One of iOS 8’s major highlight was Extensibility, a feature that in Apple’s own words “lets developers extend select areas of the system by supplying an app extension.” Extensions are a welcome addition, as it indicates that Apple is finally letting developers do things outside of their own apps, something that could earlier be done only via jailbreaking.
Apple has defined six “extension points” that developers can target — share, photo editing, custom actions, widgets, storage provider and custom keyboard. We explain each extension point in detail below, including how it’ll help you get things done even faster on your iOS device.
Apple has provided a standard share sheet on iOS since quite some time, but the sharing options were restricted by what Apple chose to integrate into iOS. So every app could share content to Facebook, Twitter etc., without having extra code, but for sharing to Pinterest, some extra effort was needed. With iOS 8, Apple’s made the sharing system more modern, letting app developers provide their own sharing options in other apps. So instead of an app developer integrated Pinterest in their own app, Pinterest itself could tell iOS to show the Pinterest share option where ever a photo is to be shared.
There are many types of information (weather, stocks, package deliveries etc.) that you’d rather have a glance at on your lock screen than open the concerned app. With iOS 8, Apple finally lets developers write their own widgets for use in the Today tab of the Notification Center or on the lock screen.
An action extension is quite powerful — it “helps users view or transform content within the context of another app.” The action extension Apple demoed was Bing’s translator, that could translate selected text in Safari into a different language. Working on the same data with multiple apps was certainly possible in earlier iOS versions, but was quite tricky. Actions does this in a native, seamless manner.
Apple pioneered the touchscreen keyboard in 2007, but hasn’t made much changes to it while Android, by virtue of opening the keyboard to third-party devs, has seen a lot of innovative keyboard input methods like Swype, SwiftKey etc. iOS 8 finally lets third-party developers write their own keyboards that users can use system-wide. Popular companies like Swype, SwiftKey and Fleksy have already announced that they’ll have their iOS keyboards ready when iOS releases publicly.
The workflow while editing photos from your library with a third-party app is quite cumbersome, especially if you want to get everything done from within the Photos app. iOS 8 lets you access your favorite app’s photo or video editing interface, make changes and save the edited photo, all without leaving the Photos app. In the future, Instagram, VSCO cam or Aviary could have their own interface pop up within the Photos app, and you can apply your favorite filters and presets without jumping through multiple apps.
Apple addressed another huge annoyance with iOS, and made it much easier to deal with files across multiple apps. Services like Dropbox, Google Drive etc. can now define themselves as “Storage Providers” so that apps that deal with files can store and retrieve files stored in these services without any hassles. These changes make it much easier to work on a single file from multiple apps without creating unnecessary copies.
Extensibility is great, because it’s a sign that Apple’s willing to let go of its infamously tight control over iOS, and create an even better platform for developers to in turn build some great tools for iOS users. I’m extremely excited about this feature, and can’t wait to see how developers extend the functionality of apps with these extensions.