It’s not often we take a look at software on this page, partly because both OS X and iOS are subject to incremental updates rather than ‘models’ of the hardware Apple has produced over the years. I think its about time we stopped thinking about it in those terms – after all, the final user experience is entirely dictated by the software that’s in our hands.
For me, it’s 2009’s release of iOS 3 (or back then ‘iPhone OS 3’) that made me go from loving my iPhone 3G to thinking it was indispensable. It was iOS 2 that brought us the App Store, and is still the biggest achievement in the history of iPhone and iPad, but it was in iOS 3 that Apple’s mobile operating system really came together, not for one headline feature but rather a simple refocusing on the little things that make a good user experience.
iOS 3 can be thought of in two parts, iOS 3.0 and 3.2 (the version that launched with the iPad and had an upgraded look for many default apps). Top of the key features that made iOS 3 a classic was the much sought-after cut and paste ability, which although a staple of desktop office apps, seemed like a revolution on mobile. Why? Because Apple had already thought around the fiddly problem of a small virtual keyboard and navigating inline text. Apple’s combination of a text-magnifying glass and selection sliders that popped up above the text was intuitive, and it’s that polished simplicity that kept iOS streets ahead of the competition.
Next up in the list of defining mobile features were Spotlight search, tap to focus in the Camera app, Find my iPhone and remote lock, and Autofill for forms in Safari. The essence of all these ‘minor’ improvements? Ease of use. Purely and simply, iOS 3 marked the point at which Apple’s mobile operating system came of age and paved the way for the sophisticated OS we love today.