Apple unveiled iOS 8 tonight, and with a huge range of convenient and important new features (for users and app developers alike) it looks likely to fundamentally change iPad and iPhone owners' day-to-day experience with their Apple devices. In this article we'll sum up the key facts about iOS 8. Updated, 2 June 2014
iOS 8 FAQs: When will iOS 8 launch? When will iOS 8 be available for iPhone and iPhone users?
iOS 8 was unveiled tonight, but this was simply a preview of its main features and visual design. Most iPad and iPhone users will have to wait several months before getting their hands on the software, which will launch to the public some time in September or October (and most likely alongside the iPhone 6 or iPad 6). We discuss the iOS 8 launch date in more depth in a separate article, but Apple's official word is simple 'autumn' (or rather 'fall').
iOS 8 beta versions (test versions that aren't finished) will be made available to app developers before then, however. Indeed, Apple announced at the keynote that the iOS beta is available immediately. Just bear in mind that the beta versions aren't finished, you'll have to pay to join the programme (and shouldn't really do so unless you're an app developer), and that you mustn't give apps bad reviews because they don't work with an iOS beta that hasn't officially launched yet.
iOS 8 FAQs: And how can I upgrade to iOS 8?
Once iOS 8 is publicly available, your iPad or iPhone (or iPod touch) will alert you to this fact with a notification. You can also go into Settings > General > Software Update - if you're not on the latest version of iOS, you'll be offered the chance to update here.
Updating on the day that a new version of iOS becomes available can be a mixed blessing; there's likely to be heavy traffic on Apple's servers, and you may find that it's a quicker process if you leave it for a day or two. But bear in mind that for iOS 7, it was only possible to downgrade back to iOS 6 for a few days after the launch, so you might now want to leave it for too long.
iOS 8 FAQs: So it's not easy to downgrade to an earlier version of iOS?
No. Take a look at our article on downgrading from iOS 8 to iOS 7 if you don't believe us.
iOS 8 FAQs: Which iOS devices will be able to run iOS 8?
To sum it up: the iPhone 4s and later, the iPad 2 and later, the iPad mini 1 and later and the iPod touch 5G will all be able to run iOS 8.
iOS 8 FAQs: How much will iOS 8 cost?
Nothing. iOS upgrades are always free.
iOS 8 FAQs: What visual changes are there in iOS 8?
Very few, in fact - the prolonged demo gave the impression that iOS 8 look almost exactly like iOS 7 (or at least the later point upgrades of iOS 7 that saw some of the starker visual elements toned down a touch). This isn't the radical aesthetic change we saw last time around.
iOS 8 remains minimal, clean and modern-looking, with vibrant colours and a lack of skeuomorphic design elements. There are interface changes, but these are mostly to handle entirely new features.
iOS 8 FAQs: What new features are there in iOS 8?
Lots, but we can divide them into two sets: innate iOS features that will be directly available to users, and dev-kit updates that will allow app developers more freedom to implement new features in their software.
iOS 8's new user features: Messages
The Messages app has been heavily updated with gesture support and lots of small but highly convenient features.
You can use gestures to delete or flag messages; or, in a form of in-app multitasking, you can send 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.
You can swipe across a message to flag or delete it
Group messages are organised far more conveniently. You can apply Do Not Disturb on a per-thread basis, leave a thread at any point, and share your location with other members of a thread indefinitely or for various limited periods of time.
You can send voice and video messages over Messages which, Craig Federighi said, self-destruct after a certain period of time unless you save them (he explained that they take up quite a bit of memory).
Brilliantly, voice messages sent via Messages appear in the lock screen (indicated with a little wave form graphic) and you can listen to the messages by simply lifting the iPhone to your ear. You can then reply, again without pressing any on-screen controls; when you lower the phone, the message is sent.
iOS 8's new user features: Continuity
This could be the biggest attention-grabber of all, and affects Mac OS X Yosemite as well. Continuity is the name Apple is giving to enhanced compatibility between desktop and mobile platforms, enabling you for instance to answer iPhone calls on your Mac, or continue a message started on iPad on Mac or vice versa.
iOS 8's new user features: Safari
A small but attractive change to the Safari interface: on iPad, you can get a 'bird's eye view' of all the tabs you've got open. And the sidebar from Mavericks is now present in Safari on iOS.
The main changes in the way you use Safari, however, are likely to be seen in the developer changes we'll discuss later - the ability for third-party apps to share data with Safari and be added to the sharing pane, for instance. We'll come to all this later.
iOS 8's new user features: iCloud Drive
iCloud Drive is a sort of Dropbox-esque cloud storage service with seemingly wide cross-platform, cross-app compatibility (although we'll need to test this all out).
If you're in an app like Sketchbook, for instance, you can bring up the iCloud Drive pane, and access the files there. Any edits you make are saved back to the original location. You'll have access to all of those documents on your Mac and Windows as well. There are implications for the Photos apps too, which we'll come to in a bit.
iOS 8's new user features: Health
We expected this. Health is a new app that brings together a variety of health and fitness-related metrics - collated from fitness bands and various third-party devices - that you can monitor easily in a single interface.
Apple also announced HealthKit, which will enable third parties to build their own compatible software. Given the disparity between the healthcare systems in Britain and the US, it's debatable how much we'll see the examples shown tonight - a healthcare monitoring system from a private firm called Mayo Clinic - replicated over here.
iOS 8's new user features: Family Sharing
Family Sharing is a lovely idea. You set up as a family (informing iOS of the various members of your family and their devices) and it will automatically configure photo sharing, location tracking and the free sharing of digital media across up to six family members (they need to share a credit card). It looks simple, although of course we'll have to reserve judgement until we've wrestled with the feature ourselves.
In a nice response to some controversies with high-spending toddlers lately, Family Sharing includes a parental lock feature: when your kids try to buy an app, they have to get permission (and a permission request appears on your device).
iOS 8's new user features: Photos
Photos is where iCloud Drive comes into its own. Photos shot on any iOS device are automatically saved in the cloud and accessible on all of your other iOS devices.
To cope with the enormous volumes of photos this is likely to create on each of your devices, Apple is talking up the enhanced smart search features in iOS 8 Photos. Search terms are returned as locations, times and album names.
You can edit photos within the app (using auto straightening and cropping, for instance, and smart editing based on 'intelligent image analysis') and the edits are transferred across to other iOS devices, pretty much instantly.
All of this worked seamlessly in the demo, needless to say. Will our mileage vary?
iOS 8's new user features: Siri
Another new feature we expected was Shazam, and sure enough, it's integrated into Siri. But that's not all for Siri.
Apparently car-bound Siri users can now fire it up by saying "Hey Siri!" No need to tap the controls. (Presumably this means the device is always listening out for commands? Will this impact battery life?)
Last of all, there are 22 new dictation languages.
iOS 8 FAQs: What new features are there for developers?
This is the interesting part of the iOS 8 event - a lot of the most intriguing stuff isn't about the features Apple is providing, but about the opportunities it's creating for third-party app developers. Lots of the most exciting developments in iOS 8 aren't built-in features, but a new openness to system-wide controls from third parties. Widgets, Extensibility, Touch ID API, keyboards, home-automation APIs - we'll only grasp the significance of all this once the developer community has got its claws properly into the new kits.
Here are some of the most appealing new dev features.
iOS 8's new developer features: App Store improvements
Before we get on to the new features, Apple announced some changes that will make it easier for developers to sell their wares on its store. App bundles are now allowed: if developers and publishers allow it, you'll be able to bundles of multiple apps with a single click (and presumably a discounted price).
As well as screenshots, devs will be able to post preview videos on the App Store. And the apps should be easier to find: Apple says its new Explore search facility is far better at showing the apps you want. (Spotlight also now suggests purchasable apps that fit your search criteria when you search within iOS itself, which may lead to a few extra sales.)
Finally, you'll be able to join beta tests of new apps using Apple's TestFlight beta test service.
iOS 8's new developer features: Extensibility and widgets
Apps can now share data with each other, although Apple was keen to stress the security measures designed to safeguard this process - any data transferred will move via iOS's own security.
This data movement can mean, for example, that Pinterest can share its data with Safari and allow the user to add a Pinterest entry to the Safari sharing pane. Or Safari could gain a Bing translate feature.
But doesn't that sound a bit like... widgets? Yes! iOS 8 finally gets widgets.
You can download widgets from apps and customise their position on the Notifications screen. The example Craig Federighi gave was a (rather brilliant) eBay widget that lets you observe the progress of your auctions, and make a bid from the Notifications Centre itself. (In general, the Notification Centre has been empowered to make far more actions without resorting to the individual apps' own interfaces.)
iOS 8's new developer features: Third-party keyboards
On a related theme, but worth its own entry because of its significance, iOS 8 is open to system-wide third-party keyboards. This is huge, and one of the biggest complaints we had about iOS in the past.
Thus you'll be able to download a Swype-style swiping keyboard and use it throughout iOS 8. This small, simple feature is the single element in Android that we used to be most envious of.
iOS 8's new developer features: Third-party TouchID
Touch ID, the fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5s (and presumably on further iOS devices yet to be launched) is now being opened up to third parties too. So instead of being confined to unlocking your device and a few key preinstalled apps, you can use your fingerprint to log into banking apps, make secure payments and so on.
iOS 8's new developer features: Home automation: HomeKit API
The last of the features we predicted, under the speculative heading of 'iHome'. Instead it's known as the HomeKit API, which will let devs build home-automation apps to work with iOS.
One example given was the ability to speak "Get ready for bed!" to Siri, causing the system to check that all doors are locked and lights are dimmed, but the possibilities are endless.
iOS 8's new developer features: Metal graphics system
We're really getting into developer tech now, but the nutshell summary of the new Metal graphics system is quite appealing: "More efficient rendering of detailed 3D graphics". Obviously we look forward to testing this thoroughly and seeing for ourselves how effective it is.
Tim Sweeney, the boss of Epic Games, was brought on stage to demonstrate a new Zen Garden game built with the Metal technology. He described the new possibilities as "an order of magnitude increase of detail" - with 10,000 petals at one point being physically simulated, and 3,500 individually animated butterflies. We don't know if that's a lot by usual standards.
You should be able to see for yourselves how impressive this all is, because the Zen Garden demo app will be made available for free in due course. But the real test of the technology will come in the quality of gaming apps launched in the next year.
iOS 8's new developer features: Swift programming language
Last of all, and exciting the developers in the audience very much, Apple announced a new programming language called Swift. After reporting Apple's (by this point quite openly technical) announcement that Swift features "closures, generics, namespaces, multiple return types and type inference", our US colleague Dan Moren pointed out that "the biggest cheer at this event, you heard it, came at 'namespaces'." So it must be good...
Finally, here's a video we made before the announcements, discussing where we see the iPhone, iPad and iOS itself going in the near future. How did we do?
More coverage of WWDC 2014
To see what we predicted for WWDC 2014, take a look at our article What to expect at WWDC 2014.