Apple iOS 8 preview

With iOS 7, Apple gave its mobile operating system a huge overhaul, completely reworking its design and adding a raft of new features. But if you thought that meant iOS 8 would be a small update in comparison, think again.

The new version, which will arrive on iPhones, iPads and iPads this autumn, brings with it dozens of new features. Some, such as the Health app, had long been rumoured. Others, for instance the opening up of iOS to third-party keyboards, came as a complete surprise. But possibly the biggest shock of all was one that the average iPhone user won't even notice - namely the announcement of a new programming language and major updates to the way apps can be coded.

With the iPhone 6, complete with a rumoured larger sapphire glass screen and beefed-up camera, due to land in September, iOS 8 will clearly be a big release for Apple. So here's what you can look forward to seeing on it.

iOS 8 will look more or less identical to iOS 7, which is just fine by us. Flat, colourful and minimalist - no problems there.

So while OS X Yosemite, the latest version of the Mac desktop OS, gets classy new transluscent toolbars and revamped icons, iOS 8 gets pretty much nothing on the looks front. That's in stark contrast to the jump from iOS 6 to iOS 7 - which was huge, design-wise.

Still, if it ain't broke, don't fix it and all that.

Android's long led the way for keyboard support, but not for much longer. For starters, iOS 8 will feature a new QuickType keyboard, which brings predictive text to the Apple party. And about time, too.

Apple iOS 8 review

It's context-sensitive and personalised, learning how you speak to various friends and colleagues and adjusting its suggestions accordingly. So, for instance, it will give you different options if you're replying to your mum than it would if you were texting your mate. We're a bit sceptical, to be honest. Much of its success or failure will presumably depend on how much the language you use varies from person to person and how consistent you are. We'll see.

However successful it is, all the learning it does will be local to the device and won't ever be uploaded anywhere. And it'll work with lots of different languages.

But that could all be irrelevant anyway - because Apple is opening up the keyboard to third-party apps.. So expect to see the likes of Swiftkey and Swipe on iOS soon. It's a big move, and one that could have big implications. The lack of third-party keyboard options has long been a stick for Android-ites to beat Apple with - but no more.

Keyboards aren't the only things being opened up to third-party devs. In fact, there's very little about iOS 8 that won't be accessible to non-Apple app-makers.

Take Touch ID. Previously, it was a closed shop: you could use it to log into your iPhone 5s, but not much else. Now, devs will be able to build Touch ID functionality into their apps, enabling financial or password programs to include an extra level of security in their login, or shopping apps to use it to authorise purchases. Want to buy that new TV on Amazon? Just press your finger to the button.

It's the same story in Notification Centre. You can now add third-party widgets - yes, widgets, finally - to your feed, meaning that you can now respond to notifications as you get them. So, when you receive an alert that you've just been outbid in an Ebay auction, you'll now be able to up your bid without leaving Notification Centre. Open a photo and you'll be able to apply filters from any camera app you have installed. Tap on a web image and you'll be able to pin it to Pinterest. Open the camera and you'll be able to control aperture, exposure and ISO, if you have an app that does that. And so on.

But before you scream "Security nightmare!", don't worry - Apple will still keep everything locked down. Third-party apps won't have access to your personal data unless you explicitly allow them to; instead, they'll request permission to do something and Apple will say yay or nay.

In the case of Touch ID, for instance, your fingerprint info will remain protected on your phone. If you want to use it to pay for something on Ebay, for example, the Ebay app will merely ask Apple if the correct fingerprint has been registered. It won't actually see the fingerprint itself.

Basically, it will give iOS an Android-like openness in how apps work with each other, while keeping Apple in ultimate control of everything.