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What is iOS? If you’ve used an iPhone or iPad, you’ve come across Apple’s mobile operating system, but you might not know what iOS stands for or what it even is.
We’re here to clear up your questions. Let’s take a look at what iOS means, what the latest version of iOS is, and everything else you need to know about the operating system.
What Is iOS?
Simply put, iOS is Apple’s mobile operating system that powers the iPhone and iPod Touch. Until 2019, it was also the operating system used by the iPad (which we’ll discuss shortly).
In case you’re not familiar, an operating system (OS) is a type of software that manages all aspects of a computer. It provides a platform so the the device’s hardware and software can interact, plus manages the many processes that run on your computer.
On your desktop computer, you probably run the Windows, macOS, or Linux operating system. For mobile devices, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are the most popular.
What Does iOS Mean?
The full meaning of iOS takes a little bit more explanation. When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, its operating system was originally called “iPhone OS.” Despite the name, the iPod Touch (which launched later in 2007) also ran iPhone OS.
In 2010, Apple introduced the iPad, which ran the same OS. At that point, Apple decided to rebrand the operating system’s name as “iOS,” since it wasn’t just the iPhone that used it anymore.
You might also be curious where the “i” branding comes from. Apple has used this across its product line since the iMac was introduced in 1998.
At the time, Steve Jobs said that “iMac comes from the marriage of the excitement of the internet with the simplicity of Macintosh.” Apple expounded on this with a slide showing that the “i” prefix also stands for individual, instruct, inform, and inspire.
What About iPadOS?
Since 2010, the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad have all run iOS. However, over time, Apple developed some iPad-specific features that took advantage of the larger screen. These included a dock, drag and drop support, and picture-in-picture mode.
Thus, with the release of iOS 13 in 2019, the company changed the name of the tablet operating system to iPadOS. While it’s largely the same as iOS, iPadOS was split off to create a dedicated product for the growing list of tablet-specific features. Apple also started iPadOS at version 13 to match iOS’s version.
Have a look at our introduction to iPadOS to learn how to use it.
People still use the general term “iOS devices” to refer to Apple’s mobile lineup, so when you see this, you can think of both iPhone and iPad.
What Is the Latest iOS Version?
At the time of writing, the latest version of iOS available to the public is iOS 13. More specifically, iOS 13.3 released on December 10, 2019.
If you’re not familiar with it yet, check out what’s new in iOS 13 for some of the coolest new features. These include a dark mode that applies across the system, an option to block all unknown callers, and much more.
When Do New iOS Versions Come Out?
Generally, Apple announces the latest version of iOS at WWDC in June of each year. Because this is geared towards developers, only beta versions are available for testing.
Later in the year, Apple usually releases the newest iOS version right after its Special Event, which is typically held during the second week of September. The iOS update rolls out shortly after the conference ends, and anyone with a compatible device can download it for free.
As a result, you can expect iOS 14 to release sometimes around the week of September 7, 2020.
Throughout the year, Apple also releases minor revisions to iOS. These are called “point releases” because they add a decimal point to the version number (such as iOS 13.3). These usually fix bugs, patch security flaws, and may add small feature revisions.
How to Update iOS on Your iPhone
Your iPhone will prompt you to download the latest updates when they become available. You can also check for updates manually anytime by visiting Settings > General > Software Update. If you already have the latest update, this page will let you know what iOS version you have installed.
See our guide to updating your iPhone for more help. To keep your iPhone secure, it’s a good idea to install the latest updates in a timely manner. Otherwise, your device could be vulnerable to security threats.
What Are iOS 11 and 12?
Apple uses simple number increments to distinguish iOS releases. The higher the number, the newer the OS release. Generally, when Apple releases a new major version of iOS, it drops support for earlier versions.
As mentioned above, this is why you should keep the latest iOS version installed on your device. But while Apple supports older devices with the latest iOS releases for some time, eventually the company has to leave obsolete devices behind.
Scroll to the bottom of Apple’s iOS 13 page to see what devices iOS 13 is compatible with. The oldest devices on the list are the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, which released in 2015. Based on this, it’s a fair estimate that an iOS device will receive major updates for four years after it releases.
If you have an older phone that’s stuck on iOS 12, iOS 11, or earlier, you should consider upgrading to a new device. Because Apple doesn’t offer updates for old versions except in extreme circumstances, your device is more open to attack.
Making the Most of iOS
Now you know what iOS is, when Apple distributes new versions, and how to stay updated. Like many Apple offerings, iOS is all about simplicity, so you don’t usually have to think much about what version you’re using.
If you’re new to Apple’s mobile devices, you should know how to master iOS. Take a look at some slick iPhone features that will impress your friends. We’ve also looked at useful iPhone shortcuts that let you get around your device more easily.