iOS 8 review: Six-months later

Six months ago Apple released iOS 8, the biggest update to the company's mobile operating system since the advent of the App Store in 2008. We reviewed iOS 8 when it went live in September, and took a second look at iOS 8 three months later in our roundtable. Now it's been half a year, iOS 8.2 has been released, iOS 8.3 is already in beta, and adoption is inching close to 80 percent. So, it's time to take another look, six months later…

Sharing and action extensions

Ren: I've gotten even more comfortable with sharing and action extensions as the months go by: I send documents to other apps, run scripts from Workflow, and remember my passwords with 1Password. It's a fantastic feature, though I wish organizing your extensions carried across apps. (It's a sandbox security thing. Frustrating, but I understand why they do it.)

Peter: Making iOS 8 extensible was one of the smartest things that Apple has done, and it was totally necessary, given the status of other mobile operating systems. Developers have been making good use of the feature, though some have taken a damnably long time to support it. Making it easier to share content with the services and apps you use just makes sense, and Apple has deployed an intuitive framework to make it happen.

Ally: I use sharing and action extensions like it's my job! Seriously, my favorite feature of iOS 8 by far — aside from widgets of course. My most used ones are 1Password, Pocket, Workflow, and Clips. I just wish they'd stay in the order I put them in, are you listening Apple?!

Rene: Six months ago I thought sharing and action extensions would transform the way I use my iPhone. Six months later, I know it has. Extensibility really did change much of my experience from pull — hunting around between apps for functionality — to push — functionality coming to me. The boost in productivity has been incredible.

I'm disappointed it took some companies, including some of the biggest ones, so long to get their extension act together, but as of February 2015 — almost 9 months after it was introduced at WWDC — we finally have Facebook Messenger and Dropbox sharing extensions, for example.

Action extensions I appreciate most when I leave iOS. 1Password especially, thanks to both the extension and Touch ID API, is now better on iOS than OS X. This biggest leap forward in the last few months, however, is undeniably Workflow. Automator-style actions right in the share sheet. Blows me away every time.


Peter: 2014 was a tough year for widget developers. Apple still seems to be feeling its way through the process of approving them and figuring out what it will and won't let third-party developers do. Some of the widgets that have come out have been awesome — PCalc comes to mind right away — and others, like Rene points out, seem to be shoehorned in. So far, I can take or leave iOS 8 widgets for the most part.

Ren: I was using widgets quite a lot three months ago, but I've pulled back in the intervening time. I'm not sure if I've just fallen out of habit, but they seem less useful to me than they were; also, anticipating the arrival of the Apple Watch, I imagine that most things I might turn to a widget for, the Apple Watch can also take care of.

Ally: I love widgets but I keep them to the bare minimum. It's been great seeing what developers are coming up with and sometimes I even choose apps now based on what kind of widgets they offer. Right now I rely on Fantastical 2, Dark Sky, Clips, and TeeVee the most.

Rene: Like Peter said, widgets had some tough times over the last few months. After initially approving many edge cases, like calculators and app launchers, subsequent reviewers invited them to remove that functionality. The majority of those decisions have since be reversed, and the widgets are all back, but it shows that Notification Center space is still nebulous. For my part, I don't think app launchers really belong there and I'd rather see Control Center extensions for that. No doubt this is part of a larger and still evolving usability discussion.

The widgets themselves are still a mixed bag. For every janky feed stuffed into Notification Center, however, there are some gems. Clips is a great example, as is the aforementioned PCalc. That quick information and actions are now available from anywhere on my iPhone or iPad with a simple swipe down is part of what makes iOS 8 such a sea change.

QuickType and keyboards

Ren: I'm finally using QuickType regularly — it only took me six months! — but my poor third-party keyboards have all been turned off. Keyboard switching is still too slow to be really useful, and I find that third-party keyboards tend to slow down any app I enter text into. Not a worthwhile tradeoff. I'd consider using keyboards again if Apple made some improvements to both the switching workflow and the speed, but otherwise, I've learned to be satisfied with my built-in keyboard.

Peter: The novelty of using third-party keyboards lasted for me for about the first month before I gave up and went back to Apple's. Despite some lingering criticisms about stuff like the shift key, I'm happy and comfortable using Apple's keyboard, and QuickType saves me a lot of keystrokes.

Ally: I have tried using keyboards but find them to not offer a great user experience. It defaults back to the regular too often or changes on its own. Supposedly this was fixed recently but it's still finicky for me. I also have become so used to the stock iOS keyboard after all these years, it's muscle memory and not something I'm going to willingly give up.

Rene: I'm back on the built-in keyboard. I like a lot of the custom ones but between Siri and QuickType I'm fast enough that the awkward install and transition system just isn't worth the overhead. That's nothing new for a first generation feature, though, and I expect future iterations will improve considerably.

For example, if Apple moved custom keyboard installation to the keyboard switcher popup, and otherwise smoothed things out, I'd absolutely give more boards more shots, but as it is, and through no fault of their own, I think I'm hitting the limits of what the system currently enables.

iCloud Drive and storage providers

Ren: I don't really "use" iCloud Drive in the traditional sense, but I know that plenty of my apps save to the service, and it's one of the reasons that makes it so easy to switch from iPhone to iPad to Mac when working on an item. But I haven't really thought about actively storing anything in Drive, in part because it still lacks a central files repository. That's what Dropbox is for, I suppose...

Peter: Apple sometimes demonstrates a knack for delivery features that answer customer requests without actually delivering what customers asked for. Such is the case with iCloud Drive, an elegant solution to the problem of file access and discovery. It enables you to open documents without having a full file system, like you do on a Mac or PC. It's not perfect, but it's a good start. I look forward to seeing how Apple evolves it in iOS 9 and beyond.

Ally: iCloud Drive works just like Documents in the Cloud for me always did. Yes, I still want a way to access files with a files picker app but for now, I feel completely comfortable using it. It hasn't however been enough to make me abandon Dropbox. That's a bigger problem in and of itself since I collaborate with Android users and other people that just are also tied into Dropbox. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to rid myself of Dropbox and Google Drive, even if I wanted to.

Rene: iCloud Drive has been fine for me. Hiding it away inside apps instead of giving me my long sought after repository means I probably don't use it as much as I would, but my documents are always there when I need them.

I think, like Ren said, that's the blessing and the curse of iCloud Drive — it's just there. It saves what you need saving so transparently you often don't even realize it's involved at all. The line between local and cloud, it has blurred.

Call and SMS relay

Ren: SMS relay continues to be my favorite little OS X/iOS feature — I use it all the time on my Mac, and am constantly thankful it exists. Call relay I don't use as often, but then again, I don't make all that many phone calls to begin with.

Peter: Call and SMS relay are probably my most used iOS 8 features. I'm constantly making and taking calls on my Mac and sending SMS messages to non-iPhone using friends and colleagues. Very, very happy with these features. They're rock solid for the most part, but occasionally I run into a hitch that requires me to restart one device or the other to work. Hopefully Apple will improve that sort of error correction in a future update.

Ally: They were both a little shaky at first but have seemed to level off. I find myself having lots more Android friends now that I don't have to rely on my iPhone to message them. So yay for that. Continuity calling is a little weird for me since iOS 8.2. A lot of times I'll answer on one device and the others continue to ring. Not sure what changed but a fix would be awesome. I know I'm not the only one.

Rene: I don't use call relay as always as Peter, but every time one of those rare green bubbles hit Messages on my Mac, and I can respond there and then, and don't have to reach for my iPhone, I'm happy.

Instant hotspot and AirDrop

Ren: Instant Hotspot still seems a little shaky for me — I can rarely get it to work without a little song and dance — but I use cross-platform AirDrop all the time. It's a great way to quickly get files from your Mac onto your iOS device or vice versa; I send photos this way constantly when I don't want to wait for them to sync via iCloud Photo Library or My Photo Stream.

Peter: Initially I had trouble getting Instant Hotspot to work on my Mac; it just wouldn't see the iPhone, even though they were in physical proximity to each other and both devices were set up properly. Resetting the iPhone fixed it, but it was kind of a drastic solution that I suspect is beyond the comfort level of many average users.

iOS to Mac AirDrop remains very hit or miss for me. Lately it's been useful and usable, after I reset the iPhone, but it's gone AWOL a couple of times and I can't figure out why. When it does work, AirDrop makes transferring files between them convenient and fast. I just wish it were more reliable.

Ally: Instant hotspot is awesome and something I rely on regularly. So much more stable and reliable than regular personal hotspot which I constantly had to toggle on and off in order for it to work. I regularly use AirDrop to share files, particularly screenshots, back and forth from my iOS devices and my Mac. I do this quite often when I'm using hotspot or the WiFi in a public place is too slow. Couldn't live without them.

Rene: AirDrop works well enough for me that on the rare occasion it can't find someone else's iPhone or Mac, it feels like I've been kicked out of hyperspace and back into a slower, lesser world. That's both amazing and maddening.

Likewise Instant Hotspot. I don't like joining coffee house Wi-Fi networks, and event Wi-Fi is often spotty at best, but being able to just tether means I get my own connection and can get my work done. Except when I can't.

There's something magical about Bluetooth LE for broadcast and handshake, and Wi-Fi for data exchange, and Apple Push Notification for messaging, all working together to get and keep my data working between all my devices. But fingers crossed that iOS 9 makes it a little less like magic and a little more like science.


Ren: Like with three months ago, I want to use Handoff more than I actually do. It's such smart technology, but I feel like it's still not fluidly in my workflow — I have to remember to use the icon rather than reopening a webpage all over again or starting a new email document.

Peter: Erasing the barriers between iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite is one of the smartest strategic moves Apple could make — the company embraces the uniqueness of each user experience while making your work the centerpiece of what's important, and that's exactly as it should be: the interface itself shouldn't get in the way.

Ally: Handoff has worked pretty much flawlessly for me since launch. I don't use the default Mail app on my Mac but I do frequently start an email on my iPhone and finish it on my iPad. One thing I'd really like to see Handoff do in the future is remember what I typed in Messages and let me pull it up on another device. While it can take me to the correct thread, it doesn't seem to remember anything I've typed, and that's a bummer.

Rene: I don't use Handoff anywhere nearly as much as I should. On rare occasions I'll throw a webpage or email or message around between my iPhone, iPad, or Mac, and I don't even think about it.

And that's made me stop and think.

Continuity is incredible technology. Data sync has been around for a while but activity sync is brand new. A year ago, if I wanted to finish an email on a different device I'd have to save it as a draft, go to the other device, wake it, find the app, launch the app, find the draft, open the draft, scroll to the right place, and then start working again. Now I just swipe or tap an icon and I'm there.

It's as big a part of the evolution towards push interface as extensibility. And it already feels commonplace to me — the way things are meant to be.

Like extensibility, it's also the first generation of the feature. We don't even have continuity for media yet, for example. But with the Apple Watch coming, and more, I think we'll look back and see this was the start of something really big.


Ren: Messages has long been surprisingly stable for me, and it continues to be so. I have only two wishes/complaints for the app going forward — add a "request location" button to easily ask your friends to share where they are, and allow for the merging of multiple group/solo messages to the same people.

Peter: Group messaging improvements in iOS 8 — renaming message threads, leaving talks — were overdue but welcome nonetheless. The ability to set expiration times on video and picture attachments is good too. The "audio messages" features isn't something I've used at all, and I've only gotten a couple — including two accidental butt-dials.

Ally: Do Not Disturb on a thread basis is the best thing ever. I use it regularly — but I won't say on who and you can't make me! I still get weird issues where threads randomly split from time to time, but that aside, Messages does almost everything I need it to do.

Rene: The group messaging improvements are great and I use them all the time. (Not so great is when they split into separate threads, but hopefully that'll get fixed.) I'm still not sold on all the instant-send changes, however. I dislike that I can, if I accidentally tap it, send my location to someone with nary a confirmation dialog in between. Likewise insta-selfies.

Other than that, Messages have been solid, and a solid improvement.

Camera and photos

Ren: Camera has gotten faster than ever in iOS 8, and I use it constantly. No, it doesn't have all the awesome manual features of third-party apps, which is a bummer, but it's functional enough. (I do wish that there was an option to map the camera shortcut on the lock screen to a third-party app over the Camera app, though I see where that could get sticky, privacy-and-integration-wise.)

The Photos app is pretty fantastic, and even better with iCloud Photo Library. I recently had to delete a bunch of things from the app while offline, and the app synced perfectly, deleting everything that needed to be deleted as soon as I reacquired a data connection.

Peter: Despite some initial confusion with new Photos feature, I find Photos in iOS 8 to be better than ever — easier to use, easier to edit with and easier to get to the cloud, with iCloud Photo Library. What's more, the introduction of Photos in OS X 10.10.3 (currently in beta) gives us an end-to-end seamless photo workflow from iOS device to Mac.

Ally: I've always used the Camera app in iOS unless I'm doing something special that requires the use of another app. Continuous auto focus on the iPhone 6 an 6 Plus are the bees knees. As for the Photos app, I use it constantly. I just wish iCloud Photo Library was more stable, and didn't take forever to stream videos. I know, I know, beta. So I'll save my cursing for when it's out of beta.

Rene: I'm currently of two minds about the camera app. Part of me is super happy it's still pretty much as simple as it's always been, exposure bias notwithstanding. The other part wishes all the manual controls were built in and I'd only need App Store apps for that if I they did something in a new or novel way.

Photos I love. All the new editing tools are really well done, both in terms of design and functionality, and iCloud Photo Library, though still in beta, is really delivering on the idea of photos as part of the core OS, and as nearline, ubiquitous storage as the future.


Ren: I'm really hoping the Apple Watch improves my usage of the Health app — right now I'm just not getting to track the metrics that are actually interesting to me. Step-counting is okay, but without a monitor to provide input for my comprehensive picture, it seems lacking.

I'm also still a bit annoyed that Apple still hasn't put in a period tracking option. Apps do it, ladies do it, time for Health to do it too.

Peter: This has been a big question mark for me so far. I've gotten some info in the Health app, but there are a lot of details I'm missing. I feel like Health is a work in progress. I suspect this will change to a truly useful information repository once the Apple Watch ships.

Ally: Lots more apps need to integrate with Health. Some fitness apps such as Garmin and Jawbone have already done so but lots more need to get on board — I'm looking at you Fitbit.I think there's huge potential for the Health app but that involves doctors, hospitals, and developers to integrate it. I really hope they do. Because I'd love to have one central repository for all my health data. Right now it's just not taking off the way I think Apple intended it to.

Rene: I'm still not using Health as much as I want to. Maybe the Apple Watch will change that. The graphs could do with some color to show positive or negative trends, women could do with period tracking, and overall the challenge of making so incredibly complex and undertaken simple and easy for people to use and understand is going to take a lot of time and work. This is new ground. It's going to need to be broken over a couple of iOS generations.

Family Sharing

Peter: Apple can and should do a lot more to make content-sharing more family-friendly, or at the very least better exposed. My experience with customers in the store I work in is that they're scared and confused by Family Sharing. In many cases they're unaware that it exists at all, and even if they've seen the icon for it, they don't understand what it does, so they choose not to use it at all. My sense is that Apple is missing a great opportunity here.

Ally: Family Sharing has been solid for us since iOS 8 launched. Occasionally it's slightly finicky on the Apple TV when toggling between libraries, but I blame that on the 7.0 update. I know my girlfriend loves that she gets all my apps without paying now. Sadly, I think she benefits from it a heck of a lot more than I do.

Speaking on what Peter mentioned, I don't necessarily agree Family Sharing is confusing. Should Apple market it better? Absolutely. But if people would read on-screen directions, Apple actually does a good job of walking you through what Family Sharing is as you set it up.

Rene: I still have no family with which to share, alas. But I'm also still happy it's a thing, and still hoping it continues to evolve and improve.

Ren: Like Rene, I haven't used Family Sharing either, but I'm glad to hear that it seems to be working properly for most people I talk to about it.

Siri and Spotlight

Ren: Oh, Siri. I have such a love/hate relationship with iOS's digital assistant. When Siri works, it works so well — especially when you're in the car and can't fiddle around with keyboards or apps. But when Siri goofs, it goofs pretty terribly. I hope there's a way to teach Siri new words in iOS 9, or to get it to learn from your frequent iOS keyboard entries.

Spotlight has gotten a lot better since iOS 8.0, though I still run into that pesky "search and nothing appears" bug now and again.

Peter: Siri's natural language interpretation is better than ever — so much so that I find I use it a lot more in iOS 8 than I ever did before. Having said that, I often get frustrated at the things Siri can't do, or gets confused by.

Spotlight's improvements make using it to find whatever you're looking for — online or local to your iOS device — more intuitive than ever. Big improvement I'm very happy with.

Ally: I. Love. Dictation. I also love that App Store suggestions filter into Spotlight. I find myself using that feature way more often than I thought I would. I also tag lots of songs using Siri now, and it's far easier than having to dig for Shazam.

Rene: Siri has been working really well for me in iOS 8. The streaming dictation was a turning point. Instead of talking and waiting, I talk and watch and see the words arrange and rearrange themselves, until a close approximation of what I said emerges. Then I tap a few blue squiggles, right a few wrongs, and I'm in business. "Hey, Siri", for all it's promiscuity, lets me truly be hands-free, and almost without exception now, when I ask for something, Siri delivers it.

Spotlight also has been flawless for me. I know some people have struggled with missing app results, but mine have been rock-solid. I still wish they'd merge and I could query Siri's backend using Spotlight as the front end, but baby steps.

Mail and Safari

Peter: I've been impressed with Mail's time-saving features: It's better at recognizing actionable content, like seeing a phone number in an email and adding it to my contacts. I can also get more done in less time as I look through my inbox, marking messages for deletion or later action quickly and easily.

Ally: I love content detection in mail and the ability to set custom notifications on a per thread basis. I've also found a way to set swipe actions so I can trash or archive in just a swipe, which is what I was using Mailbox for in the first place. The only thing I'd really love to see Apple add is snooze options. Please???

Ren: Seconding Ally on Mail snooze options. That would be amazing. Overall, both Mail and Safari work splendidly for me, though I still wish Mail's search feature was better. My desktop Mail client repeatedly finds emails that my iOS app cannot, and it's irritating to have to put a task aside with "I can't triage this question right now because I can't find the answer in my mailbox."

Rene: Having Private Browsing and regular browsing exist side-by-side has led me to use Private Browsing as a reserve of frequently open tabs. I know that's not the intended purpose, but with a couple taps, I get all the sites I read often, including all the Mobile Nations sites, refreshed due to lack of RAM — something I actually want automated in that case — and ready to read.

Otherwise the early JavaScriptCore crashes all seem to have been fixed, performance is great, and I'm living the mobile browser dream.

Likewise mail. I appreciate the new features, like super-swipe to insta-trash, but my usage hasn't changed much. Mail just works for me. Unified inbox for my Google and Apple mail is just what I want.

Apple Pay

Ren: Seamless, simple, stunning. I'm still a big Apple Pay proponent six months down the line, and use it whenever I can. It's so much easier than rummaging around for cards, and much more secure than the traditional option. I can't wait for it to come to the Watch and roll out into even more stores.

Peter: I've very much liked Apple Pay during those few times I've been able to use it. My bank was a day one adopter, but the retailers I do business with have been much slower to jump on the Apple Pay bandwagon. What's more, it's still very much a novelty. Worse, neither of the places I shop the most — my grocery store and my drug store — accept it. One's in bed with CurrentC and the other doesn't have a point of sale system that supports Apple Pay. I have no doubt Apple Pay will succeed in the long term, but waiting for the adoption uptick is frustrating.

Ally: When I find retailers that accept Apple Pay, it works great for me. That just isn't the reality where I live. Hopefully that'll change over time. I have however used it when buying stuff online and I'm glad to see more apps are supporting it. Woot to reloading my Starbucks card in less than 3 seconds. Wait… I'm not really sure if that's a good thing?

Rene: Sad maple leaf.

The bottom line

Ren: Six months in, the bugs have (mostly) been squashed, and iOS 8 is continuing to refine and improve in the form of iOS 8.2 and 8.3. It's not perfect — and Apple has acknowledged as much — but the company is trying its hardest to polish everything up. And hey, 8.3 brings a new emoji keyboard, good two-factor authentication, and more! Lots to look forward to.

Peter: I've been very happy with iOS 8 for the most part. It hasn't worked very well on my third-gen iPad, however: It's very slow. I wish Apple would be more critical of "edge cases" and limit the installation of iOS 8 only to devices that can run it well.

On my iPhone 6, however, iOS 8 has been great. Combined with Yosemite on the Mac, I can get more done with less effort than ever.

Ally: iOS 8 brought tons of new features that I love and use on a daily basis. Unfortunately, it's also one of the buggiest releases of iOS I can ever remember. And I really hope iOS 9 is a whole lot of polish and refinement, and nothing else.

Rene: iOS 8 brought with it an incredible change in how Apple's mobile operating system works. Continuing the trend of decoupling logic from interface and content from device, we got extensibility and continuity, and the pain that comes with transformation. That pain, however, has lessened considerably. There are still bugs. There always have been and always will be bugs, even if memory makes the new ones always feel so much sharper than those dulled by age. (Hello iCloud in iOS 5, resprings in iOS 7, etc. etc.)

We're on iOS 8.2 now, which includes all the infrastructure for the upcoming Apple Watch, and iOS 8.3 is in beta, which merges in all the non-Apple Watch fixes and adds a few small features, like diversified emoji. iOS 9, which should be previewed at WWDC 2015 in June, is now on the horizon.

Six months later, though, and the fundamental functional changes that made iOS 8 so important, that bookended the redesign of the previous year, have settled. They've gone from feeling new to feeling foundational, and they've made me eager to see what's next.