Many tech fans, and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) fans in particular, are eagerly awaiting the release of the forthcoming iOS 8 operating system. Apple always keeps both its hardware and software updates strictly under wraps until it decides that they need to hit the public domain, so little is known about the release date for this critical piece of software. We do know, though, that the Apple iPhone 6 is at the very least highly likely to feature iOS 8 as part of its armory.

iOS 8 image

However, we have heard bits and pieces seeping out about the forthcoming operating system this week. Firstly, there was news of iCloud enhancements along with Preview and TextEdit apps. And since then it has also become clear that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) are planning some big changes to the Maps app and the iTunes Radio service, with the company clearly keen to build iTunes radio as a brand to fit in with its TV and song download services.

iOS 8

iOS 8 images leaked

But now in the last 24 hours, there is a rumor doing the rounds of something really concrete regarding the iOS 8 operating system. Screenshots of the new software have apparently been leaked within China, so Apple fans have their first opportunity to glimpse at what iOS 8 may look like once it is released.

The leaked iOS 8 screenshots were initially posted on the Chinese microblogging service Weibo, and have since been picked up on by 9to5Mac. Certainly the fact that the latter is reporting on this means that this development should be taken seriously, as 9to5Mac has been extremely successful in covering unannounced plans of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) over the years, and has acquired a real ability to sort the wheat from the chaff. 9to5Mac also broke other Apple rumors earlier this week.

According to 9to5Mac, the iOS 8 screenshots have been confirmed as legitimate and authentic by several of the site’s sources. The images will be of real interest to iPhone fans in particular, as they show brand new icons for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s upcoming new Healthbook, Preview, TextEdit and Tips apps.

While the icons may still be works in progress, the leaks nevertheless give Apple fans a significant insight into what iOS 8 might look like. More news on some of the key Apple apps such as Healthbook is expected in the coming weeks as the countdown to the iPhone 6 continues.

iOS 8 settings

iPhone 6 to be radical new smartphone?

Apple has yet to confirm any of its plans for the next generation of its flagship smartphone, but all of the evidence over the last few months points to the iPhone 6 being a radical departure from previous iPhones. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) would appear to be planning to construct the smartphone with sapphire glass, thus ditching the gorilla glass which has been the major constituent material of previous iPhones.

Similarly, there is no word on when the iPhone 6 might hit the market. But it is generally assumed that with the Galaxy S5 hitting the market next month and Samsung having ambitious plans for it, that Apple might move the release date for the iPhone 6 forward. Whatever occurs, iOS 8 is clearly taking shape.