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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  • kezeka - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    I guess you and I stand alone in this regard. Nearly all of my friends have iPhones. It is a huge help within hospitals, since we are all able to communicate using the ubiquitous wifi and not rely on cellular services. Also helps that imessage is end to end encrypted so it theoretically doesn't violate HIPAA which is a HUGE deal.
  • tuxRoller - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    Is imessage hipaa certified? If not, please tell me you aren't using it to transmit confidential patient data...
  • Impulses - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    Tons of MDs are blissfully unaware of HIPAA regulations, specially amongst older gens. I know more than a few who keep patient data on Dropbox etc. I'm actually surprised more private practitioners aren't burglarized as a source of data for identity fraud.
  • mikato - Friday, September 19, 2014 - link

    There is no HIPAA certification (that means anything). Do you mean HIPAA compliant? I believe kazeka is right about the theoretical HIPAA compliance of iMessage... but it would be reaaaallly easy to send a message that went out through regular SMS instead and you might not know until the message sends and you see it's colored green instead of blue... so I'd avoid doing that.
  • NetMage - Monday, September 22, 2014 - link

    Actually, before you type in the text box it indicates whether it will use iMessage or Text Message to transmit, and if iMessage fails you must manually resend and select SMS before it will switch.

    Also, HIPAA compliancy is a matter of accepted practice and individual business / provider decisions, and if Duke thinks SMS Text Messages are okay, I'm pretty sure everyone else can accept them as well.
  • SirPerro - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    I see iMessages in the US/UK kind of useful.

    In the rest of the world, where statistically you are "the one" in "one out of ten" users yeah. Pretty much useless.

    To the extent that my iOS friends don't even use it. Ever. Same with the rest of iApps. There are better alternatives out there.
  • bigstrudel - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    .....................but everyone (and I mean 100%) that uses iMessage on an iPhone can automatically send a text instead if the recipient isn't an iPhone user.

  • easp - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    Because it just works when the recipient is an iMessages user, and if they aren't, it just sends an SMS. The sender doesn't have to think about it at all, and no one gets harangued and spammed to install a 3rd party app.
  • bigben2wardpitt - Thursday, September 18, 2014 - link

    Because it's quicker than the crossplatform apps honestly. I'm switching to android, but 80% of my messages are through iMessage. It's 400 times quicker than opening the hangouts app on an iPhone, and still quicker than whats app, viber, fb messenger, etc.
  • Scatch Mahoney - Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - link

    I don't see anything in here on the most important new feature (for me at least), Family Sharing. This solves a huge problem in my household and I'm anxious to try it out. Consolidating lots of media from different accounts and being able to more easily set up kids accounts is a big deal.

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