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iOS: Everything you need to know about Apple’s mobile OS

Apple changed the smartphone industry when it launched the first iPhone, but the real game-changer is iOS, the software that runs today's iPhones.

It’s easy to forget that when Steve Jobs announced the original iPhone, the software that ran the phone was pretty much overlooked. It took a few years for Apple to rename the mobile operating system to iOS, which now powers all a wide range of Apple devices, from the latest iPhone 7 to the iPod Touch and iPad Pro.

The success of iOS has also influenced Apple’s other platforms, like the Apple Watch’s WatchOS, or tvOS on the Apple TV. Even the MacOS running Apple’s Macs has been developed with better iOS integration in mind.

iOS forms the basis of Apple’s mobile platform, controlling all the different aspects of Apple’s hardware. The fact that Apple controls the entire iPhone ecosystem, including both hardware and software, means that it can offer a more complete experience, getting the best performance from the hardware by clever integration of the software.

It also allows Apple to offer regular software updates to all devices, without requiring testing and approval from different manufacturers or mobile providers.

The history of iOS

The iOS operating system was introduced without a proper name at the Macworld Conference & Expo with the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, but later became referred to as ‘OS X’. A year later the name changed to ‘iPhone OS, and by 2010, with the release of the iPad, the name changed for the final time, to ‘iOS’.

Since 2010, iOS has been updated annually, with specific improvements announced at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. In 2016, Apple announced iOS 10, the latest version of the operating system to run across touchscreen Apple devices.

iOS Timeline

  • iPhone OS 1.x. In 2007, this was the first version released by Apple, introducing a touch-centric system. When it was released, all that was said about this system was that it was the same operating system as Apple Desktops.
  • iPhone OS 2.x. This system was released in 2008, alongside the iPhone 3G. Anyone still operating on a 1.x system was able to upgrade to 2.x, which introduced users to the new ‘App Store’ allowing for applications to be downloaded onto the iPhone and iPod Touch.
  • iPhone OS 3.x. The release of the iPhone 3GS in 2009 came with the updated OS 3.x system. Apple added some new features, among the most valuable being MMS and the copy and paste feature.
  • iOS 4.x. In 2010 the new operating system was release with a new name ‘iOS’. It was the first operating system that was not available for all devices, and was also the first system iPod Touch users could download for free. With this operating system, older devices like the iPhone 3G and iPod Touch 2nd Generation could not use the new multitasking features or the ability to set a wallpaper for the home screen. However, all other more recent devices offer the new multitasking features.
  • iOS 5.x. This was released in 2011 and was available for the iPhone 3GS onwards, iPod Touch 3rd Generation onwards, and all iPads. The new system offered iCloud, iMessages, Reminders, Newsstand, and the ability to sync with iTunes wirelessly. The camera could also now be accessed from the lock screen.
  • iOS 6.x. In 2012, version 6 was released. It only supported iPhone 3GS and later, iPod Touch 4thGeneration and later, and the iPad 2 and later. Apple removed Google Maps and Youtube as default apps, but could still be downloaded for free. Apple made its own built in Maps application, with smoother zooming and spoken navigation in various languages. It also introduced the Passbook app, and Siri was improved with more capabilities such as the ability to make restaurant reservations and find movie reviews. New privacy settings and location services were also new features.
  • iOS 7.x. This version was released in 2013 and is available with the iPhone 4 and onwards, iPod Touch 5th Generation and onwards, the iPad to and onwards, and the iPad Mini and onwards. This version had a completely redesigned interface aiming for a more neat and organised look. Some new features include AirDrop (wireless sharing), more app store search options, a new camera interface, as well as the ability to multitask, meaning you can operate multiple apps at once and flick between them with ease.
  • iOS 8.x. At WWDC in 2014, Apple announced the availability of iOS 8, which it dubbed the “biggest change to iOS since the introduction of the App Store”. Introducing the Apple Pay platform, Reader View for Safari, and Family Sharing, there were also a number of UI improvements across a range of applications. Apple also introduced Homekit and Healthkit APIs, which sowed the seeds for the future of the Health and Home apps on iOS.
  • iOS 9.x. While iOS 8 introduced a number of new features, iOS 9’s arrival in 2015 was more about under the hood improvements to the platform. A new News app replaced Newsstand, and Night Shift mode made the screen’s display warmer at night to reduce eye strain. There was also support for 3D Touch on the iPhone 6S family of devices, and the Passbook app was renamed to Wallet.
  • iOS 10.x. The most recent version of iOS removes the slide to unlock mechanism of iOS, instead relying on a press of the TouchID home button. iMessage received its own app store for stickers, games and other rich content, while Apple introduced the Home app for control of Homekit-enabled home automation hardware. Third party apps can now take advantage of the Siri voice assistant as well.

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