iOS 8 full review

iOS 8, the latest version of Apple's operating system for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, launched to the general public alongside the iPhone 6 back in September. However, as great as we think iOS 8 is, adoption of the new operating system for iPhones has been slow compared to adoption of iOS 7. There are a number of reasons why this may be the case, not least the fact that iOS 8 requires quite a lot of free space on your iPhone or iPad. If you are holding off updating your iPhone or iPad because you don't want to delete 5GB worth of content on your device, you don't need to: Read about how you can install iOS 8 without deleting anything here.

Read our full review of iOS 8 here.

Read these advanced iOS 8 tips you don’t know yet

In this comparison review, we contrast the features in iOS 8 and its predecessor, iOS 7, to help Apple fans decide if they should upgrade their devices to the new OS.

If you're wondering what Apple will come up with next, why not read our article about iOS 9? iOS 9 release date rumours and features wishlist

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Visual design

When it launched, one of the major concerns people had with iOS 7 was the way it looked, which was brighter, 'flatter', more colourful, more abstract and generally very different to iOS 6. To our eyes at least iOS 6 now looks very dated, but at the time it was a big change and one that was hard to get used to. (Some staunch iOS 6 fans maintain that it still looks better, and continue to refuse to update.)

With iOS 8, there's good news and there's bad news, depending on your viewpoint. The good is that iOS 8 looks largely the same as iOS 7 (there are no alarming new visuals to get used to). The bad news is that iOS 8 looks largely the same as iOS 7 (they haven't changed the look back to iOS 6's skeuomorphism).

The bits that look different do so because they have new features.

iOS 6 looked like this:

iOS 6 home screen

iOS 7 looks like this. Massively, radically different:

iOS 7 home screen

And iOS 8 looks like this. It's basically the same as later versions of iOS 7, with the addition of a few new icons and features:

iOS 8 on iPhone 6

READ: How to prepare your iPhone for iOS 8

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Continuity

So if the differences between iOS 7 and iOS 8 aren't visual, it follows that most of them are functional. iOS 8 has a bunch of new features, as well as a panoply of small but important tweaks to existing features. Let's start with the all-new features; first up, the Continuity update.

Continuity is in fact a whole suite of features (in both iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite) based around the concept of connectedness or interoperability between your Mac and your iOS devices. They're designed to make your iPhone and iPad work seamlessly with your Mac.

Handoff, for example, is a feature that allows you to move seamlessly from desktop to mobile and back again. When you start working in one Handoff-compatible app on your iPhone (such as Mail), a link will appear on your Mac. Tap this link and you can continue working on the same email, in this case carrying on writing the email on your Mac that you started on the iPad.

Continuity also lets you answer calls coming in to your iPhone, on your Mac, and send texts to non-iPhone owning friends, as well as iMessages from your Mac too. It's also easier to set up a WiFi hotspot that your Mac can access.

Plus AirDrop finally works between Macs, iPhones and iPads. Read more about how to AirDrop from iPhone to Mac and for more details about Continuity, see our article: Complete guide to Apple Continuity in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite.

iOS 7 devices can't perform any of the Continuity functions. If you're using a PC, of course, or don't plan to upgrade your Mac to OS X Yosemite, then this won't be a concern as the features won't work in Mavericks.

See also: Can my iPad or iPhone run iOS 8?

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Health and HealthKit

One of iOS 8's big leaked features before WWDC, Health is a sort of umbrella app for all the data collected by a range of health- and fitness-related apps and peripherals, bringing the data together for ease of comparison and tracking.

iOS 7 vs iOS 8 comparison review: Health

It's a nice idea in its basic form, although it's debatable how well the healthcare-related elements will cross the pond, given the vastly different provisions in the US and UK. But things could get a lot more interesting in the future, as developers get their hands on the source code.

The HealthKit developer tools Apple unveiled at the same time as Health itself will let devs come up with new ways to manipulate the data in useful ways. Read more about those possibilities in Apple's HealthKit in iOS 8 unites health data, talks to doctors.

iOS 8 vs iOS 7: Health

Read: Apple Home Kit release date

Here's how to use Apple's Health app to get fit and healthy

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Widgets

Widgets was the point in the iOS 8 launch event where Apple fans started getting really excited. It's a feature that we've been asking for for years, and one of Android fans' perennial boasts.

Widgets are user-customisable mini-apps that sit on the Notifications screen and perform features on command - a watered-down version of the wider home-screen customisability offered in Android, while retaining the tight security of iOS.

See also: The best iOS 8 widgets & extensions to install on your iPhone or iPad

You can download widgets from apps and customise their position on the Notifications screen. The example Apple software boss Craig Federighi gave in the keynote speech was a (rather brilliant) eBay widget that lets you observe the progress of your auctions, and make a bid from the Notifications Centre itself. It's all part of a wider theme of greater interoperability between the different parts of iOS, and the separate iOS apps, that runs through iOS 8. You can learn a little more about iOS 8's widgets in our Guide to iOS 8 extensions.

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Interactive notifications

While we're on the subject of the Notification Screen, it's worth mentioning that the notifications themselves, which have been quietly becoming more useful over the past few versions of iOS, are more interactive than ever in iOS 8 - and far more independent of the apps they connect to.

Whereas in iOS 7 you can swipe a Twitter notification to be taken straight to the Twitter app to reply to the mention or whatever (which we felt was a nice feature), Twitter notifications in iOS 8 let you reply there and then, without leaving the app you're currently in; just pull downn the little notification box that's appeared at the top of the screen and a keyboard will appear. The same interactivity marks notifications from Facebook (you can like a status update, for example), Messages (replying to a text), Calendar (accepting or declining an invitation) and so on.

iOS 7 vs iOS 8 comparison review: Interactive notifications

iOS 8 vs iOS 7: Interactive notifications

It's a lovely enhancement, and helps to avoid dragging you out of whatever you're working on in order to reply to an important notification.

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: QuickType predictive typing

After a long time with few changes to its system keyboard (and a gradual falling-behind as Android added various typing-related customisations and enhancements), iOS 8 sees several major improvements in this neglected area.

Out of the box iOS 8 features QuickType, a form of ambitious predictive typing. We're not just talking about completing words you've nearly finished typing - in Messages, Mail and similar contexts, iOS 8 will offer entire words that it suspects you may wish to use based on context, in a little palette above the keyboard.

For example, if you type a message to a friend suggesting dinner, predictive typing might add "and a movie". Eerie, no?

iOS 7 vs iOS 8 comparison review: QuickType keyboard

According to Apple, iOS 8 is be able to learn the words you typically use and understand the context in which you're typing, such as 'business' or 'personal', and adjust its suggestions accordingly.

This is a really exciting and ambitious feature. Read more about QuickType here: How to use QuickType on the iPhone keyboard

You can also install a number of third party keyboards, here are some of the best: Type faster with these keyboard apps for iPhone

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: iCloud Drive

Apple's iCloud Drive feature, new iOS 8, was one of the most loudly cheered announcements at WWDC 2014.

iCloud Drive works alongside Apple's Documents In The Cloud system, providing direct access to files saved in iCloud. When your files are saved to iCloud, you'll be able to access the file directly in the iCloud Drive folder in the Finder in Mac OS X. [See also: What is iCloud Drive]

Essentially, iCloud Drive enables you to create documents on one device and use it on another; so you'll be able to create a Keynote presentation on your Mac and then continue making edits on your iPhone or iPad. The advantage of iCloud Drive is that you'll also be able to access files directly, and store and share files other than those created by iCloud apps

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Family Sharing

Family Sharing is incredibly handy for those with families, unsurprisingly.

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Family Sharing

With Family Sharing, up to six people who share a credit card can share purchases - games, apps, films and music - from the iTunes Store with each other. The idea is that if one member of the family buys something from iTunes, the whole family can easily enjoy it on their iOS devices (and other Apple products) without paying for it again. Ingeniously, it incorporates parental controls if you want, so that if little Jacob wants to download a game on his dad's account, a permission notification will automatically be sent to dad's iPhone.

Family Sharing also includes new iOS family-focused features for Calendar and Photos apps that help a family stay connected.

Read more about Family Sharing here: Complete guide to Family Sharing in iOS 8

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Mail

Mail got a solid make-over in iOS 8, with a range of handy tweaks and new features.

You can use gestures to delete, flag or 'unread' messages, swiping across a message to perform the chosen action: it's a single swipe to mark as unread, flick across and tap to flag, or drag all the way across to delete.

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Mail

You can flick a message down to the bottom of the screen, check or copy material from another message, and then return to it with a single click. From the demo, it is roughly the same as minimising a window on a desktop OS - highly convenient.

Finally, Mail can now recognise an invitation in a marketing email as an event, and offered to add it to Calendar. Sounds terrific; needs testing to see if it works. Read: Tips for using iOS 8 Mail.

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Safari

A variety of small tweaks are added to Safari. In iOS 8 Safari on the iPad, you can get a 'bird's eye view' of all the tabs you've got open. iOS 8 Safari on iOS. Safari users are able to use DuckDuckGo - the privacy-focused search engine, designed specifically to offer a way of searching that doesn't track the user - as the default search.

Read more about iOS 8 Safari: Top tips for using Safari on the iPhone and iPad.

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Messages

Messages has a few updates and tweaks, particularly related to the handling of group message threads, but one new feature stands out: audio messages.

Audio messages are easy to send and self-destruct (to save memory) after two minutes unless you choose to save them. (You can either keep them on a case-by-case basis by tapping Keep next to the voice message in question, which will store the message for 30 days, a year, or forever, depending on what option you've selected in the Settings app, or you can choose to save all the audio and video messages you get. Again, this is done in the Settings app.) 

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Voice messages

But it's the little things that make this sound so good. These audio recordings appear in the lock screen with a waveform graphic, and you can listen to them by simply lifting the iPhone to your ear: iOS detects the motion and interprets the gesture automatically. You can then reply, again without pressing any on-screen controls; say your reply, lower the phone and the message is sent. In our testing this has proved a tiny bit flaky, but it's a lovely idea. Read: Best new Messages features in iOS 8

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Camera features

Various updates arrived for the Camera app in iOS 8: time-lapse video; a camera timer; users of older iPhones will get access to the quicker burst mode previously only available to the iPhone 5s, and the iPad gets access to Panorama photos; separate focus and exposure controls.

iOS 7 vs iOS 8 comparison review: Camera

Read: iOS 8 camera tricks and tips, how to use Apple's camera and photo editing app on the iPhone

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Photos

And what happens to the photos after you've taken them? With the launch of iOS 8, photos shot on any iOS device are automatically saved in the cloud and accessible on your other iOS devices. Hand in hand with this new feature, Apple says it's heavily enhanced the search features across the Photos app - a vital tool when wading through pages upon pages of shots. Search terms are returned as locations, times and album names.

You can also edit photos within the Photos app and the edits are transferred across to other iOS devices, pretty much instantaneously.

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Siri

Along with Health, one of the biggest consistent rumours about iOS 8 before launch concerned Shazam integration. Sure enough, Siri can now listen to a song and tell you what it is and point you to a download. Siri also got 22 new languages in iOS 8.

For more on Siri, take a look at our complete guide: How to use Siri: 'Hey Siri!' and all the other Siri features

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: New developer tools

As you can see, iOS 8 adds quite a few big new features for users, and loads of handy small new feature, without really taking anything away from iOS 7's feature set. But the entire app ecosystem is already benefitting from the iOS 8 launch, thanks to an array of new developer tools and relaxed rules that were announced, including:

Third-party keyboards
Third-party Touch ID
BitCoin currency transfers

iOS 8 vs iOS 7 comparison review: Should you upgrade from iOS 7 to iOS 8?

So upgraders to iOS 8 get a load of new features, don't really lose any from iOS 7, and visually things are the same. Sounds like a no-brainer to upgrade, right?

Well, we should probably talk briefly about performance - day-to-day speed, in other words.

Some people have found that older devices get slower when they are updated from iOS 7 to iOS 8 - it's a more demanding OS and older hardware, even if it's officially rated as iOS 8-compatible, may struggle to cope. The danger devices seem to be the iPhone 4s and iPad 2, and we've also heard reports of the iPad 3 slowing down. For all three of those devices, I would seriously consider how much you want the new features, and whether you are willing to suffer a speed dip in order to get them.

If you've got an older device and are determined to upgrade, it would be valuable, if a friend has the same device as you, to check what performance is like before you make the update. The loss of speed may be more - or less - drastic than you anticipate.

In more depth: Should you update your iPhone or iPad to iOS 8? The pros and cons (and potential pitfalls) of upgrading each Apple device to iOS 8

Finally, bear in mind that you can no longer downgrade from iOS 8 to iOS 7, as we explain in an update to our old tutorial How to downgrade from iOS 8 to iOS 7. Apple has stopped signing (authorising) iOS 7 for reinstallation, so you're pretty much stuck with iOS 8 once you make the upgrade. In other words, think carefully before making the plunge.

Upgrade problems

One reason why iOS 7 users have held of upgrading is the space requirement requested by iOS 8. More than 5GB in some cases. If this is the reason why you haven't upgraded you can upgrade via iTunes without deleting anything. You can find out how in this tutorial: How to update to iOS 8 without deleting.

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