What is Apple iOS?

Originally dubbed iPhone OS, iOS is the mobile operating platform that now operates a raft of Apple devices; from its origins in 2007 when it powered the iPhone and the iPod Touch, to the new generation iPads and Apple TV today. The new name reflects the increasing diversity of Apple’s devices. Anyone who downloads music from iTunes or who owns an iPhone will be aware, however, that unlike Google’s Android operating system or Microsoft’s Windows CE for Mobile and Phone, there is no way to install iOS onto any non-Apple gadget. However, this has been a massive marketing success, in March 2012, the number of programmes available on Apple’s App Store stood at 550,000, with the total number of downloads across the world standing at a staggering 25 billion.
What is Apple iOS?

Pick up an iPhone or other Apple mobile device and you will find that iOS employs “direct manipulation” technology, which allows different touch gestures to activate a selection of functions on the icons tapped on the Apple touchscreens. This makes the user interface highly versatile and fluid, offering gratifyingly immediate results, depending on whether you pinch, tap, swipe or reverse-pinch the screen. In other words, each of these actions activates distinct functions in the iOS multi-touch user interface. Ingenious accelerometer technology allows users to, for example, undo a previous command on some apps, simply by shaking the device, just like the lines on those old “Etch-a-Sketch” children’s drawing pads could be cleared with a quick shuffle.

Some may be surprised to find that iOS is actually a UNIX-based operating system, derived from “OS X,” rather than the much less expensive Linux-based system adopted by Google’s Android devices. It is useful to think of it as consisting of four “layers, ” the Core Operating System layer, the Core Services layer, the Media layer and the Cocoa Touch. Cocoa Touch is the highest level layer, enabling all that multi-touch recognition functionality mentioned earlier, as well as multi-tasking and core animation.

The latest version of iOS (iOS 5.1.1) made its debut in October 2011, at the same time as the iPhone 4. It guzzles around 770MB of the gadget’s storage, although the exact amount varies from device to device and brings with it several exciting new features; there are over 200 new features in all. They include integral support for Apple’s iCloud, the firm’s cloud-based personal storage service and a nifty new feature called iMessage, an integral instant messaging client. Unlike previous versions of the OS, iOS 5.1.1 allows users to delete unwanted photos directly from the Photo Stream and features a permanently visible camera shortcut on the Lock Screen for 4th generation iPods and iPhones 4S, 4 and 3GS; just use the volume button to take the snaps. The camera also incorporates clever new face detection functionality; point it at a group of friends and it will highlight all the faces of those it recognises. The audio technology has also been improved for movies and TV programmes on the iPad so that it sounds clearer and louder. Bugs that previously diminished battery life have also been comprehensively fixed, so the gadgets run and run.

Twitter has now been fully integrated into iOS 5, so users need only sign in to their Twitter account once for all their Twitter-enabled apps, whereupon they can Tweet cheerfully away directly from Photos, YouTube, the Safari browser or Maps. Highly efficient tab browsing makes flipping between open web pages a walk in the park and the new wireless synching function is a real delight. Forget about plugging a cable into your PC or Mac to back up or synch your iPhone or iPad with iTunes. Just plug your device into power within range of your PC or Mac, and WiFi synching will automatically back up your iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone to the iTunes library. With iOS 5, it is now no longer necessary to connect your iDevice to a PC at all; it can be set up and made fully functional straight from the box.

But it doesn’t end here, of course. iOS 6 is in the pipeline and already speculation is rife about what is likely to be featured when it launches later in 2012; the estimated date of arrival is October. Among the more credible are hints that Apple will integrate Facebook and include a new 3-D map app to replace Google Maps on an enlarged iPhone screen; the forthcoming “iPhone 5” is expected to boast a 4-inch screen. Cloud-based innovations will enable users to leave their Safari tabs open on their iPads or Macs, then view them while out on the hoof with their iPhones; this feature is going under the provisional name of “iCloud Tabs."

Newly designed apps for the Apple App Store, iBooks and iTunes are also widely rumoured to be included on the new OS, and it is likely to make Apple’s sophisticated voice control functionality, Siri, available on the iPad tablet in addition to the iPhone. It is not yet clear whether iOS 6 will make this available for all iPads or only the most recent model; however, for some it could turn out to be an expensive temptation.

A new “Mail VIPS” feature is also anticipated, which allows users to highlight important contacts on email with stars, a little like Gmail’s “Important” feature. Widely predicted is a new “Do Not Disturb” function, which will be available via the Settings app. It informs Apple’s Notification Centre to temporarily turn off notifications until further notice, ideal for when you need a snooze on the train returning home from work or for when you simply want to concentrate on one particular app without distraction.