Last updated: 2 months ago

In existence for over a decade, iOS is one of the best-known pieces of software developed by Apple, and is in use on every iPhone available to buy. Initially based on Mac OS X, iOS has blown up and grown with new features every year, coinciding with the introduction of new iPhone models. Due to the prevalence of iPhones, it is arguable that iOS is both Apple's most important software release, as well as the most-used by its customers.

● Introduced in 2007
● iPhone OS, changed to iOS in 2010
● App Store launched in July 2008
● iPadOS splintered off in version 13.1
● iOS 14, iPadOS 14 to be revealed at WWDC 2020

Introduced in 2007 for the iPhone, iOS is the highly-used and well known operating system for Apple's mobile devices. The software is also used to power the iPod Touch, as well as the iPad until the introduction of iPadOS.

iOS 14 brings all new widgets to your home screen iOS 14 brings all new widgets to your home screen

The operating system was originally envisioned as “iPhone runs OS X” in its January 2007 unveiling by Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, capable of running desktop-class applications. It was thought that leveraging the Mac's operating system for iPhone OS would enable developers to create apps relatively easily, without needing to relearn a new programming language or majorly changing their development practices. 

Though initially it only ran applications produced by Apple itself, the launch of a software development kit in March 2008 was followed by the launch of the App Store in July 2008. The ability to develop apps and sell them through the App Store created the modern-day app economy, with billions of dollars being paid to developers each month from sales of apps in the digital marketplace, as well as in-app purchases. 

Name Changes

When the iPhone first became available, the operating system was known as “iPhone OS,” following the naming convention of Mac OS X. By 2010, Apple had rebranded the operating system to use the name “iOS.” 

Apple had to license the iOS name, as the trademark was owned by Cisco for its own network infrastructure software. This echoes a similar pattern between the two companies for the iPhone name, which was also trademarked by Cisco, though at that time Cisco sued over alleged infringement and prompted a settlement from Apple. 

iPadOS Departure

The iPad used iPhone OS and then later iOS, with the two operating systems having relative feature parity due to the similarity of the two device classes. Over time, Apple did introduce changes to iOS that added features just for iPads, including a hefty focus on multitasking functionality. 

With the launch of iPadOS 13.1 in 2019, Apple made the difference in the operating systems more distinct by rebranding the iPad-specific version of iOS. Even after the changeover, the two operating systems still share a vast majority of their codebases and features, though with iPadOS gaining elements that allow it to take advantage of the larger display. 

These features include being able to display more than one app on the screen at once, a picture-in-picture mode, and other multitasking elements. Later, changes including Sidecar and external storage support helped make the iPad more conducive to work and productivity, as well as further differentiating it from iOS. 

iOS Releases

As Apple continues to develop iOS and iPadOS, the company adds more features and functionality to the software over time. The majority of new features are introduced with the main milestone releases, though Apple does deploy some changes throughout the year in version updates. 

iOS 14

The many new features found in iOS 14 The many new features found in iOS 14

iOS 14 was announced at Apple's first-ever all-digital WWDC in June 2020. Despite the ongoing problems with the coronavirus and lockdown Apple managed to put out quite a few new features for its platforms.

App Library and Widgets change the entire Home screen experience from top to bottom. Now apps will live in the App Library and can be removed from the Home screen without deleting them. WIdgets have been freed from the Today View and can be placed anywhere on the app grid.

App Clips are small pieces of an app that are surfaced by an NFC sticker, QR code, or interaction within an app or browser. They appear as cards on the display and contain less than 10MB of data for quick download and interaction. Users can then Sign in with Apple and Apple Pay to quickly complete a transaction without ever downloading an app.

On device machine learning saw big improvements in iOS 14 as well. Dictation is now handled entirely on device and has much better accuracy. A new Translate app handles live translation of a discussion in different languages, all offline as well.

iOS 13

Released in September 2019, iOS 13 introduced quite a few new features, including a new Dark Mode that can shift between light and dark modes. A QuickPath Keyboard that functioned similar to Swype allows users to drag their finger across the keyboard to touch letters instead of tapping the screen. 

New iCloud storage support in HomeKit enables recordings from select cameras to be stored on Apple's cloud storage service instead of a manufacturer's servers. Video is encrypted locally before being uploaded to the storage. 

CarPlay gained the biggest overhaul, including a new dashboard view, an updated Music app, a new Calendar app, and will not minimize a view when the user switches apps on the host iPhone. 

For iPad users, a new Home screen view features smaller icons, a new Today View that can be locked to the Home screen, and external storage support allowed work to be performed on external drives. 

13.1 was unusual as its release date was announced before iOS 13 shipped, and fixed a number of bugs in the original release. Along with officially moving iPads over to iPadOS, the release also added an ETA to Maps, extensive fonts support, and Shortcuts Automations. 

13.2 added Deep Fusion computational photography for the iPhone 11 lineup, an opt-in option for Siri request testing, over 70 new emoji, HomeKit Secure Video, and a number of bug fixes and improvements. 

13.3 added Communication Limits to Screen Time, new layouts for Apple News+ stories, refinements for news stories in the Stocks app, Safari support for FIDO2 keys, extended mouse support including hot corners, and a selection of minor changes. 

13.4 added full mouse and trackpad support intended for its Magic Keyboard accessory for the iPad Pro update, as well as iCloud folder sharing, new Memoji stickers, and Mail toolbar. The release also made it possible for developers to combine macOS and iOS app purchases together. 

iOS 12

Apple released iOS 12 on September 17, 2018, five days after its announcements of the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. 

The initial milestone release added some new augmented reality functionality, including support for a new USDZ format in collaboration with Pixar for the development of AR experiences. The new Measure app demonstrates the improvements made in ARKit 2, allowing rear cameras and a live view to be used to measure real-world items in 3D space. 

The release included a greater focus on digital health, with the big addition being Screen Time. The feature is made up of multiple tools to monitor device and app usage, and for users to cut down on their reliance on apps in their everyday life. 

Messages added MeMojis, which allows users to use the TrueDepth camera to map their faces, to animate a personalized digital character. In a connected change, Messages also added longer Animojis, as well as the ability to detect if the user is sticking their tongue out or not. 

Siri Shortcuts gives users access to customizable macros, which can be used to link multiple tasks and apps together and can be triggered by Apple's digital assistant. Other Siri features added in the release include being able to toggle Siri within low-power mode, new Siri accents, and the ability to ask Siri to find passwords. 

The Photos app was overhauled with improved search and enhanced object and scene recognition. A new "For You" tab with improved sharing makes over from the "Memories" and "Share" tabs, with Photos still generating Memories for users periodically. 

Notifications were updated to allow groups of notifications to be collected together, to tidy up sometimes lengthy lists of updates. Updates were made to the Stocks, Voice Memos, and iBooks apps, with the latter renamed Books. 

12.1 brought with it Group FaceTime, allowing up to 32 people to take part in a video conference instead of just two parties. 70 new emoji, Dual-SIM support, and a fix for the so-called "Beautygate" issue were also included. 

12.2 made over 35 feature changes but largely centered around support for HomeKit smart TVs and AirPlay changes. Apple News+ is also baked into the release, as well as alterations to the Wallet app, an Air Quality Index rating for Maps, support for AirPods 2, and four new Animoji characters. 

12.3 was focused on Apple TV app changes, with the app overhauled ahead of the introduction of the Apple TV+ streaming service, and the addition of Channels. More Wallet transaction changes were also made in the release. 

12.4 laid more groundwork for the launch of the Apple Card in the United States but otherwise served more as a maintenance release. 


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