The first thing that strikes you about your smartphone is the shiny exterior. But the centerpiece of any smartphone is its operating system. Apple’s iOS really pioneered the modern age of smartphones, and as goes iOS, so goes the mobile industry. Knowing your software is essential to mastering your hardware, keeping your phone healthy and getting the most out of it.
What is iOS?
The operating system – or “OS” for short – is the software framework that controls and coordinates the various elements of your smartphone, from the communications functions to the music player to the camera and beyond. Today there are two major OSs which share over 90 percent of the smartphone market: iOS, available only on phones and tablets made by Apple; and Android, developed by Google but used by various manufacturers including but not limited to HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung. In addition to controlling the device, the OS provides the common language for apps, or independent programs developed and provided by third parties, which leverage the unique combination of computing and mobility to deliver highly interactive and customized services.
Initially designed for the iPhone, Apple released iOS in 2007 as a direct manipulation interface that requires multi-touch actions. iOS has since expanded to support Apple devices such as the iPad, iPod Touch and Apple TV with version 8.1.3 as the most current iteration. Currently more than 1 million iOS applications are available through Apple’s App Store.
Staying Up To Date
Apple regularly introduces changes, or updates, to iOS that are typically intended to present new features to users. Historically these updates are intended to improve functionality and usability, but also can be purely cosmetic and aesthetic. Apple typically releases iOS updates annually that are available directly to users via remote download, as opposed to going through carriers or original equipment manufacturers (OEM) – a much simpler process than Android’s update method.
How Do I Know Whether I Am Up To Date?
There are two ways to determine whether your version of iOS is the latest one:
- If you sync your device with iTunes on your desktop, as long as iTunes is connected to the Internet, it will automatically detect whether a newer version of iOS is available, and guide you through the upgrade process if you wish
- On your device, go to Settings, General, Software Update. The device will run a check and let you know if your software is up to date, or if a new version is available. Often, the device automatically detects the new version as soon as it is available, and you’ll know because the Settings icon will display a red badge with the number 1 in it. That’s a prompt for you to go into Settings and start (or at least get more information about) the iOS upgrade.
By the way, these methods will let you know the version of iOS you are currently running, and that information is always handy if you have questions or need help later. If you ever need it in the future, you can go to Settings, General, About and look for Version.
Other than the nifty cosmetic updates that each subsequent version of iOS boasts, there are significant practical reasons to make sure your device is updated with the latest and greatest Apple operating system. Increased processing speed and app upgrades are the obvious reasons to stay current and updated, but fixes related to security and general reliability make updating a must. Holes in software security are regularly “patched” for increased protection and reports of crashes typically reduce with each update.
It’s also worth noting that certain newer applications simply require the latest version. For example, Apple debuted Apple Pay with the release of iOS 8.1.3 – an innovative new direct pay feature that is not compatible with older iOS versions.
When to Wait on That Update
Apple’s iOS update procedure isn’t all sunshine and roses however. Historically, transitioning users from one iOS version to the next hasn’t always been seamless. Initial downloaders regularly report bugs or glitches upon downloading updates. Users who download updates in the first week or so following a release essentially become beta testers of the new software and often catch flaws or hiccups that somehow sneak past developers.
Another issue that has been anecdotally reported by users is the inability of the newest software meshing with older hardware. Owners of older iPhone versions whose devices are still functioning optimally report issues once the new OS has been downloaded, such as decreased battery life or phone communication disruption. Because new iOS releases typically are accompanied by the release of a new device, conspiracy theorists have suggested that Apple intentionally designs newer iOS versions to not work optimally with older devices. The assumption here is that the user will ultimately be frustrated enough to purchase the newest device. Pretty pessimistic, but not entirely far fetched either.
Once a device is updated with the latest iOS operating system it is impossible to revert it back to an older version. So make sure to read up on reviews or ask around town before jumping into that new update. Luckily Apple has a strong track record of addressing and correcting these hitches, sometimes within just a few days following a release. Because of this it may be wise to wait up to a week before downloading an update in order to let someone else work out the kinks.
- iOS 8, iMore