Features Hidden in Plain Sight

It's easy to get tired of all the hullabaloo surrounding gigantic bent iPhones, the possibility of ten thousand dollar Apple watches, and paying for overpriced pumpkin spice lattes with Apple Pay. But to me, the most relevant recent announcement from Apple has been their latest mobile operating system. iOS 8 brings a lot of usability changes to the iPhone, most of which are far more subtle than last year's iOS 7 update.

Normal people who use iPhones like hearing about marquee features, but I've always gravitated towards the small details that make the day-to-day use of the iPhone better. So after combing through as many articles about the new or changed features in the latest release that I could, I present the esteemed reader with some of the better improvements in iOS 8. They may initially seem very simple, but they can save you time and make your life easier if you're aware of them. Here we go!

Which App is Draining Your Battery Life

Unless you've ordered one of the ginormous iPhone 6 Plus models, your battery life with your iPhone is still probably not going to be the 2 day+ battery you've always wanted for binge watching Miley Cyrus YouTube videos. To counter this, Apple's battery usage settings have been dramatically improved and now show which apps are consuming the largest amount of your battery. This way you can either use those apps less or just delete them altogether. Remember that the app which takes up the most battery isn't necessarily evil, it may just be the one you use most frequently. However, for apps which rank highly in battery usage but that you rarely use, consider deleting them. You can get to this view by going to Settings --> General --> Usage --> Battery Usage.

Battery Usage in iOS 8. My phone has clearly outed me as an avid podcast listener O_O

Spotlight on Steroids

If you're on the iPhone home screen and you swipe down (not all the way from the top, but at a midpoint on the screen), then a search box will appear to do your bidding. This is Spotlight. Spotlight can now search several areas of your phone's local storage and online too. It covers general Google search, Wikipedia, maps locations, the App Store, apps on your phone, the iTunes Store, music on your phone, text messages, contacts, emails, and calendar events. And it pulls up instantly. So next time you need to find something on your phone, instead of searching through folders and home screens to find something, it'll likely be quicker to just swipe down and search directly for what you want to find.

Use Spotlight in iOS 8 to find anything

Leave Group Chats(!)

This one is huge. If you've ever gotten stuck on a large text chain with ten people and quickly come to the realization that you really don't care about meeting up with friends at the nearest Chipotle, this feature is for you. Go to a group thread in the Messages app, press the "Details" button at the top right, and you can now leave an iMessage thread and stop being caught in the back-and-forth of indecisive friends not knowing where they want to have mimosas on a Sunday morning. But if all the participants aren't on iMessage, you won't be able to leave the thread (since the so-called "green bubble" people don't support the leave chat functionality). So the next best thing if not everyone is on iMessage is to turn on "Do not disturb" for that conversation so you won't receive notifications every two seconds. You can find both the leave conversation and mute conversation options by pressing the "Details" button on the top right of any group thread in the Messages app.

What you'll see upon clicking "Details" in the top right of a group message

Widgets on Notification Center

Widgets give users quick bites of information that are easy to glance at. Android users regularly tell me about how much they love home screen and lock screen widgets. I usually give them a witty retort and carry on playing Tiny Wings, an app that will never come to Android On iOS, the wait is finally over and by swiping the Notification Center down and looking at the "Today" view, iPhone users can glean snapshots of information from their favorite apps. For instance, one of my task management apps, OmniFocus, allows you to see the items due for today. The Evernote widget has one of the nicer user interfaces and allows you to quickly create a photo/note/reminder without having to launch the app. There are a lot of apps that have widgets and that number is only going to grow. To figure out which of your current apps have a widget, navigate to the "Today" view of Notification Center, scroll to the bottom, and press the "Edit" button. I recommend only adding those apps that have the most helpful widgets rather than adding all of them at the same time. Happy Widgeting!

OmniFocus and Evernote widgets in the "Today" view

Press "Edit" to add new widgets on the "Today" view

Send Phone Location Before Your Battery Dies

We all have that one friend. You know, the one who parties too hard "in da club," blacks out, and loses their phone somewhere during the course of the night. Well, partygoers, this feature will be your new best friend. If you go to your phone's Find My iPhone page (Settings -> iCloud -> Find My iPhone), there's a new toggle for "Send Last Location." This means that right before your phone dies, it'll send you an email with it's last known location and coordinates. This is a very clever feature, especially if you have no clue where you left your phone the night before (or even if someone stole your phone and it ran out of battery while in their possession). That's why, even if you aren't a clubaholic, I still recommend that everyone activate this setting.

The option for sending your phone's last location before it runs out of battery

And Now, the Mail

For the more business-minded among you, the revamped mail app has tons of usability improvements. For starters, if you've ever wanted to get notifications on a single email thread (maybe an important conversation between you and your boss regarding those TPS reports that you haven't gotten around to), now you can do just that. Swipe partially to the left of any single message, press "More," then press "Notify Me." This will send you a notification for that single thread whenever there's been a response. This way, you don't have to turn on Mail notifications for every single message, as that can get pretty exhausting after a while.

What you'll see if you swipe partially left on a message in Mail for iOS 8

Next, if you're in the process of writing a message and need to reference another email, you can now drag from the top of the message you're writing (where it says "New Message") all the way down and have that draft at the very bottom of the screen. This frees you up to refer to other emails while parking your email-in-progress for quick access later. This is probably the handiest new feature of the Mail app and it's about the closest to split-screen multitasking as Apple has gotten.

Swiping down on an incomplete email in the new Mail app for iOS 8

This list isn't exhaustive by any means, but I think these are some of the cooler, lesser-known features of iOS 8. Let me know what you think and if you'd like to see more posts like this in the future.