iOS 7 is the best version of iOS ever, period. It’s never looked as beautiful, provided so much interaction or been more simple to use. We now know that Jonny Ive not only makes stunning hardware but is also pretty adept at software too. Of course, there are elements within iOS 7 that look familiar to other operating systems, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s just that with iOS 7, they are more refined and a lot better looking.
This is a long article so to summarise: iOS 7 has come at exactly the right time. iOS was from the last decade and it was definitely time to evolve. It’s brilliant.
First impressions – icons
The icons have caused controversy ever since they were first unveiled. Yes, they are extreme. Yes, they remind you of the tales of Steve Job’s on acid from his autobiography, but like much of iOS 7 there are little tributes to Steve all over the place.
On first seeing iOS 7 in person, I really wasn’t sure about the icons. After a few days though, this feeling turned into more of affection. They grow on you with time. The icons are noticeably bigger on iOS 7, which compared with previous generations seems to make it easier to find the app you’re looking for.
It would have been a nice touch if certain app icons were a bit more contextual. The Clock has finally made the move to show the real time, yet Weather, Reminders, Maps and Passbook could all benefit from providing glanceable information. Does it matter though? Not really. Today view in Notifications solves that purpose without even having to unlock the phone.
The new lock screen is much the same as you remember it, just more sparse and more beautiful. Simplicity is a very difficult thing to nail, yet it’s an area Apple seems to excel in. Whilst many would be tempted to populate the screen with information, Apple keeps it simple. Notifications still come through in much the same way, but to find out quick, glanceable information, all you need to do is pull down from the top.
As with any OS, spending time with it unearths little features that stand out. With iOS 7, these features take the form of UI animations that really engage the user. One example of this comes when entering a pin code (something 5s owners won’t get the chance to do.) Pressing on the buttons makes the keys reveal more of the blurred background. It’s subtle, but it’s an attention to detail and digital response that provide a tactile style response.
Before, it was all too easy to ignore notifications that come through. With iOS 7, you can pull down from the lock screen (a feature which can be disabled on the lock screen for the privacy conscious out there) to see your Today view and other notifications.
Today is Apple’s take on Google Now. Whilst it isn’t quite as useful as Google Now, the fact that you can access it from anywhere in the phone does have its benefits. Today displays information about the weather, your meetings for the day and stock information. This can be customised for people who don’t want certain information but at the moment there’s no third party support. iOS 7 learns about your behaviour and over time, the Today tells you how long it will take you to get to the location it thinks you’ll be going based on time and day. Currently, this is set to driving but we’d hope that eventually public transport information and walking directions are integrated.
You can swipe from Today to all notifications and, usefully, missed notifications. This tries to identify the top notifications to give you a quick overview. There’s currently no way to easily clear all notifications but its certainly an improvement. As ever, notifications can be customised so users can turn off any from the Settings screen that they don’t want to see.
Yes, Android users and iOS jailbreakers have had access to functions like this for years; and no, you can’t customise it. Having said that, Control Centre is a hugely useful feature for iOS 7. Swipe up from anywhere on the screen and its possible to perform a number of tasks easily. Among the most useful must be torch and AirPlane mode. Personally, it would have been useful if Apple had included a few more profile options here – such as the ability to turn off vibrate on silent. Something very useful when you’re at work.
Simpler than ever
iOS has held the crown for usability ever since it came out. Anyone who wants to highly customise their phone will either buy Android or jailbreak their device. For people who just want a phone that works iOS 7 makes everything far simpler. It’s hard to pinpoint why this is. In many ways, it’s the same iOS that we all know; just more refined.
Part of the simplicity is down to the fact that the UI is much cleaner. This will divide opinion but from the time spent with iOS 7, it tends to make for a more engaging experience. Folders is a prime example of this. Being able to have multiple pages with only nine apps shown per page at first seems like wasted space. Actually though, it makes it much easier to find the apps you’re looking for.
Multitasking also makes it easier to jump into apps or glance at information from an app you’ve just been in. Being able to close multiple apps at the same time is a massive bonus, especially as you swipe rather than tap the screen now. It’s behind the scenes that multitasking comes into its own by intelligently knowing which apps you use at certain times and making sure they have the most up-to-date information when you need it.
Apple stock apps
In many ways its the improvements in stock apps that are the standout features. The design language is simple and stunning. Here’s an overview of the top improvements:
- Safari: One bar for all search and much more screen real-estate. Hugely improved from what was already one of the best mobile browsers. Check out reading list and you’ll see that Steve Jobs iconic glasses are now used – a nice tribute indeed
- Messages: iOS 6 is from the last decade and messages really makes you feel the change. The way the gradient on older messages gets lighter is a nice touch. Even nicer is the way messages bounce when you scroll
- Mail: Mail is an app that just gets better with every iOS upgrade. The jump with iOS 7 is mainly cosmetic but it’s still very welcome – swiping out is a nice touch though you have to get used to swiping left to delete (it seems to imply that you swipe right)
- Calendar: No fake leather included here. The view is cleaner and brings it up to date with many of the third party calendars. It’s not as intelligent as TempoAI and I’d personally swap the top menu with the bottom for ease of use but it’s better than before.
- Voice Memos: A nice digital design with the ability to rename memos (which may have been there before, I was never aware of it)
- Photos: Gone isthe face tagging (something you could only do with Mac iPhoto) and in comes collections that allow for easy sharing. PhotoStream has received a huge update here, with the ability to easily share pictures with friends
- Videos: Rather than having to download videos before watching them it’s finally possible to stream any video content from iTunes – a massive benefit
- Maps: A nicer UI and with spoken walking directions. Massively useful if you can get the exact address. Google Maps still trounces Apple Maps when it comes to UI, search accuracy and public transport directions
- Notes: No more fake leather or pen. Cleaner and simpler UI
- Music: Looks great on an iPhone but the iPad app needs some work. iTunes Radio isn’t available in the UK yet so it’s difficult to give much feedback
- Reminders: UI and UX improvements, the ability to share reminders as part of a team would be useful for work and personal use
- Passbook: No more shredding but instead far more digital – still an underused and misunderstood iOS feature that holds a lot of promise
- Compass: Finally this is useful, not so much for the compass (unless you happen to do orienteering) but for its spirit level capabilities. The new UI is oddly satisfying
- Weather: Oh so beautiful. It’s more fun when the weather conditions are bad – I can’t wait to see snow!
- Camera: The old camera wasn’t bad, but having more shooting options and filters is definitely an improvement
Aside from the new design, there are new features such as FaceTime Audio, AirDrop, iCloud KeyChain and many others. Some, such as AirDrop it hasn’t been possible to fully test yet but it should prove to be a useful way to share information quickly with people around you. iCloud KeyChain is hugely useful and will have a massive impact on mobile shopping.
When it comes to app discovery, Apple has ditched Genius and introduced Near Me. Simply put, this is the best way to discover apps when you’re out and about. When at museums or other public spaces, this should mean that apps to do with the location are easy to discover.
Having used iOS 7 on an iPhone 5 for the past month, it is more than enough to keep me in Apple’s ecosystem for the foreseeable future. In my testing, I’ve found battery life comparable or better to iOS 6 but it’s worth pointing out that location seems to be utilised more which occasionally means that battery life suffers. In my experience, iOS 7 doesn’t work quite as well on an iPad. It doesn’t make enough use of the screen real estate for most of the tasks – Music being a primary one. It currently looks more like a blown up iPhone app. We are yet to see the new iPad’s so I would expect this to change.
iOS 7 still has more polishing to do, especially around Maps. There are a huge number of features, such as iBeacons and third party game controllers that we have yet to find out about in great detail but for now, there is more than enough to keep users busy looking through their new software.
Many reports have said that iOS 7 on the iPhone 4 is on the verge of usability – this isn’t overly surprising. Anyone still using a 4 is long overdue an upgrade. The good news is, there is plenty of choice this week. All that’s left to say is a massive well done to Apple. It’s fair to guess that they’ve turned this around in the past year. Quite an achievement when you think that previous versions were in the works for years.
By Robert Haslam, Mubaloo PR/account manager