The iPhone launched in 2007 with a single physical button, and a grid of 16 touchable buttons on the home screen. By 2012, the iPhone 5 had numerous hardware advancements, while maintaining the same basics, but with a few more stocks apps, and access to whole bunch more. The main difference of the software from 2007 to 2012 wasn’t that apparent, outside of a colored wallpaper, instead of a black background. Now in 2013, there’s iOS 7, and you can instantly tell the differences to the point that it can be a shock for some. Apple has redesigned every single pixel of iOS in its seventh version, and the new design is quite remarkable. It may be off putting to some at first glance, but after looking and using it for the past three months it’s worth the time it takes to adjust.
The iOS style of the previous six versions has grown extremely stale, and it was definitely time for a change, although Apple has gone on the extreme end. Gone are the wood shelves, green felts, black bottom tab bars, blue top menus, and glossy buttons. In their place are translucent windows, stark contrasts of color, white or black main windows, and all accented with pastel colors. The shadows and textures are gone, and now we’re given flat layouts with a consistency across the screen from top to bottom. Some may claim that it’s dull with the minimalistic style, but going back to iOS 6 makes the past version truly feel dull with such a dark color palette used throughout the previous operating system. Everything is brighter in iOS 7 with a much greater pop to really distinguish the different interface elements, and capabilities.
The nuances of iOS 7 aren’t just about design, even though that’s the most prominent change, as there are some valuable new features as well. Each new feature is infused with the new design elements though, so that the new capabilities and design go hand in hand. The best new feature is quite simply Control Center giving you one swipe access to commonly used settings including toggles for WiFi, Bluetooth, and Airplane mode along with access to a brightness slider, and music playback controls. There are also shortcuts and functions built-in with access to AirPlay and the new AirDrop as well as a Flashlight and shortcuts to the Clock, Calculator, and Camera. Control Center is seamlessly integrated as it is activated with a swipe up from the bottom of the screen, and it has a translucent background to subtly overlay the current screen. It can be accessed on the home screen, lock screen, and within any app, and sent away with another swipe back down. Control Center is reason enough to upgrade to iOS 7.
Other major features include a redesigned and enhanced Multitasking system and Notification Center, again with functionality and design going hand in hand. Multitasking is still just fast app switching, since you can only run one app at a time, but switching apps is so much smoother. Now, multitasking appears center screen with live preview cards of the open apps, and there’s a continuously scrolling list to flick through to switch apps. Quitting apps is as simple as swiping upwards on an app card, and you can quit multiple apps at once with multi-touch. Notification Center loses the textured background in favor of the translucent style of Control Center, and introduces a new “Today View” giving you details for your Calendar, Weather, and Commute. Siri has added capabilities beginning with a similar look as the translucent Notification Center with new search access to Wikipedia, Twitter, and Bing.
Apple has updated every single stock app in iOS 7, and that means new versions of the well known Messages, Mail, Phone, Music, Safari, Photos, Camera, Calendar, Notes, Weather, Reminders, and others. The Camera app got more than a new design, as you can now swipe to change capture modes between still photo, video, panorama, and the new square photo orientation. The Photos app introduces all new automatic photo organization that groups your photos based on time and location with no effort at all. Safari is new and improved as well, with controls that recede as you scroll a page, a new cover flow style tab view that supports unlimited tabs and swipe controls to close tabs, and a unified search field with intelligent suggestions as you type. Each stock app has an all new look that focuses on full screen layouts, a white or black theme, and a flat layout.
The Music app has a big new piece in the form of iTunes Radio, which is Apple’s response to Pandora. It’s not to be confused with a la carte accessing to any song in the iTunes Store, and instead provides personalized music streaming. In our testing, the recommendation engine is absolutely superb for such targeted results for each one of our stations as we give feedback on the songs that are played. One of the best parts is the system wide integration so that personalized radio stations are just a tab over from your music playlists in the stock music app, and liking songs is integrated into the lock screen and Control Center. Music is improved, and so are apps as the App Store now allows for automatic updates, and can show you the apps that are popular near your current location. A subtle, but valuable new feature of iOS 7 is new Settings options allowing you to manage apps that refresh in the background, see what apps are using cellular data, disable Control Center within apps, use new dynamic wallpapers, and change the system wide text size among others.
A completely new feature in iOS 7 is AirDrop, which lets you wirelessly transfer files to other iOS devices with just two taps. You can access AirDrop when sharing files, or from Control Center, and people near you show in an all new dialog. You just tap on who you want to share with, and you can send photos, videos, links, and more, and the transfer is done with just a couple of taps. iOS 7 isn’t completely feature rich in terms of new items, but the design changes to existing items make every part feel brand new to interact with. A system wide change is swipe gestures to navigate through menus, and interact with particular items. For instance, you can swipe across an e-mail to move or trash it, swipe across a message to delete it, or swipe across a web page in Safari to go back. You just need to make sure you start your swipe from the edge of the screen, and then you can even move between layers of apps to go back from an individual message to the mail list, move through Settings menus, and universally go back, instead of pressing the small back button in the upper left corner as before.
There’s a whole lot to dive into with iOS 7, and it’s definitely not perfect, and will take awhile to get used to. There are some obvious features Apple left out including the ability to customize the settings in Control Center, and access the interacting with Notifications which Apple offers in the upcoming OS X Mavericks for the Mac. Apple put so much effort into design, that there aren’t the most completely new features unique to iOS 7, and that’s because it’s a fresh start for Apple. Don’t think of iOS 7 as a mature operating system, and instead as a brand new system based on which to build from. We’re on the foundation of Apple’s refocused future with an emphasis on mobile devices. There are particulars that can be off putting, but when taken as a whole it is one amazing overall package that provides renewed interest in iOS. Now, there’s potential for all new apps, all new features added to iOS on this great new base, and all new mobile operation.
iOS 7 is the best change to iOS yet that actually improves the overall operation of your existing iOS device which makes upgrading to the latest iOS devices relatively pointless, which is quite an achievement for a free software update. It’s an all new beginning that is outstanding in the present, and sets the stage for quite a future of Apple’s mobile devices. It’s an absolute must have to the point that you shouldn’t use an iOS device without iOS 7.