5 years in: The evolution of the iPhone OS

It's been five years since the release of the first iPhone OS, and a lot has changed with each subsequent release. Take a stroll down memory lane as I chart the changes with each new version.

Apple iOS
CNET

On the fifth anniversary for the iPhone and as we draw closer to the release of iOS 6 this fall ( read our First Take from WWDC here ), I can't help but think of how far Apple's iOS has come since the day the first iPhone was unveiled.

If you remember, that first iPhone was announced by Steve Jobs and Apple on January 9, 2007, and was more about the touch-screen interface than any extras, but it wasn't until June of that year the iPhone was released to the public. That first iOS wasn't even called iOS (Apple said the phone was running a version of OS X), and was simply the iPhone OS. This early operating system just had what we know today as the core apps -- basics such as Safari, E-mail, Maps, Notes, and a few others. It's hard to believe with how important the App Store is today, but it wasn't until iPhone OS 2.0 that the iTunes App Store was even introduced and still took a while to really get off the ground as app developers experimented with the new device.

Regardless of what smartphone you use now, what Apple did with the first iPhone and its operating system was to put the smartphone into the hands of the casual user. It also pioneered the idea that the smartphone operating system was an evolution that would continue to improve incrementally over time and made iPhone users always want to know, "What will be in the next release?" The first iPhone had almost nothing beyond the fancy touch-screen interface, but over time, Apple listened to users and slowly crossed off the items on our iOS wish lists (while adding new features we hadn't thought of along the way).

It certainly wasn't perfect in the early days, however. Most probably remember the absence of important features in the earlier iterations of the iPhone OS like copy and paste and later multitasking. These were not just glaring omissions, but fodder for advertisers of competing devices in ads trying to win people over to Android devices and other smartphones.

On this five-year anniversary, check out how it all began for the iPhone OS and the steps it took to bring us where we are today. I'm not covering every release here, but instead showing the features added by the time the next major version was released. With that in mind, check out the major updates to Apple's iOS over the past five years.


OS version Release
date
Notable updates
iPhone OS 1.0 (initial release)
June 2007
  • Initial release for the first iPhone

  • Offered apps include the basics like Mail, Messages, Safari, Maps, YouTube, and Calendar.
iPhone OS 1.0.1 - 1.1.4 Beginning in September 2007
  • Improved EDGE and Wi-Fi reception

  • iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store

  • Location awareness

  • Customizable Home screen

  • Multirecipient SMS messages

  • Web clips (Creating a Home screen icon that goes to a Web page)

  • Support for iTunes movie rentals
iPhone OS 2.0
July 2008
  • Support for iPhone 3G
  • Support for App Store and third-party applications
  • Support for Microsoft Exchange
  • Support for 3G data and GPS
iPhone OS 2.0.1 - 2.2.1
Beginning in September 2008
  • Google Street View with directions
  • "Double tap" shortcut brings you to the first Home screen
  • Significantly better battery life for most users
  • Faster installation of third-party apps
  • Improved accuracy of the 3G signal strength display

  • Genius playlist creation
iPhone OS 3.0
June 2009
  • Copy and paste
  • MMS: Text messages with photos and videos

  • New app: Voice memos

  • Landscape mode in mail, text, and notes

  • Voice Control of phone and iPod (iPhone 3GS only)

  • Renting and purchasing of movies, TV, and audiobooks over the air

  • Find My iPhone feature for lost phones via MobileMe

  • In-app purchases now supported
iPhone OS 3.1 - 3.2
Beginning in September 2009
  • App Store Genius

  • New premade ringtones available for purchase
  • Support for iPad (iPhone OS 3.2)

  • Home screens can be customized on iTunes 9

  • Fast-forward and rewind from headphones

  • Improved reception
iOS 4.0
June 2010
  • Multitasking
  • Folders for organizing apps
  • Unified e-mail inbox and threaded e-mail conversations
  • Improved security and business features
  • iBooks for iPhone, iPod Touch

  • iAd

  • 100+ other fixes and features

  • Drops support for the original iPhone
iOS 4.1 - 4.3.5
Beginning in September 2010
  • HDR Photos
  • Game Center
  • AirPrint wireless printing
  • AirPlay support
  • Free Find My iPhone service
  • Assign unique tones to individual SMS senders

  • Support for Verizon

  • No longer backs up location data during sync

  • Improved Safari performance with "Nitro" JavaScript engine
iOS 5.0 October 2011
  • Support for iCloud and iTunes Match
  • iMessage replaces Message app
  • Systemwide Twitter integration

  • Siri (iPhone 4S only)
  • Notification Center and updated lock screen to include notifications

  • New app: Reader

  • New app: Reminders

  • New app: Newsstand, for reading magazines purchased through the App Store

  • Addition of a camera shortcut to the lock screen

  • Use the volume-up button to take photos

  • Game Center app adds support for turn-based network games
iOS 5.1 March 2012
  • Genius Mixes and playlists for iTunes Match
  • Support for third-generation iPad
  • Updated camera app for third-generation iPad
  • Updated Camera shortcut from lock screen


iOS 6 (coming this fall)
iOS 6 was announced at this year's WWDC ( read our First Take ) and will probably be released this fall to coincide with the unveiling of the new iPhone. Scott Forstall, Apple's SVP of iOS, promised that iOS 6 would bring 200 new features, including tighter Facebook integration, an empowered Siri voice assistant, and the capability to conduct FaceTime calls over a cellular network. But the biggest new feature is Apple's decision to replace the current Google Maps app with an in-house version with a whole new look, 3D city views, and turn-by-turn navigation with voice.

 

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