Apple's family of mobile products are all powered by the same system software, dubbed iOS. The latest version, iOS 6, comes pre-installed on the new iPhone 5.

iOS is Apple's mobile operating system for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch devices. Launched in 2007, with the release of the original iPhone, the operating system is installed on the flash drive of each compatible device and functions as a closed source model, only to be used on Apple-based hardware. The system is available in 34 languages.

One of the most appealing aspects of iOS for Apple users is that it looks and operates virtually the same across each device. In this guide I'll introduce the most commonly used built-in iOS features and show you how to get the most out of iOS on your own device.

The iPhone 5, powered by iOS 6, introduced 200 new user features, including Passbook, Apple's "mobile wallet" that can keep your digital airline boarding passes, movie tickets and more in one app.

iOS Basics

Released in September 2012, iOS 6 is the most current shipping version. This latest update offers 200+ new features, including the controversial redesigned Maps app, Facebook integration for Contacts and Calendar, Passbook and new Siri features.

Once you turn on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, using iOS is fairly straightforward. After startup the devices all display the Home screen which houses your apps neatly arranged in a grid. To use an app, tap its icon to launch it. To switch to another app, press the physical Home button located at the bottom of the device to navigate back to the Home screen. Navigating in an app is usually done through a series of menus and buttons, with most apps having a uniform iOS appearance (same font, similar menu locations, and so on). If you have to type, a touch screen keyboard is available as well.

Tap any icon to open it. Tap and hold the icon until it begins shaking to drag it to a new location. In this state you can also   delete it by tapping the X that appears in its upper left corner. 
You can move an app into an existing folder or drag and drop it on top of another icon to create a new folder with a name of your choosing.

To move and organize installed apps, touch and hold one app icon for two seconds until it begins to shake. When this happens, you have the ability to drag an app to three areas: another location on that page;  onto another page by dragging it to the far left or right of the screen; or onto another app which creates a folder of apps with a customizable title.

Your iOS devices can also display their content wirelessly on your TV using an Apple TV and Apple's AirPlay function. With AirPlay Mirroring, you can duplicate your device's screen on your TV to play video games, flip through photos or videos or surf the web.  

iOS devices can also sync with and back up data without having to be physically connected to your computer. You can install system updates, download apps, edit photos or even add new email folders. backing up automatically to iCloud, Apple’s online storage service.

Customizing iOS

Most of the user customization in iOS is done through the System Preferences app. You use it to set your Lock Screen (the first screen you see to unlock your device, that is if you have enabled the privacy setting), add a Home screen wallpaper, change sounds, adjust brightness, add an email account, set the language, turn on call forwarding, modify how you receive notifications or modify preferences for a specific app. 

iOS Apps

Apple's App Store is full of thousands and thousands of apps that greatly expand the functionality of iOS devices, but there's a lot built-in. Let's take a look at some of the functionality that's included in iOS devices, using pre-installed apps. 


Only available on the iPhone (obviously) this app allows you to call someone by tapping on their contact info, entering the number on the virtual keypad, or simply asking Siri (Apple's voice-activated 'personal assistant' application on the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5) to do it. You can check voicemail visually, (as opposed to chronologically)  or talk face-to-face using FaceTime (also available on the iPad and iPod touch).

Tap the Phone app to make a call or check voicemail.
If a contact has a photo assigned, it will appear in the background.


Send text and multimedia messages to one person or a group through the Messages app. Like in the Phone app, you can choose from your list of contacts, enter a number or use Siri to send a text message. The onscreen keyboard appears as soon as you tap within the text field. You can send unlimited texts via Wi-Fi, or over a cell network for a fee from your carrier per your contract.

In iOS 6, you can compose text messages and emails in either the portrait or landsdcape formats (shown here). An inline keyboard features automatic error correction, as well as auto-completion and spell-checking. 


The iPhone camera app is great, with iOS 6 installed, you can get immediate access to it without even having to unlock your phone. When presented with the the Lock screen simply slide the camera icon up across the screen to launch the app. And instead of tapping the on-screen shutter button to take a picture, you can also use your iPhone's  volume buttons to do the same, which is a much more comfortable option when holding the phone in landscape orientation.

The native camera app on the iPhone 5 includes flash settings; an Options menu button for a grid overlay, HDR mode and panorama mode; the option to switch between front and rear cameras; video mode; a shutter button; and access to your Camera Roll.


Tap Photos to access your albums, Camera Roll and Photo Library. Photo Stream allows you to share images with subscribers through iCloud, Apple's online storage and sharing system. Places offers a global map pinpointing locations for your geotagged images. Once an image is selected, double-tap or pinch to enlarge it. Tap the Share icon for direct sharing through email, Facebook, Twitter and more options. Tap the play button to create a slideshow. Or tap the Edit button for  basic photo editing, including red-eye reduction, cropping, rotating and auto-enhance.

Tap Photos to access all images on your phone, your cloud-based Photo Stream and view a map of your geotagged images in Places.
Places shows a map of geotagged images stored on your phone.
Tap the Share icon to share your image via email, text message, Facebook and other social media.
Tap the Edit button when viewing an image for basic editing functions.


With the release of iOS 6, Apple replaced Google Maps with it's own Maps app that promised turn-by-turn spoken directions, interactive 3D views and the new Flyover feature. It has attracted some criticism for containing incorrect data at launch, such as missing roads and towns. Apple has vowed that improvements are under way and already, some of the worst (and most amusing) glitches have been fixed. 

Seattle's Space Needle, as seen in 3D in Apple's Maps app.
 Apple introduced turn-by-turn spoken directions with its Maps app released with iOS 6.


The Mail app offers rich-text editing, email sorting and organization and a system-wide split keyboard (making it easy to type while holding a larger iOS device such as an iPad) . You can send and receive email anywhere you have a Wi-Fi or cellular connection.


'An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator' - that's how Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone back in 2007, and the Music app built into iOS 6 helps you browse through your music collection by touch, searching by song, artist, album, genre or composer. You can flip through album art, view the track list, play, pause, shuffle, fast forward or skip to the next song with a tap.

App Store

The App Store is where you'll find more than 650,000 third-party applications for the iPhone, and 225,000 for the iPad, everything from Angry Birds to WeatherBug. Some are free and the paid ones are $.99 and up.
Taking advantage of the touch screen capabilities and a three-axis gyro, games on iOS can be played using your fingers, tilting your device, or applying both techniques. You can play a game through the app itsel

The App Store offers more than 650,000 apps for the iPhone.
Results can be narrowed by category. Tap Updates to get the latest version of all your purchased apps.

f or invite friends to join you using the Game Center app.

Gaming and the Game Center


The newsstand is where you store and read magazines and publications, that you've purchased or subscribed to through the App Store.

Safari Browser

The iPhone revolutionized mobile web browsing, and Safari is the main web browser in iOS (although third party companies also offer web browsers like Google’s Chrome app). Double-tap or pinch a photo or a section of type to zoom in for easier viewing, create a Reading List of articles or web pages to view later, or add your favorite sites directly to your Home screen.

Safari is the built-in web browser for iOS. 
Tap the Bookmarks icon to access all saved bookmarked websites, view your Reading List or revisit your History.


Working with your apps, iOS 5’s customizable notifications appear for a moment or two as a subtle animation at the top of the screen in real time.  Swipe down from the top of the screen to enter the Notification Center where all your preferred alerts appear - missed called, recent text messages, Facebook notifications, and so on. Tap on any notification and you’ll go straight to that app, text message, friend requests, weather update, stock ticker, or email even from your Lock screen. While in the Notification Center, swipe back up to return to the Home screen.


Siri, Apple's voice-activated personal assistant app, is available for iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, and the third-generation iPad. Siri is designed to answer questions, search for locations in Maps, pull up websites, or change scheduled events. Siri is summoned through an extended push of the Home button or by holding the phone up to your ear. You can even use the technology to dictate emails and text messages without having to physically type them. Siri isn't perfect, but the system does a reasonably good job of learning how you talk, and becomes more reliable over time, as you use it


iOS also works with iCloud. You can use it with your Apps, Calendar, Contacts and Music to sync and story content wirelessly using Apple’s online storage service.  Subscribe to iTunes Match for $24.99 per year, and this Apple service allows you to move your music library into iCloud, and then access your songs via Wi-Fi or cellular network without the music files taking up permanent space on your device.


In this relatively brief overview you've seen just how much of the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch user experience is shaped by iOS itself. It determines how we interact with these devices, share information with others and store access our mobile data. While the allure of downloading the latest and greatest app is always strong, for new users it's worth spending some time getting to know the features that come built-in to your device, courtesy of iOS.