As another year goes by we see a new iPhone and a new version of iOS to accompany it. We also got a preview of the Apple Watch which will be going on sale next year. Our reviews of both new iPhones will be coming soon, with a look at new iOS features specific to those devices like ApplePay. But with iOS 8 rolling out today to millions of existing iOS users across the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, it's worth taking a look at what Apple is bringing to the users that are already in the iOS ecosystem. 

This year brings the eighth iteration of Apple's mobile operating system, and with it comes features that users and developers have desired on iOS for many years. On the surface, iOS 8 seems like a minor update compared to the massive visual overhaul that iOS 7 brought. Indeed, there's no new design language, and no enormous changes to existing apps. But under the hood, with its features for application extensibility and continuity across the devices in Apple's ecosystem, it's a massive update that will be revealed over time as developers begin to take advantage of Apple's new features and APIs. If iOS 7 was the biggest update for users since the original launch of iOS and the iPhone 7 years ago, then iOS 8 is the biggest update for developers since the launch of iOS (at the time called iPhone OS) 2.0 and the App Store.

What's unique about iOS is the developer beta process that Apple runs in the time between announcement and release. While Google has taken a step into this area with the Android L developer preview, and Microsoft provides betas for Windows Phone 8.1, no mobile operating system operates on the 2 week beta schedule that iOS does. This cycle is interesting because it gives insight into Apple's development process on a smaller scale than looking at the changes from one major version of iOS to another. With iOS 7, developers became even more involved with this process as Apple began to really listen to the feedback given by people beta testing their software.

For example, the font weighting that we currently have is much heavier than what was originally demoed at WWDC back in 2013. It took many betas for Apple to eventually settle on what was a good balance between appearance and legibility. Likewise with iOS 8, I have observed many changes as Apple has gone through the different beta versions. The design of contact circles in the app switcher went through three or four different versions before Apple eventually settled on their current appearance. The buttons in Notification Center had a similar number of changes. Unfortunately, even when using iOS 8 betas on a daily basis it's difficult to keep track of all the changes made over time. What's most important to consumers is the end product though, and so with the exception of some features like SMS Relay, this review takes a look at the changes when making the jump from iOS 7.1.2 to iOS 8.0.

With that all said, lets dive into iOS 8, starting with the app that users use most.

Messages, Mail, and Recent Contacts
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  • toluene - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    Powerlevels here are very low. They're from "Puella Magi Madoka Magica" from glorious studio SHAFT.

    Homura did nothing wrong.
    Reply
  • SeleniumGlow - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    True. Homura is innocent.

    But I'd kill to have those figurines... I want the kyuubi... They aren't available in my country at all.
    Reply
  • jdrch - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    "I do wish that Apple would add the ability to link accounts from XMPP messaging services like you can with Messages on OS X. Having Messages become a central hub for Facebook, Hangouts, iMessage, and SMS would clear a number of applications off my phone."

    Yikes, AT ... Hangouts dropped support for XMPP when it succeeded GTalk. Pretty bad miss there.
    Reply
  • Brandon Chester - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    Yes you're right. That should say Google Talk which is what can be added to Messages on OS X. Reply
  • Brandon Chester - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    Also it would be better worded to not specify as XMPP. I'll revise it as soon as I can. Reply
  • Murazlols - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    I was about to install the new ios8 to my 4s. And i erased all my apps because the i only had 8gig. Then i heard the bad feedbacks about it. Now the problem is i cant download and install any apps i had before and i dont what the problem is :( does anyone here know how to fix it? I need help :( Reply
  • mikato - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    Are they in your itunes still? You may have to connect your phone to whatever computer you have with itunes that you've synced to and check it out. Reply
  • Wolfpup - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    Regarding upgrading the OS, there's no real choice unless you're only going to use the device as an ebook reader and for netflix, stuff like that that's not connecting to the Internet generally. No way is it safe to be using a device with an unsupported OS for things like browsing the web and email and the like.

    iOS 7 destroys podcast support on iOS (even though I had an iPhone 5s, I bought an iPod classic to use with it for podcasts, iOS is so bad at them now). But anyway performance on my iPad 2 was fine. Not as smooth as my 5s, but mostly just due to being massively RAM starved (which the 5s is too frankly).

    Between 4 out of the 4 Lightning connector devices I've owned having the port go bad (even my 5s after 10 months of carefully babying it), and Windows tablets now being available at similar (even cheaper!) price points than dumbed down iOS tablets, I'm done with the OS for tablets until 1) Apple ditches Lightning for USB, and 2) Apple puts real OS X on a tablet...what they should have done to begin with. (Granted, that was far less practical in 2010 than it is today, but today? For crying out loud Toshiba just launched a $120 tablet running real Windows with as much RAM and storage as the best iOS devices, complete with a good CPU/GPU by tablet standards. Screen is junk sounds, but it's freaking $120)
    Reply
  • JoyTech - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    When are you guys publishing your iPhone 6 review? Reply
  • Comments - Saturday, September 20, 2014 - link

    "Even under iOS 7.1, the UI smoothness on devices like the iPhone 4s and the iPad 2 is far from exceptional."
    I think Bradon is talking about a iPhone 4 here, because iOS 7.1 has always been very smooth on my iPhone 4s (iOS 8.0 is ok, but not fluent, hoping for improvement soon).
    Reply

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