- iOS is Apple’s mobile operating system, which runs on the iPhone and iPod touch, and formerly on the iPad.
- The innovative operating system debuted in 2007, spawning the smartphone revolution.
- Currently, iOS 14 is the most recent version available to end-users, with iOS 15 coming in a few months.
- iOS runs on over a billion devices today and accounts for approximately one-quarter of global smartphone operating system market share.
Why Not Just Read Wikipedia?
Wikipedia offers an article about each version of iOS, and they’re worth reading. They’re also problematic. Like much of history, there’s a lot of revisionism and hero-worshipping. For example, a small cadre of Apple-friendly tech writers, none of whom have actually worked in technology, seem to have dominated and shaped the Wikipedia entries. Apple’s public relations also seem to have revised history. After a certain point, the “Problems” section disappeared entirely, with iOS 13 and 14’s defects significantly understated.
I’ve been using Apple products since the early 80s. My elementary school introduced me to the Apple IIe in the third grade. Before this, my father, a professor, regularly appropriated a Commodore PET for home use. I’ve worked as a software engineer for two decades and written millions of lines of code. I’ve owned and used just about every Apple device ever made. Yet, the dominant voices in Apple tech journalism hold English degrees from average colleges. It helps them to have good connections and accommodate corporate interests. Does it help you?
iOS Has Come a Long Way
The first iPhone was a giant leap from the primordial soup of Blackberries and LG Pradas. While some companies came amazingly close to designing the modern smartphone, it took Steve Jobs’ drive and ambition to create something entirely different.
The iPhone was the first true smartphone. Some may bristle at this statement; however, the iconic device’s interface forms the basis of all modern smartphones. Android originally ripped off Blackberry, then rapidly pivoted into an iPhone clone. Over time, Android evolved away from iOS, but the two operating systems now converge as both companies mimic each other.
The differences between modern-day Android and Apple smartphones are minor; however, the Cupertino company’s compelling marketing, ecosystem, and simplicity seem to attract more lucrative customers. iOS is critical to the iPhone’s success, and the company pours billions of dollars into research and development.
iOS (formerly iPhone OS) offered features such as a capable browser, email client, and productivity software from day one. Over time, iOS has grown to embrace corporate, home, and semi-professional users, such as social media influencers. Let’s look at how iOS has changed over time, starting before iPhone OS 1 and ending with the soon-to-be-released iOS 15.
Apple’s First Mobile Operating Systems
iOS wasn’t Apple’s first mobile operating system. In the 1990s, Apple’s ill-fated Newton ran on an appropriately named operating system — Newton OS. Microsoft also developed a mobile operating system known as Windows CE around the same time. Along with the Palm Pilot, this was the first wave of mobile devices. For the most part, these were intended for executives, appropriately dubbed as “personal digital assistants”.
The Newton didn’t last long, as its features, such as handwriting recognition, were notoriously defective. Apple abandoned its line of mobile devices for professionals, only to reconsider portable electronics with Steve Jobs’ return.
When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, the company began to focus on consumer electronics. One of the first new products under Jobs’ regime was the iMac, a computer designed to get regular consumers on the Internet with ease. Although it didn’t sway many users away from their Windows PCs, the product developed a cult following among fashionable young professionals and college students.
The iPod was the first smash-hit portable digital computing device. One could claim the Sony Discman as being the first; however, it lacked the sophistication of an iPod as it could only play one disc at a time. The iPod gave consumers the ability to fit thousands of songs in their pockets. It changed the world, and although people have long forgotten the iPod, we still see its afterglow in contemporary tech products. The iPod influenced the iPhone, and then it became a sort of iPhone without a cellular connection or phone app.
Much like iOS, Mac OS X forms the basis of the first iPod operating system. OS X itself derives from the NeXT operating system, created by a company founded by Jobs. Even when Steve Jobs was away from Apple, he worked on creating the future of the company.
Apple eventually replaced the iPod’s operating system with iOS. The company still sells its iconic iPod, which looks exactly like an iPhone. Starting at only $199, the device features an antiquated A10 processor yet can accomplish most iPhone tasks. Theoretically, users could install telephony software to convert an iPod touch into a phone; however, without cellular capabilities, its portability is drastically limited.
The iPod’s original OS was vastly limited in terms of features. As a music player, it didn’t even offer essential file management. Users required a computer with iTunes software to accomplish basic tasks, such as adding and deleting music from the device. Eventually, the iPod gained video capabilities, as Apple once again leveraged its Mac OS X codebase.
The evolution from iPod OS to iPhone OS, now known as iOS, was not trivial. The first version of the iPhone’s operating system gave users a small, elegant touchscreen computer that fit in their pockets. Apple leapfrogged Blackberry on the very first version, gradually rendering the once-popular phone irrelevant.
iPhone OS 1 (iOS 1) – 2007
The first iPhone revolutionized the world, with hardware and software leapfrogging the competition. Before the iPhone, Research in Motion’s Blackberry was the leader in mobile technology.
If you watch TV shows from the mid-2000s, you’ll witness the Blackberry’s cultural significance. It enabled users to communicate over text and email, in addition to functioning as a cellular phone. Employers could now access their minions around the clock, making it popular in the corporate world. The Blackberry was used so habitually by its owners that it earned the nickname “Crackberry”.
Debuting in 2007, the iPhone eventually rendered the Blackberry obsolete. Few even contemplate the once-popular device. By making a more capable cell phone, Apple created the first smartphone. With a fully-featured web browser, email, texting, and a small productivity software suite, the iPhone was more of a miniaturized Mac than a Blackberry ripoff.
iPhone OS 1, the first version of iOS, is one of the most significant achievements in computing history. Virtually every smartphone today owes its existence to the iPhone and iOS. The notion of using a touchscreen, an onscreen keyboard, and essentially enjoying a computer-like experience on a handheld device was unique to the first iPhone.
The first version of iOS didn’t feature the App Store. Instead, Steve Jobs envisioned a third-party ecosystem of web apps for the iPhone’s content. Apple would create native apps, and third-party websites would handle the rest.
With its revolutionary, almost fully functional browser, the iPhone was compatible with most websites. Perhaps some sites with extensive and advanced client-side scripting, such as online office productivity software, were incompatible. Apple would offer native apps to bridge the gap. The following apps were available on the first version of iOS:
- Music (iPod Touch)
- Videos (iPod Touch)
Today, it’s hard to believe that the iPhone offered so few apps. At the time, Apple’s iconic device was remarkably advanced. Just having a decent browser on a phone was a game-changer.
Virtually every Apple product launches with some controversy or issue. The iPhone is one of Apple’s best-made products and receives top ratings and recommendations from Consumer Reports and other established organizations. Nonetheless, it isn’t perfect. Adding to this phenomenon, the media has an incentive to blow Apple flaws out of proportion, as it earns eyeballs on websites and videos.
The first iPhone’s exorbitant cost displeased critics. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer remarked that no one would buy an iPhone because it was simply too expensive. Despite costing over $2000 to purchase and service for one year, consumers flocked to Apple’s smartphone. The rest is history.
Dropped calls were another issue that plagued the first iPhone. The iPhone proved to be an inferior phone, particularly in buildings and the hilly terrain of San Francisco. With AT&T as the only service provider, users had no choice. Apple blamed AT&T for the majority of cellular connection issues. Apple and AT&T eventually fixed the defects, and a variety of cellular providers now support the iPhone.
iPhone OS 2 (iOS 2) – 2008
iPhone OS 2 launched alongside the iPhone 3G, which was the successor to the original iPhone. The “3G” description refers to the device’s support for 3G networks, which were relatively new at the time.
As rogue software enthusiasts started “jailbreaking” their iPhones to install third-party apps, Apple realized web apps weren’t going to cut it. The company released software development tools alongside the App Store to allow third-party development and software sales. Apple took one-third of developers’ revenues while designing the iPhone’s operating system to prevent installing apps from the web. Unlike Windows, macOS, or Android, the iPhone still doesn’t allow installation of third-party apps outside of the App Store.
The App Store is the most critical feature of iPhone OS 2. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and Software Development Kits (SDKs) were also part of the iPhone OS 2 release. These tools enable third-party developers to create iPhone software.
Apple’s second-generation mobile operating system also added support for Microsoft ActiveSync, allowing corporate users enhanced connectivity with popular desktop apps. Other features, such as enhancements to Mail, Maps, Calculator, and Contacts, rounded out a hefty release. The App Store alone, although just one component, required the creation of tools and code libraries to build apps.
Without any serious competition, Apple’s mobile operating system was still the leader. Some critics complained of minor defects; however, iPhone OS 2 met with more praise than criticism. Some say this was the actual birth of the smartphone, as third-party apps are critical to any computing platform.
“Applegates”, where flaws in Apple products echo around the web, had yet to be born, as the company, although well known and growing rapidly, was still a niche player. The original iPhone’s dropped calls did attract media attention, including an admonishment from John Stewart on The Daily Show. However, it wasn’t until the iPhone 4’s antenna issue that the phenomenon of appending “gate” to “Apple” became a mainstay of the corporate tech media.
iPhone OS 3 (iOS 3) – 2009
iPhone OS 3 is the final version bearing this awkward moniker. The third version of Apple’s mobile operating system launched alongside the iPhone 3GS, a significant upgrade to the 3G model. iPhone OS 3 also supported the recently launched iPad, which necessitated the operating system’s name reassignment.
Users finally gained the ability to cut, copy and paste text virtually anywhere on the iPhone. This version also debuted Spotlight, a powerful search tool once only available on the Mac. Apple also gave users the ability to send MMS multimedia attachments. This feature came in handy as iPhone OS 3 enabled video recording on the latest and greatest model of its time — the iPhone 3GS. Apple also added a convenient Voice Memos app to its mobile operating system.
iPhone OS 3 is the first version that was provided free of charge. Before this release, Apple required end-users to pay to upgrade their iPhones. Charging for a mobile operating system update is almost an offensive concept these days. Apple actually charged iPod touch owners up to ten dollars to upgrade to iPhone OS 3.
Apple customers are still paying for iOS updates; however, it’s part of the iPhone’s price. After all, who else is going to purchase an iOS update? Hidden pricing also expedites user adoption of every new version, a statistic that Apple boasts at every WWDC. If people still had to pay five to ten dollars for iOS, you’d see far fewer installations.
iPhone OS 3 seems to be free of controversial defects. It isn’t easy to find accurate information, as search engines tend to sink relevant pages. Searches for “iPhone OS 3” reveal more results about iOS 14.3, as search engines incorrectly consider these pages more relevant. This is all the more reason to create a complete history of iOS, as writers have scattered this information across different articles.
Overall, iPhone OS 3 seems to be the calm before the storm. People accepted some defects, as smartphones were so new. Also, the iPhone’s functionality was still stripped down at this point. With fewer features, there’s usually higher software quality. If you owned an iPhone, you loved it because there was nothing else like it. Android was just emerging and wasn’t serious competition.
iOS 4 – 2010
The beginning of a new decade marked a radical shift for Apple. The iPhone was now a mature device, with the sleek, new sophisticated iPhone 4. This model was so successful, both in terms of sales and design, Apple eventually returned to this iconic form. The latest iPhone and iPad models bear a striking resemblance to the iPhone 4. It was the first iPhone I owned. I still have it, and though I rarely use it, it still “just works”.
iOS 4 was a radical departure from previous versions. First and foremost, those who owned the latest iPhone 4 could finally enjoy rudimentary multitasking. An iPhone 4 running iOS 4 could play music in a background thread while another app ran in the foreground. Users could also open apps while on phone calls. If that wasn’t enough, switching between apps was as easy as double-tapping the Home button. iOS 4 cached apps so that they quickly came back to life, almost as if they were running in the background.
As Android devices grew in popularity, their customization started to make the iPhone look bad. Although Android offered end users far more freedom, iOS 4 brought some customization features to the iPhone. Users could now set up custom wallpapers and organize apps in folders. Widgets, which were fixtures on Android from the beginning, didn’t show up in iOS for years. iOS widgets still aren’t as capable as their Android analogs.
iOS 4 made it easier to work with documents with the addition of system-wide spell checking. Apple also made it possible for users to merge multiple email accounts into one inbox. Game Center, FaceTime, and the addition of a 5X digital zoom made iOS more playful, social, and creative.
In an apparent swipe at Google, Steve Jobs introduced the addition of Bing to Safari’s default search options. The tech leader vowed to go thermonuclear on Google for “stealing” the iPhone. This seems to be part of the assault. The move also gave consumers more options for search, but few use Bing by choice.
Apple’s popularity started to become a problem. Tech writers discovered that blowing a minor flaw out of proportion resulted in more page views. Thus, the era of “Applegates” was born. There were a few minor, preceding scandals; however, iOS 4 brought about the age of primarily manufactured Apple “scandals”.
The iPhone 4 featured an internal antenna running around the perimeter of the device. As with all cellular phones, holding the iPhone 4 in a particular way could result in poor signal strength. At the time, I still owned a Samsung flip phone, which had a sticker telling users not to hold it in a specific area. Nonetheless, “Antennagate” became such a spectacle, Steve Jobs had to give free bumper cases to iPhone 4 customers. The free accessory helped prevent direct contact with the phone, enhancing signal strength.
Another iOS 4 flaw with some merit surrounds the iPhone 3G. After upgrading to iOS 4, iPhone 3G users experienced greatly diminished battery life and poor performance. This issue resulted in a lawsuit. Apple addressed the issue with another software update.
The alarm clock app in iOS 4 had a problem recognizing daylight savings time. The app sounded the alarm either one hour early or late. Needless to say, such a critical failure can result in significant life problems. People can miss flights and important meetings and, in some cases, face termination of employment.
iOS 5 – 2011
Apple didn’t rest on its laurels with iOS 5. The release packed a wide array of complex features into Apple’s popular mobile operating system. Siri made its debut in iOS 5, along with Notification Center, iMessage, and iCloud. The iPad gained support for multitasking gestures, and Twitter latched on to the Apple ecosystem.
Siri, Apple’s intelligent personal assistant, launched alongside iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S. As with many product launches, Apple made its most exciting new feature exclusive to its latest iPhone.
iCloud and iMessage were major advancements for Apple. iCloud’s storage capabilities provided much-needed revenues for Apple, as customers paid monthly fees for cloud-based storage. With iOS 5, users could make do with cheaper, lower-capacity iPhones and purchase a subscription for online storage. Apple profited whether the user bought an inexpensive or top-of-the-line model with the highest storage capacity.
Messages proved to be one of Apple’s most successful apps. Research shows that people communicate using Apple’s iMessage more than any other messaging platform in the US, and it’s the lynchpin of Apple’s iPhone strategy. It’s one of the reasons so many stick with the iPhone.
Many Android devices still use standard SMS/MMS. When Android users communicate with iOS, their messages appear in green bubbles, which some feel denotes an inferior status. Some women won’t date men who use Android phones because of this perceived low status. iPhone users also can’t see when an Android user is typing a message.
iOS 5 was the first version to offer downloadable software updates. Earlier versions of iOS required a Windows or Mac OS X-based computer to install iOS and iPhone OS updates. Before iOS 5, users had to plug their iPhone into a computer to upgrade it, using Apple’s clumsy iTunes software. Android devices offered downloadable OS updates years before the iPhone.
Reminders and Newsstand were also fixtures in iOS 5. The initial Reminders app was so poor that users couldn’t even rearrange items on a list. That advanced technology would come later, revealing Apple’s ineptitude with developing apps for its smartphone.
Apple’s fumbles provided opportunities for third-party developers to outshine the iPhone maker. Apple would later “Sherlock” some of these apps by incorporating similar features into iOS without acknowledgment, permission, or payment.
I clearly remember how defective iOS 5 was. In fact, iOS 5 led to the birth of Appledystopia. After purchasing an iPhone 4, iPad 2, and Apple TV 2, the transition from iOS 4 to iOS 5 was one of stability to fragility. Most notably, Apple’s ecosystem, including AirPlay, which debuted in iOS 4.2, was utterly broken in iOS 5.
iOS 5 sucked so bad that I started Appledystopia as a response. What was once a utopia quickly became a nightmare within a few months. I had just cut the cord, canceled cable, and resolved to stick with my Apple TV. The setup worked well under iOS 4. With iOS 5, there were just too many defects. I remember watching a movie I rented on iTunes, beaming it to Apple TV from my iPad, and my iPad just restarted itself. That was a long, frustrating night!
Beyond my personal experiences, iOS 5 plagued iPhone 4S owners with poor battery life. Apple eventually fixed this with a software update. Simply upgrading to iOS 5 proved difficult, as Apple’s servers were overwhelmed. If that wasn’t enough, iOS 5 users experienced dropped WiFi connections and echos in phone calls. Apple eventually fixed all of these issues, but the overall quality of iOS 5 was relatively poor.
iOS 6 – 2012
iOS 6 was one of the most notorious releases in Apple history. Apple moved away from its Google Maps-based mapping app, releasing one of the most maligned and disrespected apps of all time — Apple Maps. The entire Internet laughed at Apple’s massive fail. Apple leadership removed Scott Forstall over the Maps debacle.
Other enhancements, such as improvements to Siri and the ability to use FaceTime over a cellular connection, were sidelined by Maps. Years after iOS 6, Apple Maps remained a stain on the Cupertino tech giant. The hit HBO show Silicon Valley even mocked Apple Maps years after iOS 6 debuted.
The reality is, both Apple Maps and iOS 6 were respectable releases. Although Apple Maps wasn’t as dependable as Google Maps on its initial release, the app has proven advantageous over time. Today, many prefer Apple Maps, with its deep integration in the iOS experience.
As previously mentioned, Apple Maps was the biggest change in iOS 6. Although it met with harsh reception, most of the problems surrounded superfluous features, such as its 3D flyover view, which rendered buildings as if they were melting. Apple Maps was more reliable at launch than many built-in automobile navigation systems and aftermarket GPS navigation units. Apple Maps’ minor failures went viral because the tech media figured out that Mapgates was as effective at attracting readers as Antennagate.
Siri became more capable in iOS 6. It gained the ability to make reservations, read movie reviews, interact with Twitter, and, most importantly, launch apps. Apple added a new Podcasts app in iOS 6, which was highly defective at launch. Panoramic photos made their way into the iPhone’s camera with iOS 6. Apple’s mobile operating system also gained the ability to reply to calls with canned messages. As mentioned, Facetime gained the ability to operate over cellular connections, making video chat more portable and accessible.
Apple Maps was the chief controversy of iOS 6. Incredibly, this fact has been revised away by most tech writers. Anyone who had an iPhone back then was aware of the Maps controversy, and almost everyone shared the same opinion — Apple Maps is horrible, bring back Google Maps. Apple Maps was perceived as being so inferior that jokes about its poor quality persisted for years.
Everything else in iOS 6 was fairly positive. Apple discontinued its YouTube app, which, along with Apple Maps, seemed to be a competitive jab against Google. The company instructed users to watch YouTube over the web, while Google created a native YouTube iOS app.
At the end of iOS 6’s life cycle, a certificate necessary for FaceTime expired. Users were forced to either upgrade to iOS 7 or do without FaceTime. Some devices weren’t eligible for the iOS 7 upgrade. Apple eventually created the iOS 6.1.6 update to restore FaceTime functionality to older devices.
iOS 7 – 2013
iOS 7 was a radical departure from the look and feel of prior releases. Apple moved away from its “skeuomorphic” design aesthetic, where icons and user interface elements resemble real-world objects. The wooden bookshelf design used in Newsstand is a perfect example of skeuomorphism. Jony Ive instead opted for a flat look, removing 3D rendering, wood grain, and other textures made to resemble actual objects. The Internet blew up over this redesign; however, when the dust settled, virtually every tech corporation flattened and abstracted their look and feel similarly.
iOS 7, being a complete user interface overhaul, introduced some exciting concepts that are still fixtures in Apple’s present-day mobile operating system. The update attempted to unify the user interface while providing quick access to frequently used functionality.
CarPlay made its debut in iOS 7. The initial version required a wired USB connection to the car, offering a sparse set of features. Unlike CarPlay, Apple’s AirDrop peer-to-peer file-sharing technology was simple enough to get right the first time. It’s remained in iOS without any significant changes.
Control Center was one of the most conspicuous additions to iOS 7. Users could swipe up and quickly control Airplane mode, rotation lock, WiFi, flashlight, and other settings. Control Center also furnished media controls when users played videos or music.
Apple improved Notification Center in iOS 7. The new hub for app messages sported three tabs – Today, All, and Missed. It also synced messages across the ecosystem, so dismissing it once on one’s iPhone would prevent the Notification from appearing on one’s iPad. The lock screen also gained the ability to display Notifications.
The App Switcher in iOS 7 displayed thumbnails of active apps while switching. This made it possible to view the information in a document without actually launching the app itself.
Siri also got smarter in iOS 7. Apple’s intelligent assistant received a complete visual overhaul, complete with special effects. Users could now change Siri’s gender. Apple also made Bing the default search engine in Siri, a move that would later prove lucrative, as Google now pays Apple billions of dollars a year for this privilege.
Aside from the typical battery life issues, which seem to be caused by post-installation optimizations made in the background, iOS 7’s visual transformation was most controversial. You either loved it or hated it, and most people hated it. Social media memes poked fun at the silly icons, some personally designed by Jony Ive. The Newsstand icon took a beating in social media and the press, often denounced as childish.
Like it or hate it, every key player in tech copied design elements from iOS 7. From Google to Facebook to news websites like USA Today, they all moved away from three-dimensional graphics to simple, flat icons. As with many trends, three-dimensional icons and skeuomorphism are making a comeback. Still, iOS 7 is a perfect example of the media mocking Apple, not realizing it redefined graphic design trends.
iOS 8 – 2014
Expanding its ecosystem interoperability and accommodating third-party developers, iOS 8 was a complicated and troubled release. In terms of features, everything was on point. Apple leveraged its ecosystem and opened up more access for third-party developers. However, the quality of this release was one of the worst in iOS history, particularly for older iPads. Installing iOS 8 on my iPad 2 essentially rendered it useless.
Apple Music debuted later in the iOS 8 release cycle, adding even more defects into the mix. For a massive corporation, iOS 8 showed the world Apple’s ineptitude. The company couldn’t even handle the basics of a music app, such as adding songs to a playlist. Lucky for Apple, most of the other music apps were just as bad.
iOS 8 was proof that Apple bit off more than they could chew. They ended up spitting out that hard-to-swallow mouthful on the end-user. Against my better judgment, I ended up buying another iPad a year later, as iOS 8 made mine unusable.
Continuity in iOS 8 enabled Apple customers to switch between devices seamlessly. If you were working on your MacBook and your iPhone was in another room, you could answer your calls on the Mac. The Handoff feature allows a user to continue browsing a web page or edit a document on another Apple device. Both Continuity and Handoff are still fixtures in iOS.
Apple also created a safe “Extensibility” framework for third-party extensions in iOS 8. The system enabled third-party developers to create custom plugins for apps. For example, a company like Adobe could create photo editing plugins for the stock iOS Photos app or a third-party app. iOS 8 also allowed developers to create custom keyboards and Notification Center Widgets.
Apple’s stock iOS keyboard gained a predictive text feature known as QuickType. As users typed on the iOS keyboard, suggested words appeared above the keys. Users could tap on the words, filling in the document without typing every character. The experience made typing on a smartphone and tablet effortless.
iOS 8 also added Family Sharing and Spotlight Suggestions, both enduring in present-day iOS. Family Sharing helped families save money by allowing them to share content. Recommendations and other artificially intelligent advice were just a swipe away with Spotlight Suggestions.
Apple made numerous improvements to stock apps such as Safari, Messages, and Camera. As mentioned, Apple Music made its way into iOS 8 in the summer of 2015. HealthKit and HomeKit were also added to iOS 8, extending Apple’s reach into the lives and homes of its users.
Despite the rave reviews and revisionism, iOS 8 was a troubled release, particularly for older devices. Apple could have made better decisions as to device eligibility. The iPad 2, for example, shouldn’t have been eligible for the iOS 8 update.
After upgrading my iPad 2 to iOS 8, the operating system update essentially rendered it useless. Typing was frustrating as the characters sometimes took up to ten seconds to appear on the screen. Resetting my iPad to factory settings and reinstalling iOS 8 didn’t help either. Unfortunately, Apple no longer signed iOS 7, so I was stuck with it. iOS 8 ruined my iPad!
My experience with iOS 8 is not unique. Bug tracking firm Apteligent found that apps crashed more on iOS 8 than on iOS 7. This is to be expected, as iOS 8 was a very complicated and feature-rich release.
There was no need to pack so many features into iOS 8; however, competition from Google’s Android operating system encouraged the Cupertino company to reach parity. Android had widgets, custom keyboards, and many iOS 8 features before Apple. iOS 8’s destiny was troubled in many ways as Apple played catch-up with an open-source operating system backed by Google, another tech titan.
iOS 9 – 2015
iOS 9, at a third of the size of iOS 8, was a much less ambitious release. Some evidence suggests that Apple went for fewer features to increase software quality. Unfortunately, iOS 9 proved challenging for the Cupertino company, with more defects than any prior version.
The iPad enjoyed the bulk of iOS 9’s advanced feature set. Apple’s 2015 iOS release featured a slew of multitasking capabilities, including running two apps side-by-side.
Apple focused on improvements to first-party apps, such as Apple News, Apple Maps, and Notes. Siri became smarter, using temporal and location data to predict and offer apps and services to users.
iOS 9 differs from other versions, as Apple focused greater attention on the iPad than the iPhone. Long neglected, the iPad was merely a larger iPhone, with a few minor differences. iOS 9 took advantage of the iPad’s larger screen, making it easy for users to run two apps simultaneously, side-by-side. Users could also run a smaller app on top of a larger app as a slide-over panel.
Predictive computing made its way into iOS 9 with Apple’s Proactivity feature. Siri’s AI algorithms combined temporal and location data, providing users with a centralized location for all critical information. Proactivity made suggestions, such as having a cup of coffee at your favorite place if you’re nearby at the right time. If you left that cup of coffee on the roof of your car, Siri may also prove helpful, assuming you have the foresight to set the reminder.
Night Shift made it easier to fall asleep. Research suggests that exposure to specific light frequencies emitted by smartphones and tablets disrupts circadian rhythms, making it more difficult to sleep. iOS 9’s Night Shift feature changes the color temperature, shifting it away from the blue spectrum to assist with sleep. Unfortunately, Apple ripped this feature off from a third-party app known as f.lux. Smaller developers typically can’t protect their intellectual property against leviathans such as Apple. It’s a pointless endeavor, as they can’t hope to beat Apple’s legal team.
With the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus supporting “3D touch”, iOS 9 enabled new gestures to peek at information quickly. For example, one could deep press a sports or news app’s icon to get a quick view of scores or the latest headlines. Apple eventually discontinued 3D touch, with some of these behaviors invoked by simply pressing and holding an icon or other UI element.
iOS 9 boosted performance on select models. Its Metal API enabled graphics binaries to execute directly on the integrated GPU. In other words, it significantly improved graphics performance on existing devices.
Apple also addressed battery drain by implementing low power mode. Users can have low power mode activated automatically, as the battery drains below a set level, or turn it on manually to extend battery life. Low power mode automatically makes several optimizations that users once executed manually, such as lowering the Auto-Lock setting, turning down screen brightness, and other adjustments.
Apple’s stock apps underwent improvement in iOS 9. iPhone and iPad users could now create drawings in Notes. Apple fans made a huge deal over this; however, these rudimentary drawing tools weren’t any more sophisticated than what one would find on the 1984 Macintosh.
Apple Maps added incomplete public transit support. iOS 9 rebranded Passbook as the Wallet app. Safari also enabled content-blocking plugins, such as ad-blockers. Many publishers were upset about this and claimed it would wipe them out. When the dust settled, these ad-blockers had little effect on publisher revenue.
Although Apple intended iOS 9 to be a more stable release by limiting the number of changes and features, it suffered from numerous defects. This is mainly due to the proliferation of different iPhone and iPad models and the increased complexity of the operating system.
As someone who has worked on a product from the 1.0 version to the 10.x version, I can accurately claim that software becomes much more challenging to work on when it’s more complex.
Facebook is a perfect example. The 1.0 version that Mark Zuckerberg created in his dorm room couldn’t scale and didn’t do much. Many teenage developers could have produced the same web app. Some youngsters developed more impressive applications but lacked contacts for funding and promotion, in addition to luck and timing. Few software engineers are impressed by Zuckerberg’s efforts. As he wasn’t interested in software engineering, he brought in other competent developers, such as Adam D’Angelo, to make Facebook scale and add more comprehensive and complex features.
Similarly, iPhone OS 1 was a relatively simple operating system to manage. As you’ve read the history of iOS so far, you can probably see that, over time, iOS harbors more defects and problems. Steve Jobs’ famous “it just works” line is almost ironic. Having recently switched from iOS to Android, I find the latter to be more stable and offer superior performance. I just have to deal with the stigma of people assuming I’m poor because I have an Android phone (with a better screen, battery, and three times as much memory as most iPhone models).
Riddled with defects and performance issues, the subject of iOS 9 bugs could spawn a whole new, lengthy article. Apple’s mobile operating system bricked devices, was subjected to numerous cyberattacks due to gaping security holes, and resulted in a class-action lawsuit over planned obsolescence. Apple’s attempt to bring more stability to iOS didn’t achieve its goal.
iOS 10 – 2016
As Facebook and other social media providers rose in prominence, Apple converted its Messages app into a social media platform. Apple accomplished this by enabling third-party developers to integrate their solutions into Messages. For example, a third-party developer could create and sell stickers, confetti, or other visual effects to use within an iMessage.
Other than Messages, iOS 10 was a maintenance release. Apple focused on minor improvements to built-in apps and improving interoperability across its ecosystem. The company added more APIs for third-party developers to integrate with iOS.
Despite Apple’s attempt to, once again, create a modest, high-quality release, iOS 10 was rife with defects. Right out of the gate, it was bricking devices, causing a dramatic decrease in iOS 10’s adoption rate. Even loyal Apple fans became weary of Apple’s quality decline, as evident by the lack of immediate installation. After iOS 9 and the experiences of early iOS 10 adopters, iPhone and iPad users decided to stick with the devil they know.
With iOS 10, Apple transformed Messages into a social media platform. The company saw the reality that most people use the iPhone to take photos and share them. Apple could only profit from social media by transforming Messages into a social media experience, complete with frivolous stickers and confetti. Apple added an embedded ecosystem, where third parties could create content for messages and sell them to iPhone users. Of course, the Cupertino tech giant took one-third of the revenues generated by these virtual products and services.
Apple also improved Siri to offer better integration for third-party developers. Apps were now allowed to interoperate with Siri. For example, ride-hailing services like Uber and Lift could integrate with Siri, making it easy for iPhone users to book a ride with their voice.
Outside of messages, iOS 10 was a low-key release. Apple split Control Center into multiple panels.
The QuickType Keyboard got smarter.
3D touch gained the ability to display widgets by deep pressing app icons on the Home Screen.
iOS 10 features myriad minor improvements to Apple’s stock apps. Unfortunately, despite the reasonable scope, Apple once again faced a troublesome release. As both iOS and its product line become more complicated, Apple’s engineering team struggled to maintain quality, despite the advantage of controlling both hardware and software.
Despite limiting the release for the sake of quality, iOS 10 bricked early adopters’ iPhones and iPads. The defect forced users to connect their device to a computer to restore it.
The problem is, a lot of iPhone and iPad users don’t have computers. Many people make do with just a smartphone, while others replaced their computers with tablets, such as the iPad. This forced some to take their essential, non-operational iPhone into the Apple Store for service. Many customers were unable to use their iPhones for days, which, in some cases, can cause both lifestyle and career problems. Once again, Apple demonstrated that its hardware and software’s tight coupling didn’t amount to superior quality.
Random shutdowns and battery throttling became obvious to end-users with iOS 10. Although iOS is not open source, black-box testing found that Apple throttled performance to reduce unexpected shutdowns. Apple eventually admitted to the practice. The debacle emerged into another enormous scandal, known as Throttlegate, complete with a massive class-action lawsuit.
Since “Throttlegate”, Apple improved its transparency over power issues; however, the iPhone lineup still comes equipped with relatively wimpy batteries compared to the competition. It’s as if Apple will do everything except put a high-capacity battery in the iPhone, which seems like the logical decision unless one wishes to realize an absurd level of profit extraction at the expense of alienating customers. Lower capacity batteries fail faster because they have a shorter charge cycle, necessitating more frequent charging. Instead of replacing the battery, many customers will just buy a new iPhone, as they can’t afford the downtime.
iOS 11 – 2017
Trying to keep bugs to a minimum, iOS 11 was yet another scaled-down release. Unfortunately, it ended up being highly defective, with a slew of high severity flaws and built-in apps that didn’t meet standards Apple imposed on third-party developers.
Under the hood, iOS 11 continued Apple’s move to a new file system. This enabled devices with A10 processors or greater to store files in a more efficient format. The transition undercut profits for Apple, as it relies on massively upselling storage, offering a non-viable model for the base price. Although the entry-level models were still inadequate for most, the ability to store more photos and videos on the device mitigated some of Apple’s predatory consumer practices. Apple also allowed users to offload apps in a manner where they could be quickly restored, with user data intact.
Visually, iOS 11 added animated wallpapers and a redesigned Control Center. Apple avoided live backgrounds, widgets, and true multitasking for years because the iPhone is a relatively underpowered device. Although A-series processors offer industry-leading performance, a lack of memory requires Apple to economize on primary storage. Widgets and animated wallpapers need to reside in memory for peak performance. For years, the iPhone didn’t have enough RAM. It still has half to one-third of the memory found in flagship Android smartphones. The iPhone’s weak battery also necessitates iOS to conserve CPU cycles and display activity.
iOS 11 was the first version to end support for 32-bit apps. Apple introduced the first 64-bit mobile processor with the iPhone 5S running the A7 chip. A 64-bit processor can address more RAM or, in the case of the iPhone, use secondary storage as virtual memory. Although critics panned its 64-bit capabilities as superfluous, due to the iPhone’s lack of RAM, the A7 chip enabled games with rich scenery to load almost instantaneously, as more data could flow in parallel from storage to memory.
To give developers and users time to upgrade, Apple allowed 32-bit apps to remain. With iOS 11, it forced developers to upgrade their apps to 64-bit. Five years is a generous grace period — almost an eternity in the tech world.
As mentioned, iOS 11 was another minor release. In addition to the aforementioned features, Siri underwent some significant changes. Apple’s intelligent assistant gained an even more natural voice. It could also accomplish some of its processing directly on the device instead of via the cloud. This not only sped up Siri but also alleviated some privacy concerns. Additionally, Apple added SiriKit, providing third-party developers with tools to integrate Siri with their apps.
iOS 11 finally introduced a file browsing app, similar to Finder or Windows Explorer, along with its new file system. Simply called “Files”, the app allowed iPhone and iPad users to access some files uniformly. Prior to the Files app, users relied on in-app file management, with varying capabilities and workflows. As with most Apple features, Files only allows limited access to the file system. iOS 11 users could only access documents and media files, as anything nested below user content was inaccessible.
Notes gained a viable document scanner in iOS 11. This useful feature could replace traditional flatbed scanners in most cases.
Users could now record their iPhone screen as video in iOS 11. Apple added peer-to-peer payments in Apple Pay via the Messages app. Messages also gained a new App Drawer to contain all of the stickers, confetti, and other virtual accouterments.
Do Not Disturb While Driving also made its first appearance in iOS 11. The feature detects when a user is driving, preventing them from interruption and offering the ability to send canned replies.
Apple’s commitment to quality was scarcely evident in iOS 11. Given the modest set of changes, it should have been a trouble-free release. After all, Apple controls the hardware and software. As the number of models expands, it’s still a finite number.
Quality assurance engineers should perform a wide array of tests on various Apple devices, documenting any defects they find. Developers should remediate these bugs. Unfortunately, Apple seems to have permanently lost its “it just works” mojo, as top engineering grads opt for high-equity startups instead of well-established tech monopolies.
A few defects in iOS 11 were remarkably severe. The calculator provided incorrect calculations. It couldn’t even accomplish simple arithmetic. The keyboard covered up text, making typing and proofreading almost impossible. There was even a defect that caused iPhones to restart if they received an in-app message at a particular time. Defects in HomeKit allowed hackers to take control of smart locks and garage door openers. iOS 11 was dangerously defective.
Less severe, Apple’s built-in apps were a design nightmare, not even meeting standards imposed on third-party developers. iOS 11 also met with typical complaints of battery drain caused by post-installation optimizations. Apple could avoid subjecting its customers to this poor user experience by simply equipping the iPhone with a higher-capacity battery. For all the bragging about being the best of the best, even the most recent iPhone offers an inferior battery and screen compared to Android flagships.
iOS 12 – 2018
After iOS 11 failed to be a reliable release, Apple pledged to scale down features, making iOS 12 more stable. For the most part, Apple was able to finally release quality software with few defects. Aside from an eavesdropping issue in Group FaceTime, the release was reliable and robust.
iOS 12 brought faster performance to Apple’s entire lineup of mobile devices. It added new controls to curb digital addiction. As with each new, major version of iOS, Messages and FaceTime enhancements were central to the release.
Overall, Apple introduced few new features in iOS 12. The release, which Apple intended to provide stability and efficiency, met its goals; however, Apple’s next major release seemed to abandon this practice entirely.
Speed and efficiency were central to the iOS 12 experience. Apple’s updated mobile operating system opened apps, keyboards, and the camera faster than before. Since Apple devices run with less memory and weaker batteries than the competition, engineers must balance software performance with the realities of limited hardware.
Digital addiction became an issue with employers, families, and individuals. Concern grew over the public’s obsession with smartphones, social media, and video binges. Apple offered a new technology, Screen Time, to curb digital addiction.
Some see the move as a challenge to social media, where many iPhone users spend the bulk of their time enriching Facebook, Twitter, and others by consuming ads and influencers’ content. This may be the case, as it fits a pattern of Apple’s competitive moves against Facebook.
Messages gained the Memoji feature, allowing users to construct an animated likeness of themselves. Building on Animoji, Apple designed the technology to make Messages a more amusing and compelling alternative to messaging apps offered by social media platforms.
Apple introduced Group FaceTime in iOS 12 to compete with myriad video conferencing platforms. The update allowed up to 32 participants on a FaceTime chat. Apple’s technology focused on the active speaker by voice detection, making their “bubble” come to the forefront. Users could also use Memoji and Animoji within FaceTime calls, a feature intended for younger users who crave Apple products.
Other, smaller enhancements made their way into iOS 12. CarPlay users could finally access third-party apps, such as Waze. Apple introduced a new Shortcuts app, allowing users to automate iOS tasks, much like Automator on a Mac. Updates to underlying data in Maps using in-house information brought greater accuracy to the critical app. Users could turn the stock iOS keyboard into a trackpad, making it easier to select text or position the cursor. The iPhone gained a new AR measuring tool, while the iPad finally obtained the Stocks and Voice Memos apps.
iOS 12 was a remarkably high-quality release, bringing speed, efficiency, and stability to all of Apple’s eligible mobile devices. Unfortunately, a rather severe Group FaceTime defect forced Apple to disable the feature altogether. The bug enabled calls to be initiated by the caller rather than the receiver.
Anyone could use FaceTime to spy on an iPhone user. One would eventually see the caller started the conversation; however, it enables virtually anyone to invade an iPhone user’s privacy. Apple quickly fixed the defect in a little over a week.
iOS 13 – 2019
Apple delineated the iPad and iPhone with iOS 13, introducing a new operating system dubbed iPadOS. The naming scheme regresses from iOS, almost begging for the operating system to revert to iPhone OS. While it’s true that the iPod touch still uses iOS, Apple will likely discontinue this phone-less iPhone. Apart from iOS, all of Apple’s other operating systems bear the names of the devices they service — macOS, watchOS, tvOS, and now, iPadOS. Anyone raised on Sesame Street knows that iOS doesn’t belong.
The superstitious may be wary of using “13” for a release version number. It’s not unprecedented, though most software companies opt for new naming schemes after a certain point. It’s not for the sake of avoiding a number falsely accused of being unlucky. If Apple named iOS 13 “iPhone OS Kalamazoo”, it would have been a highly defective release. The name or version number has nothing to do with the fact that iOS 13 was the worst release in the operating system’s entire history.
Unlike iOS 12, iOS 13 caused nothing but problems. From its initial release and across multiple patches, iOS 13 caused headaches for millions of Apple customers. Its leadership vowed that iOS 14 would be more like its twelfth version, with limited features and high quality. iOS 13 packed many features into one release, resulting in more defects, particularly with the operating system’s growing complexity and Apple’s inability to hire the best and brightest engineers.
To placate wary customers and compete with social media, Apple introduced new privacy measures in iOS 13. The operating system prompted users whenever apps accessed their location, asking them whether to allow it never, once, or only while using the app.
Apple also introduced its own single sign-on technology to compete with Google and Facebook authentication capabilities. The feature, called “Sign in with Apple”, increased privacy by exposing little personal information and generating unique email addresses as proxies. “Sign in with Apple” prevents unwanted spam from third-party apps. It’s the complete opposite of what its data-hungry competitors do, as Apple earns revenues from devices, not stockpiling personal information.
iOS 13 introduced new user interface features, notably dark mode. Users could finally choose between a light and dark screen configuration — a setting long available to other operating systems. The addition of a “QuickPath” swiping keyboard also brought the iPhone up to date with competitors.
Apple also added enhanced gestures to cut, copy and paste text. It still seems much easier to accomplish these tasks on a modern, flagship Android phone. With all iOS versions, complex web pages, in particular, seem to confuse the selectors, making it difficult to copy text.
Faster FaceID performance made it easier to unlock the iPhone with one’s face. Apple also replaced Siri’s recorded voice clips with a more natural-sounding, software-generated voice. This is an essential capability for Siri to become more sentient and versatile.
iOS 13 allowed iPhone users to access external storage through its Lightning port. As most have opted for cloud-based support, the feature aims to satisfy the more professional, sophisticated iOS user, such as photographers with external memory cards.
Apple’s favored apps underwent modest improvements. Messages allowed more customization of Memoji. Apple Maps gained a feature ripped off from Google Street View dubbed “Look Around”.
iOS 13 will likely go down in history as the most disastrous release for one of the world’s largest tech corporations. From the day it launched, through several updates, Apple’s thirteenth version of its popular mobile operating system proved troublesome. Even the Apple-loving website The Verge admitted that iOS 13 was a highly defective release. It’s the iOS release that converted me to Android for my primary smartphone.
Pervasive app crashes were iOS 13’s most serious flaws.
The software update forced users to endure widespread unreliability on devices essential for work, play, and everyday life. Even with multiple updates, people reported app crashes when launching from Notification Center. Many iOS 13 users faced wireless outages, rendering their devices useless.
Users reported multiple severe defects in Apple Music, the company’s music service. The Now Playing view would often show incorrect artwork, while its list of downloaded songs didn’t refresh. iOS 13’s dark mode was also inconsistent.
iOS 14 – 2020
Given numerous defects with iOS 13, Apple pledged to scale down iOS 14 in the hopes of making it more reliable. Instead, the company’s product managers seem to have gone hog wild, cramming in a ridiculous quantity of features and the consequential defects of such irresponsible decisions.
Apple released iOS 14 with the specter of an upcoming update targeted at Facebook’s data-gathering business model. By preventing targeted ads and making users aware of apps using Location Services in the background, Apple made it more difficult for Facebook to profit from user data. During this time, Apple also denied Facebook an App Store update enabling purchases outside of its dominion.
Packed with features, iOS 14 is the current iPhone operating system, soon to be replaced by the fifteenth version. Apple seems to have fixed many of the egregious defects that emerged shortly after its launch. Overall, the experience is better than iOS 13, which was a nightmare for many iPhone owners. Apple’s current release was still much buggier than most versions, at least during its first few months.
Compacting the user interface is central to iOS 14’s design. Apple’s mobile operating system brought App Clips, Widgets, and Compact UI to the iPhone.
App Clips are essentially tiny applets that can appear without installation. Triggered by NFC or QR codes, they display small UI panels with a set of options. Developers can use App Clips to create electronic tickets, interactive media, or other small-scale applications.
Apple redesigned Widgets in iOS 14, offering a convenient and meaningful way to stack these functional UI components. The release also brought more freedom to Widget arrangement and configuration. It’s still not as flexible or mature as Android widgets, which have been around for over a decade.
It’s necessary to mention that Apple’s OS X operating system featured Widgets over a decade before Android adopted them. Given that most Android developers use Macs, it’s likely the inspiration derived from the very computers they used every day. Of course, Apple “Sherlocked” Widgets from a third-party app known as Konfabulator, rendering the developer’s software obsolete.
Another idea borrowed from Android, the App Library, provides an easy way to access apps without hunting for icons on the Home screen. It’s essentially an app launcher, which Android users have enjoyed for years.
Apple’s Compact UI design pervades iOS 14. Phone calls, Skype calls, Siri, and other services now run in small panels, leaving other apps in full view. If you’re watching a movie on your phone, you can quickly take or cancel a call without obscuring the video.
iOS 14’s privacy features were front and center as Facebook mounted a campaign to thwart them. Duly concerned that most users would opt out of ad tracking if presented with the option, the social media giant waged a massive ad campaign, informing the public of ad tracking benefits. Despite its efforts, the vast majority of iOS 14.5 users opted out of ad tracking. The move will likely damage Facebook revenues, with only 4% of Americans and 12% of worldwide Facebook users opting into ad tracking.
Apple’s most popular communication apps received significant updates in iOS 14. FaceTime gained picture-in-picture support, allowing users to engage in a video chat while using another full-screen app. Apple also hardened security for Messages, testing all incoming communications for security issues in a protected sandbox before presenting them to the user. The feature may have resulted in defects delaying incoming messages.
One of the cooler features of iOS 14 is CarKeys, an NFC-based virtual key for supporting automobiles. Although it’s not widely supported, it does provide a promising glimpse of the future where all you’ll need is a phone. Hopefully, you won’t drop it, and it doesn’t run out of charge! The modern automotive key fob also requires a battery that can go dead at the worst times. CarKeys improves the driver’s experience by providing a rich and dynamic user interface.
iOS 14 added a whole slew of small features. It’s a sort of omnibus release that ended up causing almost as many problems as it solved. Although Apple promised to restrain the release’s scope for the sake of quality, iOS 14 managed to be one of the more defective releases to date.
Much like its predecessor, iOS 14 unleashed a slew of defects upon iPhone owners. The key players on Wikipedia stopped mentioning problems with iOS for the past few releases. It’s clear that Apple’s influence now extends beyond the darlings of the tech media, like The Verge, Wired, Tom’s Guide, and myriad social media influencers. Wikipedia is now fair game, as fanboys, corporate publications, and perhaps even Apple PR control and police its content.
After subjecting users to a defective experience in iOS 13, Apple decided to make iOS 14 a similarly complex and impactful release. ZDNet was one of the few corporate media sources to state that iOS 14 was a poor-quality release. The publication pointed out wireless connectivity issues with both Bluetooth and WiFi. iOS 14 imposed numerous app crashes, keyboard lagging, and rapid battery drain on its users.
Notifications are still a problem in iOS 14. Since the first days of the release, users failed to receive notifications upon text message reception. It’s a severe defect. Facilitating communication is a smartphone’s primary function.
Overall, the lack of quality in iOS 14 may be due to a complex feature set, support for multiple devices, and Apple’s inability to hire top talent. I switched to a flagship Android device with far fewer defects and, apart from a slightly slower processor, specs that far outpaced the iPhone. Google’s Messages did have an issue where text messages failed for millions of users; however, they fixed it within 24 hours.
Amazingly, a virtually unknown Chinese smartphone maker can create higher quality products than Apple. They’re not alone. Even Consumer Reports admits that some flagship Android phones are just as good as the iPhone. They often cost less and offer three times as much RAM, 50% more battery capacity, rapid charging, and gorgeous 120 Hz displays with brightness rivaling laptop computers.
Apple’s marketing prowess has more to do with its viral growth; however, Android still leads the world in market share. The iPhone is a decent smartphone, but there are better options. For many, Apple is the only possibility.
iOS 15 – Coming Soon
Apple will likely release iOS 15 in September of 2021. The new mobile operating system once again packs in several features; however, the company has yet to resolve existing defects in iOS 14.
It remains uncertain whether Apple can get its “it just works” mojo back. At this point, Apple customers expect and tolerate a certain level of defects. After all, most were introduced to computing devices through Windows computers when Steve Ballmer ran Microsoft. If you grew up with Windows Vista, an iPhone is comparably robust.
iOS 15 is an exciting new chapter for iPhone users. It expands on Apple’s competition with Facebook. New features, like SharePlay, will allow people to socialize while consuming content on Apple devices. These experiences integrate across the entire Apple ecosystem. New content creation tools generate dynamic content with that Apple sheen most find irresistible. With iOS 15, Apple is trying to turn Messages and FaceTime into the new social media hubs, to the detriment of Facebook.