Apple is releasing iOS 7 to the public today at 10AM PST, and you may be wondering what iOS 7 has to offer or perhaps if it is worth upgrading. Just like Apple reinvented touchscreen smartphones, it’s now reinventing iOS. The new iOS 7 for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch has a lot to live up but it already seems to be en route by not only refreshing the design but going deeper: streamlining commonly used features, paring back unnecessary bloat, and polishing features such as Siri up. Below, you can find out about all of the new features that iOS 7 has to offer:
A Revamped Design
Apple’s iOS 7 is the most significant aesthetic refresh to the platform that we’ve seen and it doesn’t stint in dropping icons and UIs that had begun to look dated in comparison to Android and Windows Phone, leaving now to be a good time for change. To begin, there’s more done with transparency and color blending, with icons being remade completely. Many of the familiar app icons have now been changed to have a new look. Furthermore, menus and slide-out panes such as the new Control Center and Notification Center have been changed as though they are made of frosted glass, the vague hint of what’s underneath showing through.
These changes aren’t the only visual changes made. Much like before, the homescreen icons pan left and right over the wallpaper but in iOS 7 the icons themselves react to the angle at which you’re holding the iPhone. If you tilt the device left and right, you’ll notice the iconography appears to tilt as well, as if you’re looking at each button askance. The motion is so subtle that you’ll hardly notice it at first but it adds to the sense of the interface being in gentle motion.
Accessing settings in iOS typically means jumping to the homescreen and then digging through the Settings menu but Apple has changed that with a new Control Center. Summoned by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, Control Center shows up in any view and any app across iOS including the lockscreen (though users have the option to turn one or both of these features off), with a selection of the most commonly requested commands and apps to choose from.
Along the top of the menu, you’ll get a row of toggles for shutting the following features on or off: Airplane Mode, WiFi, Bluetooth and Do Not Disturb, in addition to the screen rotation being local. Underneath is a slider for manually adjusting the screen brightness and then underneath that is a set of buttons for music control including volume and details of the current track. Below that there’s an AirDrop panel which, depending on the contact, will give access to peer-to-peer file and data transfers. At the very bottom will be four app shortcuts for turning the camera LED on as a flashlight, opening the timer app, the calculator and last but not least, jumping into the camera. Unfortunately as of right now, there isn’t any way to customize which four shortcuts are included.
Swiping down from the top of the screen on the other hand pulls out the Notification Center, which has been improved upon from previous iterations of iOS. There is now a today view that effectively boils down your most pressing appointments, tasks and travel into a single page, complete with weather information. Alternatively you can see all of the new notifications with choice in the settings over which apps are included and with AMBER and Emergency alerts from the government being flagged up. One of the more welcomed additions to the Notification Center is one you technically don’t see right away but notifications now sync across multiple devices signed into the same Apple ID, meaning that you no longer see the same alert show up on every iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch you own.
Multitasking & Search
The iOS multitasking system seems to be rudimentary at best before but the iOS 7 iteration of the feature is welcomed. Before, all you had were icons showing recently used apps but now you get both the icon and a preview pane showing the last state of the app itself, in fact, this preview is big enough that sometimes you can see whatever information you need simply by just looking at it as opposed to tapping into the app itself (such as a date or phone number). Here, the press and hold method of force-closing apps has been replace with a webOS-style upward flick, a move which cuts down on button presses in the process. Even with the new previews, multitasking seems to flow quite smoothly. As far as the music controls go, unlike in iOS 6, there arne’t any buttons to manage playback when you swipe to the far left. Instead, the controls are now a part of the Control Center.
Search has also been improved in iOS 7, with the new iteration of the mobile operating system getting its own dedicated homescreen pane. The search function can now be summoned from any pane with a slight tug down on the icons. Much like before, you get results that include apps as well as local data on the device.
The iTunes Store may currently be the top destination for digital music purchases but not everybody likes to own their music. Following the success of services such as Pandora and Spotify Radio, Apple’s iTunes Radio aims to fill that gap with streaming, in addition to helping users discovery new music. Inside the music app, a quick swipe to the left will lead you to an iTunes Radio tab. Every iOS 7 user, as well as those who use iTunes on their Mac or PC gets access to the free, ad-supported version with iTunes Match subscribers being allowed to bypass the periodic commercials.
The initial offer is a choice of 250 “Featured Stations” which Apple’s music team has put together, covering a range of musical styles and artists. Users aren’t limited to the curated list though as they can also create their own stations, searching for a starter track or artist that iTunes Radio then builds a customized, dynamic playlist from. Similar to Pandora, you can tell iTunes Radio whether you like its selection by up-voting or down-voting the current track. The algorithm learns from the votes and picks more suitable tracks depending on how much you teach it. Tapping into the track gives the option to create a new iTunes Radio station from either the artist or the song, as well as to the “tune” of the current station. A quick toggle will allow you to turn off or permit tracks with explicit language, with the option to also share the custom station with others.
As expected, Apple makes it easy to convert listening experiences in iTunes Radio into purchases. Each track gets a download button (or if you already own it, an iTunes in the Cloud button to download it to the current device) or alternatively you can add it to your wish list
One of the options that users do NOT get is the ability to piece together streaming playlists based on what’s available in Apple’s catalog. The degree of control, which would directly challenge services offered by competitors such as Spotify, is one that is NOT supported. Users have a limited number of track-skips to use per hour and after they’ve used it up, you can’t navigate through the playlist until the counter resets.
The fact that it comes pre-loaded with iOS 7 and is seemingly very straightforward to use means that iTunes Radio will likely give its competitors a run for their money.
As many of you might have already noticed, the iOS camera app has always been minimalistic but iOS 7 seems to fit in more functionality while actually being less menu-digging. This is achieved by surfacing the controls for HDR mode and the flash to the primary UI, with small buttons for them along the top of the preview screen. Switching modes is achieved by side-swiping the preview, though the number of modes you get depends on your device. On the iPhone 5S, there’s not only the regular camera and video modes but a separate Slo-Mo video mode that records 720p footage at 120 fps, a square photo mode for pseudo-Polaroid snaps, and panorama mode for widescreen shots. The iPhone 5C in comparison misses out on the slow-motion support.
Both the iPhone 5S and 5C will get a new filters button in the lower right corner, with a choice of eight different effects – mono, tonal, noir, fade, chrome, process, transfer, or instant; each of which can be added to regular or square stills. Just as with filters in Photo Booth on OS X, there’s a real-time preview to show you what you’ll be getting. None are particularly excessive in the effects they add and if you are hoping for psychedelic colors and/or mangled faces, you’ll still need a third-party app to do that. Instead you get a range of monochrome and tint options with no support for filters in video recording. For those of you wondering, filters can be applied to both new shots and existing images viewed in the Photos app, which has also been updated in iOS 7.
When it comes to the Photos app, rather than showing a continuous grid, there’s now support for Years, Collections, and Moments. Years is the most basic view, showing tiny thumbnails of all the photos you’ve taken, broken down by year. You can also slide your fingers across the thumbnails and see a larger version spring up, than tap to see the full picture. Collections are subsets within Years, pulling together themes images depending on when or where they were taken. If you snapped a couple of dozen shots of Thanksgiving on your iPhone, all of the pictures will be clustered together into a single Thanksgiving Collection. Moments are the cream of the Collections crop, the best images you took. Tapping into each photo allows you to also access the iOS 7 editing tools which range from simple crops and rotations to red-eye reduction, applying one of the eight new filters and turning on Auto Enhance. Similar to the existing functionality, photos and videos can be shared directly with email or Twitter or uploaded to services such as Flickr and Vimeo.
Safari has been finessed in iOS 7 to maximize the web experience. The app now spends more time in full-screen mode, the chrome of the UI hidden away until you actually summon it. It’s surprising what a difference such a move makes. The top and bottom bars being gone along with the high-resolution Retina display help make the screen suddenly feel far larger than what iOS users were previously accustomed to.
Not only is the interface different in iOS 7 but the separate address and search bars are now gone, replaced with a single bar that does double-duty. The old tab view has also been retired, now replaced with a card file style array of all the windows you have open at any one time. Buttons along the bottom open up a new regular window or one in which private browsing is enabled. When you open a new tab, users are given the unified search and address bar and get a grid of bookmarks to sift through. The bookmarks have also been changed, split into three panes. First there’s a list of favorites, bookmarks and browsing history, second the Reading List of clipped articles and links you’ve gathered along the way, and the last being a Shared Links list, which pulls URLs out of the recent tweets from the users you follow on Twitter. One thing not available here is the ability to retweet or reply to the friends’ tweets from the Safari list view – a move which you’ll have to delve into the Twitter app for.
As many of you probably already know, Apple’s digital personal assistant is no longer as exclusive as it once was, with Google Now and its voice control functionality on Android providing much of the same functionality. Apple’s iOS 7 does give it a welcome refresh though with new voices that are more natural sounding. Both the male and female voices are easier to understand and leave you feeling like you’re having a more real conversation. In fact, the conversation has improved too, thakns to a slew of new functionality. Before you could do relative basic scheduling, messaging and the like as well as trigger web searches. Siri can now call upon Wikipedia entries, searches on Twitter and web searches using Microsoft’s Bing to help provide better responses. Overall this means more time in speech-only mode and fewer issues to be taken care of via tapping.
Siri also has further control over the more fundamental controls and settings through iOS 7. It’s now possible for users to change key wireless settings such as toggling Flight Mode or turning on Do Not Disturb, all by simply just asking. Users can also return calls and ask for voicemail messages as well. There’s also the ability to control the Music app, including the new iTunes Radio, meaning you can skip tracks, find specific artists, and even up-vote or down-vote a particular song.
Much like before, there are a few limitations around Siri. Users will still need a data connection in order to use it, since all of the voice processing is handled server-side and the accuracy isn’t. There’s also none of the predictive-style functionality found in Google Now, which includes the system guesstimating what you might want to know. Overall, Siri has moved a step in the right direction.
AirDrop & Sharing
Apple’s progress in sharing is also a big improvement over the old system. Tap the icon and you get a page of options for what to do with files and media. Here you’ll see a carousel of an item, such as photos, with a bar that provides multiple selections below it.
AirDrop, which was seen used on OS X has been introduced in the mobile space. It’s a peer-to-peer sharing service that works over WiFi and Bluetooth to send data such as contacts, photos, videos, iTunes Radio stations or anything else directly to a nearby iOS or OS X device. A list of compatible recipients shows up in the bar and you can simply tap to transfer, the exchange itself being encrypted for security.
For those of you not using AirDrop, there’s a row of different apps that can be chosen from. This includes by default Messages, Mail, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, though time will tell how flexible Apple is at allowing third-party services to add their options to the same bar.
Apple’s iCloud has been backing up iOS devices for quite some time now as well as collating recent images into Photo Stream but iOS 7 introduces iCloud Photo Sharing. Effectively, it’s Photo Stream for invitation only groups. Here you can add your images and videos and others can add their own with any new content automatically showing up on every person’s device. There’s also support for commenting allowing users to exchange thoughts and express opinions.
As third-party software continues to grow more and more important the Cupertino California has made an attempt to improve the App Store experience in iOS 7. Good software tends to get lost among the crowd and Apple seems to be taking steps to help improve the situation. The Apple Store now has “Apps Near Me,” a new category which flags titles that have some relevance to where you physically are. For example, if you’re near a national park, you might see a guidebook for that park or a game based on it.
Automatic updates for downloaded apps is another feature offered, allowing users to keep apps updated to the latest version automatically. One thing to note is that users are not given the option to choose which apps are updated and which aren’t. For now it’s an all or nothing setting.
There’s no question that iOS 7 is better than previous iterations of iOS 7. Control Center and Notification Center both seem to be far more intuitive. The new design overhaul appears to be more refined and bolder at the same time. It takes a bit of getting used to since some of the changes are drastically different from what we iOS users have been accustomed to but after some time, they feel better. A few of the features standout (in a good way) such as iTunes Radio and Siri’s improved functionality. The best part of iOS 7 is that Apple’s decision to release it to the past few iterations of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch bring a whole new lease of life to the older devices while adding new functionality to the next-gen devices. Being a free upgrade, it not only keeps Apple at the top of its game but iOS 7 also sets the stage for a new age of smartphones and tablets alike.