Thursday, 29 May 2014

Life without my iPad, and the history of iOS.

Living again with my first generation iPad leads me to reminisce on the history of iOS.

DW decided to get a new iPad through her work, so I got to inherit hers, which was actually mine to begin with before she blatantly stole it, the day that I got it. (The reason why I don’t have my iPad is a tale of woe, covered in an earlier post.) It’s 5 years old, and that’s a long time in tech. It shipped with iOS 3.2, and I managed to upgrade it twice so that it now runs iOS 5.1.3. However, that’s where it tops out, so many of the apps that I got used to on my old iPad are not available on this old old iPad.

Thankfully, the app store makes it easy to download old versions of apps that work with legacy versions of iOS, so the majority of apps that I used are still available, albeit with less functionality, and slower. Especially the puzzle game that I’m currently mildly addicted to (let me know if you’d like to join my Marvel Puzzle Quest Alliance). If the process had been only a little harder, I wouldn’t’ve had any software to run, so would’ve junked the iPad. Apple has not enforced hardware obsolescence, and I’ve saved a packet thanks to their largesse.

We gave the DDs DW’s first iPhone a 3GS which shipped with iOS 3, which I haven’t upgraded beyond iOS 4.3.2. Thing is, it perfectly fills its current use case. The DDs just want to listen to stories at bed time, so the iPhone does the job of storing all their audiobooks to play back, with a sleep timer to switch itself off after the DDs have drifted off.

Keeping all this old gear working got me thinking about the evolution of iOS. (Thanks to and for the source of this part of the post.)

iOS 1 came out on 29th June 2007. It was described by Steve Jobs as a variant of Mac OSX, and developers were encouraged to develop web page applications to run on the phone. There were only a few apps (Mail, iPod, Safari, YouTube, Stocks, Phone…) and crucially, no App Store. The accompanying iPhone 1 was also crucially under-featured, only running on GPRS networks rather than 3G. It was a disappointment, when compared to its competitors in most respects, apart from one: the software and industrial design was so strong, its fundamentals are still market-leading today.

iOS 2 was launched on 11th July 2008, an annual release cycle that Apple has managed to keep up to this day. It added the App Store and the phrase “There’s an app for that” and pioneered a business model that has taken over all technologies that purport to be a “platform”. You can now get apps made by people completely unrelated to the company that made the electronics device, for pretty much any class of technogeekery: TV, watch, NAS, corporate laptop, [Google] glasses…

The iPhone 3GS came out on 19th June 2009, two days after iOS 3, and that’s where I jumped into the Apple ecosystem. I wasn’t impressed with the earlier GPRS effort. It was only when 3G came and enabled the mobile internet, that it made sense to spend all that money to get an iPhone. And it was expensive: I remember that the phone was around £100 up front with a £30 per month contract, and that was the first time I’d ever bought a phone. And the biggest change that iOS 3 brought? Copy and paste. However, there was a much more significant app release in 2009, which went on to become the biggest selling app of all time: Angry Birds.

iOS 4 came out on 17th June 2010 and is probably the start of the post-PC era. Now with multitasking, full video integration, eBooks support, and even game centre, there was little that the PC could do, that the iPhone couldn’t. Arguably, you could do more with the iPhone 4, which came out on 24th June 2010, than a PC. With its A4 chip, 720p video capture and retina display, the iPhone could replace your eBook reader, video camera, stills camera, music player, web browser, sat nav, mobile TV, office file viewer, email client and even your phone. This is the version of iPhone that I’m still using today.

iOS 5 was released on 12th October 2011 together with the iPhone 4S. It was touted as including over 200 changes, but I remember it as Apple’s attempt to kill off the larger app manufacturers. What’s App was targeted with the introduction of iMessage as an alternative way of avoiding text message charges. Significantly for audiophiles, Apple Lossless Codec was made open source on 27th October 2011, to put Apple in the middle of the burgeoning digital audiophile market. Istapaper was targeted with the Read Later feature of Safari. This last feature also uses iCloud, the re-branded and amped up MobileMe. The iCloud also powered iTunes Match, launched on 14th November 2011, enabling users to play their entire personal music collection on any iOS or OSX device. This is the start of Apple’s cloud era, when the iPhone didn’t need to be tethered to the laptop ever again.

iOS 6, announced on 11th June 2012, is notable for Apple ditching Google. Google search was no longer the only search engine, and Google maps was replaced by Apple maps, which amusingly was not fit-for-purpose and the debacle led to the firing of the iOS chief Scott Forstall. The shopping experience was vastly improved on the app store, iBook store, and the iTunes store. The passbook app was a much more successful attempt than newsstand to aggregate content providers into the same look and feel, but is still underused. Looking back, this is the most underwhelming iOS release. iOS 6.1.6 is the last version that the iPhone 3GS can run, which makes the hardware lifespan of 3 years.

iOS 7 was announced on 10th June 2013, and was the death of skeumorphism. The whole design language became flatter, whiter, cleaner. However, my favourite feature is one that I don’t have access to. I was hoping that iTunes Radio would finally justify my iTunes Match subscription, enabling me to revive my music tastes that ossified in 2009. It’s yet to come to the UK, presumably due to the labyrinthine licensing deals that need to be negotiated. As a point of reference, the iTunes Store was launched in the US on 28th April 2008, yet only made it to the UK on 15th June 2009. The accompanying iPhone 5/5C launch accelerated the hardware obsolescence of earlier devices with the adoption of the lightning port. Once the ecosystem of third party hardware vendors switch allegiance to the new standard, all my current dock connected hardware will eventually turn to scrap.

It’s very likely that iOS 8 will be announced at WWDC next week. Likely features include a Healthbook app to aggregate third party apps in the same way that Passbook tries to. I’m hoping that the Beats acquisition will enable Apple to finally address the audiophile shortcomings of its ecosystem.

Looking back over the last 7 years, it’s clear that (nearly) every iteration of iOS+iPhone has brought a step-change in the market. Industrial design in 2007, app economy in 2008, the post-PC device in 2010, the cloud device in 2011, post-media ownership in 2013, industrial design again in 2014. 2009 and 2012 are notable as fallow years in which Apple merely caught up with the competition.

Our household is now running iOS 4, 5 and 7. Remarkably, we’re all happy with the functionality that we have. Well done Apple, for making products with such longevity.

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