Apple iOS 8.4 review - all the new features

A big upgrade in terms of features, iOS 8.4 is now easier to use and a much more open operating system

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Apple iOS 8
Our Rating 
5/5
Price when reviewed 
0

Specifications

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 8.4, 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.

iOS 8.4

The iOS 8.4 update looks likely to be the last update before we get iOS 9, which is likely to launch later in the year on the iPhone 6S. We'll go into the main features later, but this update's main feature is the revamped Music app, which introduces the Apple Music streaming service. There are also a few bugfixes, including a fix for the iMessage bug, where a message could crash your iPhone.

Audio Books were always a slight pain to find in the Music app, but iOS 8.4 moves them into the iBooks app, which means you've got one place to find all of your books. It's a small, but welcome change.

iOS 8.4 Audiobooks

iOS 8.3

Only a month or so after iOS 8.2 came out (see below for more details), Apple has released iOS 8.3. Again, there's not a lot in there that will make a lot of differences to most people, but in the UK it means that we finally get Wi-Fi Calling on EE, which works on the Phone 6iPhone 6 PlusiPhone 5S and iPhone 5C. When you're on a wireless network your phone can make and receive calls and SMS messages using the internet, rather than the usual cellular network. For times where you're in a reception blackhole, this feature is astoundingly brilliant, particularly, as you don't have to make any changes or fire up an app to make and receive calls: it's completely seamless.

Call quality is very good over wireless; in fact, you could argue that it's better than over the cellular network. You can listen to our call quality test in the Soundcloud below.

The one issue that we have is that turning Wi-Fi calling on disables Continuity, which is the feature that lets you make and receive calls from your other Apple devices when they're on the same wireless network as your phone. As a result, Wi-Fi calling may be something that you only want to enable when you're out of regular phone range. Our instructions show you how to enable and disable Wi-Fi calling.

Other than that, iOS 8.3 lets you add Google accounts with an Authenticator password, without having to create an app-specific password; you can choose to download free apps without having to authenticate first; there's a wider range of emoticons; and the Spacebar has been elongated on Safari to reduce the risk of accidentally hitting the full-stop. Other than that, there's a list of minor bug fixes and updates.

iOS 8.2

Apple released iOS 8.2 March, as another minor update to iOS 8. It doesn't change any of the features that you'll read about below, instead introducing some more bug-fixes and fixing some stability problems. It's still early days yet to see how much of a difference has been made, but people are still complaining that they're suffering from poor Wi-Fi performance (the 'WiFried' bug). Apple has also pre-installed the Apple Watch app on iPhones, which can't be removed. The app's also a little annoying because its icon's design is completely different to every other Apple apps'. Our advice is to create a folder for Apple Apps you don't want to use and hide them on the last home screen.

It's worth pointing out that iOS 8.2 is worth installing for security reasons, as it also fixes the FREAK security vulnerability, which makes SSL connections on iOS devices insecure.

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. 

iOS 8 recent contacts

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 to 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. When iOS 8 launched we found that Spotlight would occasionally return blank results, but the iOS 8.1 and iOS 8.2 updates seem to have fixed that.

Interactive notifications

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 message, 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.

iOS 8 respond to notification

Continuity

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 you 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. This feature works seamlessly and being able to pick up your messages from any of your devices is brilliant.

OS X Yosemite configure SMS Relay

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 the 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. For more on this feature, see how to use Continuity.

Handoff

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 composing the message from where you left off.

 

iOS 8 Handoff

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.

As good as Handoff is, it doesn't always work perfectly, and we've had occasions where our iPad couldn't see our iPhone and vice versa. For more information on this, check out our guide to Handoff.

AirDrop

AirDrop has been revamped for iOS 8, allowing you to send files, share links, contacts and more between iOS and OS X Yosemite. When it works it's brilliant, but we've found that discovering devices to transmit to can be hit and miss. We've written a guide to fixing AirDrop, which you can try if you're having problems with it.

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. 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.

Automatic hotspot

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

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.

iOS 8 auto fill credit card details using camera

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.

Our one issue with Safari is that it's not always the most stable browser. Although it rarely completely crashes, it quite often tells you that there was an error with the current page and that it has to reload it. It's rather annoying, and we'd like to see the browser become slightly more robust.

Apple Pay

Now available in the UK, Apple Pay is Apple's method for letting you use your phone, Watch or iPad pay for goods in stores and in-app. Unlike other mobile payment systems that we've used before, Apple Pay links directly into your credit card, so any transactions are effectively exactly like using your physical card.

The big difference is that Apple Pay is more secure than your credit card, as a unique token is stored on your device, generating a unique transaction code when you pay for things. It means that your credit card details are never shared with a store. In addition, when you pay via your phone, the transaction is secured via Touch ID, which is again more secure than using a PIN. Brilliantly, Apple Pay works in store via the existing contactless network.

While regular contactless payments have a transaction limit of £20, stores that directly support Apple Pay can remove this limit and let you pay any amount. This is going to take a while to roll out, but it will eventually mean that you'll be able to pay for most things using just your phone or your Watch.

See, how to use Apple Pay UK

Using it in store requires that you have either the Watch (paired to an iPhone 5, 5C, 5S, 6 or 6 Plus) or an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. This is because these are the only devices that have the NFC chip required for contactless. In operation, it's brilliant and incredibly easy to use. We think the Watch gives the best experience, as it's quicker to use as it's already sat on your wrist. Even so, using your phone to pay is quicker than messing about with credit cards. Once more stores up the transaction limit, Apple Pay is likely to completely replace your wallet in situations where you would have used your credit card.

Apple Pay - paying in store

In-app purchases are a great idea, too. These only work on the iPad Air 2 and latest iPhone models. Rather than entering your payment details when making a purchase from an app, you just select your credit card and authenticate using Touch ID. It makes checking out so much faster than using traditional payment methods, particularly as you don't have to enter any information. As more apps support Apple Pay, the system is going to get even better.

Family sharing

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.

iOS 8 Family Setup

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