Hands on with iOS 7.1 (and all of its little bits)

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We liked iOS 7. It wasn’t the complete reinvention we’d hoped for but it gave the iPhone and iPad a much-needed spring clean. Now iOS 7.1 is available, which introduces an all-new CarPlay feature along with minor tweaks and fixes to Siri, the iPhone 5s camera app, fingerprint recognition, the Calendar app and an overall speed increase for iPhone 4 users.

iOS 7.1 – CARPLAY
Probably the biggest single change is the introduction of Apple CarPlay, which enables those of us taking delivery of a new Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes or Volvo to look forward to a new level of integration between our iPhones and in-car media systems.

Apple CarPlay allows users to connect their iPhone to their car, upon which the car’s own display takes its feed from the phone. The car’s touchscreen or hardware controls – such as knobs, dials and buttons in the central column or steering wheel – can be used to control certain compatible apps running on the iPhone. For instance, Siri can be summoned and ordered, music can be selected and played, and if you see fit to replace your existing in-car sat-nav with Apple’s own Maps app, that can be done too.

Right now that’s not something that will impact greatly on the lives of the masses, but it’s an important investment in the future. Many of the world’s major car brands are set to include CarPlay functionality further down the line, although it’s interesting to note that, at this point, the list which includes Ford, BMW and Toyota makes no mention of the VW Group (which encompasses Audi, Seat and Skoda).

iOS 7.1 – Siri
We’ve never been that keen on Siri. Its speech recognition can be hopeless, and its insistence on making wild guesses as to your utterances and then phoning random numbers from your contacts without checking with you first is infuriating. iOS 7.1 attempts to improve matters by giving you the option of telling Siri when to stop listening.

The idea is that you release the Home button when you’ve said your piece, but in our tests so far it hasn’t improved the situation by any notable degree. Those complete communication failures are still in evidence.

iOS 7.1 – Performance
The original iOS 7 update resulted wasn’t always good news for older devices, with the iPhone 4, 1st-gen iPad Mini and iPads from 3rd-gen backwards all suffering a loss of smoothness when switching orientations and even some lag during simple operations.

We’ve now updated an iPhone 4, 1st-gen iPad Mini and 3rd-gen iPad, and they all benefit from improved response times and smoother animations on the home screen. The iPhone 4 still shows a small amount of lag, but there’s a big improvement, particularly, when opening folders containing groups of apps.

There’s not a whole lot else that’s changed from iOS 7. The “Slide to unlock” text now has a shinier highlight and there seems to be a little more fluidity to the parallax wallpaper animation as you tilt your device. If you have an iPhone 5 you can set the camera to automatically switch to High Dynamic Range mode when it thinks the situation demands it (for more even exposures of high contrast or low-light scenes), the Calendar app has had a little make over and the fingerprint recognition has been improved.

So overall, while iOS 7.1 isn’t a huge update, it does fix a few things, particularly for users of older iDevices. We can’t see any reason not to upgrade.

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