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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  • mrochester - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    That's precisely what they do. If you want to play in the Apple ecosystem, you're going to need to buy some Apple hardware. If you don't, you can't come and play. Reply
  • tuxRoller - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    I understand that but I won't allow myself to be pulled into such a system. Google, for the most part, provides a mechanism out of their ecosystem via checkout (which I've used and, for the services it supports, it works well).
    X-platform is important to me, and the web is simply the best one we have. Hangouts certainly isn't the only option but something like imessage is a non-starter until it allows provides the potential for nearly anyone to have a first class experience.
    Reply
  • BrazilianThunder - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    Yeah, let me go through each of those apps and figure out which friends uses what.... Reply
  • DeciusStrabo - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    The reason most people actually use WhatsApp? (or Telegram if you are somewhat paranoid about Facebook's security). Reply
  • Impulses - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    Not in the US, at least amongst my age group/demographic, tho I understand Whatsapp became sort of a dexterity l defacto standard in Europe... They're clearly more civilized than us. :| Reply
  • vinospam - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    Hardly anyone uses Whatsapp in China, S Korea, Taiwan or SE Asian countries - there its mostly we chat, Line or kakaotalk Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    The Asians are even more civilized, didn't they figure out electronic phone payment like half a decade ago? :/ Reply
  • Sushisamurai - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    Whatsapp is a southern China thing, Korea uses Kaokao, Taiwan is Line. WeChat is taking over Taiwan and China due to its mass adoption by companies and services. Seriously, I don't want to use Wechat here, but all QR codes funnel me through WeChat, with no URL link. Absolutely retarded. I don't want to share my personal information when I want more information on a company. Reply
  • Ancillas - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    I wouldn't go so far as to call it worthless as it works pretty well when you're playing in the Apple ecosystem. However, I fully agree with you that any solution that isn't cross-platform has limited uses.

    I really miss how the Palm Pre worked, seamlessly integrating multiple chat applications into one flow.
    Reply
  • critter13 - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    I couldn't tell you the last time I sent a SMS instead of an iMessage. obviously it is relative to my circle of family/friends but I don't communicate with a single person who uses an Android device. So for some of us iMessage is much better because it doesn't require a user to download an app. Reply

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