Apple sets iOS release date for Sept. 17

Design chief Jony Ive's second major refresh of Apple's mobile operating system -- boasting a better messaging system and synchronization with desktop devices and the cloud -- goes live next week.

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Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, reviews the messaging features of iOS 8 at Wedensday's event. James Martin/CNET

Apple's iOS 8 goes live Sept. 17, two days before the company's new phones go on sale, Apple announced at its launch event Tuesday in Cupertino, Calif.

The software is available for download for the iPhone 4S and above. First introduced at WWDC, Apple's developer conference in San Francisco in June, iOS 8 marks the second major release of Apple's mobile operating system under the guidance of head designer Jony Ive and new software head Craig Federighi. Apple CEO Tim Cook fired the prior iOS chief, Scott Forstall, in October 2012, in part for refusing to take responsibility for Apple's Maps fiasco. Ive spearheaded a complete redesign of iOS 7, the first major overhaul since Apple introduced the software with the first iPhone in 2007.

Tuesday's event, taking place at the Flint Performing Arts Center in Apple's hometown of Cupertino is one of the most anticipated product launches of the year. Consumers, analysts and investors have been waiting for Apple to introduce the "amazing" new products that Cook has been promising for more than a year. Cook, who took over as CEO from Steve Jobs three years ago, hasn't yet taken the company into new markets beyond those established by his former boss. But he's now expected to do just that with wearables, mobile payments and other possible arenas. iOS 8 is expected to complement the new hardware.

While iOS 7 featured different typography and color schemes from previous versions of the operating system, along with a flatter design concept, and added features like automatic updates, AirDrop and iTunes Radio, iOS 8 takes Ive's design efforts a step further.

The operating system focuses more on functionality than visuals. With iOS 8, Apple is bringing a laundry list of features that many have desired for years. Most importantly, the new software tackles long-standing issues with iOS' notification system; its tie-ins with Apple's desktop OS X software and with iCloud, software for managing files and devices; and its native SMS client Messages. And it also manages to extend Apple's reach into the health and home-automation space with a suite of new "Kit" apps and developer tools.

A new addition to iOS 8 includes Handoff, which lets users start a task -- such as writing an email or composing a text -- on an iPhone and then finish it on an iPad or Mac. iCloud Drive creates a device-agnostic way for users to store files, similar to Google's Drive offering and to software maker Dropbox' product. And a new aspect of Apple's Messages app, called QuickType, features predictive keyboard software enhancement that will learn how you talk with different people to allow for quicker auto-correct and fill-out suggestions.

Apple also is purposefully modifying its closed-garden philosophy. Users can now install third-party keyboards, and TouchID fingerprint scanning -- which accounts for 83 percent of purchases in Apple's App Store -- will now work with third-party apps. Additionally, widgets from independent developers will be available for download from the App Store and will function within the Notification Center.

Along with the iOS features, Apple also launched two new initiatives, called HealthKit and HomeKit. HealthKit serves as a data repository for health-related information, such as how many steps a person takes and how much a person eats. Other apps can draw from that information and send data collected on their apps back to HealthKit.

HomeKit provides a similar service for the smart home. It will let developers integrate controls for door locking, light dimming and other home-automation gadgets and features into iOS apps for the iPhone and iPad. That means users can control various connected devices from one spot -- even using Apple's digital voice assistant, Siri -- rather than switching back and forth between different apps. Initial partners include thermostat-maker Honeywall and smart-lock-maker August.

Correction, 3:35 p.m. PT:The original article incorrectly identified which devices are compatible with iOS 8.

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