Regardless of whether you are buying an iPhone 6 or not, the release of a new version of iOS is always something to get excited about. While iOS 7’s drastic visual update wasn’t received warmly by everyone, the tweaks and features in iOS 8 address things that people have been wanting for quite some time.
We’ve covered some of the biggest features such as access to third party keyboards, Continuity, and HealthKit elsewhere, but here are the 20 updates, changes, tweaks, and visual lifts in iOS 8 that you need to know about:
1. Faster app opening
If you’re a iOS user, the first thing you’ll notice about iOS 8 is that Apple decided to speed up the “zoom-in” app animation when opening up an app. One of the big complaints about the iOS 7 redesign was that all the added animations and transitions were incredibly slow. It might seem like a small update, but it really does a lot to make everything feel faster and more fluid.
2. Predictive typing
The next thing you might notice is the new keyboard in iOS 8. It now features a very smooth predictive type feature, which suggests three words right above the keyboard. It’s a long-awaited feature that Android smartphones have had for quite some time, but it’s good to see Apple finally catch up. If you don’t like the additional space it takes up on the screen, you can turn off Predictive at Settings —> General —> Keyboard.
3. Updated spotlight
The pulldown spotlight feature in iOS 7 was almost completely ignored by most users, but the new update makes it a little more useful. Whereas before it could only search for apps and documents on your phone, but now Spotlight includes entries from Wikipedia, Bing, nearby locations, and specific searches like Movies. Most importantly, they’ve removed the terribly slow animation bounce of the original pulldown Spotlight and replaced it with a nice, quick transition.
4. Send voice messages
Who needs Snapchat when you can send quick voice messages right there in iMessage? Okay—so maybe the new feature doesn’t quite replace Snapchat, but the quick way you can just hold down the on-screen button, say your witty message, and then drag left to send, make it a pretty nifty walkie-talkie type feature.
5. Swipe through pictures in an iMessage
In iOS 7, user were able to attach images to text message, of course. However, in iOS 8 you can now swipe through all your images to quickly find that reaction meme you’ve got saved on your phone to send to your friend.
6. Quick access to recent contacts
When double click the Home button, you are brought to an app switcher where you can access recently opened apps. In iOS 8, Apple has added favorite and recent contacts above the app switcher that you can swipe through. A tap on one of the contacts gives you the option to go right into a phone call, a text message, or a FaceTime. It’s kind of a random place to have added the feature, but it’s nice to see them using all the screen real estate.
7. Redesigned contact details page
In iMessage, you can now click on the Details button in the top right corner, giving you quick access to making a phone call, sharing your location, and even a big grid of all of the attachments you’ve sent that contact.
8. Share my location
One of the items in that Details page is the ability to both send your location and share your location. The difference between the two can be kind of confusing, but sending your location is essentially sending a contact your pin on the map, whereas sharing your location lets them follow you around for a set amount of time. You can choose to share your location permanently, for an hour, or for the rest of the day.
9. Got rid of “Missed” tab in Notification Center
In the complete mess that was the iOS 7 redesign of notifications, Apple added three tabs: Today, Notifications, and Missed. Today was a summary of calendar events, weather, stocks, and other first party app widgets. The Notifications and Missed tabs, however, were always pretty confusing. Apple has now smartly removed the Missed tab and has put it all in to one Notifications tab where users can see all their recent notifications in one place.
10. Notifications can finally be handled easily
In iOS 8, Apple has finally let users actually deal with notifications. In the Notification Center pulldown, you can now swipe left on a notification to act on it. Texts can be replied on right then and there, whereas most other notifications can be either cleared, archived, or marked as read.
11. Third party widgets
Back to the Notification Center pulldown, Apple has now opened up the Today tab to third party developers. Although not many exist yet, expect to see a variety of new third party widgets in your Today tab soon.
12. Reply directly to notifications
Another addition that Android users have been enjoying for quite some time is the ability to reply directly to text messages without having to switch apps. In iOS 8, you can now reply directly to messages on your lock screen or in the drop down notification banner you get. To reply to a message on your lock screen, it’s just a quick swipe to the left, while a swipe down on the notification banner will let you reply right there.
13. New Mail app gestures
Apple introduced Mail gestures in iOS 7, but has now expanded them in iOS 8. You can now swipe to do things like Mark as Unread and Flag, or go straight into a reply or forwarding message. Apple even included an alert feature where you can choose to get a notification when you receive a reply to a particularly important email.
14. Redesigned Control Center
In iOS 8, Control Center gets a visual lift. All the same shortcuts to flashlight, calculator, timer, and camera are there—along with all the familiar toggles and switches. Control Center now looks a little less bare with more shading and fill colors. We’re not sure it really looks that much better, but the new bounce animation that plays when you let go of the tab sure is nice.
15. Family sharing
The highly anticipated family sharing feature is a nice addition to how the App Store and iCloud accounts work. With Family Sharing, you no longer have to buy the same app, song, or book a bunch of times within the same household. Up to six people can now share purchases from iTunes, iBooks, or the App Store, which is great news for big families with multiple iDevices. Hooking up your devices through Family Sharing also gives parents some parental controls such as authorizing in-app purchases, as well as shared locations and photo albums.
16. iCloud Drive
Along with Family Sharing, Apple has made a big update to how iCloud works. You can now upgrade to iCloud Drive (although you won’t be able to sync with your Mac until OS X Yosemite comes out), which lets you directly access your files and actually manage your storage. There are a variety of storage and pricing options, but all users who sign up get 5GB of free storage to start with.
17. “Explore” replaces “Nearby” in App Store
This small change to the App Store is seemingly insignificant, but it’s a good one. We never understood why you’d want a dedicated tab in the App Store to see what people around you are downloading. By replacing it with Explore, you can now still see that information about what people around you are downloading, but also a convenient place to find all the app categories.
18. Set Exposure separate from focus in Camera app
Exposure has always been tied to focus in the camera app, which meant that if you wanted to change the exposure of a photo, you had to tap on a dark object—unfortunately, this also made the dark object in focus. You can now set these apart so that you brighten up those lowlight photos, while still being able to choose your subject.
19. Time lapse video feature
One of the new camera features in iOS 8 is the ability to take Time Lapse video. You’ll find the setting just left of Slo-Mo and it works pretty well. You won’t have the same creative control as you might have in an app like Hyperlapse, but it’s a pretty cool feature to have right there in the camera app.
20. Timer on the camera app
We’re not sure why it took so long for this to happen, but in iOS 8 Apple has finally added a self-timer. You have the option of either 3 seconds or 10 seconds—and is essential for nailing that perfect selfie.