Apple launched iOS — then called iPhone OS — on June 29, 2007, with the very first iPhone. Since then, the mobile operating system has gone through some major upgrades. But it didn’t happen overnight. Every year in the summer, Apple has reinvented the OS, adding new features and redefining what’s possible on all its iDevices.
In 2016, we’re probably going to see the tenth version of iOS. But to really appreciate the new stuff Apple’s about to trot on stage at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco next Monday, remembering the software’s history gives some much-needed perspective. Here’s a look at every version of iOS, the features they introduced, and how it changed the computers in our pockets — year after year.
What was new: In 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and iPhone OS 1 along with it. During the press conference, Jobs referred to the operating system as OS X because it shared a similar Unix core compared to the full-fledged desktop version of the operating system. When Apple launched the iPhone SDK one year later, the name changed to iPhone OS.
Why it was important: The first iPhone is one of the most important gadgets of all time. It took ideas from within the budding mobile industry and made them more people-friendly. The large display defines smartphone design to this day (sorry BlackBerry). It also created the basic “SpringBoard” app — a grid of apps on a screen — that hasn’t changed much in nine years.
Sure, iPhone OS introduced multi-touch and the general underpinnings of Apple’s ideas for mobile computing, but the operating system’s greatest triumph was selling the idea that an iPod, camera, phone, and internet machine could really be packed into one device that fits inside your pocket — and that’d you’d actually want to use it.
What was new: On July 11, 2008, Apple dramatically expanded the capabilities of its mobile operating system with iPhone OS 2. The new version added third-party apps (in what is now known as the App Store) and location services through newly added GPS unit to the iPhone 3G. Apple also introduced its MobileMe cloud software, but the idea never quite took off but elements of which are seen in the modern iCloud.
Why it was important: If iPhone OS was the big bang for mobile computing, iPhone OS 2 was when smartphones climbed out of the primordial ooze. The original iPhone was little more than a walking ad for Apple. Any app you wanted to use had to be made by Apple (or otherwise in a licensing partnership with Apple). Releasing the iPhone OS SDK changed all that and made iPhones infinitely more useful. Apple just barely beat Google to the idea. Android announced Android Market, the precursor to the modern day Play Store, about a month later.
What was new: Apple was still riding high after launching the App Store, but Jobs still had some big advancements for iPhone fans in 2009, including copy/paste tools, MMS support, Spotlight, tethering, and push notifications for third-party applications.
Why it was important: After two years of dramatic reinvention, Apple finally took a breath for some fine-tuning. Nothing in iPhone OS 3 was quite as transformative as its previous two releases, but it created richer third-party apps with push notifications and an easier way to search across the iPhone with Spotlight, a feature that Apple still tinkers with years later.
iPhone OS 3 also introduced a questionable design decision known as skeuomorphism with the release of the iPad that following January. This meant that apps like Newsstand and Notes were digitally designed to look like a newsstand and a notepad. This choice wouldn’t be undone until the introduction of Apple’s radical design change four years later.
What was new: First off, the name. Apple officially dropped the “Phone” part of its mobile OS, which makes sense considering the software now ran on iPods, iPhones, and the new shiny iPad. But the two big blockbuster features were FaceTime and Multitasking.
Why it was important: With iOS 4, we began to see the development cycle that would define Apple for years. In the example of FaceTime, Apple helped establish an ambitious new communication frontier, making the futuristic concept of video phones a reality (at least for iPhone 4 users). At the time, there was nothing that worked nearly as well. It would take popular desktop software like Skype a few more years before the app was finally made available on mobile devices.
Apple also began copying the best ideas from the competition, this time in the form of multitasking. Google had long implemented a limited multitasking feature with Android and would soon copy Palm’s WebOS-based “cards” multitasking model (also copied by Android) in iOS 7.
What was new: iOS was growing up and added three features that make it hard to imagine how we ever lived without them: Notification Center, iMessage, and Siri. Aside from these big updates, Apple introduced (love it or hate it) iCloud and a more functional lock screen.
Why it was important: The platform was beginning to blossom into the modern operating system we know today. Looks aside, Apple began building conveniences on top of its core services like SMS/MMS support and push notifications. With the integration of iMessages, Apple joined the growing popularity of other messaging apps like WhatsApp, which were only able to flourish after Apple opened push notifications to third-party apps two years earlier. After only a few months, iMessage was already drastically changing the mobile landscape.
Siri also gets a lot of shit nowadays for being all-around unimpressive when compared to Google’s digital assistant. But in 2011, Siri was an unbelievable idea. A personal assistant, on your phone, that can do actions on your behalf. It can even tell jokes. It was a major upgrade for the previous Voice Control feature. No doubt, the idea still needed some work, but Siri was an unmistakable glimpse into the future of mobility.
What was new: Apple launched its own mapping service, Apple Maps, along with Passbook, for storing plane tickets, coupons, and other digital ephemera. Siri also got some much needed updates, and Apple no longer bundled the YouTube app on the iPhone
Why it was important: With the release of iOS 6 one thing was clear: Apple and Google were no longer friends. In 2012, Google Maps was well-regarded as the best online mapping service. Steve Jobs even invited Google exec Eric Schmidt to share the stage when Apple launched the original iPhone. With iOS 6, Apple was going to challenge Google’s mapping supremacy.
Unfortunately, Apple launched a less-than-stellar competitor and sacrificed customer service in pursuit of expanding its software reach. Tim Cook even acknowledged that the app didn’t live up to the company’s own standards.
But Apple’s work on Siri turned their voice assistant into a much more useful companion. You could see Apple beginning to deal with the inherent limitations of a closed-source ecosystem, by creating its own notification widgets for Facebook and Twitter. Android previously launched widgets as part of its 2011 software release, Ice Cream Sandwich, a feature brought over from its tablet release, Honeycomb, eight months earlier. It would still take some time for Apple to open up its APIs.
What was new: The operating system was completely overhauled with a more simple design, flatter icons, and Helvetica font. Apps were given edge-to-edge designs and the operating system included a new parallax-scrolling home screen. Apple also introduced the frosted glass Control Center, for quick access to options like the torch, Bluetooth, and another new feature, AirDrop. iOS 7 also added the new Photos app, iTunes Radio, and card-based multitasking. iPhone also introduced Touch ID, though that was more of a hardware feature of the iPhone 5s.
Why it was important: Tim Cook described iOS 7 at WWDC 2013 as “the biggest change to iOS since the introduction of the iPhone”. It was the first significant design change from any mobile operating system that had come before it. Although it had its fair share of criticism, iOS 7 became the new and modern face of iPhone. Our eyes have mostly benefited from Apple’s efforts.
What was new: With an all-new look in iOS 7, Apple returned its focus to iOS usability, specifically giving developers more control throughout iOS. Apple allowed third-party keyboards, widgets, and the ability to share files from different apps and services. Apple launched Testflight, a way for developers to run betas on iOS, as well as a Health app and number of “kits,” such as Research Kit, Health Kit, and Home Kit. Apple also began tinkering with the idea of tearing down the platform wall between iOS and OS X with Continuity.
[Notably, Apple also launched Apple Pay on iOS 8.1 with the release of the iPhone 6 (outfitted with an NFC chip) and Apple Music with iOS 8.4.]
Why was it important: For years, people could use third-party widgets and keyboards on Android. With iOS 8, Apple finally gave developers tools to dig deeper into its operating system. In many ways, Apple was ceding some ideological ground to Google by loosening its tight grip around iOS.
Though not exactly the first of its kind, Apple Pay was arguably the most complete mobile payments platform at the time. Apple also embraced the world of streaming with Apple Music, announced shortly after iOS 8 was released. Adding options like customisable keyboards made it easier for power users to personalise their iPhones without having to jailbreak them. The iPhone still didn’t have the same customisability options as Android, but it was closing the gap.
What was new: iOS 9 focused obsessively on three things: making Siri smarter, Apple Music, and 3D Touch (above). Siri’s brain got an upgrade with what Apple called Proactive, which brought back the full panel Spotlight feature now with intelligence comparable to Google Now. Apps like Notes, Transport, and News got a major overhaul, iPads received multi-window support, and software download sizes were mercifully much smaller than previous releases.
Why it was important: iOS 9 was Apple in catch-up mode. It was the first year that almost everything Apple announced had a tinge of “been there, done that.” Microsoft and Samsung had been doing multi-window support for years, Spotify had been out for nearly four years, and Proactive was just a slightly less powerful version of Google Now. 3D Touch was a new feature for smartphones (and some Android phones have toyed with adding it but have so far resisted). It created context menus for apps on the iPhone home screen and other convenient shortcuts in Mail and keyboard apps. The feature has yet to catch on, but current rumours say Apple might introduce the second generation of the technology in its 2017 iPhone.
Although more imitation than innovation, every addition was necessary steps toward a more open iOS. It was clear that Apple needed to take a breath and get caught up with the rest of the smartphone world.
We have some ideas, but we’ll learn all the details about Apple’s tenth version of iOS at WWDC this Monday at 5pm UK time.