One month with iOS 7: An old soul with style and substance (review)

One month with iOS 7: An old soul with style and substance (review)

Summary: While the revamped user interface takes some getting used to, iOS 7 packs a powerful punch in the new features department, even if it requires a little relearning at times.

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TOPICS: Apple, iOS, iPhone, iPad
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Apple's latest mobile software will bring more than just visual changes to its existing and next wave of customers.

For 30 days, I ran a pre-release version of iOS 7 (which iteratively improved when newer updates were released and installed) on my iPhone 4S. While first impressions are important — these were covered in part in the review of the user interface and experience changes — the critical check is the test of time.

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iOS 7 review: Apple's mobile mid-life crisis?

iOS 7 review: Apple's mobile mid-life crisis?

iOS 7 had an extreme makeover, beauty pageant style, in a vastly aesthetic and design-focused release. Here's more.

The purpose of this particular review was to see how an average user's productivity and user experience altered, if at all, over the course of a longer-term period, such as one month.

There were occasional (and expected) bugs and crashes, but, as with the previous review, these were not considered because, as with pre-release versions, they do not represent the full, final, and finished state of the software.

My iPhone has been with me for about six months. It's not a grand amount of time, but enough to already feel a little old, dated, and weary. Aside from a fresh lick of paint in the user interface department, iOS 7 packs in so many new features and functionality that it's absurd to think that one lived without it for so long — unless one traveled down the "illicit" path of jailbreak alley.

Consider the user experience for a moment: The shell of the interactive buttons and labels are in the same locations, so there is a strong sense of familiarity with the software.

The software is in effect the same old iOS that users have come to love. In that sense, it's "old." But the way you interact with the device will be on the most part the same as you always have. New users may, in fact, find the "compact" nature of slide-in panels and drawers more instinctive to find, and natural to use.

Despite its bumps and scratches after six months of use, it felt as though I had a brand new iPhone resting in the palm of my hand.

Users reclaim granular control settings with Control Center

For too long, users had to delve into the depths of the Settings menus to toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other radios, among other hardware functions. Enough is enough; the much-discussed Control Center is a breeze to use, and a breath of fresh air for those who are conscious of their battery life.

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Consider the draw-up panel as your iPhone or iPad's always-on "cheat sheet," a quick-access panel to apps that you need on the fly. Separated into four distinct panels (or five, when an AirPlay device is detected), each section offers different core device options, such as radio access or screen brightness.

Tucked away at the bottom are quick-launch apps, including a flashlight feature in the bottom left, freeing up home screen real estate for the apps that matter to you.

The translucent, blurry layer sits on top of all other facets of the platform, so that users know the previous view is just a swipe-down action away. This feature will replace add-ons that performed in much the same way for jailbroken phones.

iOS 7 gives users granular controls over their device's core functions, something that will be explored later as part of what appears to be a running theme across the new software. It's simple yet beautiful, but crucially, it's useful. The Control Center acts first and foremost as a central focal point for users.

Notifications are less cluttered; elegant and sophisticated

From swipe up to swipe down, hidden and "rolled up" at the top of the display is the Notification Center, ready to update you on the progress of your day — and then some.

Three tabs lie across the top of the display, although it's not immediately clear how the "all" and "missed" tabs work together. I doubt everyone will use these tabs, as they can receive most notifications on their lock screen. That said, the "today" view of upcoming appointments, date, and weather is bright, clear, bold in size, and laid out well. The entire panel is blurred, giving a sense of dimension as the colors of the icons still appear through the frosted glass.

The written-out information is an interesting touch. The weather is spelled out, word for word, instead of icons signifying outdoor temperature highs and lows. Not everyone will appreciate this, given the extra momentary glance it takes to read the text, though it's an elegant touch and an appreciated subtlety.

Multitasking now offers an "at a glance" view with live tiles

Double-pressing the home button typically "lifts" the home screen to reveal its undercarriage of controls, which previously housed some of the features now seen in the Control Center.

2-multitask

Switching between apps adds live preview panes of what the app is currently doing, as well as the "traditional" app icons with badge counters, stating how many pending notifications or updates there are.

On a Retina display iPhone, which iOS 7 now only supports, it's clear to see even the minute details of what the app is doing. You can see emails as they arrive, and videos carry on playing as you're working on something else. It's a simple change that many will appreciate. And with the flick-up gestures to close apps, it's effortless to close them one after the other, unlike in earlier versions, which required fingertip precision.

Spotlight haphazardly relocates, packs power

iOS 7 brings its own dedicated device search engine to iPhones and iPads, and now lets Safari handle web searches.

The logic behind relocating the Spotlight search function from the very left-hand pane to between the top row of icons and network indicators is unclear. It still feels a little clunky to get to, squeezed away between the search bar and the on-screen keyboard. But it makes up in what it kicks out.

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The power behind Spotlight's search has increased significantly, and it's now able to load up dozens of different types of results in microseconds. The first thing you might notice is the circled initials of contacts' names, so that when a picture is not available, it will display the first letters of the forename and surname. Surprisingly, it's easier to pick out the contact you require.

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. The animations are smooth and briefly concatenate before pushing the previous result group out of sight.

Siri 2.0: Grows up, packed with new features

Siri has, for some time, been the runt of the Apple pack. In spite of its beta tag, it was half-finished from the day it was released. Now, with the same old voices but refined vocabulary, along with greater speech recognition support, there is more of a reason to use the "intelligent assistant."

6-siri-upgrades

Siri's beta tag was ripped off like a sticky band-aid: It's refined and polished, and, above all else, it works. No longer is Siri frustrating to use — the intelligence assistant has "grown up" to accommodate a vast array of different features and services, including hardware support.

Its blurred façade and bright white text is easy to read and welcoming. And its responsive on-screen voice analyzer may be a little on the sci-fi side, but it responds and reacts instantly to your voice.

And though I rarely use or used Siri — there was just no need to — it has been fun discovering the new features it supports: Launching apps, setting up events using natural language, checking sports results, finding movie times, and so on. Though you still look a little silly talking to your phone in public, the on-screen data feedback is often in a far better and easier-to-read format than one would find when searching for it on the web.

Apps updated for elegance, style, and practicality

A sign that iOS has grown up is the removal of skeuomorphism, the user interface design elements that make an app look like its real-life counterpart.

No longer do the apps come with green felt and faux leather binding — and not a moment too soon. Instead, a real-world natural effect sometimes edges in, such as with the Weather app, which takes up every pixel of the display and looks stunning.

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Instead, we have bright white spaces and full-screen backgrounds that take advantage of the space, but also instantly inform users of what they need to know. These two apps, for instance, could not look more different from each other.

The array of apps that come with iOS 7 are very minimalistic, with vast, white spaces and lots of text. Some follow a fauvist pattern, with bright colors and larger but infrequent text. There do not appear to be any logical consistencies between the two, or across the board. That said, both designs are visually appealing and work well in contrast.

iOS 7's secret sauce: Choice, customization, and consistency

Some big changes have already wowed the crowds. The newly improved Notification Center, the slide-up Control Center, and the sideways-swiping multitasking view: These features will be enough to make headlines on their own.

And while a number of smaller, inconsequential changes — such as automatic app updating, message blocking, contact photos in favorites, and so on — individually appear iterative and do not fix any significant or major problems or issues, they will be well received nonetheless.

But putting the smaller things together, Apple is giving us a little more of the rope to play with in iOS 7. The biggest silent surprise to many will be how much control over our devices we are now given.

Yes, the software may have had a lick of paint too much to the point where it looks almost burlesque in nature, as though Apple's suffered a mobile mid-life crisis that has it slathering animations and gyroscopically activated wallpapers. But beneath the exterior is the same old mature mobile operating system that becomes wiser with every major software version.

We are given more control and more choice over what our iPhone and iPad do, in spite of the "walled garden" approach to third-party apps that Apple has adopted. Version on version, users are given more to do and more to play with, and greater power over the devices we hold in our hands.

While it's refreshing, the software retains a sense of uniformity that maintains "extreme" levels of customization, à la Android, which ultimately keeps iOS users coming back for more, release after release.

This review was first published August 13, 2013 at 5am ET. 

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPhone, iPad

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102 comments
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  • under the skin

    What is most interesting in iOS 7 is the under the skin changes, new APIs etc. Apparently, we will have to wait and see what is in there.
    danbi
    • Not necessarily; Zack described what to expect

      Though funny how he calls himself average user, given his extensive experience in IT.
      DDERSSS
    • Misdirect

      The under the skin changes that I have tried I like for the most part, not all were there when I tried it, the aspect I did not care for are the cosmetic changes.

      I am not sure for others, I found the visual changes (icons / colors / styles) to be more schizophrenic or immature than beneficial. Change for the sake of change; beneficial or not, is a waste.
      rhonin
      • Schizophrenic vs skeuomorphic

        I agree the new themes are schizophrenic and immature. Immature in the extreme IMHO. While there is great benefit to using the minimalist approach, taking it to extreme with low contrast pastel colors which wash out in bright light thanks to their ultra thin fonts indicates to me some engineers / graphic designers need to be taken out back and beaten. Did ANYONE attend their ergonomic design classes? really guys, this is just grossly immature. What I see looks like the phone ran out of bits because the software is too sloppily coded for the cpu & display hardware to handle. Has anyone on the team considered counting cpu instructions and doing bandwidth calculations?

        Change for change's sake is just as wrong now as it always was. Has anyone ever heard of "If it's not broke, don't fix it" ? I've had more projects my team and I needed to 'un****' after they were 'fixed' than I can shake a stick at.

        Having used and 'played' with the beta, I have already issued policy that none of the company's phones will be updated to iOS 7 until such time as it grows up. If it doesn't by giving us 'theme packs' and 'icon packs' then I'll be forced to consider using Android directly and not Apple's 'port' of it to the iPhone in spite of the obvious dangers of Android.

        While I profoundly support it IS about time we got the 'meat' under the hood in our iPhones. Doing that by emulating another OS doesn't show inspiration, it shows desperation. The name of the game is Innovate, not Emulate. Using someone's idea to spark a new, better one (emphasis on better) is the key to how we got to this level of technology.

        Internal review have compelled me to all company iPads & iPhones locked at 6.1 until such time other options present themselves.

        In closing, I will say it's a sad day when Apple lowers itself into the 'also ran' category. I've been wrong before so I *PRAY* I'm wrong this time. Apple, please prove me wrong.

        PS: I've been doing this for a looong time. I still develop with the rest of my teams so please don't get the idea I'm just a paper pushing exec. I still put my jeans & sneakers on one leg at a time like everyone else :)
        TyRoland
        • FWIW

          FWIW, I like my iPhone 5. I UNDERSTAND OO design and how the 'setttings' are laid out. It's classy enough to keep my gang from having to 'fix' those who play too deep.

          Sure, we love to get into them and tinker.. what geek doesn't?

          I"m on my 2nd i5 due to the battery issue in the first group. I did get AWS support in this one. (replaced by Apple with a new one) So far, ZERO issues.

          I have only added an Otterbox Commuter case to keep it from getting all scratched up. That's my only complaint, but is of all phones which use Gorilla glass. It can't be helped.
          TyRoland
        • Banned because of lack of icons and themes?

          "I have already issued policy that none of the company's phones will be updated to iOS 7 until such time as it grows up. If it doesn't by giving us 'theme packs' and 'icon packs' then I'll be forced to consider using Android..."

          You're banning iOS7 from your company because of the lack of icons and themes???
          SbySW
      • Can a fanboy be neutral?

        I bet you won't find one apple fan"person" that will say the truth. These are the ugliest icon on a smart phone rhonin is dead on. Jony Ives just wanted to bury Steve Jobs' fingerprint on the OS, change for sake of change. You killed the OS.

        I really can't stand this look. No iphone 5s for me, Android or Windows phone for this cycle.
        JLNoll@...
  • I'm excited for this

    iOS7 will be a welcome change. I love the security that being somewhat "locked down" brings to my iPhone (99% of all new viruses are on the Android platform....waiting for the troll remarks on this of course....) but it has felt stale for some time. It will be nice to get some quick control, widget style, that my Samsung G3 has had the entire time. I like my iPhone but have wished it had widgets like my SG3 for some time. Glad to see this step in the right direction. If they opened all the API's up to developers, I wonder if they wouldn't see many more iOS viruses.
    Stormborn
    • Not excited.

      I just don't understand the excitement over iOS 7. These are minimal evolutionary changes wrapped in a bright, cartoon interface. I don't see anything that's going to improve or streamline the way I use my iPhone.

      I'm more interested to see what hardware changes are coming in September. The hardware is lagging two years behind lots of other devices. They need to catch up just to keep their existing customers. I skipped the 5 because the only truly useful change was a slightly larger screen. If the 5S doesn't deliver significant hardware improvements, I may be jumping ship soon after.

      The main iPhone camera was ok 2 years ago, but it's mediocre now. The maximum internal storage hasn't grown in 3 years. Retina was ok 2 years ago, but others now have full HD displays. The front facing camera is still crap. Soon, Webster's dictionary will include a picture of an iPhone next to the definition of "stagnation."
      BillDem
      • Couldn't be more wrong....

        You obviously don't get Apple and that's fine. However, what you have said is just not true. The iPhone 5 not only had a bigger screen, but the A5 chip, (which is as fast if not faster than many other phones), better front facing camera, and more. My iPhone 5 runs significantly faster than my boyfriends 4S.

        Not to mention the iPhone 6 is going to have no buttons, 14mp camera, triple screen color technology, oh yeah & a finger scanner. I'm sorry I don't need all that extra junk (widgets & custom ability) to weigh my phone down. I'd rather have a phone that ran smoothly and was durable. I very rarely hear of any other phone lasting more than a year. A co-workers GS4's screen just stopped working. That just came out & already issues....
        TruthBombDrop
        • No buttons?

          No, the iphone 5S is reported to have a huge convex button with a heavy fingerprint scanner in it. apple will still measure the phone at its thinnest point though so they can lie about how thin it is like they lie about how thin the mba is.

          "I don't need all that extra junk (widgets & custom ability) to weigh my phone down"

          Yes, the bits required to code Live Tiles and Widgets weigh between 0.1 and 0.2ozs each.

          "I'd rather have a phone that ran smoothly and was durable."

          Yup, which is why I switched from the iphone 4 to the Nokia Lumia 920 which is fast and fluid thanks to Windows Phone 8. Also, because it is actually durable, I don't need a case for it, unlike the iphone which requires a case. So your "light" iphone ends up weighing more and is actually bigger than my Lumia 920.

          The iphone 4 was a good phone 3 years ago. Since then, apple has done nothing to improve the line and so it has stagnated horribly.
          toddbottom3
          • Missed the mark a bit....

            When I said junk weigh not down, I thought it was pretty clear. Not actual weight, but the toll it takes on the processor.....

            Also, no it's not going to be the iPhone 5S. They're releasing TWO phone this year. The iPhone 5C, which is the 5 with a plastic case, and the iPhone 6. Yes NO BUTTONS. Already confirmed all buttons will be replaced with sapphire quartz sensors, 14 mp camera, A6 chip with quad core. Please, keep hating and getting your info wrong.....
            TruthBombDrop
          • Correction

            The iPhone 5 currently has a dual-core A6 processor in it at 1.3 GHz. Most rumors I have read have said the 5S won't even have an A7, they say it will have the A6X. But who knows? And it will more than likely have a 12 MP camera, not a 14 and it will have a home button. Apple has not ever released an entirely new design to a product a year after its release, so expect a 5S.
            StopArguingLikeAnIDIOT
          • Not what I've read....

            From what I've read, they have already found code in ios 7 to confirm a finger scanner. I highly doubt they are making the home button a button, when it's also a fingerprint scanner. They just don't mix, & rumors from iPhone manufactures are that there are no buttons. Which makes sense, a sapphire quartz sensor for home button, volume & the rest makes the most sense. It's also reported a 14 mp camera & a quad core processor. It will be the 6, remember we have only had 2 iPhone S, the 3 was a 3GS. So two models doesn't necessarily mean it's how they will do it every year. Especially when you throw in the fact, they're releasing TWO phones this year. With all that said, I think you're wrong....
            TruthBombDrop
          • Correction....

            Now that I think about it, iPhone has only had ONE S phone. It was 3,3GS,4,4S, and lastly 5. So the iPhone plastic may be the S (I doubt it), but they are definitely releasing the 6. Them calling one phone an S, doesn't mean that's what we should expect. Looking at their pattern, it's clear to see they don't have one. I'd even put money on them just calling it the new iPhone. Just as they call the iPad now.....
            TruthBombDrop
          • You Are comparing an old device with a new device

            The iPhone 4 was released in 2010 and has a single-core A4 chip at just 800 MHz and I do believe it is under clocked. The Nokia Lumia 920 was released in 2012 I want to say, and even if it was released in 2011 and I am wrong, a year is a long time with technology. Apple has a tendency to slow down their older devices with newer firmware to convince you to buy the newer device, it is a business model that every company implements whether you accept it or not. Android is great if you want to customize. If you want something that works and has a great limited warranty, an iPhone is the way to go. I went to the Apple store and my home button was messed up and the Genius didn't even ask for me to produce the issue for her and she replaced it all in 10 minutes. With Android devices, excuse me if I am wrong, I do believe you would have to totally get a new replacement device if something went wrong? On top of that, it would have to be mailed to you and you would have to mail the faulty one back to them. Customer service is an important factor in a product choice, not just widgets and software gimmicks. Please be more considerate when you are trying to be a jerk on an online forum, your opinions are offensive to others and rather immature and biased.
            StopArguingLikeAnIDIOT
          • Why?

            Why so angry, Bottom? I've seen you on this site expending huge amounts of energy and wasting untold hours that you'll never get back writing exclusively anti-Apple diatribes. What has made you slip to such a boring, useless level? Is it constipation? Is that what it is, irritability caused by intestinal discomfort?
            Christopher Isto
        • You're dreaming, wake up!

          The issue is one of innovation, and Apple's lack of it. Is it innovative to introduce features on iOS that have been on Android for years? It might be new to iOS users, but not to the general public. And in many cases Apple's implementation of these "new" features is much more locked down. Take the "new" Control Center. Android OS has had this feature for years. And in the current iteration on Android the user can customize what toggles appear in the "control center." Doesn't look like Apple will allow users to pick and choose what toggles they want to show up. Apple will decide for you what those are including a flashlight app whether you want it or not.

          That's just one example. I could go on and on. I am glad to see Apple moving towards Google's way of thinking and making more customizations available to iOS users. It's about time, but don't call it innovative or revolutionary because it's NOT!
          laequis
          • Even the apple board is stating that apple has stagnated

            http://www.techspot.com/news/53572-apple-board-of-directors-reportedly-concerned-with-pace-of-innovation.html
            toddbottom3
          • Really....

            Where did I call it revolutionary?

            I never said it was innovative or revolutionary. I've always stood by the statement; Apple may not be the first to do it, but they do it the best.

            I love Apple, never had one issue with it. Never broke, or battery stopped working or screen malfunction. Just an overall smooth experience. I also don't care about all that special customization stuff. It's extra bells & whistles for the sake of them. Not bc they're useful..... Nothing will get me to switch from iPhone.....
            TruthBombDrop