Apple’s iOS, Then+Now: Survival of the Fittest

The history of iOS

iPhone OS

The birth of an era

In 2007, Apple ushered in a new era of digital communication with the debut of the iPhone–although nobody knew it yet. This was a time before the App Store, multitasking, and homescreen pages, when the iPhone’s OS offered little more than a simple, touch-based interface.

The first iteration of Apple’s smartphone ran iPhone OS, which lacked support for third-party apps. Instead, Apple bundled its mobile OS with a number of stock apps, and encouraged developers to create web apps for the iPhone.

The bundled apps included Mail, iPod, Calendar, Photos, Clock, Text, Safari, Notes, YouTube, Calculator, Maps, Settings, Camera, Stocks, and Phone.

iOS Original

iPhone OS 2

Enter the App Store

iPhone OS 2 debuted in 2008, alongside the iPhone 3GS and perhaps the most significant iPhone component to date – the App Store. Concurrently with the release of the iOS SDK, Apple’s App Store opened the door for developers to create countless apps for the iPhone.

Support for third-party apps pushed the iPhone ahead of the competition by enabling it to function as a limitless canvas for ideas. The App Store helped drive the popularity of mobile app development, leading to the rise of other notable App markets, like Google Play and the Windows Phone Store.


Other notable functionalities introduced in version two of iPhone OS included iGPS, Microsoft Exchange support, Scientific Calculator, 3rd party native apps support, and MobileMe.

iPhone OS 3

Mind the gap

Apple’s third mobile OS release, introduced in 2009, was more about filling in the gaps left by the last two releases than anything else. Some of the missing features that iPhone OS 3 brought to the platform are:

  • Cut + copy + paste support
  • Spotlight search
  • Push notifications for 3rd party apps
  • MMS support
  • Landscape keyboard
  • USB + Bluetooth tethering

In typical Apple fashion, however, iPhone OS 3 didn’t just integrate missing features – it introduced several highly innovative features.

Among the most notable of these features are “Find My iPhone,” in-app purchases, autofill forms in Safari, tap-to-focus within the camera app, and the ability to buy movies, TV shows, and books from inside the iTunes app.

iOS 3.2

“The iPad is just a larger iPhone.”

With its release, the second revision to iPhone OS 3 ushered in a new naming scheme for the mobile OS: “iOS x.x” was born. iOS 3.2 marked the release of the original iPad, which received both critical acclaim and widespread criticisms. Irrespective of public opinion, the iPad proved to be a revolutionary product that has shaped the future of technology in countless ways.

The release of the iPad prompted several changes to the functionality of iOS, in response to new UI paradigms that arose when a larger screen was introduced.

iPad 3.2

Among these changes were:

  • The introduction of stock apps that take advantage of advances in readability, such as iBooks
  • A new, native app-view for iPad apps
  • Bluetooth keyboard support

iOS 4

The retina display is born

iOS 4 was released alongside the famed iPhone 4 which turned out to be both a resounding success, and a brutal disaster. Upon its initial release, users of the fourth iPhone experienced major signal-loss issues in a scandal that came to be known lovingly as antennagate.

Apple introduced several important features with this update that have been incorporated into every subsequent release of the OS. Namely, this includes the introduction of the Retina Display, FaceTime, multitasking, homescreen folders, and a unified email inbox.

Subsequent updates to the fourth iteration of the mobile OS brought:

  • Game Center
  • TV rentals
  • HDR photos
  • iPad multitasking
  • iPad folders
  • Verizon support
iOS 4

iOS 5

“Siri, open the pod bay doors.”

The fifth release of Apples mobile OS saw the introduction of everybody’s favorite personal assistant, Siri. Amid a sea of dysfunctional voice-search implementations, Siri was a breath of fresh air—it just worked. The first incarnation of the search function had several bugs, but they were hammered out in subsequent updates to the OS.

iOS 5 introduced iPhone users to iMessage, a web-based instant messenger service that was integrated into the Messages app, allowing for lightning fast messaging between iOS devices. Eventually, iMessage was brought to OS X and the second iPad, and has since become a staple of Apple product users.


Other notable new features included:

  • Newsstand
  • iCloud
  • iTunes
  • Wi-Fi Sync

iOS 6

Who needs Google Maps?

“Who needs Google Maps?”—this is the question that Apple posed to iPhone users with the release of iOS 6. In its sixth incarnation, Apple’s mobile OS dropped Google’s maps application in favor of its own implementation.

Unfortunately, the answer to this question appeared to be a resounding “lots of people, actually.”

When it was released, Apple Maps was riddled with bugs such as extensive issues rendering 3D map content, navigation instructions that attempted to lead users onto airport runways, random sections of greyscale maps, and entire swatches of map content that had been designated as “Nature Park.”


Apple brought more to the table with this release than just a poorly designed Google Maps knockoff—new features introduced in iOS 6 include Panorama mode in the camera app, shared Photo Streams, and the highly innovative Passbook.

iOS 7

“How do you like me, now?”

The seventh release of Apple’s mobile operating system marked the first visual overhaul of iOS since its release. The new interface design was put together under the watchful eye of Jony Ive, who advocated for flattened graphics, colorful gradients, transparency, layered elements, and new animations.

iOS 7 also introduced several innovative features, such as Control Center, AirDrop, and FaceTime Audio. Of these, Control Center is perhaps the most significant, as it represents a departure from the catch-up game that iOS had played for the previous few releases.


iOS 8

“New power for developers,” finally.

iOS 8 is the current release, and aims to fill the precedent set by its predecessor, by building on the stylistic cues, workflows, and feature set of iOS 7. iOS 8 keeps with the new design (UI Design & UX) aesthetic of iOS 7, by emphasizing the same colorful gradients, transparencies, and layered elements.

Among the most significant changes introduced in this revision was Apple’s choice to open up the platform in ways previously only available on Android phones. Namely, in iOS 8, users are able to install third-party keyboards, apps are able to share data in new ways, Touch ID has been opened up to third-party developers, and HealthKit, HomeKit, and ResearchKit have been introduced into the ecosystem.


HealthKit is a framework that allows health and fitness apps to communicate amongst each other in order to facilitate an efficient network of health information. HomeKit is a similar framework for controlling connected accessories and appliances across a user’s home, right from a user’s phone.

ResearchKit allows users to participate in research studies just by performing activities with their iPhone and, in turn, generating statistical data. By utilizing the sensors embedded in the iPhone in conjunction with the sheer number of iPhones across the world, ResearchKit promises to revolutionize the way medical research studies are conducted.

Other notable features include new widgets, QuickType, iCloud Drive, and Family Sharing.

iOS 9

What’s next for iOS?

Looking to the future, what can we expect from iOS 9? The ninth iteration of Apple’s mobile OS will bring a number of new features to the platform, many of which already exist on Android phones. In fact, this release seems to be a step back from iOS 8, which attempted to depart from playing catchup to Android.

Consider the top additions to iOS 9:

  • The News app, which organizes news stories across multiple publishers, in a beautiful way
  • Improvements to the Notes app, such as the ability to add notes from anywhere in iOS

  • Improvements to the Maps app, such as the ability to use public transportation navigation services–something Android has offered for through Google Maps for years
  • Improvements to Apple Pay, to make it function more like Google Wallet, as well as the ability to access the payment system even when the iPhone is locked
  • The addition of CarPlay
  • Smart Siri, a contender to Google Now
  • Split-screen view on iPads running iOS 9
  • The addition of Low Power mode, which closely resembles a feature already present in Android

Altogether, these updates to Apple’s mobile OS are relatively substantial. However, many of the features added to this release are already present in Android, so while it is understandable that Apple would wish to supply these features, there is something missing here.

The magic is gone. The innovation that Steve Jobs brought to Apple’s mobile OS is blatantly missing from this release, and from many that came before it. The innovation that Apple once brought to the mobile OS ecosystem has disappeared.

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