The evolution of iOS

A look at the evolution of Apple's mobile operating system from its birth in 2007 to today.

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS [cover]
IDG / Torsten Dettlaff

Just as a computer would be useless without an operating system, so would a phone. In 2007, Apple changed the game with the introduction of its smartphone and first-ever mobile operating system.

The iPhone itself has evolved dramatically since 2007, and so has iOS. Apple has introduced features in its mobile OS that many users now take for granted, including iMessage, the App Store, FaceTime, Siri, iCloud, Apple Pay, Face ID, and more.

Here we explore the evolution of Apple’s iOS and how it has shaped the functionality of the iPhone and other iOS devices, like the iPod touch and the iPad (which now has its own iPadOS).

iOS 1

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 1 IDG / Apple

Apple’s first-ever touch-centric mobile operating system was announced on Jan. 9, 2007, when former CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. The OS was never officially recognized, but Jobs called it ‘software’ that runs a mobile version of Apple’s desktop OS X. Features included multi-touch gestures, visual voicemail, mobile web browsing on Safari, and a YouTube app. A January 2008 update added a customizable home screen that let users move apps to dedicated “pages” on the device and gave iPod Touch users new apps: Mail, Maps, Weather, Notes, and Stocks. The update was free for iPhone users, but users had to pay $19.99.

iOS 2

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 2 IDG / Apple

After the release of the iPhone SDK on March 6, 2008, Apple officially recognized its mobile operating system as iPhone OS. iPhone OS 2 came prepackaged with the iPhone 3G, and offered features like the App Store, Maps with GPS, and push email. The update was free for iPhone users and $9.95 for iPod Touch users (with free iOS 2.x updates after).

iOS 3

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 3 IDG / Apple

iPhone OS 3 came with the iPhone 3G S and included new features like voice control; multimedia messaging; Spotlight search; a landscape keyboard; and (finally) cut, copy and paste functions. After Apple introduced the iPad in March 2010, iPhone OS became iOS. iOS 3 was free for iPhone users, but iPod Touch users still had to pay $9.95 (with free iOS 3.x updates after). When it became available, the iPad had iOS 3.2 pre-installed; as an incentive for iPod Touch users who still hadn’t updated to iOS 3, the price was reduced by $4.95.

iOS 4

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 4 IDG / Apple

iOS 4 came preinstalled with the iPhone 4 and iPad 2. Officially marketed as ‘iOS,’ it introduced wallpapers, multitasking, folders and FaceTime, and iBooks for iPad. For the first time with iOS 4, iPod touch users did not have to pay to upgrade. The iPhone 4 also became Apple’s first CDMA-capable phone that delivered iOS to Verizon users.

iOS 5

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 5 IDG / Apple

Pre-packaged with the iPhone 4S, a week after the death of Steve Jobs, iOS 5 introduced Siri, Notification Center, iMessage, Reminders, and Newsstand. iOS 5 became notable because it cut the computer cord — users could activate and set up their devices wirelessly and out-of-the-box with over-the-air updates. iOS 5 also brought the introduction of iCloud and Twitter integration.

iOS 6

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 6 IDG / Apple

iOS 6 was included with the iPhone 5 and iPad Mini, and parted ways with pre-installed Google Maps and YouTube, which users had to manually download from the App Store. iOS 6 included Apple’s own Maps app, introducing turn-by-turn navigation, as well as Facebook integration, Passbook, and LTE support.

iOS 7

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 7 IDG / Apple

After iOS 6 became infamous for its Maps controversy, Apple’s then-Senior Vice President of Design (and former Chief Design Officer), Jonathan Ive took over redesigning the iOS after the departure of former Senior Vice President of iOS Software Scott Forstall. iOS 7 trashed its previous skeuomorphic graphics and included a design overhaul with refined typography, new icons, translucency, and layering. Prepackaged with the iPhone 5S, 5C, iPad Air, and iPad mini 2, the flat OS included new features like Control Center, AirDrop for iOS, a revamped Photos app, iTunes Radio, and CarPlay.

iOS 8

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 8 IDG / Apple

Announced at WWDC 2014, iOS 8 came with the iPhone 6 and and the iPad Air 2. It built off of iOS 7 and contained new features like Apple Pay, a new Health app, HandOff, QuickType, Family Sharing, iCloud Drive, third-party keyboard support, and (in mid-2015) Apple Music. iOS 8 became the first iOS to have public beta testing available outside of developers before its initial release.

iOS 9

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 9 IDG / Apple

iOS 9 was designed to work with 3D Touch in the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus when Apple announced it at WWDC 2015. It also included new features such as an updated Notes app to support drawing sketches and adding images, a revamped Maps app with transit directions in select U.S. cities, and a News app, which replaced Newsstand and displayed news from sources such as CNN, Wired, and The New York Times. Passbook was renamed Wallet and supported loyalty cards and gift cards.

To coincide with the introduction of the iPad Pro, the iPad family gained new features like Slide Over and Split View for enhanced multitasking; Picture in Picture to watch videos while in other apps; and shortcut support (cut, copy and paste) for wireless keyboards. iOS 9 improved battery time (up to one hour) and offered a Low Power Mode, a six-digit passcode for added security and Android migration. To combat devices with low storage, iOS 9 was significantly smaller, and apps could automatically delete and then reinstall to accommodate the update.

iOS 10

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 10 IDG / Apple

Apple's WWDC 2016 keynote outlined iOS 10, which delivered a raft of changes to frequently used apps like Messages, better integration involving Siri and 3D Touch, and more access to Apple apps for third-party developers. iOS 10 allowed some Apple apps to be removed from the Home Screen just like any third-party app. A revamped Widgets screen could be accessed with a left-to-right swipe from the Home Screen, and Apple changed the Lock Screen to give users quicker access to information and data without having to unlock the device.

The Maps app continued to evolve as Apple worked to bring it closer to par with its Google counterpart. (Credit the work Apple did on the back end to improve database listings and directions.) Although there weren't big-name "wow" features, the overall combination of tweaks made iOS 10 feel more cohesive and useful.

iOS 11

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 11 IDG / Apple

Apple previewed iOS 11 at its annual WWDC conference in June 2017. It introduced a new app for iPad called Files, reminiscent of macOS’s Finder, for users to browse, search, and organize files on their device from iCloud Drive, Box, and Dropbox. A new customizable dock feature also let users open and switch apps instantly with a simple swipe. Users could open a second app right from the Dock, and new Drag and Drop capabilities allowed users to move text, photos, and files from one app to another. With Apple Pencil, users could easily mark up PDFs or screenshots, or tap the Lock Screen to open the Notes app.

Notes featured a special algorithm that could search handwriting and had the capability to quickly scan and mark up documents. QuickType featured one inclusive keyboard, and with a simple flick, users could quickly select letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuation marks from one place. A new ARKit enabled developers to bring augmented reality to hundreds of millions of iOS devices. Users could now send money to friends via Apple Pay in Messages, and a new Apple Pay Cash card could be used to shop online and within apps and transfer money to personal bank accounts.

The App Store received a new design, Siri acquired a refreshed and more natural voice, Control Center was redesigned and customizable, and Maps featured indoor maps for airports and shopping malls. Do Not Disturb could also be activated when driving to avoid distracting notifications. Holding a new iPhone or iPad near an iOS device or Mac triggered an Automatic Setup that quickly imported personal settings, preferences, and iCloud Keychain passwords. 

iOS 12

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 12 IDG / Apple

Apple unveiled its preview of iOS 12 at WWDC 2018. The update was designed to make devices released as far back as 2013 faster and more responsive with swift app launch times. Users with AR-compatible hardware could share experiences, use object detection, and add image tracking to make apps more dynamic. Apple and Pixar designed a new open file format for AR apps called usdz which made it possible to experience AR through any app in iOS. iPhone X users could use the new Measure app to accurately measure objects in three-dimensional space in real-time.

iOS 12 also debuted personalized animated “Memoji” characters for iPhone X users. Group FaceTime could include up to 32 users at once via video or audio. With Siri Shortcuts, users could create simple voice commands to enable Siri to execute tasks in any app. Screen Time provided detailed information and analytics about the time spent interacting with apps. iBooks was renamed Apple Books; the Stocks and Voice Memos apps were revamped; CarPlay received support for third-party navigational apps like Waze and Google Maps; Safari gained further privacy protections with Intelligent Tracking Prevention.

iOS 13

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 13 IDG / Apple

In June 2019, Apple unveiled iOS 13. The revamped mobile OS introduced Dark Mode, a redesigned volume indicator, and advanced Photo and Camera features. A new "Sign In with Apple" option let users use their Apple ID to sign into apps or websites instead of authenticating with social accounts or personal email addresses. The update included faster and more responsive optimizations that improved app launch, reduced app download sizes, and provided faster Face ID unlocking.

A new Maps experience delivered richer details, broader road coverage, and better pedestrian data, and a new Look Around feature provided street-level graphics for the first time. CarPlay received its biggest update yet with a new Dashboard to view music, maps, and more. And Messages automatically shared a user’s name, photo, or customized Memoji or Animoji.

iOS 14

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 14 IDG / Apple

For the first time, Apple used a pre-recorded broadcast of WWDC (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) to unveil iOS 14. The new update offered ways to customize the iPhone Home Screen with widgets and an App Library to declutter folders by organizing apps into a central location. Incoming FaceTime and phone call notifications and Siri interactions became more compact, allowing users to stay within apps or multitask.

Picture-in-Picture support enabled users to watch videos or use FaceTime while working in other apps. App Clips let users discover and access apps via a new Apple-designed App Clip code or through NFC tags, QR codes, Messages, or Safari. Users could easily pin Message conversations to the top of the app and directly reply to messages within a thread. The Maps app received Cycling directions, and a new Car Key feature allowed users to securely unlock and start their NFC-compatible vehicles.

Later updates, including iOS 14.5, introduced App Privacy “Nutrition Labels” to provide information about privacy practices for specific apps, automatic iPhone unlocking with Apple Watch for Face ID users while wearing masks, App Tracking Transparency within apps, and Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos and Lossless Audio for Apple Music.

iOS 15

Computerworld > The Evolution of iOS > iOS 15 IDG / Apple

Apple previewed iOS 15 at another virtual WWDC. iOS 15 includes significant changes to FaceTime (allowing the ability to include non-iOS users for the first time), SharePlay for shared experiences while watching videos and listening to music, and a totally revamped Apple Maps with Augmented Reality features. New Focus tools reduce distraction while working or sleeping; the Weather app includes redesigned graphics and data; and the Wallet app has been updated to support home keys and ID cards.

Notifications have been redesigned, and enhanced on-device intelligence allows users to select text within Photos or use Visual Look Up to learn more about popular art and landmarks around the world. iCloud+ also introduces new premium features, including Hide My Email, expanded HomeKit Secure Video support, and iCloud Private Relay at no additional cost. And Apple will even allow users to choose to remain on iOS 14 if they're not ready to upgrade when iOS 15 arrives later this fall.


Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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