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June 5, 2014

Five major new features in iOS 8

Apple has taken the wraps off its latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, introducing a suite of new features to users aimed at streamlining some of their most annoying daily tasks.

There were fewer major visual changes. Apple will now have app widgets in its notification center that users can customize to show things such as the scores for particular sports teams -- a feature that iOS users have long envied from Android. But this year's additions were not nearly as comprehensive as those from last year, when Apple introduced iOS 7 and significantly changed the look and feel of the system.

This time around, there were a lot of small announcements in response to some of the gripes users have with the system. Here are five of the most notable iOS 8 updates:

Messaging: Something that irks a lot of people is when a group message thread gets out of hand. Have you ever had to deal with a bunch of beeps and buzzes while everyone else in the conversation contributes their "LOL!" to the conversation? No more. Apple will let you choose to leave threads when you want and to add or delete contributors as you wish.

You can also name threads to come back to later, or just choose a "Do Not Disturb" mode to curb the notification glut.

Health: As expected, the company released a health hub that pulls information from several different apps that measure various bits of health data, such as Nike+, and that promises to aggregate the data that users currently store in several silos of information.

Apple also announced that it is partnering with the Mayo Clinic to let users check metrics such as their heartbeat or blood pressure against what is "healthy" for their bodies.

"We are proud to be at the forefront of this innovative technology with the Mayo Clinic app," Mayo's chief executive, John Noseworthy, said in a statement.

Sharing and App Store: For parents and families, sharing just got a lot easier. Apple will let families more easily share albums, multimedia and information about their purchases, a direct response to the criticism that Apple makes it too easy for kids to make purchases behind their parents' backs.

The new sharing feature includes an option that lets parents set a requirement that kids ask for permission before they make a purchase on the App Store,

"Parents can now share appropriate content among family members," said Jonathan Godfrey, president of the Association for Competitive Technology, an app developers trade group. "Using the Ask to Buy feature, parents can ensure children get their permission first before downloading free or paid content."

Mail: Have you ever been in the middle of composing an email and realized you needed to go back into your inbox to see something? In the past, you've had to save the draft of the email you were writing, go back into your inbox and then reopen it later. Now you'll be able to swipe down to pause your active message, go about your other business and return whenever you want.

Apple also made some changes to its keyboard, offering better predictive text, so that the phone will suggest smarter words for you as you type -- a feature Apple calls "Quick Type." Apple also said that it will begin allowing third-party keyboard applications to run on iOS -- a great boon to companies, such as SwiftKey, that make custom keyboard apps for Android but have been shut out of Apple's traditionally closed-off system.

Siri: Apple glossed right over this in the keynote, but there are a host of new features coming to Siri, including the fact that the assistant app will now respond to the voice prompt, "Hey Siri." The feature will also identify songs playing in the background, thanks to a partnership with the music identification service Shazam, and will be able to purchase iTunes content for you.

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