Even the biggest Apple fanboys and girls will admit: the look and feel of Apple’s mobile operating system was beginning to feel stale. With each new iteration of iOS, Apple added new features while the design remained largely untouched. iOS 7 gives the iPhone a fresh coat of brightly colored paint along with updated app icons, a narrower font, and different animations. Beneath the new visuals, iOS 7 operates in the same manner as previous versions, though you’ll come to rely on some new features that iOS 7 introduces while finding that some trusted old features have been moved or rearranged.
iOS 7 features a flat design, one where 3D bubble-shaped app icons have been jettisoned in favor of flattened icons with simpler illustrations. Also getting swept out the door are skeumorphic design elements. Thus, you’ll need to wave goodbye to the felt surface of the GameCenter and the yellow legal pad icon for the Notes apps, to name but two examples. While the apps icons are flat, iOS 7 introduces a parallax effect that adds depth and subtle movement between the app icons and your wallpaper as you move and tilt your iPhone. Lastly, iOS 7 features new transparency effects, so some layers such as the new Control Center and Siri look like a pane of frosted glass.
After turning on your new iPhone 5S or 5C or updating your current iPhone to iOS 7, the first difference you’ll notice from iOS 6 is the new lock screen. It features a narrower font and a more subtle slider, though the slider still features the left-to-right animation encouraging you to slide to unlock. Look more closely and you’ll notice a small bar in the middle of the top and the bottom edges. These bars indicate that something is hiding just beyond your screen’s borders. Swiping down from top reveals the redesigned Notification Center, while swiping up from the bottom brings forth the new Control Center.
Introducing Control Center
One of the biggest and most helpful new features that iOS 7 introduces is Control Center. This panel offers quick access to your most commonly used settings, and it is always available to you — including from the lock screen and within apps — with a simple upward swipe from the bottom edge of your screen. Instead of hunting within settings or swiping about the multitasking tray, the Control Center offers quick and easy access to the following settings: Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, screen orientation lock, brightness and volume, music controls, and AirDrop and AirPlay. Control Center also lets you turn on your LED flash to use as a flashlight, and it provides quick access to the clock, calculator, and camera apps.
Improved Notification Center
The Notification Center isn’t new to iOS 7, but it received a design overhaul and can be accessed from the lock screen. Gone is the gray, textured look of this tool and in its place is a simple black background. It opens to the new Today view, which shows you calendar entries and reminders for the current day and the next and current weather conditions and the day’s forecast. Swipe to the left or tap the All tab at the top and you’ll see a pane similar to the default pane of the Notification Center in iOS 6 with all of the notifications for your apps. Meanwhile, the Missed pane shows you any calls or texts you may have missed.
Painless and Automatic Updates
Another one of iOS 7’s biggest changes is one you won’t see. Instead of waiting for you head to the App Store to initiate any needed updates for your apps, iOS 7 performs this chore for you in the background. And Apple claims iOS 7 will performs these updates “during power-efficient times” — when your on Wi-Fi, basically — and does so intelligently. It will learn your habits, so if you like to browse through Facebook with your morning coffee, it will update the app prior to your pot finishing brewing.
New Multitasking Menu
The multitasking menu has been improved with iOS 7, and it’s easier to quit apps from it. Double tapping the home button calls up the multitasking menu as before, but now you get more than a tray of app icons at the bottom of the screen. The app icons are still present along the bottom, but above each one is a screenshot of the app, giving you a bit more information at a glance about each of the apps you have running.
And now you don’t have to tap and hold on an icon in the multitasking tray, wait for it to start wiggling, and then tap the red minus-sign badge icon to quit the app. Instead, you simply swipe up on an app’s screenshot and fling it off the screen to quit the app.
If you swipe to the right from the left-most home screen on iOS 7, you’ll feel like you hit a wall. Spotlight no longer resides to to the left of the home screen. It’s been moved, and it’s accessible from any page — not just the left-most home screen. To call up Spotlight search in iOS 7, you just swipe down on any home screen, being careful not to accidentally tapping on an app icon and opening an app. The Spotlight search bar slides down from the top edge of the screen.
Positioning isn’t the only aspect that has changed with iOS’s search tool; its functionality has also been tweaked. In iOS 6, you could use Spotlight to search your the contents of your iPhone as well as the Web or Wikipedia. With iOS 7, Spotlight searches only your iPhone.
Meet the New Siri
Picking up the slack for the newly limited Spotlight is the new and improved Siri. Siri can now converse with you in a female or male voice and features a new voice, and more importantly, she or he can check more places for answers and perform more tasks than before. Siri can now check Bing, Wikipedia, and Twitter to answer your queries, and you can use Siri to play voicemails, read your texts, control iTunes Radio, and adjust settings like brightness and Bluetooth.
Safari’s New Looks and Tricks
Safari boasts an entirely new look and feel. At the top, you’ll notice the previously separate URL and search bars are now combined into a unified smart search field for a cleaner, simpler approach. And the browser gets out of your way, letting you browse the Web unencumbered. When you begin to scroll down, the top and bottom navigation bars disappear. Swipe up and they reappear. You can also swipe to the right to move back to the previous page in your browsing history, while swiping to the left moves you one page forward.
Safari also juggles multiple windows in a more effective way. Instead of scrolling sideways through your open windows you flip through them vertically. This orientation takes better advantage of the iPhone’s typically portrait-oriented display, allowing you to see more of your open windows on the screen. You are no longer limited to eight open windows as you were with iOS 6, and you can tap the X in the upper-left corner or simply swipe the window to the left to close it. Also, the option to start a private browsing section is available from a number of places right within Safari instead of buried in your iPhone’s settings as it was before.
Lastly, Safari in iOS 7 offers a new screen that keeps you better informed about the Web content your Twitter followers are sharing. Tap the Bookmarks button and then the @ tab and you’ll see a list of tweets that contain a URL.
You’ve Got Improved Mail
Searching through the Mail app for an email that was no longer stored locally always resulted in an error message before you then proceeded to search the server for your query. Now, the Mail app skips that annoying step. It searches both the email on your iOS device as well as your email server, returning results without first telling you that you were doing something wrong – a big improvement.
Another improvement is the added filtering options for your inbox. When viewing Mail’s home screen of your inbox(es) and account(s), tap the Edit button in the upper-right corner and you add new, filtered views to the home screen. Things like all unread emails, all drafts, or emails with attachments.
The iOS feature that lets you shake to undo text entry or another command has been brought to the Mail app. Thus, you can shake to undo the deletion or archiving of an email, which is a much quicker way to undo such a command then digging down to your deleted or archived mail folder and returning the email to your inbox.
AirDrop Like it’s Hot
AirDrop lets you share contact info, photos, and videos with other like-minded, AirDrop-enabled individuals. You’ll need one of the new iPhone models or at least an iPhone 5, fourth-generation iPad, iPad mini, or fifth-generation iPod touch to use this feature. With it, you have access to peer-to-peer file sharing, where AirDrop is listed as a sharing option in iOS apps such as Contacts, Photos, Safari, iTunes, and the App Store. Third-party apps will be able to support AirDrop as well, should the develop so choose, after they are updated for iOS 7.
iTunes Radio Rocks Right out of the Gate
Open the Music app on your our iOS 7 device and you’ll see a new Radio tab has been added to the bottom navigation bar. While Apple is playing catch-up here with other streaming apps such as Pandora and Spotify, iTunes Radio is an impressive first effort. While you can create your own stations based on an artist, genre, sub-genre, or song as you can with other streaming-radio apps, iTunes Radio also offers a hundreds of ready-made stations and a revolving selection of Featured Stations created by musicians, celebrities, or what’s trending on Twitter.
You can customize your stations by telling iTunes to never play a song again or play more songs like the current tune, and you add songs to your iTunes Wish List for later purchase. iTunes Radio is free, but it does limit the number of songs you can skip and serves the occasional ad. Sign up for iTunes Match for $25 per year, however, and the song-skipping limit and ad disappear.
Camera and Photos Apps
The Camera app received a makeover in iOS 7, though many of its features are available in the iPhone 5 or later. The various camera modes — photo, video, square, and panorama — are more easily accessible; just swipe to switch between them. iOS 7 also provides eight live filters, which you can apply as you line up your shot. Proud owners of the new iPhone 5S can use burst mode, where you can take up 10 shots per second by holding the shutter button, and slow-motion video.
The accompanying Photos app introduces a new organizational structure where your photos can be viewed by Years, Collections, and Moments. In the Years view, you’ll see a collection of the tiniest thumbnails of all of your photos taken in a calendar year. Tap and hold and move your finger around this mosaic of tiny thumbnails to view a slightly larger thumbnail of an individual photo and then release to open that photo. The Collections view sorts your photos by geotag and date, offering useful groups for browsing through your photo history. And Moments slices up your photo history into more specific geographic locations and dates.
The Photo app’s editing options have not expanded with iOS 7, but you can apply one one of eight filters if you regretted your decision to skip such a thing when snapping your shot.