I’ve been running the beta on and off for a few months now, and I’ve spent the last few weeks on Beta 5 and the GM, so I feel like I’ve got a good enough handle on the OS to write a quick review for launch day. Let’s get one question out of the way right up front: should you upgrade to iOS 8 today?
Hrm, let me think about th — yes, absolutely, yes. The only warning I have is to refrain from upgrading to iCloud Drive when prompted (the dialogue shows up after you upgrade and restart). iCloud Drive will take over iCloud sync for all apps that previously used it, and OS X Mavericks won’t support iCloud Drive, so any iOS app that moves to iCloud Drive will no longer be able to sync with its Mac counterpart. OS X Yosemite will work properly with Drive, but it’s not coming out until later this year.
But let’s get back to the good stuff. I think iOS 8 is the single biggest jump forward for iOS since the introduction of multitasking in iOS 4. The operating system has opened up in so many ways this year, and it’s a godsend for power users who have been eyeing Android’s awesome share menus and custom keyboards with increasing envy.
If iOS 7’s mission statement was “Shut up, use this: it’s colourful and different and you’ll like it”, then iOS 8 says “Actually here’s that app integration and third-party keyboard support you’ve always wanted, Thomas. Would you like a massage?”.
There are going to be a lot of iOS 8 reviews out today, so I’ll cut down on as many of the repeats as possible. This is an iOS 8 review with a focus on the iPad experience. I’ll focus on the stuff I loved, the changes that feel mediocre, and then mention stuff I don’t feel like I can properly discuss yet.
Yes Yes Yes Yes!!!
1. QuickType (and upcoming third-party keyboards)
Man, oh man, if there has been one thing that has been kicking my ass since day one, it has been text input on the iPad. Typing on my iPad 2 actually hurt me after a few months, so I quickly adopted a set of Bluetooth keyboards to help me write. QuickType helps alleviate the need for any extra equipment by making the software keyboard a little more friendly about auto-correction.
As I type, I get a set of three auto-suggestions for what the OS thinks I’m trying to say. Tapping on one of these suggestions will type it out, automatically add a space, and then show more suggestions for follow-up words. This wasn’t really that helpful at first, but I have noticed that the system has sped up significantly as the weeks have gone by. It’s not perfect, but I definitely type faster and more comfortably on the iPad with QuickType on board. I’ll likely end up using something else entirely when new keyboards come out tomorrow, but Apple has definitely improved upon the basic OS-level keyboard.
I own an iPhone 5S and an iPad Air. Once I get home, the iPhone usually sits in my dock and I’ll tote the iPad Air around the house for browsing and messaging. One of the things that has always felt off is the requirement to go back to my phone to send an SMS to someone (cough mom cough) who isn’t on Google Hangouts or iMessage.
Continuity aims to eliminate that disconnect by allowing me to answer texts from my iPad, or even take phone calls from the tablet. This is done thanks to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (for the phone calls), and in testing it worked about 80% of the time. The only problem is that there aren’t any icons or status symbols for this feature, so when things went wrong, I wasn’t really sure why.
Unfortunately it seems that iPhone has delayed the SMS pass-through feature until October. It worked during the beta, but Apple’s iOS 8 Continuity page has been updated to show that SMS sending will have to wait.
Handoff is one of those little features that only a sub-set of users will discover, and I’ll admit it’s taken a while to grow on me. Essentially, it makes my iPad aware of what I was doing on my iPhone and offers a lock screen prompt to launch the same app, webpage, or even email draft so that I can continue the activity on my iPad. It’s your iOS device’s way of answering the unuttered question of “Now where was I again?”
My verdict is that Handoff is neat, but it’s easy to miss, especially on an iPad with any kind of Smart Cover. Opening the cover automatically unlocks iPads without a password, so many users will likely miss the Handoff prompt on the lower left-hand corner of the lock screen.
4. iCloud Photo Library
iCloud Photo Library launched very recently so I haven’t had much time to test it thoroughly, but I’ve already got quite a few thoughts on the matter.
First of all, it prompted me to upgrade my iCloud storage amount. I went for the $4/month for 200GB plan just so I don’t ever have to worry about how many photos and videos I take. Photo Stream — which is what we’ve been using since iOS 6 — stored up to 1000 photos over the last 30 days, and those photos did not count towards any iCloud storage limits. This made Photo Stream a great reference point for last month’s vacation, but it wasn’t a good long term cloud storage solution.
iCloud Photo Library, on the other hand, offers that long term storage and more. This new service can sync my photos and videos across all of my devices. The syncing only starts on Wi-Fi, and I can choose on a per-device basis whether to download the originals, or device-optimized versions of the files (which are lower in resolution, but save on storage space).
There are a few reasons why this is awesome. First off: syncing of videos is freaking incredible. I can take videos on my iPhone 5S and later show them off on my iPad Air without any extra effort. Then there’s the fact that a single photo library means easier photo management overall. Deleting a screenshot on my iPad will also delete it on my iPhone, which saves me a lot of hassle when it comes time to clean up old or useless photos.
The only caveat here is that activating iCloud Photo Library on iOS devices kills any ability to sync with iPhoto or Aperture on the Mac. I used iPhoto to sync all of my previous photos (dating back to 2004) onto my iPhone and iPad, but I can’t do that any more. I’d need a Mac app to add all of those old photos to iCloud Photo Library, and the only app that can interface with iCloud Photo Library is Apple’s new Photos app…which isn’t due for release until early next year. Argh.
Still, the benefits really outweigh the disadvantages here. I like having current photos and videos on my smartphone and tablet, and I love that I never have to think about which one has my latest vacation pictures (the answer is: both!).
5. Actionable Notifications
This is something that should really have debuted in iOS 7 alongside the actionable notifications in OS X Mavericks. It’s here now though, and it works. I can reply to iMessage without leaving an app, and I’m looking forward to being able to do the same with Google Hangouts and LINE Messenger.
I realize this is something we’ve been able to achieve through jailbreak for a while now, but I’ve long since given up on jailbreaking. It’s just too much hassle for me now, and Apple has absorbed a lot of the best features from the jailbreak community at this point.
6. iMessage improvements
If you use iMessage a lot on your iPad, you’ve probably encountered this incredibly stupid problem: an iMessage archive that is taking up gigabytes of precious space on your tablet. You could delete messages on a thread by thread basis, but that wasn’t really guaranteed to work.
Thankfully, Apple has made some major improvements to iMessage in iOS 8, and an option to auto-delete messages that are either 1) 30 days old or 2) 1 year old. If you’re paranoid about losing precious archived messages with a sweetheart, remember that this is only an option.
There’s also much better handling of media within individual chats. The Details section of each chat shows every attachment that has been sent, and you can even mute individual threads that are getting too noisy. iMessage in iOS 8 is good enough to obviate the need for other messaging services, but it would need to be truly cross-platform to do that. PC support is badly needed.
6. Safari changes
There weren’t huge changes to Safari, but there are two things I really love. It’s convenient to tap on the title bar of each tab to switch between them, but that becomes clumsy when you have more than eight tabs open. Pinching all the way out in Safari now provides a birds-eye view of all of your tabs, grouped by website. I find this really useful, especially while researching all the bags I really shouldn’t be buying.
Then there’s a simpler change that everyone will notice a few minutes into browsing: the address bar now auto-hides after you scroll down a bit, just like it does on the iPhone. The iPad Air has a big 10” screen, but it doesn’t hurt to have a little bit more room for content, and this subtle change has made a surprisingly big impact on how much I enjoy surfing on the iPad.
[Note: if you need to access the address bar again, just tap on it and all the controls will fold right out.]
7. Mail Drafts
Here’s an easy feature to sell: have you ever needed to consult your inbox while writing a draft? That used to involve several taps to:
- cancel the message
- save the draft
- check the inbox for the information
- tap and hold on the compose button
- select the draft you were working on
Here’s the new workflow:
- swipe down on the current draft
- check inbox for info
- tap on the draft title at the bottom of the screen
Not only is this solution faster, but it’s also visually cleaner. It’s so much easier to remember what you were doing when you’re simply sliding a draft off the screen for a while.
So those were the standout features of iOS 8 for me thus far. Here are a few features I’m ambivalent about.
Recents on Multitasking bar
You double tap on the home button and you can see recent and favourite contacts above the current apps. I don’t hate this feature, but I also don’t think it’s very elegantly executed. That space could also have been used for other things, like a quick app launch bar.
I use Spotlight pretty often, but now that it’s smart enough to parse my text and look for nearby restaurants, apps, and popular websites, I wish I could add more specific filters to the search. For now, Spotlight can hit me with a few too many results for it to feel consistently useful. It’s also not terribly consistent. Searching for “burrito” doesn’t always bring up restaurants, and it may only show me e-mails containing the word “burrito” (of which I have many).
What I’d like to be able to specify is that I’m looking for a restaurant nearby that serves burritos, and that I do not want to see any e-mails pertaining to the aforementioned Mexican food.
I got to experience a good amount of what iOS 8 has to offer, but several features require extensive third-party support to really come into their own.
iCloud Drive is Apple’s offering of a more transparent file system with web syncing, much like Dropbox. This has major major potential to make the iPad a much more capable computing platform.
Just earlier today I was struggling to send two files in my Evernote account over to a printing agency, but it was so difficult trying to get two PDFs into the same email and send it from my work e-mail address. iCloud Drive should help alleviate silly little issues like this, especially with apps like Readdle’s Documents 5 being updated for iOS 8.
This is the key feature of iOS 8 for me, and it’s the one that empowers all sorts of third party apps to operate more like core parts of the operating system. That means deeper integration, improved inter-app communication, and a hell of a lot more convenience on offer. Apple demo’ed this at their WWDC event by showing how Photos could be edited by different app extensions, all within the confines of the stock Photos app.
I’ve already posted on the 1Password and Things extension, but I have yet to really get hands-on time with these features, and what it will be like when we have multiple extensions running as widgets. I’m looking forward to a lot of hacks being simplified. Instapaper has long used a clever bookmarklet in order to send articles to the app from Safari, but that should soon be as simple as tapping on Share, and then tapping on Instapaper. I’m also really hoping to see an Evernote clipper come to Safari.
I plan to follow this review up with a look at some of the coolest extensions that come out over the next few weeks, so stay tuned.
In the mean time, enjoy iOS 8 when it comes out later today!