Officially announced and released in beta form on June 2, 2014, iOS 8 has been billed by Apple as the biggest update to iOS since the release of the App Store, though the vast majority of its changes aren’t initially obvious after you install it. Unlike the dramatic switch from iOS 6 to iOS 7, iOS 8 looks and feels almost exactly like its predecessor regardless of whether you’re running it on the iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. It notably supports all currently-sold iOS devices, as well as the recently-discontinued iPad 2.
Our guide to what’s new in iOS 8 has three sections: Major New Apps + Features, Enhanced Apps, and What’s The Same. Read on for all the details.
Major New Apps + Features
Continuity + iPhone to Mac/iPad Connectivity
Continuity is arguably the single most significant new feature announced for iOS 8. Actually representing a collection of different functions, the goal of Continuity is to allow iOS and some OS X users to quickly and easily transition their work in progress between devices. Once your iPhone, iPad, and/or Mac are “paired” for Continuity purposes, supported apps will let you transfer actions between the corresponding apps on different devices. For example, you can start an email message or iMessage on your iPhone and easily hand it off to your Mac and finish composing it there. This is indicated on the Mac by a new icon that pops up to the far left of the OS X dock, on its own separate (but immediately adjacent) dock. Similarly, a Pages document in progress on a Mac could be handed over to an iPad to continue reviewing or editing as you walk away from your desk.
Although Apple introduced AirDrop to the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch with iOS 7, it was odd that the new feature at the time was not compatible with the OS X feature of the same name. With iOS 8, AirDrop now works between the iOS and OS X platforms, allowing files, photos, and other data to be seamlessly exchanged between Mac and iOS devices.
Continuity also offers access to iPhone features from some Macs, such as placing and answering phone calls using FaceTime, as well as sending and receiving traditional SMS messages from the Messages app. The latter feature nicely fills in a missing piece from the OS X Messages app, which previously allowed iMessages to be synced between platforms, but left SMS messages as an iPhone-only feature. Note that Continuity only works with certain Mac models, namely relatively recent machines with Bluetooth 4/LE hardware.
iOS 8 finally adds a feature that has been a long-standing source of frustration for many families that have multiple iPhones, iPads, and iPods sharing content. Family Sharing adds the ability to create a family group of up to six individual Apple IDs that can share a single set of iTunes media and App Store content, as well as common “family” items like photos, calendars, and locations.
Purchased content is shared from the “primary” Family account—the person who sets up the Family Sharing and invites the other family members. All new purchases are also automatically made with the credit card or other payment method associated with that account, although purchases by family members under the age of 19 automatically require approval from an adult family member. iOS 8 will handle this reasonably seamlessly, sending push notifications to the parent’s iOS device whenever a child wants to download an app or music track. The parent can agree or decline on an item-by-item basis.
Setting up a Family also automatically creates a single “Family” photo stream and calendar that’s automatically shared with all members of the family group, as well as consolidating all family devices for the purposes of the “Find My iPhone” feature, although this latter option can be turned off on a per-account basis.
Originally named Healthbook and featuring a design similar to Passbook, Apple’s new Health app for iPhone debuted with a stripped-down design but the same purpose: to aggregate health-related data collected primarily by external accessories, placing everything within a single organizing app. Health includes 7 master categories of trackable information, plus self-provided details about you, and a place to create a “Medical ID” card with medical conditions, notes, allergies, medications, an emergency contact, blood type, organ donor status, and so on.
Data is primarily designed to be automatically measured by the aforementioned accessories and brought into the Health app, but you can manually add data points for each biometric measurement, looking at the results on individual or collected (Dashboard) charts. We noted metrics for things such as “Number of Times Fallen,” intakes of various vitamins and minerals, and sleep analysis, which could appeal to a wide range of different health-tracking users. Interestingly, NikeFuel points are listed as a measurable fitness biometric, though there’s no obvious way—yet—to bring Nike Fuelband data into the Health app. That will likely change over time, possibly with Nike app or Fuelband firmware updates.
Once Apple ties Health into a data-sharing program with doctors—something that was mentioned during the WWDC keynote as already in progress—users will also be able to opt into sharing their data with their physicians and physical trainers, so certain adverse health indicators could trigger an automatic call from a doctor’s office. For the time being, Health is not available as an iPad app.
With iOS 8 (and OS X), Apple is expanding iCloud Documents and Data to a more viable competitor to Dropbox and Google Drive. In addition to providing app-specific cloud file storage, iCloud Drive will allow users to store any type of file and easily access it from their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or even a Windows 8 PC. iCloud Drive also opens up the iCloud storage to allow any type of document to be opened in any compatible app, so for example, Pages documents won’t be visible solely to the Pages app, although documents appear to remain organized by app.
While early iOS 8 rumors suggested an iOS 8 TextEdit or Preview app may have also been forthcoming, Apple made no mention of either during the WWDC keynote, nor is there any evidence of these apps in the current iOS 8 betas. At this point, there also appears to be no standalone “iCloud Drive” app in the current betas, and it seems that Apple has deployed this on iOS simply as a framework for developers to tie third-party apps into when opening and saving files, rather than a standalone app like Dropbox.
Officially added in iOS 8 Beta 4, Tips is a “help” application for new users. It provides a handful of new tips each week, consisting of a paragraph of text plus an animated image explaining how an iOS feature works. The tips are designed to show off new iOS 8 functionality and demonstrate how potentially non-intuitive icons or UI elements work. Available for the iPhone/iPod touch and iPad, the Tips icon has a lightbulb with a letter T inside.
Bug Reporter was added to the developer version of iOS 8 as a means to report bugs to Apple. It could be triggered from the Notification Center, as well as a standalone app. Bug Reporter was removed from iOS 8 betas after iOS 8 Beta 3.
Apple has made several improvements to the Accessibility features in iOS 8. VoiceOver users can now use Siri’s male “Alex” voice introduced in iOS 7.
With Guided Access, users can now set time limits on how long Guided Access will be available for, including audible sound and speech warnings.
Other accessibility enhancements include support for six-dot Braille keyboards, multiple MFI-licensed hearing aids and a hugely improved zoom feature. Zoom now lets you define a “lens” as a specific area of the screen to zoom within, adds a lens-specific slider to change zoom levels, and has the ability to leave the on-screen keyboard unzoomed if you want. The lens can apply grayscale, inverted grayscale, or regular inverted effects, and the maximum zoom level can now be set at 15X.
The iOS 8 Calendar app introduces a feature first debuted in OS X Mavericks: Travel time entries and notifications. Any Calendar appointment can now have “Travel Time” added to it, which appears as a separate block above the appointment. Travel Time will affect notifications as well as being appropriately blocked out on your calendar for free/busy time. You can also have location-specific alerts triggered by iOS calculations of how much time you’ll need to arrive at the destination.
Travel times entered in the OS X Calendar app sync via iCloud and appear on OS X Mavericks and presumably Yosemite, and vice-versa.
The iOS 8 Camera app has been enhanced with a new Time Lapse video mode, basically shooting a sequence of photos that are then automatically stitched together to present a time-lapse video. The Camera app also adds a self-timer feature for pausing for 3 or 10 seconds before snapping a photo—useful for traditional group shots where the iPhone is placed on a window ledge or tripod. In addition, iOS 8 will apparently add panoramic photo support to at least some iPad models.
Although the functionality remains exactly the same as before, Apple has redesigned Control Center’s aesthetics, dropping black line dividers and icon shapes in favor of differently-shaded boxes and bars. On the iPad, the brightness slider has been moved upward and the timer/camera buttons downwards, reversing their prior positions.
iOS 8 will provide support for a “call waiting” feature in FaceTime, allowing users to choose to accept or decline incoming calls while already on a FaceTime Audio or Video call. It is unclear whether the calling devices must be running iOS 8 to take advantage of this feature. It’s also worth noting that unlike traditional Call Waiting, the user is not given an option to place the current FaceTime call on hold—merely to end the current call entirely in favor of the new one.
iBooks is now integrated directly into iOS 8, rather than being downloaded as a standalone app. The version number has been bumped to iBooks 4.0, and more tightly integrates the iBookstore into the UI. When you’re not inside a book, you can choose between tabs to browse your library, the iBookstore, search, and access purchased content. A light blue virtual bookshelf has been created for books, replacing the white and gray version seen in iOS 7’s version of iBooks.
Beyond some cosmetic changes in iOS 7, the iOS keyboard has remained relatively unchanged since the original iPhone release in 2007, receiving criticism from some users that it isn’t as adaptable as it should be for different needs. iOS 8 makes two very important improvements in this area, opening up third-party development in particular.
Predictive text has been added, enhancing the traditional auto-correct features to allow users to choose words that they’re likely to type next. Similar to what we’ve seen on Android keyboards, the predictive text appears above the keyboard with three options for the user to type. Apple claims that this feature will learn from the user as they go along, providing words that are tailored to that user’s conversational style. Further, apps such as Messages can even previde predictive text based on what the other user types. So, for example, a question might provide “Yes’ and “No” options before the user even starts typing, or a question providing two options could provide automatic buttons for the user to respond with either option.
Perhaps an even bigger improvement, however, is that iOS 8 finally delivers support for third-party keyboards. Developers will be able to create apps that provide alternative keyboards, bringing the possibility for things like Swype and SwiftKey to come properly to the iOS platform, rather than siloed in their own standalone apps. It remains to be seen how many developers will take advantage of this, and whether they will be able to work within Apple’s usual restrictions, but developers such as SwiftKey has already done what they can in terms of iOS support, and are likely to want to take this to the next level.
Cosmetically almost identical to iOS 7’s version of Maps, iOS 8’s display of 3-D polygonal art benefits from faster frame rates, and icons have been moved around somewhat. Turning 3-D off is now a setting rather than an icon button, and the prior icons for driving/walking/public transport have been relabeled as “Drive,” “Walk,” and “Apps.” Public transportation was supposed to be added to Maps this time, but didn’t make the iOS 8.0 cut—yet.
Flyover City Tours have been added to a handful of cities in iOS 8. If a major city’s name appears in yellow within Maps’ Hybrid view, you can tap on it to see a box reading “Tour” and “Flyover City.” Another tap lets you see the 3-D landscapes automatically moving through several local landmark destinations. We’re not sure what actual value the feature adds at this point, but it demonstrates iOS 8’s smoother frame rates, even though some of Maps’ 3-D representations remain off-puttingly crude.
A collection of new features were added to Messages, making it more useful for individual and group communication. A microphone icon now enables you to record and send audio messages alongside text and photos; you can also tap the camera icon to take videos, in addition to the previously supported photos.
When you tap on “Details” for a specific contact, you can now see all of the attachments they’ve sent to you and vice-versa, as well as prompts to share your location, send your location, or turn on a per-conversation Do Not Disturb setting.
Group conversations allow you to easily add additional participants, create a subject for the conversation, share and send locations, mute notifications for the conversation, and leave the conversation.
Numerous quality-of-life improvements have been made to Mail for iOS 8. When composing an e-mail, you can move it temporarily to the bottom of the screen so you can go back through other messages while writing.
You can swipe left to right for marking messages as read, right to left a little to bring up Flag/Trash/More options, and right to left fully to auto-trash the message in a single swipe. The More options include moving the message to a junk folder, another folder, marking as unread, flagging, replying, or forwarding; you can also set up a “VIP thread” notification on the device any time someone replies to the thread.
Mail also enables you to add vector-based shapes and text to annotate images you’re sharing with other people.
Double-tapping on the Home Button now brings up both the multitasking app manager and a list of your recent contacts. Tap on any one of them and icons appear to text message, FaceTime, or FaceTime audio call on an iPad; phone calling is an option on the iPhone.
The Notes app has added rich text editing to the prior plain text-only typing tool. Emoji, other text-based graphics, and photos from your photo library can also be added to Notes files.
Notifications + Notification Center
Whereas notifications previously were read-only—- you could at best tap on them to go to their respective apps—iOS 8 lets you respond to notifications as they come in by pressing buttons or swiping; they can be dismissed by swiping upwards.
Notification Center has been streamlined and enhanced. Previously, there were three tabs; now there are only two. The All and Missed tabs have been combined into a single tab called Notifications. “Today” can now be customized with widgets that provide passive or interactive displays of information such as sports scores; if an iOS application includes widget functionality, you can add it here. An edit button enables you to display what’s happening today (the Today Summary), as well as a Tomorrow Summary if you want it.
Although the Phone app appears to be virtually identical to the iOS 7.1 version, Apple has added support for Wi-Fi calling if a carrier allows it — effectively enabling “phone” calls to be made and received over the current Wi-Fi network without reducing your minutes or using cellular network battery power. In the United States, T-Mobile has offered support for this feature. iOS 8 is expected to add Voice Over LTE (VoLTE) support for certain carriers later this year, as well, but Apple has not yet announced it.
The biggest phone-related features are discussed under Continuity above, namely the iPad’s and Mac’s newfound ability to serve as speakerphones for iPhone calls.
Quite a few major quality-of-life improvements have been made to the Photos app.
For frequent photographers, the addition of powerful but simple new image editing tools called “Light” and “Color” will be a huge deal. Light makes simultaneous exposure/contrast/brightness/highlight/shadow adjustments as easy as swiping across a bar, with individual parameter controls available as necessary. Color does the same thing with contrast and vibrancy options. iPhoto-like straightening and cropping controls are integrated into Photos, as well.
Photos can also automatically synchronize your edited images — as well as your entire photo library — to iCloud, and apparently combine your previously separate iPhoto and Photos libraries into one collection. Because Apple hopes users will bring their entire photo collection over to iCloud, a new search feature has been added to help locate images on the device and via iCloud.
Safari’s biggest changes are on the iPad. The icon bar has been rearranged, moving bookmarks to the left and transforming them into a translucent pane rather than a modal window. Sharing has been moved to the right and otherwise left unchanged. Previously found beneath individual tabs, the page loading progress bar has been moved to the bottom of the URL/search bar.
The former iCloud icon has been transformed into a double-box icon indicating multiple pages; tapping on it displays a collection of page thumbnails for currently open tabs, as well as a nicely-organized list of iCloud tabs on your other devices.
Although Safari looks identical on the iPhone, there are some new under-the-hood changes to the settings, which are also on the iPad. DuckDuckGo has been added as a search engine option for users who don’t want their searches to be tracked. The search box can provide search engine suggestions and/or Spotlight suggestions from within the browser.
Safari has added Quick Website Search to let you search within certain websites just by typing “wiki einstein” to see Wikipedia results for Einstein; shortcuts are “added automatically by searching within a website.”
Apple has updated the previously thin outlined icons on the sharing sheet with monochrome filled-in icons that are much easier to see. It has also added “More” to sharing options so you can have longer lists of options, and change their display order.
Notifications (renamed from Notification Center) has been streamlined to remove the numerous on-off toggles previously included for individual features within Notification Center; you can now sort notifications manually or by time, with the manual controls relocated to the bottom of Notification Center itself. The settings menu now lets you turn AMBER and emergency government alerts on and off.
Usage > Battery Usage now provides a granular list of apps that have consumed battery power over the last 24 hours and 7 days, with each app showing an individual percentage of battery consumption when the iPhone wasn’t charging. This can help users diagnose particularly power-hungry apps
Keyboards has the emoji keyboard enabled by default.
International has been renamed to Language & Region, adding a master iPhone language toggle, with current-language translations for all of the foreign languages supported by iOS, and an advanced toggle for the user’s preferred region formatting of calendar, currency, and number displays.
Passcode Lock + Touch ID now provide individual locks for Notification Center’s today and notifications views.
Mail, Contacts + Calendars adds support for Chinese, Hebrew + Islamic “alternate” calendars, calendar week numbers, invitee event declines, mail address marking, and a “left triage action” mail toggle between marking messages read/unread or flag/unflagging messages.
Messages can now delete messages after 30 days or 1 year, or continue to keep a history of them “forever.”
Safari cookie blocking now has more granular settings for what can be blocked or allowed in, including “Not From Current Website” and “Not From Previously Visited” rather than “From third parties and advertisers”
Photos now has a toggle for iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to store your entire photo and video library in iCloud, generally if you’re willing to pay a fee.
Per-app location privacy settings, under Privacy, now have the option to restrict location use to “When in use”—preventing the apps from using or gathering location information while running in the background.
Nike + iPod appears to have been removed from the settings menu.
Although it looks mostly the same as before in screenshots, several experience improvements have been made to Siri. It now displays each word that it recognizes you saying while you’re in the process of speaking, modifying phrases contextually as additional words are spoken. This can be handy to determine whether Siri is accurately taking dictation, and may provide a visual cue to re-say a word that it didn’t understand.
A feature called Voice Activation works only when your iOS device is connected to a power source, enabling Siri to listen continuously for the activation phrase “Hey, Siri.” When spoken aloud, Siri activates instantly without the need to press a button, and is ready to take transcription or assist with whatever you need. Voice Activation even works when the screen is off or locked.
Partnered with Shazam, Siri can now identify songs when you ask, “What’s this song?” The screen displays a presumed track with a buy button from the iTunes Store; tapping the track takes you to the album in the Store.
Accessed by flicking downwards from the middle of any Home Screen, Spotlight now displays the phrase “Spotlight Search” in its top-of-screen text box, and displays a wider collection of results. It automatically reaches out to the App Store to suggest apps relevant to what you’ve typed, polls Wikipedia for definitions without being asked, and grabs movie showtimes if your text includes something in a current movie’s title. Apple collectively calls these new Internet-requiring features “Spotlight Suggestions,” and only lets you turn them all off or on together.
Apple has replaced longtime iOS partner Yahoo with The Weather Channel as the provider of weather information for this app. Yahoo’s own Weather app debuted just ahead of iOS 7 and looked virtually identical to Apple’s; Apple subsequently added a Weather Channel app to the Apple TV.
What’s The Same
Home Screen + Lock Screen: Apple took a lot of heat for the Home Screen’s cartoony icons and less readably thin fonts. They haven’t changed in iOS 8, nor has the Lock Screen, which still allows the thin time and date font to compete with the background art behind it.
Game Center: Apple’s matchmaking and achievement service for games was rumored to lose its Home Screen icon in favor of direct integration into individual titles. But it’s still in iOS 8, just as before.
Newsstand: Complaints over Newsstand’s redesign reached a fever pitch soon after iOS 7’s release, as some developers implored publishers to abandon the magazine and newspaper app aggregator in favor of regular, non-Newsstand apps. The reason: the Newsstand icon became opaque and cartoony, eliminating the user’s ability to quickly see that new editions were available for reading. For iOS 8, Apple left Newsstand unchanged.
Additional reporting by Jesse Hollington.