Guide to Installing iOS 8.1 on an iPad Air

by Reads (8,674)

Upgrading a tablet’s operating system can be a daunting prospect, so we put together this guide to help you through moving your iPad Air to the recently-released iOS 8.1.

iOS 8.1 Is Safe To Install

Apple iOS 8.1Apple certainly could have better handled the release of iOS 8 last month, as it was plagued with major and minor bugs. New versions were rushed out, now followed with iOS 8.1. After a week of testing, we feel this version is stable enough for the average iPad user to install it. That isn’t to say there aren’t still some problems, but they’re small enough that day-to-day use is largely unaffected.

A few years ago, this wouldn’t have been a consideration, as new versions of iOS never had major issues. Now, however, we recommend that the general public not install major upgrades until experts have had a chance to test them and Apple has cleaned out the bugs.

This new version will not slow down the iPad Air. Expect about the same performance as this tablet has with iOS 7.1.

iOS 8.1 Is Worth Installing

The latest version of iOS has a number of new features that make it worth the inevitable hassle entailed in replacing version 7.1.

It’s now possible to deal with notifications without having to open the app they come from. This makes it possible to see an incoming text and conveniently write a response without switching apps. And in the pull-down Notification area, emails can be deleted without ever going to the Mail app.

Recent Contacts Displayed in the iOS 8.1 App Switcher

Recent Contacts Displayed in the iOS 8.1 App Switcher

Many of the changes are small but handy tweaks, not dramatic improvements. A good example is the list of recently accessed contacts that shows up when the Home button is double tapped. Or the ability to slide a message being edited in the email app out of the way to view previous ones. It’s also now possible to switch to third-party keyboard layouts, and iOS 8.1 includes a new graphics system that makes for spectacular games.

iCloud Drive automatically puts local files onto an online service so they can be accessed on other computers. Only a small handful of apps support this feature as of writing this.

There’re more significant changes in iOS 8.1 for those who have a recent iPhone as a companion for their iPad. Incoming phone calls can be answered on the tablet, and SMS texts can be displayed on the Air. A feature called Handoff allows someone to start a task in certain apps on the phone and finish it on their tablet, or vice versa.

Finding Room for iOS 8.1

Perhaps the biggest problem with iOS 8.1 is that installing it as a direct download onto an iPad Air requires there to be nearly 5 GB of free space. This can be a challenge for those who make full use of their device’s built-in storage for pictures, songs, and apps. Fortunately, there are some ways to deal with this issue.

When upgrading our iPad Air, we noticed that there seemed to be much less free space on this device than seemed justified by the files stored on it. We hooked it to a computer running iTunes and discovered that the semi-mysterious “Other” category was taking up 7 GB of space.

iPad Air with 7 GB of Other Wasted Space

iPad Air with 7 GB of “Other” Wasted Space

“Other” is a catch-all of files used by the OS and some apps, but it should never be more than a gigabyte or so. We cropped it down to a much more reasonable size by backing up the iPad Air with iCloud, doing a factory reset, then restoring the tablet from the backup. There was then plenty of space to install the OS upgrade.

Another option is to back up the device to iCloud, do a hard reset to wipe the device, install iOS 8.1, and then restore app files from the backup. Just be aware that, even after installation, iOS 8.1 takes up more room than iOS 7.1 did, so if the iPad is almost completely full, there won’t be room to restore previous content.

Those who have hundreds or thousands of pictures on their iPad should consider uploading these to a cloud storage service then deleting most of them off the device. One good possibility is Microsoft OneDrive, which offers 15 GB of free storage and can be set to automatically back up all images. Or you can hook your Air to a PC and manually move the images.

If these aren’t doing the job and there’s still not sufficient room for an over-the-air installation of iOS 8.1, the only other option is connect the tablet to a computer running iTunes.

Play with iOS 8.1

Once the latest version of iOS is on the tablet, be sure to test out the new features. Check out iCloud Drive. Make a phone call from an iPad Air, or send a text to a non-iPhone friend. Playing around with the new features is the best way to learn to use them.

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