Apple’s iOS 8.1 arrives today, and it brings with it some impressive new abilities. First and foremost, at least in terms of its long-term impact, is probably the introduction of Apple Pay, the new mobile payment solution built into iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and the new iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3. But 8.1 also offers the ability to send/receive texts and phone calls from your phone on your Mac, the return of “Camera Roll,” the public beta of iCloud Library and more.
Apple’s first major update for iOS 8 is a mix of features that didn’t quite make the launch of the original software, and things that the company is adding based on user feedback, like the return of Camera Roll. The ability to make and receive calls on your Mac, as well as “green bubble” (i.e. non-iMessage) SMS, was something first announced at WWDC in June, but required OS X Yosemite to run, so it makes sense that it wouldn’t arrive until after the launch of Apple’s new desktop update last week – still, this too likely needed a little more time in the oven, why is why it didn’t launch baked into iOS 8 in September.
Having used iOS 8.1 briefly before its release, I can say that on the iPhone it’s a big improvement, thanks in large part to the communications sharing features it brings between desktop and mobile. The ability to make and receive calls at your desk, and to get texts from your friends even if they’re not using Apple devices, is a great boon, provided you don’t have too noisy a phone. If you receive a heavy volume of texts and calls, only some of which are actually all that important, you might find the symphony of pings a bit much, but any texts/calls inbound to me are generally few and far between, as well as things I need to genuinely pay attention to.
Bringing Camera Roll back does eliminate some confusion in iOS 8.1 device media management, though I must confess I was never left all that confused by its absence in the first place. As for Apple Pay, while it seems like the feature launch in iOS 8.1 with the most long-term potential, initially it’s going to be limited by retail availability, and also the fact that it’s U.S.-locked – a fact which means I won’t have a chance to trial it in a real-world situation for the time begin. In staged demos with live terminals, however, it performs very well.
iOS 8.1 is available for your device as an over-the-air update, which you can find by going to Settings > General > Software Update; you can also plug your phone or tablet into your computer and update via iTunes, which might be preferable if you’re still on an OS version earlier than 8.0, since the size requirements for over-the-air are significant. To use the new Continuity features with your Mac, you’ll have to download and install OS X 10.10 from the Mac App Store, which is a free update.