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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  • WinterCharm - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    Except no end to end encryption. Yay privacy. Reply
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    Yay, now I know what Olivia Munn's vajooj looks like. Thanks Apple ;) Reply
  • grayson_carr - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    His point was, on Android, you don't have to install Hangouts. Just like Messages on iPhones, it comes on all Android phones. Reply
  • grayson_carr - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    And you don't have to create an account to use it on Android either. It uses your existing gmail account that you use with your Android phone. Not much difference between Messages app on iOS and Hangouts on Android, except Hangouts is available on iOS as well, whereas iMessage is not available on Android. Reply
  • robinthakur - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    I've yet to meet an iPhone owner who installs a messaging app, especially not a google made one just "to be more compatible". iPhone users are compatible with other iPhone users and SMS users, there's really no need to install hangouts and only slightly more reason to install Whatsapp. The thought of the hassle of having to switch between multiple apps to message different people depending on their devices illustrates the difference between people here and regular users. Whilst I get that you want everybody to use Hangouts, it's just not going to happen. Reply
  • vinospam - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    Here's something I posted in another thread: Here's one fact that renders any Google based messaging system mostly unusable to over 2 Billion people right now. All Google sites, apps and services are blocked in most of China. I was traveling for business in China for 2 weeks and on China Unicom network. Gmail, docs, hangout, google groups - nothing is accessible. You can still get Gmail via IMAP and POP but the gmail.com website is inaccessible. In some big cities like Shanghai - some providers have managed to get around it but its rare. Dropbox and Box also did not work. And what about iMessage, FaceTime, iCloud and Apple Apps - they simply did. Now conspiracy theorists will immediately say Apple is in cahoots with the censors in China and NSA (everyone except Putin's intelligence services apparently) - but I don't care. I need to keep my business going and trying to be a nerd is not a big priority. Apple's devices just work - and thats it. Reply
  • robinthakur - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    As an Android user I wouldn't *choose* to use Hangouts, I think it's awful and that new green colour scheme is hideous. iMessage is miles ahead of it because it works seamlessly as a messaging app. Hangouts does not because it drepeatedly sends the same sms multiple times (it doesn't display this to the sender, but it does charge you multiple times)

    I think it does depend on whether you know anyone who doesn't have an iPhone, I am the only one in my circle of friends who moved from iPhone to Android on HTC One M8, but I'll be moving back once my 6 plus arrives, because I miss the reliability and the compatibility. Plus there's Swiftkey now, Widgets, the hardware's better designed, there are more fully featured apps on iOS, it now comes with a larger screen, so why would you choose to stay on Android unless you literally love rooting kit and fooling around with ROMS or you actively dislike Apple?
    Reply
  • Impulses - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    They did sign up for something tho, an Apple account when they bought aN iPhone. Reply
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    That is exactly how hangouts works, only hangouts works for everyone, not just Apple users. Reply
  • tuxRoller - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    Because with hangouts anyone, on any platform, can use it and get the same experience.
    Really, this is one of the big reasons why I won't buy an apple product. They really only care about people buying the hardware, and to that end it seems to be a goal to strongly encourage people to use their products which provide a sub par experience (assuming it can be used at all) to folks who aren't in the ecosystem.
    Reply

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