Given the billions of articles written about the iPhone (at least half of which appeared here on Gizmodo), it’s kind of shocking to realise that the phone itself has only been available for just over three years. It’s also surprising to see just how different the operating system is today compared to the original version on the original iPhone, despite the fact that aesthetically it’s hardly changed. Let’s have a closer look at the progression of iOS.
Back when El Jobso originally unveiled the iPhone, he claimed that the device used a version of OS X. There was no more information about the operating system, and given that the phone wasn’t open to third party developers until nine months after launch, when Apple released the iPhone SDK.
The original 2G iPhone, running what is now known as iOS version 1.0, came standard with pre-installed apps from Apple, including Phone, Mail, Safari, iPod, Messages, Calendar, Photos, Camera, YouTube, Stocks, Maps, Weather, Notes, Clock, Calculator, and Settings, with the iTunes app appearing with version 1.1.
The striking thing is that all these apps are still installed on each and every iPhone sold, although many of them have extra features introduced with later versions of the operating system and newer versions of the hardware.
The biggest change introduced in iOS 2.0 was the support for third party applications, which also marked the turning point for the iPhone as a mass market device. Although the SDK was announced in September of 2007, and released to developers in March 2008, it wasn’t until the iPhone 3G launched in July 2008 that people could truly experience the joys of the App Store.
Of course, while Apps were the biggest addition, they were by no means the only addition. Also introduced to the operating system during the second OS refresh were A-GPS support (for the iPhone 3G), and the scientific calculator in landscape mode.
Alongside the launch of the iPhone 3GS, iOS 3.0 brought some much needed features, like MMS support, the ability to tether your phone and the obligatory copy and paste. It was a much larger update to the OS in terms of new features, bringing with it things like Spotlight search, A2DP stereo Bluetooth streaming, the ability to use the keyboard in landscape mode for typing text messages and emails, the ability to search IMAP email, CalDAV support for iCal, the Voice Memo and Compass apps and support for Nike+ iPod, shake to shuffle, and push notifications.
For the first time, the iPhone truly seemed like a rather complete smartphone operating system, introducing features that had been commonplace on rival smartphones, while maintaining Apple’s simplicity and solid performance. Well, except for multi-tasking, but that was still to come…
This year’s iOS update not only introduced the term iOS, but also overcame the lack of multitasking support. Well, kind of. iOS4 supports limited multitasking, suspending unnecessary actions in the background to maintain battery life, but allowing users to do things like make a VoIP call while browsing the web.
In addition to multitasking, iOS4 added the ability to organise your apps into folders on each home page, a unified inbox for all your email accounts. There’s a new apps in the form of Game Center – Apple’s take on Xbox Live for the iPhone – and iBooks, while the ability to add custom home screen backgrounds has made a few iPhone owners happy.
But once again, it’s the smaller, less publicised updates that make the new OS a big improvement on iOS 3. The ability to toggle cellular data on and off, a character count for SMS messages and SMS search, the addition of zoom support when taking photos, HDR photos, the ability to sync events, faces and places from iPhoto, resizing photos when sending, playlist creation while on the run, and support for longer passcodes all make the operating system a vast improvement on previous versions.
Unless you happen to be running iOS4 on an iPhone 3G – for many users, the update was too much for older iPhones, grinding them to a halt to do even the simplest tasks, like an antique computer trying to run photoshop.
Despite overhauling the included features of the OS, there’s still plenty of areas Apple can improve iOS. Every year there are calls for the ability to add custom sounds for notifications, for example. But we’ll all have to wait a while before we find out what Apple have decided to add to next year’s update, which they’ll inevitably announce at WWDC in June. Until then, tell us, what features do you want added in iOS5?