I am early adopter when it comes to technology. Some might call it a mild obsession. I try to get the latest phone, tablet or gadgets into my hands as soon as they’re available. I call it market research, my wife has another set of words for it that are not so complimentary. Either way, I have played with lots of phones and tablet devices and when I found out that I could download the iOS 7 beta on my iPhone and iPad, I did so without blinking. The first version was very unstable and a battery hog, but I’m now on the more stable iOS 7 beta 6 on both my iPhone and iPad.
My first impression of iOS7 was a bit of a ‘meh’ reaction as I powered this new software update. The operating system has a brand new user interface (UI) and is the first iOS UI designed by the great design legend Sir Jony Ive, Apple’s genius hardware designer and style doyen of gadgeteers the world over.
When I first saw the new UI, it was like a checklist of what’s in vogue with modern mobile UI’s …. flat design, lack of skeuomorphism, parallax backgrounds, thin minimalisic fonts, animated button sequences and lots of transparent gradient backgrounds…. You get a real sense of déjà vu when using the UI. You feel like you’ve seen all these elements in a variety of other devices that have launched from other manufacturers lately.
My first impression was that the UI was overwhelmingly flat (to the point of being garish) and I spent the first couple of days with the new iOS feeling rather conflicted and asking myself “Do I like this UI or not?”
Then a new reality set in, where I realised that I had been asking a moot question…. What I should have been asking myself is, “Do the underlying changes to the iOS 7 operating system really make my iPhone a better phone or my iPad a better tablet?”
My answer to THAT question is an overwhelming YES. Let me deal with some of the changes that have altered my view from ‘meh’ to ‘ahem!’.
With the new App View UI, true multitasking appears to have finally arrived to iOS devices.
You can switch apps by double-pressing the home button and then see a collection of apps running with preview windows above them.
With a Retina display you can see an image of what the app is actually doing in these app preview windows (down to emails arriving in the Mail app while in App view mode). You can change apps with a sideways swipe or with an upwards flick of a finger simply remove apps from memory.
It’s an intelligent form of multitasking, in that the operating system figures out which apps you use most and then updates them more frequently in the background. It also uses a technique called “coalesced updates” which enables apps to share hardware on the phone when they require it. So if one app needs the antenna for something, another app will tag along and utilise the antenna as well. All this functionality has been designed to save power. It’s an incredibly intelligent way to handle a complex power problem that plagues almost any other mobile device that tries to do proper multitasking.
It works very well and changing apps or shutting them down is now effortless. No more holding onto an app icon and then pressing the little x to kill the app (the old way of doing it). iOS 7 is a lot more intuitive, making you feel like you are more in control of your device.
In prior versions of iOS it was impossible to change a bunch of important device settings from a single point unless you opted to jailbreak the device to include a number of unsupported apps that enabled you to turn off WiFi or go into airplane mode. If your phone was not jailbroken you would have to go and find these settings and change them one by one. This was time-consuming and clunky. Control Center offers new preference controls from a single place on your iOS7 device. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen (including the lockscreen) to find quick access to preferences. It has switches that allow users to access Wi-Fi, turn on Airplane Mode, toggle Do Not Disturb, adjust brightness, and control music, among other things. The Control Center also offers an all new flashlight functionality and a readily accessible calculator for the iPhone.
Spotlight has moved!
When I first started using iOS 7 I could not find Spotlight search by swiping to the left from the home screen, and this really irritated me. For some or other reason that I still cannot fathom, Sir Ive has decided that you should access Spotlight by swiping down somewhere in the middle of your app deck.
Its seems like such a random a design change to me, but thankfully the power behind Spotlight’s search has increased significantly, and it’s now able to display many different types of results rapidly.
Events and birthdays, emails, messages, music and video, applications, and a plethora of other content are listed in an array of instantly-appearing subheaded results.
Notification Center looks entirely different as well, with new daily overviews that let users know about new mail, missed calls, to-dos, and more. Notification Center can be accessed from any screen, including the Lock Screen, with a downwards swipe. Notifications also sync between devices, so clearing a notification on an iPhone will also clear it from a paired iPad.
iOS 7 introduces a redesigned camera app that includes photo filters à la Instagram. There are now a total of four camera modes, including Video, Panorama, Still, and Square. The Photos app has been redesigned as well, offering an improved photo management system. iOS knows when and where photos were taken and this information is used to organize photos into folders called “Moments.” iCloud Photo Sharing has also been enhanced, allowing users to have fully shared photo streams that include both photos and videos.
With iOS’s new folders functionality, you are able to scroll your apps in folders by swiping left or right. Whilst this seems like a pretty basic upgrade, the limit on the number of apps available in user folders in previous version of iOS provided lots of frustration for users and is a welcome upgrade to the UI.
There were two things in iOS 7 which either did not really change my experience significantly or don’t work that well just yet and here they are:
Siri has apparently been overhauled, as early versions of iOS’s voice-prompted artificial intelligence search app were clunky and did not work very well. I tried using it for all of 5 minutes, and found it as worthless as I did the first version, because of the time it takes to get results over a 3G connection and the number of times I had to ask a question with my South African accent before Siri understood me. I’ve heard rumours that Siri will be the new remote control and recommendation for the much anticipated Apple TV that Apple are apparently launching some time in the future, but its not a feature that I currently derive much value from.
Small UI anomalies
There are quite a number of UI anomalies that irritated me such as the OK button not being in the right place when you type in your SIM password to access a mobile network and some glitches with the parallax-effect active background. Through a bit of clever programming, Apple have turned the screen into something akin to a pane of glass behind which users can see a three-dimensional world that shifts and tilts alongside the device itself. Whilst this is a very cool feature (and not a new invention I might add), it can be a bit problematic with certain images that seem to jump at you from behind the apps.
iOS 7 has grown on me
Over all, iOS 7 is a good, solid refresh from Apple. I cant say that any of the phone functionality was ground-breakingly new and when I run through the checklist of new features and UI changes, most of them have been implemented by Android, Microsoft or Samsung in some of their latest phones.
Would I return to iOS 6?Well, I can emphatically say that I would never go back because although iOS 7 is not ground-breaking, it does make your phone feel like a better, faster, sexier-looking device and, most importantly, makes you feel like you have a lot more control in your hands.