With iOS 8, Apple is opening previously closed doors. Developers can now get their hands on functionality that was previously limited to the OS. Extensions are just one of the ways Apple is doing it (widgets and iCloud Drive are the other two).
What exactly are extensions? If you’ve used Chrome or Firefox on your desktop you already know about them. Extensions are little pieces of code that add functionality and inter-app communication. For example, after installing the Pocket extension in Chrome on PC, you can click the extension icon to send the current page to your Pocket queue. Easy. Until now, this wasn’t possible with iOS.
But since this is Apple and iOS is mobile, the implementation of extensions is different from what you and I have known. So let’s learn more about what they are, what they can do, and how to enable them.
How Are Extensions Useful?
Extensions let you share the content you’re currently viewing to any compatible app directly. This means you can send an entire web page to Evernote, save a page to Pocket, etc. More powerful extensions like the free 1Password app let you log in to websites or apps using Touch ID, all without leaving the screen you’re currently in.
To compare this with iOS 7, you’d need to leave the login page you’re on, go to 1Password/LastPass, open the vault, find the username and password you’re looking for, copy it and then go back to the app to paste them. Now, thanks to extensions, all of that happens with a tap of your thumb.
There are three main types of extensions in iOS 8.
Share extensions are featured on the top row in the share sheet and are represented by the app icons.
Action extensions are available on the bottom row of the share sheet. These extensions bring up interactive menus that exchange data with the app. For example, 1Password and LastPass’s secure login extensions.
Document Picker allows users to access files from iCloud or Dropbox in any app. We’ll be covering that topic in a separate article.
Extensions Are Bundled With Apps
There is no separate “Extensions” section of the App Store. Extensions are bundled into apps. When you download/buy an app, the extension is downloaded and installed automatically. Although it is not enabled by default.
Right now, Apple has not allowed developers to monetize extensions. Meaning they can’t charge you extra for an extension using in-app purchases.
How To Enable Extensions
Apps like Evernote, Instapaper, Pocket, Day One and many more have already updated their apps for iOS 8 with extension support. Just update the app to the latest version to install them.
As extensions are invoked using the share sheet, that’s where we can enable them. Go to any app, or Safari, tap the Share icon. Now you’ll see two rows of icons.
Share extensions are to be enabled by going in the More menu from the first row while Action extensions like 1Password and LastPass are to be enabled from the More button in the bottom row.
Here you’ll see a list of all the available extensions and an off/on toggle. Turn on the newly installed extensions and go back.
Now tap the app icon from the extensions bar to share the content to the specific app. When you use Evernote, you get a pop-up menu to customize the title of the note and you can also choose which notebook it goes to, all without ever opening the Evernote app.
Kids, the future is here.
Are You Excited For Extensions In iOS 8?
If you’ve used iOS for more than a couple of years, you can finally appreciate just how awesome extensions are. And as more apps get updated, it will only get better. Let us know what extensions you’re planning to use in the comments below.