iOS And The iPhone – A Retrospective

| Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Apple is just about ready to unleash the latest version of iOS, their mobile operating system. iOS 6 comes with a significant number of new features and enhancements over previous versions of iOS. Before we delve into the new features of iOS 6, let’s look at a history of iOS, starting from its initial introduction in January of 2007 and subsequent releases, year after year until iOS 6 this year.

When the iPhone operating system was originally introduced by Steve Jobs in January of 2007 at the Macworld conference, the idea of having a phone that was entirely touchscreen was unfathomable to many users. Cell phones prior to the release of the iPhone all had keypads, with the most popular phones of at that time being Motorola Razr flip phones, Nokia messaging phones, and Blackberry devices. Obviously, with the added benefit of hindsight,  we know how each of these companies have performed since the iPhone release, and which have since fell on hard-times. Motorola has sold their mobile devision to Google. Nokia is struggling to keep the lights on and have begun releasing Windows Mobile devices like the Lumia lineup, and RIM is in a free fall on the stock market, failing to compete with the competition. It’s easy to forget today, but when the iPhone was originally announced, these three companies with the biggest three players in the mobile market.

There were only two different keyboard styles for phones at the time of the iPhone’s launch: a full QWERTY keyboard, which was reserved for advanced devices like RIM’s Blackberry lineup, and the more traditional 12-button pad with a few additional buttons for power, answering a call, and accessing the basic applications included on the phone.

This was the norm and nobody was really looking for anything beyond that. At the time, many speculated

that a phone from Apple would look like an iPod, and have a slide out keyboard (pictured above). What Apple would eventually release, both in their first foray into the market by partnering with Motorola, and eventually the iPhone we all know, looked nothing like most people expected it would.

Apple had tried to innovate with cell phones prior to releasing the original iPhone by partnering with AT&T to create the Motorola Rokr phone (seen on the right), which was released on September 7th, 2005. What was new about the Rokr was that it was able to sync music with iTunes and could even do Multimedia Messaging (MMS). Despite attempting to create a cell phone with iTunes on it. The phone, called the Rokr, didn’t really rock at all. It wasn’t long before Apple head back to the drawing board and withdrew its support for the Motorola phone. It became pretty clear at the time that Apple was not satisfied and went back to the drawing board. Fast forward two years into the future, and Apple was about to  release a product that would change the mobile landscape forever. The phone was called, the iPhone.

The iPhone, Destroyer Of Candybar Phones.

The original iPhone incorporated three major features: an iPod, a phone, and an “Internet communicator”. A key aspect that differentiated the iPhone from phones already on the market was the absence of a keyboard. Instead of having a physical keyboard with physical buttons, the entire interface was touch-based. Today most smartphones, with the exception of the BlackBerry, have virtual keyboards, but in 2007 the concept was, simply, revolutionary.

The original iPhone differed in significant ways from the other phones that existed at the time. A traditional stylus wasn’t needed to interact with the 3.5-inch touchscreen. Instead you used a stylus that all humans are born with, your fingers. Apple named the new technology “Multi-Touch”, because it allowed multiple finger gestures to interface with the screen simultaneously. It was this decision to go with a Multi-Touch screen over a traditional screen that allowed Apple to do away with the physical keyboard. Instead, Apple incorporated an on-screen keyboard that appeared only when an application needed it. Today, Samsung and Apple are fighting it out in court over multi-touch patents. Samsung’s lawyers have even argued in court that Samsung’s version of multi-touch is far less advanced than Apple’s current technologies.

At the time, early iPhone testers and the press were publicly critical of the virtual keyboard. Shaw Wu, an analyst for American Technology Research argued:

[quote]However, customers who are accustomed to a physical keyboard may find typing on a screen to be less certain and accurate than on physical buttons and face a learning curve.[/quote]

But, by late 2008 Android handset makers, and RIM were already getting ready to rollout virtual keyboards in some of their products. Pundits were quick to complain about the virtual keyboard, but the reality was that the competition immediately took steps to counteract Apple’s virtual keyboard.

It wasn’t just Apple’s introduction of the virtual keyboard in the iPhone that set it apart from the competition. At the time of the iPhone’s launch, the software used to power cell phones varied enormously. Each cell phone manufacturer either had their own propriety software or a preferred licensed software package that was integrated into their devices. Some phones used Windows Mobile, Blackberry devices used BlackBerry OS, and a majority used proprietary operating systems. Many of the phones, excluding the smartphones that used Windows Mobile or BlackBerry OS, were used exclusively for text messaging and actually making phone calls, and therefore had somewhat limited software that provided a less extensible user experience.

The devices running BlackBerry OS or Windows Mobile were marketed as hand-held computers that could perform many of the tasks that you might hope to be able to do while on the go, such as email and editing Microsoft Office documents, but if you wanted custom applications, the user would have to add a web app to the home screen through Safari.  In the original iOS, all apps were web apps. Apple wasn’t opening the device up to developers, but developers could leverage web standard technologies to create web apps for the phone. It was the first phone to push HTML 5, and similar technologies, as the primary development language for the device.

During the introduction of the iPhone, Apple made sure to note that the iPhone had “OS X under the hood.” Many people initially took this to mean that OS X itself was running the phone. In reality, the operating system running the iPhone incorporated many of the technologies that made OS X so secure.

Apple dubbed the software iPhone OS. The original iPhone came with only a handful of applications that were created and maintained by Apple, in a similar fashion to many of the other phones on the market. Those apps included: Phone, Safari, iPod, Contacts, Settings, SMS, Calendar, Photos, Camera, Maps, Calculator, Mail, Notes and Clock. These were the only applications that were available for iPhoneOS, and this was the case until the release of iPhone OS 2.0.

Apple chose go with GSM cellular standard adopted by the majority of the world because it was the standard for many countries, not just in North America, but across the entire world. This would prove to be a smart choice later on down the road.

The original iPhone was a revolutionary device, despite claims to the contrary by a lot of early tech reviewers. The phone ultimately changed the way that phones were viewed. Instead of just being primarily for phone calls and text messages, they were now little computers that could get a lot more done than previously thought possible. It was no longer about having the best phone in your pocket. For most, it was about having the best computer in your pocket.  RIM started the revolution with the BlackBerry, but Apple’s re-invisioning of the smartphone took the device out of the hands of stodgy business men and turned the business class device into a consumer device, no small feat considering the history of the smartphone to that point in time.

Of course, a company is only as good as its latest release, and while Apple’s first iteration may have made smartphones hip, it was the iPhone 3G that changed everything, just like the graph below shows.

The iPhone 3G Changed Everything.

The iPhone 3G added a number of new features. The first was 3G networking, which allowed even faster data speeds over cellular connections. The second was the introduction of iPhone OS 2.0, which through the use of the App Store Apple had created, allowed you to purchase and install apps beyond those provided by Apple that were pre-installed on the phone. This marked Apple’s shift from viewing the iPhone as a Web App only device to an App Store model that resulted in 70 percent of sales going to developers and 30 percent of sales going to Apple.

The third big feature was push email, contacts and calendars. With push email, you no longer had to manually check for updates to your email; instead, new email would automatically be sent to your device. The iPhone 3G also included Microsoft Exchange support, Cisco VPN, a WIFI-assisted GPS for maps. The form factor also changed, with the phone slimming down and the top and bottom of becoming tapered.

Sales of the iPhone 3G hit the one million devices mark within the first weekend of sales. The original iPhone took 74 days to hit the one million mark.  As for the newly introduced App Store, within the first week Apple had over 800 third-party games already in the App Store. Consumers had downloaded over 10 million applications and games in the first week alone.

It was clear at this point that a lot of earlier adopters had purchased the original iPhone, but that the general public, and those outside of the US, were waiting for the iPhone 3G to be released before buying a smartphone form Apple. The graph above shows an explosion in the fourth quarter of 2008, and it’s pretty clear that the iPhone 3G put Apple on the cellphone world map of the masses at this point.

iPhone 3GS: The S Stands For Speed.

The iPhone 3GS was essentially a faster version of the iPhone 3G, keeping the same form factor and getting a little more power under the hood. The iPhone 3GS also included a 3.0 megapixel camera, which was an upgrade from the original iPhone and iPhone 3G’s 2.0 megapixel camera. With the upgraded camera came the ability to take record, much to the dismay of iPhone 3G users. The iPhone 3GS also allowed users to tether their iPhone to their computer and use the 3G connection to get Internet access, as long as carriers provided the service. Most carriers saw it as an opportunity to add on tethering plans for smartphones, and took advantage of customers and forced them to open their wallets.

By this point, you’ve probably noticed a new trend.  Every time Apple introduces a brand new phone, they also roll out a new version of their mobile operating system. As we’ve alluded to, but haven’t mentioned explicitly until now is that at this point Apple began dropping support for older devices. Some features, while available for new phones, were not offered for previous generation phones. This time around, iPhone OS 3.0 brought another set of new features, including subscriptions within applications, in-app purchases, third-party accessory support, Push Notification services, Multimedia Messaging (MMS), voice memos, and a small feature called copy and paste.

Most of the services that were included in the new operating system were heavily lobbied for by bloggers and tech journalists. Copy and Paste was a huge addition, and so was the video recording capabilities as you could probably imagine at this stage of the game.

How was the phone received? Gizmodo, who was still in love with Apple at this point, reviewed the device favorably, stating, “as a whole, the iPhone 3GS is the best all-around smartphone available. If you’re looking for a refined, augmented version of what you already know, a phone that, not for nothing, runs all the tens of thousands of apps on the App Store, choose the iPhone 3GS.”  On the other hand, this was also the first time Apple iterated on a previous design with the iPhone, a practice that would happen again when the iPhone 4S was announced. People noticed, and quite a few people, like Gizmodo journalist Jason Chen , also complained about it, despite giving the phone positive reviews.

The cycle was now set. Release a newly designed phone, then a year later, release the same phone again with a “speed” increase and a couple of new features.  It’s a cycle that would play out in the iPhone world again, as well as the iPad world eventually.

“It’s Not Really Going To Be Called iPad, Is It?” – Everyone.

Apple released its first tablet, named the iPad, in April of 2010. The iPad was a 9.7-inch tablet device that took the best of the iPhone and made it bigger.

Leading up to a special event, news leaked that Apple was getting ready to announce a tablet. No one knew what the name was going to be for certain, but journalists with an inside scoop revealed that the tablet was going to be called the iPad.  Once the news trickled across the web, everyone gasped and moaned in unison. Apple wouldn’t, nay, couldn’t, name a tablet the iPad, could they? As we now know, they not only named the device iPad, they’ve never looked back.

Since the operating system now had to serve both the iPad as well as the iPhone, Apple remained iPhone OS to iOS. It was also necessary to split iOS into two different development lines in order to serve both of these devices. The iPad introduced iPhone OS 3.2, which was effectively iOS 3.0, but included the elements needed to develop specifically for iPads. The initial release of the iPad, running iPhone OS 3.2, did not bring many new features, but there were a few. The first of these was iWork for iPad, which was the first OS X app to be ported natively over to iOS. A trend that has continued through until present day with releases of apps like iPhoto, and iMovie. iWork a strong strategic move that acted  like a spark that set fire to the claims that the iPad was a toy before anyone even had time to think it. The iPad could be used as a productivity device as well as a consumption device. It was meant for the home, but it could also be used in the office too.

Also introduced as a new feature with the iPad was iBooks, a new store for Apple, this time filled exclusively with books.

There was one particularly interesting hardware choice with the iPad as well, the introduction of the “A4” processor, which was a huge step in Apple’s production of iOS devices. Prior to the iPad, all of Apple’s processors for iPhone and iPod touch devices were designed and manufactured by other companies. The A4 was the first time that Apple included a processor that was entirely designed within Apple’s confines. The A4 would become the basis for all of Apple’s future mobile devices.

iPhone OS 4

On April 8th, 2010, two days before the release of the original iPad on April 10th, 2010, Apple held a keynote to describe the new features of iPhone OS 4.0. iPhone OS 4.0 was one of the biggest upgrades in the history of iOS, bringing with it a slew of new features. Unfortunately, it was also announced at the keynote that the iPad would not be receiving the iPhone OS 4.0 upgrade, so all the new feature goodness was reserved for the iPhone and iPod touch.

Of all the new features in iPhone OS 4.0, two probably heralded the most attention. The first of these was the introduction of folders. Since the release of the original iPhone, you could customize which Home screen apps appeared on. There was a limit of sixteen apps per Home screen and a total of nine Home screens. This allowed for 144 apps, plus the four that always appeared in the Dock, for a total of 148 applications. While it was possible to install more apps and use spotlight search to locate then, this was not ideal. But with iPhone OS 4.0, you could now put up to twelve apps in each folder and up to sixteen folders on each Home screen. This gives you 192 apps per Home screen. The number of home screens also increased to 11, so overall you could now fit 2112 apps on your iPhone’s Home screens. And of course, if you also include the apps in the Dock, which could also hold up to four folders, the total number of apps on your phone increased to 216. In addition to this significant increase in the number of apps that you could fit on your phone, the advent of folders also allowed you to keep all of those apps organized. And creating these folders was so simple, just go into ‘Edit’ mode by tapping and holding an icon and then dragging one application on top of another.

The other new feature that garnered a lot of attention in iPhone OS 4.0, and possibly most important of all the new features, is multi-tasking. With all versions of iPhone OS prior to version 4.0, you could only run a single application at a time, although there were a few exceptions to this rule. There were a few applications that were allowed to run in the background — the iPod application, Mail.app, and SMS — all of which were maintained by Apple. Despite this, developers knew that it was possible for their apps to multi-task for a couple of reasons, most obviously because Apple’s own applications were able to, but also because the jailbreak community had already proven that it was possible by implementing multi-tasking in many jailbreaks. Finally, Apple announced that iPhone OS 4.0 would allow multi-tasking with third party applications.

Multi-tasking

Multi-tasking, despite now being available, received some criticism for its lack of being “true” multi-tasking. Apple’s implementation of multi-tasking doesn’t allow apps to run wild in the background. Instead, Apple opted for an implementation where once an app was moved to the background and a second app was in use, the first app would continue to run in a paused state. Developers were required to set the app up so that it would save its last state for you, so that if you open up the app again, it would resume where you last left off. Despite the grumblings of some developers, multi-tasking was the most exciting and anticipated feature of iPhone OS 4.0.

Game Center

Apple also introduced a new gaming feature called Game Center in iPhone OS 4.0. This is a feature that allows developers to centrally maintain leaderboards and achievements, providing an even better user experience in iOS games.

Also new in iPhone OS 4.0:customized Home screen wallpapers, spell check while typing, iBooks, and Bluetooth keyboard support. The last two were previously only available for the iPad with iPhone OS 3.2, but with iPhone OS 4.0 they were now available for the iPhone and iPod touch too. In addition, those of use who manage multiple email services were happy to see an option for a unified inbox, so that you could now access all of your email in one spot.

Enterprise Tools Rolled Out

 A number of features were also introduced in iPhone OS 4.0 that appealed particularly to enterprises. Enterprises need to be able to securely manage and connect devices to their infrastructure to be sure that proprietary information does not leak outside of the company. Some of the new enterprise features in iPhone OS 4.0 included Mobile Device Management, which allowed enterprises to determine what could and could not be done with the mobile device. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Virtual Private Network (VPN) support was also added. SSL VPNs allow for a more secure connection over Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) or Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP). SSL VPNs use Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) in order to allow devices to connect VPNs to corporate headquarters.

The last enterprise-level set of features added related to Microsoft Exchange Server. Prior to iPhone OS 4.0, iPhone users were only able to connect a single Microsoft Exchange email account to their device. With iPhone OS 4.0, this was no longer the case, since you could now connect to multiple Microsoft Exchange accounts. With this implementation, Apple also added support for Microsoft Exchange 2010.

iPhone 4, The Actual Fourth iPhone.

With all the iPhone 5 rumors hitting the web these days, we thought we should point out that the iPhone 4 was actually Apple’s fourth phone. For those keeping score, the numbering system has gone iPhone (1), iPhone 3G (2), iPhone 3GS (3), and this time around it was iPhone 4. The numbers added up, and the Internet rejoiced a little bit.

The iPhone 4 was probably one of the biggest changes to the iPhone line when it was announced.  We mentioned in the section about the iPhone 3GS that a lot of people weren’t pleased that the 3GS generation was essentially a carbon copy of the iPhone 3G (except under the hood).  This time Apple decided to rebuild the phone from scratch, but the design wasn’t without its detractors.

In fact, leading up to the iPhone 4 announcement, a probably drunk, Apple engineer left a prototype at a bar. Someone found it, and began shopping it around to tech blogs. History tells us that Gizmodo paid for the prototype and then began to show it off on their site. They provided pictures, videos, and even took the device apart and showed off its innards. Apple was pissed, and the general public was pissed.  No one believed Gizmodo at first, and very few people actually believed that the device was designed by Apple’s heralded design team.

Gizmodo certainly had an Apple prototype, because when Apple took the stage to announce the iPhone 4, it looked exactly like the prototype that was “found” in a bar months earlier.

In addition to a new form factor, a lot of external features were changed or added as well. The screen remained 3.5-inches, but the resolution increased from 480×320 to 960×640 and the pixel density increased from 160 ppi to 326 ppi, earning it the name “Retina.” The name originated from the claim that the screen was at a higher resolution than the human retina can actually see. We’ve later come to find out that that particular claim is actually false.

The iPhone 4 also received a front-facing camera. While each model of the iPhone contained a camera on the rear of the phone, the iPhone 4 was the first to include a front-facing camera as well. This front-facing camera allowed a new application, FaceTime, to be included free with the iPhone. FaceTime was Apple’s attempt to combat the popularity of Skype. FaceTime could only work over Wi-Fi connections, but it was better than nothing at all.

The rear-facing camera got a spec bump in the iPhone 4, improving it significantly. It could now handle 720p recording at 30 frames per second, which is better than DVD quality video. It also got an LED flash, which could be used for both still images as well as for video.

Antennagate

Another enhanced feature in the iPhone 4 was completely redesigned antennas. In fact, instead of having the antennas located inside the phone, the sides of the iPhone 4 became the antennas. This was a radical shift that allowed more internal space for the battery and other components. One of the issues with this design was that if a user held their hand over the lower-left corner of the iPhone, this could bridge the gap between the two antennas, and the GSM signal could deteriorate to the point where a call might be dropped. This issue was identified as “antennagate” by the press and bloggers. Apple did issue a fix for this problem by doing two things. The first was allowing customers to choose a free “bumper” case up to $30 in value. The second was to issue a software update that mitigated the issue.

In addition to all the physical changes with the iPhone 4, there was one big software update, which was the release of iMovie for iPhone. iMovie was another port of a native OS X application that made it to the iPhone. iMovie was designed to take advantage of both of the cameras that were in the iPhone 4, and it allowed users to take and edit videos right on the phone without having to transfer them to their Mac or PC. iMovie on the iPhone proved yet again that the iPhone could be a device capable of producing content and not just consuming it.

The iPhone 4 announcement was one of the biggest for Apple. It unveiled a number of changes in the iPhone that would become the gold standard for other cell phones to mimic and attempt to copy.

iOS 4.1/iOS 4.2

WWDC 2010 was not Apple’s last keynote for the year. In September of 2010 Apple held their fall event. At the event, iOS 4.1 was introduced. iOS 4.1 included bug fixes, but also brought with it High Dynamic Range (HDR) photographs, TV show rentals, and HD video uploads.

The September event also included a sneak peak at iOS 4.2, which was eventually released on November 22, 2010. iOS 4.2 brought the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch into parity with each other. One of the new features in iOS 4.2 was AirPlay, which allows you to wirelessly stream video, music, and photos from your iPhone and iPad. Along with AirPlay, iOS4.2 also introduced the ability to print from iOS devices, which was dubbed AirPrint. Until the release of iOS 4.2, if you wanted to print something from your iOS device, you would have to send it to yourself over email and then print it from your computer. With iOS 4.2, you could just print directly from your iOS device. AirPrint was originally touted as being able to use a user’s Mac to print to a printer, but this never came to fruition. In actuality, not many people have AirPrint capable printers, nor do they print from their iPhone or iPads often.

The event also brought new iPods, iPod touches as well as Ping (long since cancelled), Apple’s social network built within iTunes. While these are all significant in their own way, they did not bring that many additional features to iOS. But the event did introduce one other new iOS device that did have an impact on iOS: the Apple TV 2.

Verizon iPhone

By this point, it was pretty obvious that carriers in the US were plenty annoyed over AT&T’s exclusivity deal with Apple. For many, giving AT&T their hard-earned money, was not something they were willing to do given the companies reputation for dropped calls, and borderline shady fees.  Apple was set to break the deal, and finally got around to creating an iPhone just for the Verizon network.  Many hoped for a “world phone” that would work on both the AT&T network and the Verizon network, but it wasn’t in the cards just yet.

In January of 2011, Verizon announced that it had reached a deal with Apple to begin distributing the iPhone 4 on its network. The only differences between this model and the then current iPhone 4 was that the antenna configuration was slightly different, allowing it to work more optimally on Verizon’s CDMA network, but it still supported GSM for international travel. The prices and other features of the phone remained the same, and iOS debuted on the phone at version 4.2.5. There was one additional item of note with the Verizon iPhone 4: you could use Verizon’s iPhone 4 as a mobile hotspot, allowing you to connect other Wi-Fi-only devices to it.

Bizarrely, Apple’s Verizon iPhone event took place in New York City as opposed to the usual Apple events in San Francisco. Many speculated that it was a drastic change for Apple, and that future iPhone events could be held in New York, but that’s turned out to be false, and both the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 have been held in San Francisco.

iPad 2

On March 2nd, 2011, Apple held another event to announce the iPad 2. There were a few significant changes with the iPad 2, including a complete redesign from the original iPad, similar to what was seen when Apple upgraded the original iPhone to the iPhone 3G. Besides the physical redesign, there were also some other hardware improvements.

The iPad 2 used another new Apple-designed chip, the A5 processor, which included dual-graphics and significantly better graphics performance. The A5 also sported the same low power consumption as the A4 and made the iPad 2 a much faster device over the original iPad.

The second hardware change was the cameras. While the original iPad didn’t included a rear-facing camera, the iPad 2 featured both a rear-facing camera, capable of taking 720P recordings at 30 frames per second, as well as a front-facing camera. The front-facing camera had the standard VGA (640×480) resolution that was on all other iOS devices with cameras.

The iPad 2 also allowed a new feature, HDMI out. HDMI out allowed the iPad 2 to be mirrored, or have a secondary display, depending on the application, using a proprietary 30-pin Dock to HDMI cable.

With the iPad 2, you could now decide between AT&T and Verizon for your 3G connectivity. But once you decided which company you wanted to use, you were stuck with that choice. The iPad 2 was also the first iPad to be offered in white, in addition to the standard black.

iOS 4.3

Beyond the new hardware changes on the iPad 2, there were also some software changes. The iPad 2 brought with it iOS 4.3, which introduced a few new features.

One of the new features that came with iOS 4.3 was iTunes Home Sharing, which allowed you to see the media on all of your home computers by using the same Apple ID to login. iTunes Home sharing only worked over the local network, not across the Internet, and it required an iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or Apple TV. This addition meant that users were able to sit on their couch with their iOS device, and stream the content to their devices from a Mac on a local network.

Another new feature in iOS 4.3 was personal hotspot, but this feature was restricted to the iPhone 4. Of course, as already mentioned, Verizon’s iPhone 4 included this feature when it was initially released, but now  an iPhone 4 from AT&T could allow hotspot sharing, if you were willing to pay for it. To use hotspot sharing through AT&T, you had to pay a minimum of $45, which broke down to $25 for 2GB of data and $20 for hotspot sharing. Many AT&T customers resisted changing plans because they had unlimited data plans. In other countries like Canada, the functionality was offered for free so long as users had data plans that were larger than 1GB. Remember how we mentioned asinine charges from AT&T above? Well, this is a clear example of this situation. Despite paying for data plans on the AT&T network, ATT decided that it was in their best interest to charge users for using it through Hotspot. What a joke.

With iOS 4.3, Apple continued to port over more of their Mac OS X applications to iOS, including Photo Booth, iMovie, GarageBand and FaceTime for iPads.  It was obvious that Apple was fighting hard to rid iOS and the iPad stigma of being a consumption only device.  iMovie applications were now available on the iPad, and the iPad was finally beginning to look like a potential PC replacement that many thought it could be for a majority of computer users.

iOS 5

In keeping with tradition, Apple held another iteration of its World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June of 2011, and the big announcement at the conference was iOS 5. iOS 5 brought with it a myriad of new features, several of which were highly anticipated.

One of the most anticipated changes in iOS 5 was the revamped notification system, known as Notification Center. Notification Center brought a central mechanism for all types of notifications, including local, push, SMS/MMS and email. It allowed you to control what notifications you receive. If you don’t want to see notifications from a particular application, just disable it from Notification Center and you will no longer get them. Notification Center also offered three different ways by which you could be notified: badges, banners, and alerts. Alerts are the rounded-rectangular boxes that pop up on the screen. Badges are the little numbers found on the upper-right corner of an app’s icon, as well as the folder within which the app is located if it were placed in a folder. Both of these notification types were around prior to iOS 5, but banners were not. Banners are little notifications that appeared at the top of your iOS device that only stay temporarily, just to give you a quick glance at the notification. You can click on the banner to open up the application that generated the notification, or just let the notification automatically close.

Newsstand, a specialized folder that contains all of the newspapers and magazines that you’ve purchased or subscribed to, was also introduced in iOS 5. Apple attempted to group together mainstream media news publications in newsstand and remove them from the App Store. The decision as a win at the time, but given the luxury of hindsight, Newsstand has still failed to catch on with the public to the same level that applications have over the years.  Companies like Conde Naste, The New York Times, and The Daily are all available in Newsstand today, but despite comments to the contrary, the feature was never as successful as many pundits and journalists hoped it could be.

A new application that premiered with iOS 5 was Reminders. This app took the idea of a task list and made it a bit more elegant. It can integrate with email servers, like Gmail or even Microsoft Exchange servers, and reminders can be location-based. This last can be very useful if you need to pick up milk or stop to pick up dry cleaning on your way home. Reminders synchronize across all of a your iOS devices so long as they run iOS 5 or higher.

The Mail application was also updated with the release of iOS 5. Rich Text Format was added, so text could now be formatted. Text could also now be indented. It was now also possible to flag emails. Prior to iOS5, you could flag emails on the server but the flags weren’t carried over to your iOS 4.3 device. Another important email functionality that was missing in Mail.app prior to iOS 5 was the ability to search in the body of emails. This is an important tool if you have a lot of stored mail, and its addition in iOS 5 was very welcome. iOS 5 also brought email encryption to Mail.app via Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME). S/MIME uses Public Key cryptography to encode emails so that only the intended recipient is able to decode the message. By doing this, only a sender with the proper private key could encrypt the message so that the recipient, who would have the sender’s public key, would be able to decrypt the message and read the contents. This is a huge security enhancement that was greatly needed on mobile devices.

Since the introduction of the original iPod back in 2001, in order to sync media, upgrade software, and back up your iOS devices, you had to connect them to your PC via the 30-pin connector. iOS 5 changed this for the first time, by allowing you to synchronize your devices over Wi-Fi. Of course, this was already being done in the jailbreak community, but iOS 5 made it mainstream. Along with wireless syncing, with iOS 5 you were also no longer required to connect your iOS device to your PC in order to set it up. The first time I set up my iPhone without needing to connect it to my iMac was a spectacular experience.

In keeping with the ‘no PC needed’ theme in iOS 5, you could also now update your iOS device over Wi-Fi. This is a no-brainer since it really wouldn’t make any sense to have to get software updates by connecting the device to your PC when you don’t need to connect the device to do the initial setup.

You might think, ‘Fantastic, updates and syncing without wires; that’s all I need.’ But there was one hitch to all this wireless goodness. iOS updates have progressively gotten larger. iOS 5.1.1 for the iPhone 4S comes in at 803MB for the full restore. For many users, downloading this large of a file over Wi-Fi would be a deal breaker. To solve this problem, Apple came up with delta updates, which are smaller updates that only incorporate the changes from the current iOS version to the latest. This is a lot like downloading OS X software updates. For instance, the incremental update from OS X 10.8.0 to OS X 10.8.1 was a mere 7MB, while the combo update for OS X 10.8.1 was 24.2 MBs.

Since the initial release of the iPhone in June of 2007 through to March 30th, 2012,, Apple has sold well over 365 million iOS devices. Assuming that not all of these are active, a very conservative estimate of current active devices would be 150 million. That is a lot of people using these devices. Many of these iOS devices are iPod touches and iPads, which didn’t have any means of sending messages to other devices prior to iOS 5, unlike the iPhone which could do text messages. In order to give ALL of Apple’s iOS users the ability to communicate with other iOS users, Apple came up with iMessage in iOS 5. iMessage is Apple’s free answer to cell phone providers’ Short Message Service (SMS). iMessage uses Apple’s cloud infrastructure to send messages between iOS devices. It uses email addresses as well as cell phone numbers to reach other devices. Key features in iMessage were the ability to see when a user is typing, in real time,  and the ability to send images and video. Particularly neat within iMessage was that your messages could be received on all of your iOS devices, so you could be sure to get your messages regardless of which device you were currently working on. A last feature unique to iMessage is delivery receipts. These receipts informed you that the message you sent did get received.

iCloud, A Move Towards The Future

iCloud was also introduced at WWDC 2011. iCloud is Apple’s replacement for its Mobile Me service, which had been around since July 9th, 2008. With the transition from MobileMe to iCloud, some features were removed because they did not fit into Apple’s vision: Mobile Me galleries, iDisk, and iWeb. Despite these being removed, iCloud does provide some new functionality that is quite useful, including syncing of contacts, calendars, documents, mail services, applications, photos, and purchased music, books and videos as well as shared calendars and push email.

When Apple conceived of iCloud, I’m sure it realized that there were many customers who had multiple iOS devices. While syncing was available, it was kludgy, particularly under Mobile Me. In order to provide a better experience for its customers, Apple opted to have iCloud do a better job of syncing information. Instead of merely synching iOS devices, Apple pushed information to devices. Using push services, versus pulling, meant that Apple’s iCloud was now responsible for keeping track of which device was up to date, removing the responsibility from the user, and thereby creating a better experience. Push services were implemented for contacts and calendars, as well as mail services for @me.com addresses.

iCloud also allowed you to share calendars. This feature had been available in other mail services, like Gmail, for some time. But it was a disaster to try to get this to properly work on iOS. Now you could share your calendars with others over iCloud.

iCloud also provided a way for users to get all of their documents stored in iCloud on all of their iOS devices. Developers had to include this functionality in their app, and a document created in one app could not be edited in another app. The only way to move documents between apps was via email or, if the application supports it, through iTunes File Sharing. There is no way for developers to build in the ability to share documents between applications over iCloud and iOS does not have this functionality.

With iCloud, all of your photos and videos could now be pushed to all of your iOS devices. This service is called Photo Stream, and when it was first introduced, there was no way to select which photos were included. Photo Stream synchronized all of your photos into a giant timeline that was pushed to all of your iOS devices.

All of the purchases made on one iOS device could also be pushed across all of your iOS devices with iCloud, although this was more automatic downloading than a true push service. This included books from iBooks, music from iTunes, and applications.

One final important feature introduced with iCloud was iTunes Match. This is a service that takes your music, regardless of its source, and matches it with the entire iTunes catalog. If a song is not in the iTunes catalog, it is uploaded to iCloud. If you have a song that is 96kbps, when it is matched, the song file is automatically upgraded to iTune’s 256kbps version of the song. However, if a song doesn’t have a match in the iTunes catalog, it will be uploaded as is. iTunes Match doesn’t just store your files, it also allows you to stream any of your songs from iCloud to your iOS devices, including the Apple TV. iTunes Match does have a limit to the number of songs that it can handle, which is 25,000 songs. If you purchased music from iTunes, this music is automatically available and doesn’t count towards the 25,000 song limit. While iTunes Match does have a lot of features, it is not free, costing you $24.99 per year. However, if your hard drive happens to die, you’l be able to retrieve all of your music without having to re-pay for it, which would be a huge bonus.

iPhone 4S

Apple also held another event on October 4th, 2011, named Let’s Talk iPhone, which was CEO Tim Cook’s first since being named CEO. At the event, Apple announced the iPhone 4S and updates to the iPod touch, as well as a couple of new apps.

The iPod touch only got a few tweaks. First, it could now run iOS 5, which wasn’t a big surprise, but it was nice to have confirmation. The bigger news regarding the iPod touch was that it would be available in white. When the iPhone 4 was originally released, there were some issues with the white model. It took nearly nine months after the iPhone 4 was launched for the white model to be available in any significant quantity. So, it was nice to see a white iPod touch. The iPod touch also dropped in price. The 8GB iPod touch was reduced to $199, and the 32GB and 64GB models would cost $299 and $399, respectively.

The biggest news, and star of the show, was the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 4S kept the same form-factor as the iPhone 4. Retaining the same form-factor for two models had become Apple’s standard pattern. The iPhone 4S sported the same A5 processor as the iPad 2. The iPhone 4S also had dual cellular antennas, and could intelligently switch between the two antennas, even in the middle of a call, by selecting the antenna with the better signal. This also allowed faster data transmission speeds using 4G technology. In this case, 4G does not mean Long Term Evolution (LTE), but the generic term used by cellular providers to mean anything above 3G. The iPhone 4S was theoretically capable of handling speeds of 14.4 Mbps for downloads and 5.8 Mbps for uploads.

The iPhone 4S was also considered to be a world phone. What this means is that instead of Apple creating two different phones, one that uses CDMA, and another that uses GSM, it created a single phone that could handle both GSM and CDMA. If you opted for a CDMA-based cellular provider, like Verizon or Sprint, you could now travel the world and not have any issues in GSM-only countries.

The camera in the iPhone 4S was also upgraded. It included an 8 megapixel sensor that was capable of creating images that were 3264 pixels by 2448 pixels. This was a 60 percent increase in the number of pixels over the iPhone 4. The new sensor in the iPhone 4S was illuminated from the backside, which means it could let in more light and provide more light, allowing it to work much better in low-light situations. The camera also included better face-detection software, which made it easier to focus on the people in the shots instead of other elements.

While photos may be the biggest draw for the iPhone 4S, video also got an upgrade to 1080p. This is a significant improvement over 720p video. This made it the best camera that many users had ever owned up until this point.

Siri

This was not the end of the iPhone 4S event. Apple also introduced an exciting new feature in iOS 5, Siri. Prior to the October 4th event, Siri was an app that was available on the iTunes store, but now Siri would be integrated into iOS 5, but only for the iPhone 4S. The integrated Siri did not nearly have the same level of functionality as the application Siri, but it was a start. You could ask Siri for restaurants recommendations, the current time and weather, to set an alarm, make calendar inquiries, read and respond to messages, get definitions, play songs, find contacts, write notes, and of course, search the web. The default response, if Siri could not locate the information, was to search the web. Many of the results that Siri retrieved were from Wolfram Alpha, which not a bad thing.

There were also a few other small announcements at the event. With a 2-year contract with a carrier, you could now get an 8GB version of the iPhone 4 for $99 and the iPhone 3GS for free. Apple also updated the iPod nano at the event. They were not discussed because they do not ‘officially’ run iOS. We can speculate that they do run a VERY stripped down version of iOS, but the multi-touch interface is not considered to be iOS.

3rd Generation, or “New” iPad.

The 3rd Generation iPad was the big item of the announcement this time around, as you would expect. The 3rd Generation iPad had some significant new features. These included a Retina display, a a new processor which allowed for better graphics performance, a new camera, voice dictation, and Long Term Evolution (LTE) for 4G connectivity. The 3rd Generation iPad retained the same form-factor and price points as the previous iPad 2.

While not the first Retina display on an iOS device, the Retina display on an iPad signified that Apple had been working on the manufacturing process for Retina displays that would allow larger screens (reaffirmed by the recent release of a Retina MacBook Pro). The resolution of the 3rd Generation iPad was 2048 pixels by 1536 pixels. This resolution meant that the 3rd generation iPad now had more pixels than any 1080p television. The Retina display also meant that the colors on the display looked even better than the iPad 2’s graphics.

To run this larger Retina display a new processor, the A5X, was needed. Apple improved the A5X to have four times the graphics performance of the previous A5 chip. The A5X included quad-core graphics. Quad-core graphics within a mobile device.

Along with the Retina display Apple also included an improved camera. The camera was improved to be a 5 megapixel sensor, with autofocus and white balance, and face detection. The improved camera also allowed for 1080p video to be recorded, just like on the iPhone 4S. The camera also included image stabilization, which is much needed since being able to stabilize a bulky iPad is no easy feat.

Voice Dictation was a new feature that was a subset of Siri functionality. Voice dictation allowed any user to use their voice instead of having to type out items on the keyboard. Voice dictation used voice processing that was the same as what was used in Dragon Naturally speaking. In order to access Voice dictation, a user had to first enable voice dictation in the Settings. The next step would be to click on the Microphone icon on the lower left portion of the keyboard.

The last feature that was added to the 3rd Generation iPad was LTE connectivity. LTE was a significant improvement over 3G connectivity. LTE allowed faster connections when traveling away from Wifi. The addition of LTE also provided hope that the next iPhone would also include LTE connectivity, which we now know will happened. Apple could include LTE because they knew that it would not significantly impact battery life on the 3rd Generation iPad. The addition of LTE also brought with it the ability to use the iPad as a hotspot, if the carrier’s supported the functionality. This means that a user could subscribe to a data plan on their 3rd Generation iPad and connect their other devices to the iPad over Wifi.

The Big iPhone 5 Reveal and iOS 6

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, Apple’s announced the iPhone 5. The phone, which has yet to ship, will be reviewed extensively here once we get our hands on a review model. So, to hold you over until then, here’s a video of the Apple event.

Tomorrow iOS 6 will be released to the masses, and we’ll be providing a look at the big update once it goes live, so stay tuned. The next chapter of iPhone and iOS is about to be written, and we’ll have a first hand look at the phone and operating system as soon as we can.

 

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