Apple iOS 8.1 review
With iOS 7, Apple took its aging mobile OS and gave it a much more modern look and added new features, such as Control Centre, that made it quicker and easier to use. With the next version, iOS 8, it's arguably the biggest change the company has made, taking the work it did before and adding a ton of new features that dramatically change (and improve) the way it works, particularly if you own multiple Apple devices. Since the launch of the new OS, we've updated this review to reflect the changes in the latest version, iOS 8.1, which introduces some new features.
As with other Apple updates, it's available for free and for a wide range of older devices. See how to install iOS 8 for more information on preparing your device and for compatibility information. With the new OS comes new features, which will need new apps to make the most of them. Check out our best iOS 8 apps for more information.
Look and feel
From a first glance you can't tell that much has changed with iOS 8, as it retains the same look as iOS 7. That's no bad thing, though. Familiarity helps people pick up the new OS more easily; besides, we largely liked the new icons and look of iOS 7, so it's good to see it retained here. There are a few little tweaks, though. Most noticeable is that the task switcher now displays your most recently contacted and favourite contacts in little round icons. You can disable this feature if you'd prefer not to have it.
Spotlight has also been revamped, so it now searches external sources, as well as just your iPhone. As you start typing, Spotlight will search your phone and Maps, Wikipedia, News, the iTunes and App Stores, and suggest websites for you. It's a big improvement and makes the search a lot more useful than it was. Apple's also simplified the Today screen. You still get the Today screen, which can now house custom widgets from any app, but there's a single Notifications screen for every alert, rather than a separate Notifications and Missed screen. All of the other changes come under the bonnet, with iOS 8 completely revamping the OS and adding in a ton of new features.
A neat new change is that notifications are now interactive, so you can respond to them without having to open up an app. For example, if you get a new text messsage, you can swipe right-to-left on the Notifications screen or lock screen and tap Reply. You can then quickly compose your reply without having to open up Messages in full. It's only a small time saver, but the feature could get more powerful if developers make the most of it.
One big change with iOS 8 is the way that it interacts and plays with your other Apple devices. Continuity is a great example of this, letting you share and use resources on one device on another, all seamlessly. For example, if your iPad is on the same network as your iPhone and someone calls you, your tablet will ring as well and you can answer the call from there. Your iPhone 'simply' takes the call and pumps it over your Wi-Fi network. It's brilliant news for those times where you've got your phone on charge or you've left it in another room, but you need to answer that incoming phone call.
Call quality isn't bad, either. There's a slight delay to the call and, as the iPad is a hands-free device only, your speech isn't quite as clear as when using the iPhone itself. Don't get us wrong, the call quality is more than good enough for most purposes. Should you want a bit more clarity, you can go to your iPhone and tap the green banner at the top of the screen to return the call back to the iPhone.
If you're worried about your iPad ringing in the middle of the night when your phone's set for Do Not Disturb (DND), don't worry. Everything on your home network obeys the DND rules on the iPhone. For example, if your phone has Do Not Disturb turned on, your iPad will not ring unless your have a rule to let the caller through. The only other exception is what happens when your phone is unlocked; if you've got this set to overrule DND, then your iPad will also ring.
The one thing that was missing from the original release of iOS 8, was the SMS relay service. Now available, this lets you get your SMS messages on your tablet, iPod and OS X Yosemite computer, in the same way that iMessages are currently sent to all of your devices.
Unlike with the phone call feature, you don't have to have your devices on the same physical network. Instead, text messages that come to your phone are then uploaded to iCloud and synchronised to all of your devices. In addition, you can send SMS messages from any device, with the message going to iCloud before being sent to your phone to be sent over your mobile network.
For security, any iPad or Mac that you want to use the SMS Relay service with has to be authorised via your phone. This is a simple case of opening up the messaging app on your handset, which will pop up a security number on screen; tap this number into your phone and you're away. It works brilliantly and means that no matter where you are or what you're doing, you can receive and send important messages.
While most Continuity features happen automatically, Apple has also added Handoff, which lets you share tasks between your devices. For example, if you've started writing an email on your iPhone, you can carry on writing it on your iPad, or vice versa. As you'd expect, switching tasks is incredibly simple. On the device you want to send the task from, you just open up the app (they have to be Handoff enabled) and make a start. On the receiving device, you can then either select the icon that pops up on the lock screen, or you can select it from the Task Switcher. Either way you can then continue compising the message from where you left off.
Handoff also supports Safari, so you can send the current page you're viewing from one device to another. It doesn't do anything different to iCloud tabs, though, which already let you view websites open on your other Apple devices. For security, the sending device has to be turned on and the app open. Secondly, Handoff uses Bluetooth for discovery, so it only works at relatively close range. Finally, as only the current app is made available for Handoff, nobody can view all of your open tasks.
OS X 10.10 Yosemite
The good news is that all of these features are available in OS X 10.10 Yosemite, which is a free update when it's released. Once you've got this update installed you'll be able to receive phone calls on your Mac, send SMS messages and use Handoff with any of the supported apps.
Creating a hotspot from your phone was an easy way to share its mobile connection, but Apple has made it even easier now. Now, with Continuity you can set up the hotspot from the device that doesn't have an internet connection, most likely an iPad. All you have to do is go to Settings, Wi-Fi and your internet-connected phone will appear - tap it, and its hotspot is turned on automatically, and the requesting device connects automatically. It means you can pull your Wi-Fi tablet out and get online without having to juggle setup on two devices.
Safari has had a few important updates too, including the way that Private Browsing works. With iOS 7, you could start a Private browsing session, where web pages you visit aren't stored in History and anything you enter isn't saved to Autocomplete, and you'd get asked if you wanted to keep or close all current pages. With iOS 8, you don't get this choice. Instead, you can have Private tabs and regular tabs, switching between the modes as you see fit. For anyone that's really paranoid, you now have to shut down all of your Private tabs manually; if you don't and you hand someone else your phone, they can switch to Private mode and see what you were looking at.
Equally important, for some people, is that any video or audio file that you open in Private mode, automatically appears in the playback section of Control Centre, which you get by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. So, if you go into Private mode, watch a YouTube video and then switch back to regular mode, you can then bring up Control Centre, hit Play and the video will pop-up in Private mode and carry on playing.
A bigger and more useful change in Safari is that it can scan credit cards using the phone's camera. Rather than sitting there having to type in your details, you just point the phone at the card and OCR does everything else for you. It's quick to pull in the long card details, but we still had to manually enter the start/end dates and security code.
Safari's been able to store passwords for a long time, but now other Apps can tap into this repository. For example, if you create an Amazon account and Safari remembers your username and password, the Amazon app can pull the same information out. It's neat how this information can be shared and should make switching between the web and an app an easier and more straightforward experience.
Of course, this card scanning technology will come in use when Apple launches Apple Pay in the UK. This will let you store credit cards in Passbook. You'll then be able to use the details to pay for goods online and, with NFC-enabled devices (currently the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch), in stores using contactless payment. At the moment, Apple Pay has only been launched in the US, so we're going to have to wait a while before we see how it works in the UK.
Family Sharing is a much-welcome feature for anyone that lives in a household full of Apple owners. It lets you share purchased films, books, music and eligible apps between your entire household; share photos and videos in a special photo stream; share your location with other family members; schedule events in a family calendar; and track down lost or stolen devices using Find My iPhone. One member is the lead in the family and they pay for everything using their account. Don't worry about bill shock, though, as you can switch on a mode that forces your kids to ask permission to buy an app.