After more than three months in beta, iOS 8 brings actionable notifications, improved group chat support, new picture and voice messaging features in Messages, Continuity and Handoff, third-party Today widgets in Notification Center, sharing extensions and much more. Apple has released iOS 8 for almost all of its devices that run iOS 7. The full list of supported devices is as follows:

  • iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus
  • iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad with Retina Display, iPad mini, iPad Air, iPad mini with Retina Display
  • iPod touch, fifth-generation

iOS 8 is now available as an over-the-air update or through iTunes. Go to Settings -> Software Update on your iOS device to update right now. Naturally, iOS 8 will come preinstalled on Apple’s latest iPhones, the 6 and the 6 Plus, when they are delivered later this week.

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iOS 8 adds new group messaging controls to the Messages app, a new focus on voice messages (using the microphone to record soundbites to send to friends) as well as quick shortcuts to picture attachments. You can also respond to incoming messages without losing your place in the system, by swiping down on the notification to reveal a quick-reply text box. Quick access to recent and favorite contacts is now accessible in the multitasking view,  at the top of the screen.

The update also adds a ‘QuickType’ word prediction bar along the top of the keyboard, to speed up text entry. With Continuity, you can now carry on your SMS conversations across iPhone and iPad. However, note that this feature has been delayed until October, to coincide with the launch of Yosemite.

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In Mail, swiping on table cells does more than simply delete messages. You can mark as read, flag, archive or delete with the various quick action shortcuts that are presented. This is customizable in Mail settings, too, if you want a different configuration. Mail also makes the New Message view less modal in iOS 8. You can now drag it down to the bottom of the screen, midst composition, to reference another email in your inbox. Simply tap on the docked ‘window’ to restore it. It’s a UI interaction that I really like and hope becomes more pervasive across the system.

The Health app is a brand new addition for iOS 8, as well. It acts as a central location for all your health and fitness data. You can view charts of anything that is being tracked and favorite specific statistics to view on your Dashboard. The Health app is an integral part of the Apple Watch, which will be available early in 2015.

Whilst the Health app is exclusive to iPhone, the iPad has some device specific enhancements too. Most notably in Safari, there is a brand new tab view for iPad. It collects tabs into groups based on hostname, making management of multiple websites a lot easier to deal with. You can simply drag and drop tabs to rearrange them. iCloud Tabs are now visible below this grid view, reminiscent of the iPhone interface. You can pinch-zoom in both directions to enter and exit the tab overview mode. It feels really fluid and smooth, even on older hardware.

Spotlight search has also been overhauled with some new features across both iPhone and iPad. You can now search for nearby points of interest, movie times, news and much more right from the search box on your Home Screen. Spotlight will also flag up Wikipedia articles about your query inline.

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Much of iOS 8 relies on developers updating their apps to support the new technologies, which is happening as we speak. Soon, apps like Facebook will show buttons in their notifications to quickly act upon their content, contextually. The Health app will also become much more powerful when third-party developers integrate with HealthKit to supply the app with more information. You can also add third-party widgets to Notification Center, as long as the app includes one.

Stay tuned to 9to5Mac as we will be publishing roundups of these categories of apps soon, like custom keyboards and sharing extensions, so you can try out all the new features as soon as possible.

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