iOS 8 is here, and the TidBITS staff has banded together to answer your burning questions. Before you dive into installing iOS 8, though, be sure to read our warning articles: “iOS 8 Users: Do Not Upgrade to iCloud Drive” (16 September 2014) and “Turn Off Automatic iOS App Updates” (16 September 2014).
Our complete guide to iOS — Managing Editor Josh Centers’s upcoming book, “iOS 8: A Take Control Crash Course” — is still in the works, but anyone who pre-orders it now can download a 9-page preview PDF containing two finished chapters.
In the meantime, though, let’s dive into the questions. If you have more, please ask them in the comments, and we’ll do our best to track down answers for you.
What’s the biggest change in iOS 8?
Unlike iOS 7, iOS 8 doesn’t offer much new in the way of visual panache. (That may or may not be a good thing, depending on your opinion of iOS 7’s look.) But what developers can do in iOS 8 will revolutionize how you use your devices. Imagine being able to save articles to read-it-later service Pocket directly from Safari without any quirky workarounds, or being able to bring up 1Password in Safari, just like you can on a Mac. Not only that, but developers will be able to offer custom widgets for the Today View in Notification Center and custom keyboards that Android users have enjoyed for years, like Fleksy and Swype.
A lot of other major changes in iOS 8 are designed to bring iOS devices and Macs closer together, but those will require OS X 10.10 Yosemite.
Can my device run iOS 8?
If you’re using iOS 7 now, yes, with one exception — the iPhone 4, which had performance issues under iOS 7. iOS 8 works on anything including or later than the iPhone 4s, the fifth-generation iPod touch, and the iPad 2. Older iPhone and iPod touch models, and the original iPad, remain out in the cold.
However, not all features will work on older devices. In particular, Continuity is restricted to the iPhone 5 or later, the fourth-generation iPad or later, and the fifth-generation iPod touch. Plus, the upcoming Apple Pay feature is limited to the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and Apple Watch (though the Apple Watch will be reportedly able to use Apple Pay even if it’s paired with an older iOS device — see “Apple Pay Aims to Disrupt Payment Industry,” 9 September 2014).
How large is iOS 8?
iOS 8.0 is a 1.1 GB download, and while user reports vary, we recommend having at least 5.7 GB of storage space available if you want to install directly on the device.
Instead, we recommend installing major updates like this through iTunes, after thoroughly syncing and backing up your device locally first. If you don’t have enough space free on the device, even iTunes will refuse to install the update, but you can always stop syncing music or movies temporarily, do the installation, and reset your media sync settings afterwards.
Is iOS 8 faster or slower than iOS 7? Is battery life any different?
We’ve been running the iOS 8 gold master (which should be equivalent to the shipping version), and performance seems roughly equal to iOS 7, for good or ill.
Battery life is the same or slightly worse, which is typical for iOS updates. As always seems to happen, we expect that some people will experience radically worse battery life after upgrading. Such problems are often resolved by restoring the device from scratch, or by making sure that all apps are upgraded to iOS 8-savvy versions. Luckily, iOS 8 now provides a way to identify battery hogs; go to Settings > General > Usage > Battery Usage and look at the apps at the top of the list for both the last 24 hours and the last 4 days.
Should I wait to upgrade to iOS 8?
Obviously, we haven’t waited, and if you’re champing at the bit to check out the new features, there’s likely no actual harm in doing so. However, for most people, we recommend waiting a few days, weeks, or months, for a number of reasons:
A number of features weren’t working in the iOS 8 gold master (or won’t be complete until the release of OS X Yosemite), including Handoff, iCloud Drive, and AirDrop. Even when Yosemite does become available, certain features will only work if you have a Mac with Bluetooth 4.0 LE.
iCloud Documents & Data is incompatible with iCloud Drive, and upgrading to iCloud Drive is a one-way street. If you upgrade to iCloud Drive as part of the iOS 8 setup process, you won’t be able to use iCloud syncing with Macs running Mavericks or devices still on iOS 7. For details, see “iOS 8 Users: Do Not Upgrade to iCloud Drive” (16 September 2014)
Many of iOS 8’s major changes will actually be in how apps operate, and it will take time for developers to take advantage of those features.
During the beta period, Apple dropped a few promised iOS 8 features, such as SMS relay. We expect they’ll be added back in a forthcoming update, like Siri song identification, which has returned. Apple Pay, which will be exclusive to the new iPhone 6 models and the Apple Watch, will not be available until October.
With the initial release of any major operating system, there are bound to be unexpected problems that later updates will resolve. Even if you don’t wait that long, it’s better to see what people are saying online before making the jump.
Even if iOS 8 were to work swimmingly, Apple’s servers will no doubt be slammed on the first few days, which could make the update hard to obtain, and even if you get it installed, many of the new cloud-based services may not work properly until things calm down.
Wait, so when is Yosemite coming out?
Our Magic 8 Ball suggests late October, but past performance doesn’t always predict future behavior.
What’s this Family Sharing feature I keep hearing about?
For far too long, family members have had to jump through hoops or share passwords if they wanted to share apps, music, videos, and books purchased from Apple. Well, that or share a single Apple ID, which brings with it another set of annoyances. Those days are now over. With Family Sharing in iOS 8 and Yosemite, you can share App Store, iTunes Store, and iBooks Store purchases with up to five other people in your immediate family, with all purchases billed to the organizer’s account. Family Sharing also facilitates photo sharing, location sharing, and calendar sharing, plus keeping track of each person’s devices.
Exactly how Family Sharing interacts with the many different ways families have developed for sharing (or not sharing!) data remains to be seen. If you have a setup that you’d like to us to evaluate as we test Family Sharing, let us know in the comments.
What’s new with Notification Center?
Notification Center has two exciting new features:
Interactive notifications: You can now pull down notification banners to interact with them, without opening the app. For example, you can pull down a Messages notification banner to reply to a message or a Twitter notification to favorite a tweet.
Today View widgets: Notification Center has had widgets like Stocks and Weather since it first appeared in iOS 5, but now third-party app developers can integrate their own widgets into the Today View of iOS 8’s Notification Center. This can be used in some unexpected ways, so, for instance, the update to PCalc can add its powerful calculator to your Notification Center, making it accessible from anywhere.
We expect Notification Center to be used significantly more in iOS 8 as people trick it out with their favorite widgets.
Is there any easier to way to access frequently used contacts?
We’re glad you asked! The iOS App Switcher (double-press the Home button) now lists your most recent contacts along the top. Tap one to see available communication options.
Is Spotlight any more capable in iOS 8?
Spotlight has been taking lessons from Siri, making it far more useful for searches beyond the contents of your device. Previously, Spotlight would offer to direct a Web or Wikipedia search to Safari, but in iOS 8, it can show you direct links to Wikipedia pages, movie showtimes, nearby locations, and more. The screenshot below shows a Spotlight search for “ninja turtles,” with the results including local showtimes for the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, along with a link to the associated Wikipedia entry.
How about Siri? Any new tricks there?
Siri, as well as voice dictation, now displays your words as you say them, so you’re not left guessing what Siri thinks you said while Apple’s servers do the transcription. In our testing, Siri seems to work noticeably better as well; some of us had largely given up on Siri in iOS 7. But perhaps the most interesting new trick is Hey Siri, which lets you activate Siri hands free while the device is charging. Just say, “Hey Siri” to get her attention.
Luckily, you can turn this off, since it’s custom made for pranksters to control your iPhone.
Siri can also work with Shazam to identify what song is currently playing in your environment. Just ask Siri to “Identify that song” or “Name that tune.”
Didn’t Apple say it would be easier to type in iOS 8?
Besides the aforementioned improvement to dictation, Apple is offering a couple of huge improvements to typing in iOS 8.
QuickType: Say goodbye to AutoCorrect frustrations. As in Android, the new QuickType bar above the top keyboard row offers word suggestions as you type. Tap one to insert it. The leftmost suggestion is usually exactly what you typed, so you can tap it to bypass automatic corrections.
Third-party Keyboards: Borrowing another page from Android’s playbook, Apple is now allowing developers to create alternative keyboards. Popular Android keyboards like Fleksy (the real deal, not the limited version for iOS 7), Swype, and SwiftKey are available now, but that’s not all. Smile has developed a special TextExpander snippet-expanding keyboard for iOS 8, and the forthcoming PopKey keyboard will let you type with animated GIFs. It’ll be fun to see what iOS developers come up with!
You manage these keyboards in Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards; note that some keyboards may ask for “Full Access,” which could enable the keyboard developer to record everything you type with that keyboard. Install keyboards only from companies you trust, and remember that Apple is theoretically vetting all apps that install custom keyboards. To cycle through your installed keyboards, tap the globe icon in the lower left corner of the keyboard; some third-party keyboards may replace that icon with another image (Smile’s TextExpander keyboard uses the Smile icon).
Are there any new apps in iOS 8?
You bet: Health, Tips, Podcasts, and iBooks. If those last two sound familiar, they should, since they’re not new, but are now bundled apps that cannot be deleted.
Health: The much-touted Health app aggregates biometric information from fitness-tracking apps and devices (like the Apple Watch), and Apple has hinted that the data could be used by your doctor in the future. It also offers the option of establishing an emergency Medical ID that can be accessed by emergency workers even when your device is locked. However, Apple has delayed the HealthKit developer tool due to a bug, so Health-compatible apps have yet to arrive.
Tips: The new Tips app is a helpful starting place for new users, or anyone who’s curious as to what’s new in iOS 8. It offers a number of helpful tips to get the most out of iOS.
Health could be game-changing, but Tips seems like the sort of app you’ll look at once and then file away with other pre-installed apps that you can’t delete.
What’s new in Messages?
iOS 8 introduces two new ways to communicate in Messages: voice messages and video messages. To the right of the text input box is a new microphone icon. Tap it, record a voice message, and tap the arrow to send it. Video messages are similar, except you hold the camera button down. You can also press and hold the camera button to take a selfie and send it automatically (be careful with that one!). Voice and video messages can be played in older versions of Messages, so you don’t need to worry about recipients running iOS 8 or Yosemite.
Messages has also improved the way you attach images. When you tap the camera icon, it displays your most recent photos instead of making you trudge over to your photo library to select one.
That’s cool, but can the new Messages help with all those “Where are you?” messages?
You can now send someone your location in Messages, as well as view the locations of others. Tap the Details link in any conversation. For most people, this feature renders the Find My Friends app obsolete (you’ll need a new version of Find My Friends if you want to keep using it in iOS 8). Family Sharing will also allow family members to share locations easily, but members can choose to opt out.
Are group messages finally manageable?
Yes! You can now add people to a conversation, leave a conversation, rename a conversation, or even disable notifications for a conversation. Again, tap the Details link to access these options. With iOS 8, Messages at last becomes a full-featured chat client.
Renaming a conversation is particularly important for those of us who have accidentally sent a message to a group rather than to the person who’s listed first in the group. Talk about a privacy hole the size of a truck! To do so, in the Details screen, pull down to reveal the name field.
What about Safari? Has Apple changed much there?
Oh yeah. Thanks to Extensibility, Safari gains full-fledged browser extensions, just like on the desktop. For example, in the new version of 1Password, you can bring up your vault from within Safari to log in to your favorite Web sites (and even unlock it with Touch ID!).
Another feature that may interest TidBITS readers is the addition of RSS feeds to Shared Links, which effectively turns Safari into an RSS reader.
Other miscellaneous Safari features include adding credit card data with the camera, the addition of the DuckDuckGo search engine (see “Search in Private with DuckDuckGo,” 20 August 2014), and separate private tabs.
Has Mail improved?
Mail has a few nice additions in iOS 8. You can now dock the compose pane (or multiple compose panes) to the bottom of the screen so you can open and refer to other email messages without having to close your draft. Also new are swipe gestures, which let you quickly perform actions on email; these also work on the Lock screen. Finally, notifications can be enabled for individual email threads.
Anything new with Photos?
iCloud Photo Library is a promising new way to store and sync photos and videos in the cloud. You can choose to keep your original photos on your device, or if you want to save space locally, you can opt to keep only small previews on your device and store the originals in iCloud. (We strongly recommend that all our celebrity readers set up two-factor authentication to protect your nude selfies on iCloud.) iCloud Photo Library promises to keep your entire photo collection synced and available on all of your devices running iOS 8, but there won’t be a connection with the Mac until the Mac version of the Photos app debuts in early 2015.
Photos now also includes new editing tools to adjust composition, light, and color. You can also search for photos by location or date. Other minor tweaks include being able to hide and mark photos as favorites, and thanks to Extensibility, you’ll be able to use third-party photo filters directly within the Photos app.
Do note that Photos replaces the old iPhoto for iOS app, which isn’t supported in iOS 8. Apple has instructions on how to migrate your data to Photos.
If you have other questions, please ask them in the comments.