It’s now been a couple of weeks since the official release of the Apple mobile operating system for 2014: iOS8. Since its first announcement earlier this year in June, I’ve been quite excited to get my hands on this tweaked version of iOS7. Although immediately available to developers after the June announcement – as I’m not an Apple developer – I had to wait for the official release. So needless to say, since I got it, I’ve been putting it through its paces. And here’s what I’ve found (so far)…

New Apps
The first thing to note is a couple a new default apps that come pre-installed on the operating system. The first is tips. Tips is quite useful and clearly meant to show off the new features of iOS8 as they become available because, unlike previous years, there are a few features that haven’t quite been released at the same time as the iOS operating system itself.

The second native app is the iCloud drive. This is hasn’t been released yet, but no doubt once it has, a full explanation will appear on the Tips app. We already know that it’s essentially going to work the same way the Dropbox, SkyDrive and GoogleDrive work, but with Apple designers behind it.

The final new native app is the Health app. This was the most exciting for me, as it promised some really cool features. It essentially collects the data given to it from the internal motion sensor of the iPhone 5s and above as well as a few third-party hardware devices (like the Nike+ Fuelband, which I am a proud owner of). Sadly to date, I can’t report much of the monitoring – simply because Nike haven’t enabled the compatibility yet. But the step counter is great. The other cool bit to this app is that you can add you emergency details. Allergies, emergency contacts etc etc, which is available right from the lock screen on the device. Very handy but I think people will have to actually inform paramedics and the like of this feature – as it will be a while yet before they automatically think to check a persons phone.

Shared Information
It seems in a privacy-concious generation, everyone is trying to stop their precious data getting into the wrong hands – but the flip side of this technology is that shared information between the RIGHT people can actually be very useful. iOS8 has a really cool feature, enabling family sharing of iTunes purchased items – up to and including music, films and tv shows (as well as apps). The result, meaning that my wife and I don’t both need to purchase the same music. Just one of us does and we can share it. Illegal sharing is limited here because both (up to five family members) have to be connected to the same credit card. This is also how a master-user can limit the use of app purchasing for kids. Perfect timing – as we’re about to have a kid.

iTunes content isn’t the only handy thing we can now share. Calendars and Lists are bundled in with the new sharing features. This has been an absolute pleasure to work with. One of my favourite features of the iOS. It basically means, my wife can see when I have booked something in our personal calendar or when I have accidentally scheduled a work meeting over her coffee mornings. Handy, but it’s the lists that I love. For too long, we have both been walking around Tescos, trying to co-ordinate our shopping lists between two phone lists and a photo of the kitchen blackboard. Well now we can co-operatively add to a list, enabling one combined, live list that is push updated automatically to keep up to date. Brilliant. Used it whilst shopping three times already.

Home Networking
For years it’s bugged me that I can reply to iMessage on my mac, with a lovely physical keyboard – enabling maximum typing speed… But when someone without an iOS device texts me – I have to respond on the puny little keyboard on my phone (I don’t like texting anyway). Well finally, once the phone is on the same network as my iPad or computer, I can respond to regular text messages… but even cooler… I can take phone calls too. This means if my phone is on charge elsewhere in the house, I can still get notified and even answer on another device that is closer to me. Brilliant. Especially considering the imminent release of the Apple Watch (eeeee!).

iOS7 Plus
A lot of the other functionality is very much a bolt-on to last year’s iOS. There’s some third-party capacity for keyboards, as well as a further development of Apple’s own iOS keyboard. There’s also some nice new shortcuts and a better designed notification centre.

You can slide emails all the way across to ‘Junk’ them now, or ping them the other way to mark us unread. You can also respond to texts (and a few other apps) straight from the notification in the lock screen.

You can wake Siri if the device is on charge, by simply saying ‘Hey Siri’. This is a very cool feature – but it’s already mistaken some other sentences for me calling it to attention. This made me a little cautious and fear that my phone had gained an AI. But so far, so good.

In summary
This is a really nice update to iOS7, the big changer last year. Not surprisingly, this release isn’t as drastic – but I do think it tidies up a lot of the ‘unfinished’ bits from iOS7. A lot of the functionality across devices, including the iCloud drive as well as the taking-calls-on-your-mac only becomes available once Apple release the OSX Yosemite Mac software update, which I’m now counting down the days for!

In terms of processing power, my friends tell me the iPhone 6 handles it beautifully. I can speak from the 5S and say it handles it pretty well. My wife has a 5C and it has slowed down the device a lot, but still very usable. The 5 is reportedly similar to 5C. But apparently the 4S and earlier grinds to a standstill. So if you have something in that era, perhaps think about upgrading the phone before the software. I know less about the iPads, but so far my third-generation iPad is still running fine with iOS8. No slower than it was after I installed iOS7, at least.

So there you have it. iOS8 “The biggest iOS update ever” – not convinced of that statement, Apple – but still very nice and some very useful tools in there.