(Pocket-lint) - It's that time of year again, the time when Apple updates its software, giving iPhone and iPad users on new and old devices a breath of life, saving them from the heartache of not being able to afford the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus (they are lovely and lovely, by the way).
This year Apple has concentrated on updating the operating system with a number of new features, rather than focusing on the look and feel of the interface in the way it did with the launch of iOS 7.
We've been living with the new iOS 8 operating system for the last couple of months in Beta on the iPhone 5S, and more recently with both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus to find out exactly what's changed.
Will iOS 8 work with my iPhone or iPad?
Not everyone is eligible to install iOS 8 on their iPhone or iPad. More specifically, Apple usually limits mobile operating system updates to newer devices. The company has already named which devices are compatible with iOS 8 (listed below), so see if your device can be updated before getting all excited.
The following devices are compatible with iOS 8: iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S, fifth-generation iPod touch, iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad Mini, and iPad Mini with Retina display. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus ships with iOS 8.
Subtle changes and new keyboards
If you don't like iOS 7 then the bad news is that iOS 8 looks very much the same. There are differences if you look closely and more so to specific apps, but the broad strokes of the mobile OS from Apple are the same in terms of design.
New and useful are things like quick links to your favourite and most recent contacts when you double tap the home button, and the ability to call, FaceTime, and message them without going to find them in your contacts book.
Apple has also enhanced its keyboard for the better, as well as allowed third-party developers to create their own keyboards for iOS.
Apple's efforts are very good, adding a new predictive row above the keys that automatically tries to guess what you are going to say and give you the full word. You can minimise the feature if you feel it gets in the way or takes too much screen space, and while the suggestions work, we've struggled to remember to press them. Old habits die hard and all that.
If you don't like Apple's attempt there are now dozens of alternatives from company's like SwiftKey and Swype. At the moment, while those keyboards bring with them new features, installing them is still not as simple as it should be and a number of features are hampered such as the ability to access the dictate function so many people use.
iPhone 6 Plus users also get a new landscape mode on the home screen and special extras for landscape apps like Mail, Messages, and Weather, as well as an expanded Apple keyboard with additional copy, cut and paste functions, amongst others.
Notifications and dealing with messages
There are lots of new features splurged across iOS 8 making it a much better iteration of the iOS than before, but many of the new features are hidden behind the scenes.
For the most part the design stays the same, following the huge sweeping changes made in 2013 with the introduction of iOS 7. But one of the bigger changes we've been enjoying is the new notifications. That's no surprise given what we now know about Apple Watch, but notifications get a lot more power in iOS 8 and for the better. Not only does this give a better iPhone experience, it bring better parity with Android's rich notifications.
You now have the ability to quickly reply to Notifications as they appear or drop down from the top of the screen and we've found this not only useful, but has huge implications for the future. It means that Notifications aren't just a dumb message now, but a simplified way of accessing information without entering the app in question. No waiting for apps to open, just bish-bash-bosh and on you go as if nothing happened. At the moment we've been mainly using it with texts and if you're watching a movie, it's amazing.
If you don't catch those notifications as they come in, you manage them via the Notification pane or the lock screen if you've given permission. The lock screen now has the ability to delete or Mark as Read before you even open up the phone, while the Notification centre gets enhancements and simplifications as well with support for something Apple calls Extensions.
These extensions offer snippets of information (if you've got an app that offers it) without you having to go off to a dedicated app or the web. That could be anything from sports results to movie times to a calculator, and again opens up huge potential in making your iPhone or iPad much more relevant to you while at the same time shifting it away from a siloed app approach.
Some of the Extensions are really handy, but it's still a case of hoping that your favourite app adds the support for the feature. We are still on the hunt for that killer add.
One of the most frequent apps we use is Mail and here you get some great new features that have already started to make a huge difference to our productivity levels to the point that we've found it quicker to process large batches of emails on our mobile devices rather than the desktop alternative.
The biggest win for most will be the new gestures in the inbox that allow you to quickly trash mail with a single swipe, and the ability to minimise an email you are working on so you can find more information from your inbox or another email while you are still drafting it.
You can only minimise one email at a time, but if you've ever found yourself halfway through an email to someone only to need to check something elsewhere in your inbox, you'll love it.
Mail also auto suggests creating new contacts for you based on the signature in people's emails, and again if you are looking to build out your contact list this is really handy. We've even been tempted to delete our contacts book and start again.
Meanwhile Group messages are now possible with iMessage, and stalkers (we mean friends) will be able to share locations with each other so you can really see how close they are (just leaving the pub - yeah right).
Another nice feature is that iMessage users also now get to quickly see any attachment you've sent each other in the past reminding you of the fun times you've visually had - or in our case with Mrs Pocket-lint the numerous shoes she was getting our opinion on for a wedding.
Messages also now lets you send quick voice snippets to others - handy for singing Happy Birthday and this is activated via a press and hold of the voice icon. The system allows you to hold and swipe up to record a quick voice memo and have it instantly sent, however if you're not careful you'll be sending mundane voice messages to others without realising it. We know because we have.
A better camera for everyone
We all love taking pictures and we've found the changes in iOS 8 make that even easier. You now get control over editing your snaps once they've been taken, Favourites, and new recording modes like Time Lapse.
While the appeal of Time Lapse quickly passes (Instagram's Hyperlapse is better), Timer for the camera has been really useful. Press the timer button and you get the option of 3 or 10 seconds with an onscreen countdown timer before the shot fires and like a standard timer feature on compact cameras, the option lets you ready that selfie or pose the shot just that little bit better.
If you aren't taking photos, you are editing them and now you can edit your photos beyond adding a filter or pressing a magic wand as you have control over things like exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, black point, saturation and more.
The editing features are somewhat complicated to use, even though they are supposed to be really simple, and we would really only recommend them for power users.
Still, if you do manage to master these controls you can really enhance your photos. We've already taken some not so great shots and made them useable and once you've built up your collection of amazing pictures you can favourite them so you can quickly find them again in the future.
Something else to master is the new exposure controls in the camera. Tap on the screen anywhere and you get the familiar box, but in iOS 8 you can now swipe up and down to change the exposure of the shot you are about to take. Again not a tool for everyone, but we've found in useful in certain situations where the sun has been too bright or, as in most cases, the picture looks a little dark.
Rather than scanning back through your photos by constantly flicking upwards, you can now search for images by a number of quick parameters like Nearby, One Year Ago, Favourites, and Home. This has been really handy and a valuable addition to the Photos app, especially as you can also search photos by place. As long as you can remember where you took the photo, or when you took it, you'll be fine.
Other cool tricks like Family Sharing
How many iOS devices to do you have? How many are all signed into your account so you can share apps without having to pay twice, or even three times for each one? With the move to devices letting you pick up from where you left off elsewhere, having a single sign-on for all your devices isn't going to work in the long run. To try and combat this Apple has created Family Sharing that allows up to five devices to have separate accounts but feed into the same iTunes buying account.
In practice it means that you can give your iPad to the kids and if they go to buy something they can, but you have to approve the purchase on your phone first.
The catch comes when you have to give that family iPad its own Apple ID account or set one up for the kids to use. It gets complicated, especially if you've got young kids who get the whiff that you are about to assign iCloud names to devices.
But it's not all great
iCloud Drive allows you to share and edit documents stored in the cloud (Apple's iCloud) and have better access to them, but the system isn't as open or easy to use as competing services from Dropbox, Google, or Microsoft.
iCloud Drive now works with Yosemite and sharing files within apps between your devices is a lot easier. On your Mac you get a folder with dedicated folders for the apps you are using. As long as you put the right files in the right folder (your iPhone does this automatically) then you'll be able to instantly pick them up your other device instantly.
Health too has potential, but at the moment that's not being realised. Apps will have to be updated to work with the system that collects all your fitness and activity data, and while we suspect the usual suspects to get involved like Fitbit, Nike and Runkeeper, and they haven't yet. This is very much a wait and see still until more get involved.
Siri too is woefully under tooled to compete against Microsoft's Cortana and Google services. For you to use the new "Hey Siri" command you've got to have the phone plugged into a power source. Er, hello...?
Oh and Maps is still pretty awful and pales in comparison to Google Maps. Thankfully you can bury Apple's efforts in a folder and forget about it. Just don't press on an address anywhere otherwise the nightmare comes flashing back.
One of the bigger and more exciting features of Yosemite is Continuity. This allows you to seamlessly pair your iPhone with your Mac and benefit from the power of that connection direct from the desktop or laptop. Calls direct from your Mac without picking up your iPhone? You've got it.
Some would say an OS X device is more work-focused. The biggest Continuity success here we've found is the use of the instant hotspot mode, especially if you work on the go a lot. Personal hotspots are nothing new, but what we like here is the ability to turn on the hotspot functionality in your phone without getting it out of your pocket. It saves a lot of faff.
We've also really been enjoying the ability to send SMS text messages via the desktop to to friends that haven't got iMessage. Testing it early on in the Beta programme and again since the introduction of iOS 8.1, it means sending texts to friends and colleagues is just really easy. You'll be doing it a lot more - we certainly have.
The one we were most looking forward to and are slightly disappointed by is the ability to make and receive calls. The technology works perfectly, that's not the issue, but there isn't yet any way to turn off the associated ring tone which is frustrating. We've also found for the best results you have to sit near the microphone on your computer. The technology woefully shows Apple's previous shortcummings in microphone tech on its laptop and monitor range. It's solvable with a mic of course, but it's certainly something to bear in mind when you come to use the new feature.
Clean and polished, iOS 8 brought plenty on day one, and although there was a hiccup with 8.0.1, iOS 8.1 put that all behind it.
It is the most open version of iOS yet delivering many features both Android and Windows Phone users have enjoyed for some time, while at the same time laying the foundation for bigger screens, a watch, and greater connectivity with the Mac.
The only major criticism we have is that at times it can seem overly cluttered with too many options to choose from or too many hidden buttons to select. On the whole this is a well polished OS that many will enjoy. Now go and hit that update button.