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iOS through the ages and key features in iOS 11

Now that iOS 11 will begin rolling out to the general public in about a week’s time, here’s a look at the evolution of this mobile operating system and key features you can look forward to in its latest version

The lifeline of a majority of Apple’s portable devices, iOS is liked by many and hated with equal fervour by the others for many reasons. Every year has brought to us a new version of iOS with iOS 11 being the latest which will be released later this year. The key aspect that makes iOS stand apart from the other operating systems that Apple has in its portfolio is that iOS is built for Touch first while Mac OS is built to be interacted with using some Human Interface Device (HID) or the other.

Over the years, iOS has come a long way towards making the user experience less cumbersome and more seamless with fewer proprietary walls to climb over but it still has some way to go before we’d call it the best mobile device OS on the planet. So let’s start off by looking back at iOS’ journey through the years.

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The birth of iOS

Apple had the iPod under its portable devices portfolio and it was very popular at that time for having features that other media players could only dream of. However, the same UI and experience would hardly suffice for a phone which was what Steve Jobs was aiming for. The option was either create a miniature Mac-like device powered by a lean version of OS X or considerably upgrade the minimalist OS that the iPod used. Apple went with a balanced approach, with iOS being significantly feature rich compared to the older HDD based iPods but far from being comparable to the OS X. However, to make this happen, Steve Jobs had the Mac and iPod R&D teams compete with each other to see which of these approaches would result in a better product. The Mac team led by Scott Forstall ended up with the upper hand and thus, was born the iPhone OS in 2005 which would later be renamed iOS in 2010.

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While the iPhone OS had been in existence since 2005, it would only be in 2007 when the general public would get to experience the new OS at the launch of the first iPhone in 2007. And like all operating systems that were ever created, even the iPhone OS was incredibly buggy. So much that Steve Jobs had multiple demo units on stage during its unveiling and had to switch between demo units the moment one of them stopped responding. Moving on from the unveiling, a couple of months down the line, Apple announced the iPhone OS SDK which could be used to develop apps for the OS. At the time of its launch, Apple had no plans of opening up the App Store to third party developers and the only way devs could get a piece of the action was to develop web-apps which could work just as well as the native apps. Something we all know not to be true. Native apps are simply capable of making much better use of the iPhone’s resources, a fact that stands true even to this day. Some companies have even gone ahead and sued Apple to improve HTML5 performance in iOS to help make HTML5 apps perform better on iOS, but that’s another story for some other time.

iOS got another major device category with the launch of the iPod Touch which was essentially an iPhone without the phone calling functionality. The iPod Touch might not be popular any more since there are much cheaper Android devices which do a much better job and the fact that the iPhone is practically a superset of the iPod’s features.

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Since then, iOS has come a long way and has hit many milestones with the App Store as well. It is estimated that by the year 2020, the App Store will host five million apps. The current set of apps on the App Store have been downloaded over 130 billion times. So the app store is doing pretty well and is a major source of revenue for Apple, bringing in over 28 billion dollars in 2016 – a figure that grew by 40 per cent year-on-year.

iOS Milestones

As mentioned previously, the OS for the iPhone and iPod started out as the iPhone OS for the first three versions. It was only in 2010, in its 4th avatar that the iOS name was coined to better suit Apple’s marketing strategies of making things sound cooler than they are. Let’s take a look at some of the milestones iOS has achieved since its inception.

  • iPhone OS 1
    The very first version shipped with multi-touch capability, a host of gestures that the Apple ecosystem is well known for and iTunes Sync. The file system on the first iPhone OS was well hidden from the user so you had to practically toe the line that Apple had drawn for you. This very restrictive environment led to power users to figure out ways of opening the system up. It’s not wonder that the process of doing this came to be known as “Jailbreaking” since you were breaking out of Apple’s jail.
  • iPhone OS 2
    The second version of the iPhone OS came out on July 2008, about a year after the first one and brought with it the App Store. Another new feature was MobileMe, which was a subscription server later replaced by iCloud since they had the same feature set. Also, the iPhone OS SDK opened the App Store up for third-party developers to begin developing apps for the iPhone. An act which completely transformed the software industry.
  • iPhone OS 3
    This was perhaps one of the biggest releases to the iOS ecosystem. Spotlight search made its way into the OS along with a bunch of APIs to allow apps to get a greater level of access to the device’s resources. And most importantly, the introduction of ‘Cut, Copy, Paste’. Yes, the OS did not have one of the most obvious features of any digital UI for two whole years despite the fact that something this simple was present in every other operating system on the planet. Other services introduced include Find My iPhone, video recording, autofocus in the camera app, in-app purchases and HTML5 support. iBooks and support for the iPad was slipped in with iPhone OS 3.2. In-app purchases was yet another major milestone which opened up a huge revenue stream for Apple and third-party developers.
  • iOS 4
    One of the popular communication apps, FaceTime, came to be with iOS 4. Not to mention, iPhone OS became iOS with this version. And this was also the first OS to have an “in with the new and out with the old” approach as Apple dropped support for the original iPhone and iPod Touch. Till this point, the iPhone OS was a paid upgrade for the iPod. You’d have to shell out $9.95 for the upgrade if you owned an iPod but that changed with iOS 4. The very first iDevice with Retina Display made its debut and developers now had to create multiple assets for the different viewports. Essentially, the same visual assets had to be created for different DPI levels, something that has since then become automated. Other additions include notifications, background completion of tasks, a unified mailbox and multiple folders for the home screen.
  • iOS 5
    Siri, Apple’s personal assistant was introduced with iOS 5 and it also brought the iMessage and iCloud services. Support for the 2nd Gen iPhone was dropped and the 2nd Gen iPad was introduced. You could now customise the notification centre and iTunes could sync wirelessly.
  • iOS 6
    This was yet another major release with regards to the number of devices now being supported as well as the number of features that were introduced. The third and fourth gen iPads along with the iPad mini came into the picture along with the iPhone 5. The infamous Apple Maps was released with iOS 6 as well, and thus began an incessant barrage of memes highlighting Apple Maps’ goof-ups along the way. Apple Maps has considerably improved over the years so those memes can officially be put in the dank bin now. Other notable improvements included Panorama Photos, a Do Not Disturb mode, FaceTime over cellular networks and the integration of a Facebook API into the core OS.
  • iOS 7
    The biggest change with iOS design was its departure from the skeuomorphic design philosophy towards a more flatter design. Apple still retained gradients on its app icons but the overall change was starkly different from everything prior to that release. A lot more elements of the UI became translucent. All of these changes, were quite frankly, a breath of fresh air for an OS that had retained its look for 7 whole years. New features and apps introduced include AirDrop, an additional Control Center, new Photos app and iTunes Radio.
  • iOS 8
    iOS 8 wasn’t a huge upgrade over the previous versions in terms of innovations. Most of the changes were improvements on existing technologies and apps. There were quite a few improvements for developers that made it easier for them to accomplish a lot more. To begin with, we saw Handoff, a method of syncing work between multiple iDevices allowing you to commence work on one device, pause and resume from another device altogether. The iOS app sandboxing was made a little less stringent allowing apps to communicate with each other. So you could now use another app’s features with your own app provided you incorporated their API. So there was no need to send a communications request to a remote server, you could do all of that within your device. Two new APIs were released under the HealthKit and HomeKit bucket allowing more apps to be built. HealthKit could be used to communicate between different personal health apps, and similarly, HomeKit did the same for home automation.
  • iOS 9
    Following in the footsteps of iOS 8, iOS 9 felt more like an incremental update as well. Things that stood out include App Slimming, a feature that ensure that only the assets required for your device would be stored locally. Let’s say if you had an iPhone 6 and if an app had assets made for the iPad and previous iPhones, then those would not be downloaded to your iPhone, only the iPhone 6 specific assets would be. Siri’s abilities got a shot in the arm and apparently so did the battery, but a more consumer friendly change was the introduction of content blocking extensions for Safari in iOS. This allowed users to block social media trackers, cookies etc.
  • iOS 10
    With iOS 10 came Widgets, yes, those widgets which have been present in Android since version 1.1. Also actions such as picking up your phone caused the iPhone to wake, this too was a me-too from Apple but nevertheless welcome. iOS 10 was also the first version to allow users to delete default apps from the system. Then there is the Voicemail transcription service which has been incorporated into the Phone app. Voicemails might not be widely used in India, but it’s still a notable upgrade. Siri was opened up to third-party developers and Maps got a massive overhaul as well. And lastly, we don’t need to say much about the camera app which introduced much bigger improvements to the Live Photos feature and the option of shooting in RAW.

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iOS Firsts and Me-too’s

Apple built a reputation of doing things first in the industry or rather marketing them to seem so. Fanboys from both sides are quick to point out which things Apple did first and which were first introduced with Android, or rather, who ripped whom off. Here are five things that Apple did first and five other things that Apple implemented way after the entire industry did.

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Firsts

  1. Apps (as we known them today)
    The most obvious thing because Apple got the iPhone out in 2007 while the first Android phone released in 2008. Much has been spoken about who started work on the system of apps first but it was Apple that managed to do it first. Though technically, Symbian Apps had been in existence much before either Apple or Google got around to incorporating apps in their phones.
  2. 64-bit mobile processor
    The introduction of the Apple A7 chip in iPhone 5S officially made it the first ever phone to have a 64-bit processor.
  3. Phone payment system
    Apple introduced Apple Pay in 2014 which allowed users to pay straight from their phones. Android and Samsung followed a year later.
  4. Discarding the 3.5 mm jack
    There’s absolutely nothing great about this move. This still seems more counterproductive but it’s still something that Apple did first.
  5. Smartphone Assistant
    Siri was the first smartphone virtual assistant. Google Assistant came much later in 2016. This is purely from an apples to apples comparison. Google did introduce the “OK, Google” feature much earlier in 2013. However, Apple filed the patent for a hands free assistant in 2010 which was granted in 2012. So it’s more of a chicken and egg situation.

Me-toos

  1. Camera Flash
    Apple took quite a while to implement the camera flash in iPhone 4. It had been present in Android devices much earlier than that.
  2. OTA updates
    The phrase Over-The-Air has been synonymous with Android updates since time immemorial but Apple wouldn’t implement it in iOS until version 5.
  3. Multi-tasking
    Apple would tombstone their apps from the beginning, moving data between two apps was a massive pain. Even Cut, Copy, Paste would take a long time (iOS 3) to make its way into the Apple ecosystem. So multi-tasking is an aspect that Apple massively failed at for a long time.
  4. Quick settings panel
    One of the most convenient features of the mobile OS is getting access to the most frequently used settings in a quick manner. Android has had the drag-down panel for ages but iOS would only see it in version 7.
  5. Split screen mode
    The Galaxy Note 2 which ran on Android 4.1 had this functionality but it wasn’t present universally across all Android devices. So this isn’t something stock Android did first but it’s definitely something that Apple did later.

What’s next in iOS 11

iOS 11 was announced a couple of months back and at the time of writing this we’re looking at the 5th iOS 11 Beta being shipped out. So we have a pretty good idea of all the new features that are making their way into the latest version of iOS. Here’s everything that’s new with iOS 11.

  • New Files App
    The iOS Files App makes manipulating files and folders a lot more similar to the manner it is done on the desktop Mac OS. You can switch between views, drag and drop files and folders and even have different panes for different views. The files App will not be a default install, rather it’s something you’ll have to get from the App store.

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  • App Dock like Mac
    There’s now a dynamically accommodating Dock in iOS 11 which not only floats above the screen at all times but will also allow you to add app shortcuts to it. Another thing it can do is present you with suggested apps to perform certain actions with whatever you are currently interacting with on the screen.
  • Slide over / Split view / PIP
    Like the Galaxy Note series, Apple will have split view with iOS 11. You will also be able to slide stuff over each other and switch between them as and when needed.

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  • Drag and Drop
    Move text, files and photos from one app to the other on the iPad with this new feature. You’ll first experience this with the new Files app or if you are sending an email to someone and you wish to embed rich multimedia without having to run to the nearest PC.
  • Apple Pencil additional features
    Pencil will allow you to add markups onto HTML and PDF files. So you can instantly interact with these objects in an organic way before you decide to, let’s say, share your feedback about a new website with your web editor or sign an autograph.
    Other implementations involve scanning documents and fixing them up for alignment issues before signing them. You could even add instant drawings to your notes. So if you were emailing someone and wished to add a quick illustration, just start drawing and all the text will dynamically move apart to give your new drawings space. It’s like responsive web design, expect you can add content instead of just resizing.
  • QuickType
    The Apple keyboard has been a massive downgrade if you were to move to it from, let’s say, SwiftKey or Swype. With the new QuickType feature, Apple makes typing much easier by including shift-symbols/keys on the same keyboard. So you can simply slide down on 1 to get an exclamation mark rather than long pressing or shifting to a different screen altogether.
  • ARKit
    VR and AR are huge and ARKit is a new framework that Apple is introducing so that third-party developers can build better AR experiences using the system’s resources to the fullest.

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New discovery and categorisation in the App Store

Like the Android Play Store which has different tabs for different categories of apps and even new sections that add an element of discovery, Apple has finally decided to wake up and implement the same.

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  • Siri Translation and personalised Music
    Siri can now be asked to translate phrases from English to Chinese, Spanish, French, German or Italian. The other improvement is the better integration with Apple music so that when you ask Siri to play stuff suited to your taste, it probably won’t disappoint you.
  • AirPlay 2
    If you have speakers in every room of the house paired with your iPhone, you’ll be able to synchronise or manipulate each device individually thanks to AirPlay 2.
  • Customisable Control Centre
    This is another me-too from Apple as you can now customise how your Control Centre should appear and in which order. Something that Android has been doing for ages.
  • Automatic Setup
    We don’t know why this wasn’t implemented earlier but if you are migrating from one iDevice to other or simply adding another iDevice to your pool, you can simply synchronise all settings, preferences and iCloud Keychain passwords using Automatic Setup.

 


This article was first published in the September 2017 issue of Fast Track available with Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Mithun Mohandas

While not dishing out lethal doses of sarcasm, this curious creature can often be found tinkering with tech, playing vidya’ games or exploring the darkest corners of the Internets. #PCMasterRace