iOS 8 is currently in beta, and we’ve been testing Beta 4 on an iPhone 5c to learn how it compares to iOS 7. You will be able to get iOS 8 for free when it becomes available later this month (on the iPhone 6, which is being unveiled sep 9 – 6pm – see how to watch the iPhone 6 launch live and follow our iPhone 6 launch live blog) for your iPhone S4 or later, or an iPad 2 or newer.
iOS 8 vs iOS 7: iCloud Drive
One of the headline features is iCloud Drive. Previously, files were stored and synchronised using iCloud, there was no way to neither access that files directly nor add files (or unsupported file types) manually.
That all changes with the introduction of iCloud Drive. Now, you will have a Dropbox-style folder on your Windows 7 or windows 8 PC, or Mac running Yosemite.
Particular apps on your iPhone or iPad will offer to save files to iCloud Drive, but there won’t be a dedicated app as you get with Dropbox and other cloud storage services.
iCloud Drive will also work with photos, Audio and videos, so you’ll be access your backed-up photos, Audio and videos via iCloud. That’s not possible in iOS 7.
The bad news is that there’s still only 5GB of free storage, and your photos and videos will now count against that storage. But good news is that prices for additional storage should be dropping considerably, with 20GB (total) available for a rumoured UK price of 69p per month.
This is well worth paying to be able to access your entire photo and video library without those files using up precious space on your device. The another benefit is that any photo or video you take on an iOS device logged in with your Apple ID will end up in your iCloud Photo Libraries. So rather than having separate camera rolls for your iPad and iPhone, it will be accessible from any device.
Crucially, photos and videos will be stored at full resolution in their original formats (including RAW) and they’ll be accessible via the iCloud website too – a feature we’ve been waiting for since iCloud drive launched. Low-res versions can be stored locally on your iPhone or iPad so they’re available offline.
Whether any iCloud Drive features will be added to or accessible from devices running iOS 7 is unknown. It is possible that updated versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote (along with third-party apps) will be able to save files to iCloud Drive. We will have to wait and see.
iOS 8 vs iOS 7: Photos
We’ve already mentioned how photos will now live in your iCloud Photo Library, but the Photo app in iOS 8 has also been updated. We would not go quite as far as Apple has and called it ‘all-new’ but it’s certainly easier to use.
The iOS 7 Photos app had pretty limited editing capabilities, and you have to turn to another app, such as iPhoto, Camera+ or Snapseed for serious editing. In iOS 8 the Photo app is much more capable, allowing you to straighten adjust brightness, wonky photos, contrast, exposure, convert to black and white and make many ‘smart’ adjustments.
All edits are non-destructive, which means you can revert to the original photo at any time. Edits have also synchronised with your iCloud Photo Libraries, so a photo you crop and edit on your iPhone will be updated across all your devices.
Another new feature is the ability to search your photo library. You can also search by date, location or album name. The new heart icon in the Photos app means you can build up a collection of favourite photos, and tap the search button to filter your library by favourites.
Apple has also opened up the Photos app to developers, so you will see new filters and editing tools when iOS 8 launches.
iOS 8 vs iOS 7: Camera
The camera app also gets beefed up in iOS 8. Now you can also set focus and exposure separately (you tap to focus, and then slide up or down for exposure compensation, and there’s a self-timer so – assuming you can balance the phone somewhere – you can be in the shot too.
The biggest update is the addition of a fully automatic time-lapse mode. This is dynamically chooses an appropriate interval for the scene and then creates a silent video of the images which can be played back on the device and shared just like any video. It is a shame you have no control over the interval, but from our tests, this automatic results are pretty good.
The iPhone 5s was the only device to get a high-speed burst mode for photos, but supported devices will be get an improved burst mode when they’re upgraded to new iOS 8. There are no details yet about how much of an improvement this will be for the iPhone 5c, 4s and the numerous iPads compatible with iOS 8, but we are hoping it will also involve the same sort of best-photo-suggestion that the 5s has.
The iPad will receive its own update to the camera app in the form of the previously iPhone-only Panorama mode.
iOS 8 vs iOS 7: Notifications
New in iOS 8 is the ability to deal with notifications without leaving whichever app you happen to be in. When notification is displayed, you can pull down to reveal extra options, such as accepting or deleting a meeting request, or replying message using the text box.
For emails, you can see the subject line and choose to mark them as read, or delete (or archive) them. Similarly, you can snooze a reminder, or mark it as completed.
Interactive notifications aren’t restricted to default apps. You can also reply to a Facebook notification, for example, or reply to a tweet.