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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  • oynaz - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    What's absurd is expecting everyone to have or create a phone number account in order to use SMS.

  • wireframed - Saturday, September 20, 2014 - link

    Yeah, now we need phone numbers for our phones? What is this bs?! What's next, needing to have an email to use Google+?
  • crimson117 - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    Assuming you've installed Hangouts and don't jus tuse the custom messaging app that came with your phone...
  • vinospam - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    For all those crowing about how Hangouts simply work - 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 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.
  • theuglyman0war - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    wow that is extremely sad. I feel for u.
    Just horrible times we still live in.
  • bznotins - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    I was recently vacationing in China and just got a VPN service. Everything works perfectly then. Cheap, too ($30/year).
  • Nam3less - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    You cant use VPN all the time especially when you are on the GO on 3G or 4G services. Keeping VPN just drains the battery too as it has to maintain a constant connection for it. At home / office, i think its workable. Thats the pain currently living in China.
  • Nam3less - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    Very very good post. I have been living in China for almost a decade and most of the foreign web services are more or less blocked unless used with VPN. I have a Note 2 and since sometime most google services, Box, Dropbox are not working properly at all. Hell even google Maps doesnt work properly.

    Compared to Apple and Microsoft too in this case, their services are working so far. Apple maps are the best in China because they use the date from Autonavi and it shows results in English and Chinese as expected. Problems arise when you try to use routing Software such as google maps (which wont work) or any other Chinese mapping apps which works only in Chinese. Hence for this reason i am seriously considering IOS or Windows devices. Android is no 1 in China but its mostly by Chinese company who replace all the google apps with their chinese counterpart so people dont mind using them. I seriously think that google should think of complying with Chinese regulators again so their services work without being blocked. Until then Google services cant be used. Big factors for many foreigners like me living here.
  • Sushisamurai - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    unfortunately... Gmail IMAP and POP don't work as great anymore, and this is real-time in china. Almost all google services are shut down here in China. Don't even get me started with FB syncing for apps for multiple devices... ... I wish they just used game center/icloud, cause now I have unsynced applications on multiple devices. What a mess.
  • FATCamaro - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    Good job!! Hangouts and SMS got integrated last yer. iMessages and SMS have been integrated for nearly FIVE years!

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