Apple’s iOS 7 is a brand new take on the staple mobile OS that brings a new modern feel and plenty of new functionality.
With the original 2007 release of iOS and the first iPhone, consumers had no idea what to make of the new design in mobile devices. It was indeed revolutionary for the day and has since driven competitors to create a number of highly competitive alternatives. Unfortunately, in the past 6 years iOS has lost a lot of its luster and wonder to the advancement of these competitors. With iOS 7, Apple hopes to revive iOS with a new sleek design, increased functionality, and a whole new level of polish that brings new energy into the aging operating system.
Know all about iOS7 already? Jump to my final thoughts
Courtesy of the brand new rendering engine, the obvious big change to the new operating system is the radical renewal of all the interface elements of iOS. Gone are the days of glass icons and tapered controls. In its place are now ultra simplified high contrast iconography that gives the entire OS a modern and sleek feel that is all the rage in current design trends.
Apple has replaced all the icons in the system with clean simplistic symbols that mostly inherits their original versions. Apple has also replaced all of the internal controls (such as the keyboard and toggle switches) with new flattened versions that remove all traces of the original raised controls.
The new render engine also supports a new layered approach to building the pages, allowing for live and subtle active backgrounds that move based on the devices built in accelerometers. Thanks to this, you can enjoy a subtle parallax effect with your OS, giving the illusion that your app icons are floating above your background.
Additionally, Search From Anywhere is a long needed feature in the OS. Rather than having to go back to the first page and swiping left, simply swipe down from the middle of the screen on any app page to bring down the familiar spotlight search.
Continuing on, Safari makes use of the new rendering engine to show off some new features as well. The new tab interface is similar to the popular cover-flow view from OS X and gives you an updating view of their open tabs. Other additions to Safari include a new unified search-address bar and direct access to shared links found in your Twitter stream.
Apple’s new Multitask view uses the new render engine to show you the last active states of your open apps so you can easily identify what you are looking for. Also, to the relief of long time iOS users, you can quickly close apps in this mode by swiping up on the preview window of the app.
Accessible from even the lock screen, all you need is a simple swipe up from the edge of the screen to activate the Control Center. Here, you have easy access to toggle your Airplane Mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, do not disturb mode, and rotation lock. Sliders provide adjustments for the screen brightness and speaker volume along with iPod controls for currently playing media. Easy to access Airdrop and Airplay buttons make it simple to change out where you are sending content. A flashlight button (which turns on your LED flash), a clock access button, a calculator access button, and a camera access button round out the remainder of the controls.
Instead of swiping up from the bottom of the screen, you can swipe down from the top of the screen to activate the revamped notification center.
The new notification center features your day at a glance, showing you important information and when the next meeting begins. When the GPS is active for it, the notification center can also show you your approximate travel time to your next appointment from your current location and the weather. A small calendar view of the day’s events and a note of the next day’s events round out the rest of the tab.
Swiping left and right brings you to the other tabs that show your currently active notifications as well as a special view of important notifications you missed.
New Photo Options
The native iOS Camera app saw some major updates as well, now supporting a new simplified design that takes better advantage of the large iPhone 5 screen. You can easily swipe between camera modes to go between video, photo, panoramic, and the brand new square photo mode (for the old pre-cropped square photo lovers). In video mode, the controls go transparent to give you a full view of what you are about to record, and the camera app as a whole is much faster than previously.
Included with the new camera app is a new stylized filter system. Popular with many camera apps, Apple brings their take on this photography trend with a small set of decent looking filters all in a live view mode so you can see how your filter will look like right before you press the shutter button.
Once you’ve taken your photo, Apple will place them into the greatly changed Photo app. Using the embedded geo-location and date information, iOS 7 automatically organizes your photos and videos into photo collections based on the idea that a single location and date is a specific event.
I found that the app makes generally intelligent decisions on organizing your photos, grouping by year, a few weeks, and down to a day or event.
When you want to share a photo, you can easily send it to other iOS 7 users via the new Apple AirDrop system. Like NFC file transfers, AirDrop uses nearby device detection to find other users accepting AirDrop requests. Once connected, AirDrop sends your photo, video, or contact cards via WiFi and Bluetooth to your recipient. It’s not quite as simple as bumping two NFC phones together, but it is still very straight forward.
New Music Options
Apple also made plenty of changes to the iTunes music app, giving it a much lighter and simpler look, but the surface changes are merely the small part of the changes.
With iOS 7, Apple introduces their new music service iTunes Radio. iTunes Radio is a music streaming service that uses recommendations to create dynamic radio stations based on chosen songs and genres, similarly to Pandora Radio. iTunes Radio is ad supported except for users subscribed to iTunes Match at $24.99 a year.
One of the most notable features of iTunes Radio is the clear integration with the iTunes store, with a clearly visible buy button marked with the track price. Do you like what iTunes Radio discovered for you? You can easily buy the track right there and add it to your library. It’s an easy win for both consumers and the music industry. Do you want to hear more or fewer similar tracks, simply press the star and select play more or never play this track again. You can even add the track to a separate wish list to purchase later.
iTunes Radio runs on all distributions of iTunes on both the desktop and mobile devices, as well as Apple TV, but currently, is is only available in the United States.
Find My iPhone has already been a great service to help locate lost and stolen devices, and Apple takes it one step further by locking down your mobile devices even further. In iOS 7, Find My iPhone permanently functions through wipes and resets. You cannot turn it off nor wipe the phone without the Apple ID, and once activated, you can not erase the custom message you can send to the phone. The phone itself will even refuse to activate in iTunes on any network without the bound Apple ID, rendering stolen phones useless.
Problems and Issues
iOS 7 is not without its own issues though. Apple made some radical changes to the design ethos in iOS 7, and this will likely lead to some pushback from users. We have seen the same iOS icons for the past six years, but In some cases, icons are overly simplified to the point that they aren’t recognizable. It’s not an issue I imagine will last very long, but it will cause a fair amount of confusion at release. One danger is today’s users are highly resistant to any learning curve, especially when there’s a change to a long established system, and to be honest, I feel that some of the user interface elements just don’t feel as intuitive as they did.
Apple’s iOS 7 also, as expected, drops support for the older generation iPhone 3/3GS and requires an iPhone 4 at minimum, with most functions requiring a 4S or higher anyway. Surprisingly though, this minimum also extends to only the latest generation of iPod Touch (5th). There are even many functions (AirDrop, Live Filters) that require last year’s iPhone 5 or newer (iPad 4, iPad Mini, iPod Touch 5). There will be a large swath of users with iPhone 4 devices that may, and should, just elect to stay on iOS 6.
Furthermore, I also have concerns about the stability of a brand new rendering engine. The previous iOS system has been in place for 6 years. That is plenty of time for Apple developers and app developers iron out any bugs and problems. iOS 7 is a whole new system built from the ground up, and by the very nature of software, could have many unfound bugs that may take another whole revision to squash.
With all the hype over design and minimizing the interface, there are a few understated features that excite me.
One of the bigger understated features of iOS 7 has to be FaceTime Audio. Like regular FaceTime, FaceTime Audio uses your data to call other users (via WiFi or cellular), but in this case, it only sends audio. As much as we may think we want video calls, sometimes we merely want to do a voice call with our friends. FaceTime Audio and other products like Facebook’s Messenger Voice and Google Hangouts are attempting to wrestle away some of the direct voice over internet communications currently controlled by Skype and undermine the entire need for a voice system from the wireless carriers.
Finally, to me, iTunes Radio is by far the most under reported feature of iOS, and the iTunes ecosystem in general. As a direct competitor to other internet music streaming services, it has the potential to be greatly disruptive to the industry as a whole. With millions of users instantly part of the system providing listening habits and preferences, the tight integration with in board purchased music, and the pure simplicity of buying discovered music, iTunes Radio can easily take over the entire streaming music industry.
With my iTunes Match subscription already in place to remove ads, I’m not sure if I even have any motivation to open my Pandora app any longer. With deals in place to even provide exclusives and pre-release tracks to iTunes Radio, Pandora and its competitors are about to have some massive competition. iTunes Radio is by far the most killer feature of iOS 7 and easily makes it worth the upgrade.
Despite some of these reservations, I can’t help but admire what Apple has done with iOS 7. iOS 7 is undoubtedly fast with clean and responsive animations. While it might not be the radical change many clamored for (mostly those envious of the flexibility of Android), iOS 7 brings a great new breath of life into the aging mobile OS.
To change its fundamental design architecture would turn it into something that was not the iOS we have come to love these past years. Rather, Apple chose to move to a new modern take on iOS while maintaing the familiar heart of the system we’ve loved for years.