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How to Download iOS 8 and What You'll Get

Once you're ready to get the new software, you have two options to download. But early adopters may face a few issues.
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Bye-bye, iOS 7. Apple's new iOS 8 operating system will be available to download Wednesday.

The new software -- which comes two days before Apple releases the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus -- will feature home and health apps, the ability to answer calls on a Mac, third-party keyboards and other updates.

Here's how to download iOS 8, and what you'll get with it.

When and how to get iOS 8

The iOS 8 update will be available to download -- for iPhone 4S and later models, and all iPads except for the very first model -- at or after 1 p.m. ET Wednesday (if Apple follows years of precedent on timing).

First, just in case something goes awry, consider backing up your phone's data to a cloud service or to your computer via iTunes.

Once you're ready to get the new software, you have two options: Download it directly to your device, or use iTunes on your computer.

To download iOS directly to your phone or tablet, first plug in your device and connect to Wi-Fi. To start the download, go to Settings > General > Software Update and hit the download button. (You'll need 5.7 GB of storage or more of available memory to complete the download, so check your device's available space by clicking Settings > General > Usage.)

Or, you can install iOS via your computer. Plug your device into your Mac or PC and open iTunes, where you'll select your device and receive a prompt to check for and download updates.

Keep in mind that if you're determined to download iOS immediately after it's been unleashed, you may be in for a wait: Millions of users rush to get the new update each year, and Apple's servers are often overwhelmed by the traffic. You may experience slow download speeds or even an error message.

Even if you do score iOS 8 on the early side with no problems, remember that the software won't be ultra-smooth at first. Early downloaders may experience bugs and slowness with iOS 8 itself, and some apps may not immediately be optimized for the new system.

Home, health, messaging and miscellaneous

Apple previewed iOS 8 way back in June -- a lifetime ago in the tech world -- so here's a quick refresher.

HomeKit is Apple's answer to the hot "smart" home field. It lets iPhone-wielders use a single app to control smart fridges, smart lights and other devices made by different manufacturers. The other "Kit" app, HealthKit, tracks health and fitness data (and also sucks in information from rival gadgets).

Updates to the iMessage texting app include the ability to send Snapchat-like messages that self-destruct after a few minutes and the option to mute or leave unwieldy group text conversations. A new predictive text feature called QuickType suggests words and phrases as users type.

Improvements to the camera app make it easier to shoot, edit and search for photos and videos. A "Family Sharing" feature grabs photos from family members' phones to make an album, can manage a calendar, and lets family share purchases from iTunes and the App Store.

Among other miscellaneous updates, Apple will allow third-party keyboards on iOS for the first time.

And when the next big operating system update is released -- OS X Yosemite for Mac, expected in October -- Apple computers, tablets and phones will be able to work together more closely than before. Users will be able to answer phone calls on a Mac, as well as easily move calendar entries, contacts, documents and other items between devices with a feature called Handoff.