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First impression: The real surprises in iOS 8 are the little things

The little tweaks to Apple's new iOS8 make a big impact.
Launching the task manager in iOS 8 brings up a list of recent contacts with one-click access to call, text, or FaceTime them.

Launching the task manager in iOS 8 brings up a list of recent contacts with one-click access to call, text, or FaceTime them.

Like probably millions of others today, I upgraded my iPhone 5 to the brand-spanking-new iOS 8. I'm still wrapping my head around the major new features, like the problem-struckHealthKit, and I haven't been able to really fiddle with the major camera upgrades yet. But in just a couple of hours of normal usage, it's really the little tweaks to the experience that are standing out to me.

A brief disclaimer: I very purposely stayed away from in-depth previews of the operating system in hopes of coming in fresh. For Apple diehards and developers who had been using it in preview, this may all be old hat. But for me, life with iOS8 is a garden of hitherto unknown pleasures.

It's just astonishing how much better stuff they've packed into what looks on the surface very similar to the iOS7 experience. The new Facebook app hung up for me when I first tried launching it (not unusual even on the old operating system, so I wasn't terribly put out), and so I double-tapped the home button to bring up the good old task manager. I was delighted to note that a row of my most recent contacts popped up above the floating windows, and clicking on one revealed options for calling, texting, or FaceTiming them.

Similarly surprising, but no less useful, is the ability to insert a picture or video into an email that you're already writing, which sounds so crazy simple but has long been one of those niggling little things that made life just a little more difficult than it needed to be. In the same vein, adding a picture in the Messages app brings up a column of recently used images that removes a step from the process.

Let me try to stem off some of the haters, who (rightfully) point out that these aren't huge advantages or that it would be possible to do the same things on other platforms. (Maybe Android does some of this; it didn't the last time I used an Android phone back in 2012.) But it's slick, and it fits right into the iPhone experience I've gotten used to.

To paraphrase both Box CEO Aaron Levie and Drake, it's not about who did it first, it's about who does it right. Apple doesn't innovate like how Silicon Valley uses the word. Apple makes this stuff accessible and human-friendly in a way that the really bleeding-edge tools so rarely are. Apple Pay and HealthKit aren't original ideas, either. But they're in the best position yet to make a play for dominance.

With all of that said, iOS8 still isn't exactly beyond reproach, even after such limited use. The settings screen is still kind of a mess, and nothing indicates that the act of updating the iPhone to future versions will be any less painful than it is now. But it's a major step in the right direction, and for now, I'm looking forward to seeing what other little tweaks Apple has baked in to improve my life, even slightly.