As promised, Apple today released iOS 8.1, the first major update to the company’s latest mobile operating system. Major new features include the official launch of Apple Pay, SMS Relay, Instant Hotspot, and the return of the Camera Roll. Here’s a quick breakdown of each.
Apple Pay: With Apple’s long-awaited take on NFC payments, users with credit and debit cards from participating financial institutions will be able to add their cards to Passbook, and pay wirelessly at participating retailers and within compatible apps. The number of Apple Pay partners will be relatively limited at first, but the list is expected to grow as Apple brings millions of new participants to the existing NFC payment industry.
Wireless “tap to pay” Apple Pay support will be limited at launch to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The iPhone 5s will also support Apple Pay, but only via compatible apps as the phone lacks the necessary NFC hardware for physical retail purchases. The Apple Watch, set to launch in early 2015, will also offer full Apple Pay support when paired to a compatible iPhone.
Instant Hotspot: Part of Apple’s “Continuity” features, Instant Hotspot lets OS X Yosemite users automatically connect to their iPhone’s cellular data connection via Wi-Fi, without having to manually initiate a pairing. Hotspot features have been available on the iPhone for years, but users needed to go into the iPhone’s settings and enable the hotspot signal. With Instant Hotspot, a user’s iPhone will be available as an option in the Mac’s Wi-Fi menu and, when selected, automatically enable the network sharing connection. When the Mac is no longer using the iPhone’s data, the iPhone automatically shuts off the hotspot to conserve battery life.
SMS Relay: The Messages app on the iPad and in OS X currently supports sending text messages to other Apple users via iMessage, but only the iPhone supports the universal SMS standard.
With iOS 8.1, Mac users running OS X Yosemite and iPad users with iOS 8.1 can send and receive SMS messages via the Messages app, relayed through the user’s iPhone.
Camera Roll: The iOS camera roll gave users quick access to their recently captured or added photos, but many users were upset to find that Apple had removed the feature in iOS 8, replacing it with a slightly less useful “Recently Added” album. Thankfully, Apple heard the feedback from users and announced during its iPad event last week that the traditional Camera Roll would return in the iOS 8.1 update.
iCloud Photo Library: With iCloud Photo Library, users can opt to automatically store all of their photos and videos on iCloud servers, ensuring that copies of the photos are always backed up and available in the event that a device is damaged or lost.
Another benefit of iCloud Photo Library is storage space. The service will keep the full resolution file in the cloud, and automatically sync smaller versions to all of a user’s devices, with each version appropriately sized for the device. iCloud Photo Library will also eventually sync with the upcoming Photos app for Mac, which will replace iPhoto and Aperture when it launches early next year.
In addition to these major features, iOS 8.1 brings the usual unspecified bug fixes and performance enhancements. Users running iOS 8 should see the over-the-air update in their iOS Settings shortly. iOS 8.1 can also be downloaded in full via iTunes.
Here’s the full list of changes in iOS 8.1, courtesy of Apple:
- Apple Pay support for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus (U.S. only)
- Photos includes new features, improvements and fixes
- Adds iCloud Photo Library as a beta service
- Adds Camera Roll album in Photos app and My Photo Stream album when iCloud Photo Library is not enabled
- Provides alerts when running low on space before capturing Time Lapse videos
- Messages includes new features, improvements and fixes
- Adds the ability for iPhone users to send and receive SMS and MMS text messages from their iPad and Mac
- Resolves an issue where search would sometimes not display results
- Fixes a bug that caused read messages to not be marked as read
- Fixes issues with group messaging
- Resolves issues with Wi-Fi performance that could occur when connected to some base stations
- Fixes an issue that could prevent connections to Bluetooth hands-free devices
- Fixes bugs that could cause screen rotation to stop working
- Adds an option to select between 2G, 3G or LTE networks for cellular data
- Fixes an issue in Safari where videos would sometimes not play
- Adds AirDrop support for Passbook passes
- Adds an option to enable Dictation in Settings for Keyboards, separate from Siri
- Enables HealthKit apps to access data in the background
- Accessibility improvements and fixes
- Fixes an issue that prevented Guided Access from working properly
- Fixes a bug where VoiceOver would not work with 3rd party keyboards
- Improves stability and audio quality when using MFi Hearing Aids with iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
- Fixes an issue with VoiceOver where tone dialing would get stuck on a tone until dialing another number
- Improves reliability when using handwriting, Bluetooth keyboards and Braille displays with VoiceOver
- Fixes an issue that was preventing the use of OS X Caching Server for iOS updates