Announced back in June and finally made available to download in September, iOS 8 is Apple’s latest annual update to the software running on your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. It brings a range of new apps and features to help you get the most out of your iOS device.
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There’s Health, a new app for tracking your health and fitness; updates to make Messages much more useful; a new keyboard and the ability to install those from third parties; improvements to the camera; and a whole host of new features which work with Apple’s upcoming Yosemite update for its Macs.
But before we dive into iOS 8, it’s worth you checking if your device is eligible for the upgrade. iOS 8 works with the iPhone 4s, 5, 5s 5c, 6 and 6 Plus. It also works with the iPad 2, 3, 4 and Air, along with the iPad mini and mini with Retina Display, and the iPod Touch 4th generation.
Borrowing a handful of features from rivals like Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp, Messages in iOS 8 lets you send and receive video and audio files, and these can be recorded from within the app itself. No need to shoot with the camera then switch apps to send your video.
Videos are automatically deleted from the sender and receiver’s phones two minutes after they are first viewed by the recipient. Rather than copying Snapchat's unique selling point, this function is to stop videos clogging up your iPhone’s storage - although they can be kept permanently if you wish; that’s up to the recipient and the sender has no control over this.
To save more space, messages can be set to automatically delete after 30 days.
You can also share your location in conversations, which shows a small map of where you are; clicking on this opens up your address in iOS’s Maps app. Your location can be shared when you ask it to, or for an hour, a day, or indefinitely.
In addition, messages can now be replied to from the pop-up banner at the top of the screen. Swipe down from the banner and a keyboard appears for you to quickly type a reply without opening the Messages app.
The keyboard in iOS 8 learns how you type, what you type and even who you are talking to. This helps it come up with suggestions for the next word, which appear in sets of three above the top line of letters - just as they have done on Android for some time. iOS 8 offers words based on the context of recent messages, as well as who you are talking to - suggestions in a chat with your friends will be different to that with your boss.
Much more impressive is that, for the first time, Apple now allows third party keyboards to be installed on iOS. Previously only available on Android, the likes of Swiftkey, Swype and Minuum can be downloaded from the App Store and used instead of the iOS 8 keyboard in every app.
Another first for iOS 8 is manual control of the camera app. Swiping up and down increases or decreases the exposure, lightening or darkening the frame before taking a photo. The exposure can be locked into place with a long press of the screen - useful if you want to over-exposure a brighter part of a scene while keeping a dimmer part at the perfect level.
Enhanced editing tools mean you can adjust the exposure, saturation, contrast, shadows, highlights and more; there’s also a cropping tool and a number of Instagram-style filters.
Unfortunately, duplicate images are not made when you start editing, but if you don’t like the changes you’ve made you can always go back and revert to the original at any time - even after you’ve gone off and edited a bunch of other images.
The elephant in the room, Health hasn’t got off to the all-singing, all-dancing start many had hoped for. Announced back in June, everyone saw this health and fitness-tracking tool as the companion app for the upcoming Apple Watch, but this dream hasn’t yet become reality.
Health can count your daily steps and plot them on a graph, but that’s about it for now. While the app asks for a huge amount of nutritional information from you - grams of protein, sodium, fat, sugar, vitamins, iron, magnesium, calcium, caffeine, and more - it isn’t yet clear how any user is meant to know how much of each they have consumed.
Hardware and app developers will create ways to monitor your health and fitness more closely than ever, and this data will be fed into Health to provide a comprehensive overview of your wellbeing. Unfortunately, we’re yet to see these products come to light, so while Samsung romps ahead with the Gear Fit and Gear smartwatches, iPhone users are left waiting.
Useful right now is the Medial ID card, which is a place to fill out your name, emergency contact details, allergies, blood type and more. All of this can be viewed from the lock screen, if you set it up accordingly. We reckon this could catch on and one day prove invaluable.
Best of the rest
In the pull-down notification panel APple has condensed the All and Missing tabs into a single Notifications panel which lists all alerts by app and in chronological order for each app; you can change the order or add/remove apps from the list in the Settings app.
The Today menu can be edited to show headlines from the Breaking News app, local traffic reports and content from other apps, like upcoming reservations from OpenTable.
Finally, Send Last Location is a new feature whereby the last thing your iPhone will do before running out of battery is tell iCloud its location. Useful for finding a dead iPhone around the house, but also a good way of tracking down a lost of stolen handset through the Find My Phone service.
More to come with OS X Yosemite
Available once Apple releases its new Yosemite update for iMacs and MacBooks in October, Continuity and Handoff will bring your iPhone and Mac closer together than ever before. You’ll be able to answer incoming calls on your Mac using its speakers and microphone, and send and receive texts on your Mac - even if talking to an Android user.
Start writing an email on your iPhone, open Mail on your Mac and the message will be there exactly as you left it on the phone.
iOS 8 might not have the huge visual changes of iOS 7 a year ago, but dig below the surface and there’s a lot here to get excited about. The updates to Messages bring the app in line with Apple’s rivals; the camera and photo-editing updates are genuinely useful - and both Health and the Mac integration with Yosemite show huge promise.
That’s the story for now with iOS 8. There is huge potential here but a lot of it feels unfinished. Not unfit for use by any means - on an iPhone 6 we’ve found iOS 8 to be extremely stable - but just not finished. We can’t wait to really stretch the legs of Health and Yosemite, but for now it feels Apple is simply catching up with the competition (especially with Messages), rather than sprinting ahead.