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Will iOS's evolution mirror OS X's?

Lex Friedman | Oct. 31, 2011
In the four years since its debut, Apple's iOS has come a long way.

In the four years since its debut, Apple's iOS has come a long way. Launched as the on-board operating system for just one device, it now powers three--the iPhone, the iPod touch, and the iPad. And while it started life in a pretty polished format--perhaps not surprising, given that it was based in large part on OS X's underpinnings--iOS continues to add worthwhile new features, capped off by iOS 5's arrival earlier this month.

It's a pattern Mac users have seen before--a decade earlier to be precise, when Mac OS X was in its early stages. Given the parallels betwee the two operating systems, it's worth wondering: Should we expect iOS's evolution to mirror the path blazed by Mac OS X--several years of annual updates, followed by a slower pace of releases? Or will iOS development instead blaze a path all its own?

Mac OS X: The early years

To answer that question, we need to hop into the Wayback Machine to Mac OS X's 2001 debut. The March 2001 release of Mac OS X 10.0--code-named Cheetah, in case you've forgotten--was quickly replaced with the 10.1 update. Arriving a mere six months after Cheetah, Mac OS X Puma fixed bugs and added some features.

Less than a year later, Apple released Mac OS X 10.2; the Jaguar update included the launch of iChat, the return of spring-loaded folders, and the introduction of Bonjour (née Rendezvous). October 2003 saw the release of Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, with Exposé, iChat AV, and the launch of Safari.

Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) was next, released in April 2005. That incarnation added Spotlight, Automator, VoiceOver, Dashboard, .Mac syncing, and a system-wide dictionary. Tiger, released four years after the initial launch of OS X, was a significantly better operating system than its predecessors. It also marked the end of annual updates for OS X. Prior to Tiger's release, Apple said it planned to slow down the pace of OS X development, as the operating system was becoming more mature.

iOS: Inception 'til now

How did iOS progress in that same four-year time frame? The original iPhone, released in 2007, marked the introduction of what was then called the iPhone OS. iPhone 1.0 introduced all of the core interface elements that characterize multitouch computing: pinch to zoom, swiping, double-tap zooming, and all the rest. It's amazing to think how stable a 1.0 project the original iPhone's software really was--especially when you remember that it shipped with only a handful of apps--not even enough to fill up the home screen.

iPhone 1.0 was, in fact, a more polished release than the initial release of Mac OS X. That's surprising, in part, because--although Mac OS X was built from the ground up, it had nearly two decades of previous Macintosh operating systems to learn from.


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