Apple’s iOS operating system is over ten years old already, but what is iOS, what does iOS actually mean, and how does it fit into your iPhone and iPad? Check out our complete guide to iOS, including how to update your iPad or iPhone to the latest version, and the best new features available in iOS 10.
What does iOS stand for?
Basically, iOS is a truncated way of saying ‘iPhone OS’, or ‘iPhone Operating System’.
What is iOS?
iOS is the first thing you see when you power up your device, in the form of your phone or tablet’s lock screen and desktops (which are filled with shortcuts to your favourite apps). When you head into your iPhone or iPad's settings menu, that’s also controlled by the operating system. From here you can adjust the device’s hardware settings, toggling features such as Bluetooth and WiFi on and off, or adjusting the brightness of the screen.
Crucially, iOS also allows you to run any apps that you download from the App Store. While your apps are running, iOS does all the hard work, managing your iPhone or iPad's memory to ensure that the device runs smoothly.
How does iOS compare to Android?
Android is another mobile operating system just like iOS, but Android was designed by Google and it runs on popular rival phones to the iPhone, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S7, Sony’s Xperia X, the Moto G4 and Google’s own Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X phones.
Read next: What is Android?
Android and iOS have lots of similar features. For instance, Android has desktops filled with shortcuts to apps, although Android also allows you to hide away any apps that you don’t use very often so they're out of sight. Both Android and iOS also have a form of ‘notifications bar’, which can be dragged down from the top of the screen to display any unread messages and other important notices.
Which apps does iOS run and how do I download new iOS apps?
You can download apps onto any iOS device from Apple’s App Store. Just tap the ‘App Store’ icon on your iPhone or iPad and then browse the store using the search function to find what you need. Some apps are free and some will cost you money, but this will be perfectly clear when you go to download an app.
To download any app that catches your eye, just tap the ‘GET’ button - or the button that displays a price if the app isn’t free. You’ll need to add credit to your Apple account if you don’t have enough funds already (you'll be prompted to do so when it comes time to pay).
The app should now automatically download to your iPhone or iPad’s storage and, when it's finished, an icon will appear on your device's desktops in an available space. You can open the app at any time with a tap of this icon.
What is iOS 10?
Every year, Apple updates iOS to add new features and make it better. Each update is labelled with a new number, so it’s easy to work out which version your iPhone or iPad is currently using and whether you need to update your Apple device.
The latest version of iOS that is publically available is iOS 10, which was officially rolled out to existing iPhones and iPads in September 2016. It also comes pre-installed on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, which Apple launched just two weeks prior.
Read next: All you need to know about iOS 10
iOS 10 adds some cool new features to iPhones and iPads, including updates to Maps, Photos, Messages and loads of Apple's own apps, plus a funky new lock screen.
Read next: Every big new feature in iOS 10
Apple usually updates iOS regularly, to iron out any little bugs and security flaws and add new features. Your iPhone or iPad should automatically pester you when one of these updates is available, by default. However, you can also check to see if an update is ready to download (see below).
What is iOS 11?
Apple used its WWDC 2017 launch event to reveal an all-new updated version of iOS, known rather predictably as iOS 11. The iOS 11 update will replace iOS 10 on our iPhones and iPads when it is released later in 2017.
This is a big upgrade over iOS 10, packing in plenty of new features as well as updates to existing apps. Apple iPad owners will notice the biggest difference, with an all-new apps dock in place, although iPhones too will enjoy the updated Control Center, all-new Maps and improved Apple Pay functionality.
Check out our complete guide to iOS 11 for all you need to know about the upgrades and new features.
When is the iOS 11 update coming to iPhones and iPads?
Apple's iOS 11 update should be available to download for your iPad or iPhone from September 2017. This will roll out in an over-the-air upgrade, which should automatically alert you when it's available to download and install.
How do I check what version of iOS my iPhone or iPad is using?
Simple. Go to your iOS device’s settings, and then tap General, followed by About. Part way down the menu that pops up you should see ‘Version’ and the number beside this is the version of iOS that you’re currently using.
How do I update my iPhone or iPad to the latest version of iOS?
Your Apple device should automatically detect when an iOS update is available to download and inform you with a pop-up message (although it needs to be online, i.e. connected to the internet, for this to happen).
If you haven’t seen a pop-up message and you want to check if an iOS update is available for your iPhone or iPad, just head to the settings and then General, followed by Software Update. Your iPhone or iPad will search for updates and inform you if one is available.
If an update is available for your Apple device, just tap ‘download and install’ and agree to Apple’s massive list of terms and conditions. The update will download and install on your device, which may take a while and involves a restart. When your iPhone or iPad reboots, it will be updated to the latest version of iOS.