Apple has just released iOS 8.1, the first major update to iOS 8. The majority of the update’s new features have already been announced, but for one reason or another weren’t ready to be included in iOS 8 when it shipped last month. In the update, Apple plans to add back the “Camera Roll” album in iOS 8 with 8.1 to help users find their recently taken shots. The new version will also include a beta of iCloud Photo Library. iCloud Photo Library offers users the option of either backing up their photos to iCloud or using the service as primary storage to clear up space on their devices, only downloading photos when necessary.
8.1 will also mark the formal release of Apple Pay, the contactless payment system Apple teased when it unveiled the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in September. The new iPhones can store credit card data locally in what Apple calls the “Secure Element,” which also contains a Device Account Number unique to each phone. Stored cards can then be used to make purchases by using TouchID to authenticate and NFC to transmit the data. The Device Account Number and randomly generated per-transaction codes are used to obfuscate your credit card data, which isn’t exposed directly to retailers or to Apple. App developers can also integrate Apple Pay buttons into their apps to be used in lieu of credit card numbers. Apple stated that it plans to roll out Apple Pay in November.
Since Apple Pay requires several hardware components unique to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, it is only compatible with those phones. Users of older iPhones will only be able to use Apple Pay indirectly when their devices are paired with an Apple Watch, and those aren’t due out until early 2015. iOS 8.1 also includes support for SMS Handoff, one of several Continuity features Apple first mentioned at WWDC in June. When enabled on your iPhone, other iOS 8.1 devices and Macs running the newly released OS X Yosemite will be able to receive and respond to standard text messages as well as to iMessages. Unlike Handoff for applications, SMS Handoff doesn’t have any specific hardware requirements; as long as your iPhone can run iOS 8, it can use the feature.
iOS 8.1 should also improve system stability and fix various bugs in the operating system. iOS 8 has developed something of a reputation for bugginess even aside from the abortive iOS 8.0.1 update; users and developers have reported everything from Wi-Fi connectivity problems to issues with the new HealthKit and HomeKit frameworks. This update is the first that can take public feedback into account. iOS 8.1 is available through iTunes or as an over-the-air update for all devices that can run iOS 8: the iPhone 4S, 5, 5C, 5S, 6, and 6 Plus; all iPads aside from the first-generation model; the fifth-generation iPod Touch; and the third-generation Apple TV. The update will be available for download starting Monday.