iOS 7, introduced in 2013 as a profound redesign, was a statement from a company ready to let go of its best-selling OS' legacy. It was time to move on. With iOS 8 a year later, Apple proved that it could open up to developers and trust them to extend core parts of iOS. In the process, a new programming language was born. And with last year's iOS 9, Apple put the capstone on iOS 7's design ethos with a typeface crafted in-house, and gave the iPad the attention it deserved.
You wouldn't have expected it from a device that barely accounted for 10% of the company's revenues, but iOS 9 was, first and foremost, an iPad update. After years of neglect, Apple stood by its belief in the iPad as the future of computing and revitalized it with a good dose of multitasking. Gone was the long-held dogma of the iPad as a one-app-at-a-time deal; Slide Over and Split View – products of the patient work that went into size classes – brought a higher level of efficiency. Video, too, ended its tenure as a full-screen-only feature. Even external keyboards, once first-party accessories and then seemingly forgotten in the attic of the iPad's broken promises, made a comeback.
iOS 9 melded foundational, anticipated improvements with breakthrough feature additions. The obvious advent of Apple's own typeface in contrast to radical iPad updates; the next logical step for web views and the surprising embrace of content-blocking Safari extensions. The message was clear: iOS is in constant evolution. It's a machine sustained by change – however that may happen.
It would have been reasonable to expect the tenth iteration of iOS to bring a dramatic refresh to the interface or a full Home screen makeover. It happened with another version 10 before – twice. And considering last year's iPad reboot, it would have been fair to imagine a continuation of that work in iOS 10, taking the iPad further than Split View.
There's very little of either in iOS 10, which is an iPhone release focused on people – consumers and their iPhone lifestyles; developers and a deeper trust bestowed on their apps. Like its predecessors, iOS 10 treads the line of surprising new features – some of which may appear unforeseen and reactionary – and improvements to existing functionalities.
Even without a clean slate, and with a release cycle that may begin to split across platforms, iOS 10 packs deep changes and hundreds of subtle refinements. The final product is a major leap forward from iOS 9 – at least for iPhone users.
At the same time, iOS 10 is more than a collection of new features. It's the epitome of Apple's approach to web services and AI, messaging as a platform, virtual assistants, and the connected home. And as a cornucopia of big themes rather than trivial app updates, iOS 10 shows another side of Apple's strategy:
Sometimes, change is necessary.