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November 9, 2018

The design evolution of Apple’s IOS

Written By Oliver Elshout

Introducing… Iphone (and IOS)

Apple released the very first iPhone little over 12 years ago, and came with it a completely new way of interacting with phones and smartphones. On June 29th 2007, Steve Jobs announced the very first Apple iPhone and it immediately drew attention with its sleek and sophisticated design. IOS was already operating on the iPod touch a couple of years before the iPhone launch but the capabilities of what an iPhone could do captivated the world even further.

IOS wasn’t the first operating system to be released by a tech company, with the likes of Samsung and Nokia having already developed touch smartphones that carried their own operating systems.


From IOS 1.0 to IOS 4

The very first operating system for the iPhone looked very much thrown together and bulky.  At this stage you can see that IOS was just getting started, with the sizing and scaling of buttons and labels reflecting the infancy of operating system for touch devices and human behaviour.

From the icons to the buttons that are used within the first operating system, IOS 1.0 didn’t really contain a fluid and consistent style guide. With a range of diverse gradients and curvatures IOS 1.0 flowed and animated from screen to screen coming across as very rudimental, rigid and restricted.  

Obviously at this point, we don’t see the notification centre or the dashboard that supports later hardware features such as flashlight and opening in app tasks. During the launch of the second IOS operating system that apple then brought out a year later that coincided with the iPhone 3G, the operating system didn’t drastically differ from the previous model.    

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2010 saw the introduction of the iPhone 3gs and the 1st generation iPad that supported IOS 3.0.  Again, like its predecessors, there wasn’t any noticeable difference in the UI or UX of the operating system apart from MMS support and the capability to record videos on the camera.

When IOS 4 came around another year later, we begin to see some more modern and relatable features with the arrival of FaceTime, Airplay, AirPrint and Personal hotspot. In the actual UI and UX, there isn’t much change, but some big functions use and take for granted of today were implemented from this stage in the IOS life cycle.

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IOS 5 to IOS 9

The introduction of IOS 5 brought much change and this is where we see a big shift in cleaner and sharper IOS. The UI changed and looked more uniformed, with Apple opting to go for a more cleaner and ‘on brand’ style. Before that operating system, previous operating systems carried colours that weren’t very ‘Apple relatable’, not displaying the clean and stylish feel that we’re not used to from Apple products. By this time, Cloud computing and wireless capabilities were starting to become rather prominent within phones and computers. The only wireless tasks iPhones could perform were wireless printing and sending to other devices.

IOS 6 brought a challenging time for Apple and when they brought out Apple maps it became subject to a vast amount of criticism as ‘buggy’ and ‘broken app’. Google upped its game with the Android market taking a stake of the smartphone market share. Siri was also drafted in during this release and comparing Siri from then to now, you can actually see the change in the functionality of Siri and what you can do with a personal assistant of an AR nature.

The next generation brought a fresh approach, introducing new features such as touch ID and control centre. The UI changed through smaller fonts and sleeker animation, however this came under scrutiny when some users reporting motion sickness due to the animations.  The introduction of IOS 7 brought less gradients and a more clean cut feel to the design of the UI.

The consistency of the icons seemed to be more prominent in IOS 7 comparing back to the first original IOS 1.   

When Apple released IOS 8, there was a host of new features such as the introduction of Apple pay and iCloud (dropbox comparison). Apple music was also a replacement for iTunes and offered a new subscription service to users. This brought a revamped design to the operating system.

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IOS 10 to present

Apple then realised a more refined and sleeker operating system with IOS 10, this presented new features such as iMessage apps and the ability for apps to communicate with each other. In terms of the design of the operating system, not too much has changed from the previous IOS 9.  The apps inside iMessage were made for the user to be able to access ‘my apps’ with minimal or less effort than what they could do before. This App integration lead to users being able to make their messages more engaging and interactive.

The release of IOS 11 brought the introduction of augmented reality and this revamped iMessage with its ability to send facial images to people. The introduction of split screen on Ipad was something eagerly anticipated and expected as other rivalling companies introduced previously in their versions. This tied in nicely with the introduction of the Apple Pencil that let users be more individual and creative with their technology. These changes didn’t affect the iPhone that came out that year with big changes to the look and feel of the UI.

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IOS 12 brought slower change to the operating system in the form of refined Siri improvements and personalised memoji that worked in conjunction with the new iPhone X that offers face ID. IOS 12 saw FaceTime get an upgrade that lets multiple people join in a multi FaceTime format. The UI again saw minor changes but the biggest change is the grouping of notifications on the lock screen. This almost declutters the notification screen and creates a more refined notification experience.

The operating system that Apple uses has changed in its infancy dramatically, coming across as a continuous refinement. As we reflect on the change of design throughout time, we see the reflection of current trends that were occupying the operating system design at the time. 

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