Once you install iOS 7 for the first time, you will notice the clean, white screen and the new typography, which has much thinner fonts.
You can see for the first time here the new buttons at the top of the screen and the notification area. The "back" button is the only bit of color on the screen.
At this screen, it's already not immediately apparent why some text is in blue, some is in a thin, black font, or why others are in thick, black fonts. iOS 7 is currently in "beta," meaning it is far from finished — we will avoid overly criticizing the software, as many things are not functional or broken. Already, the new user interface at this point feels a little haphazard, however.
The new keyboard, which retains its functionality and feature set from previous releases — it fits more in with the monochrome color scheme. It does not come with "next" or "previous" buttons, unlike iOS 6.
Activation only takes a few moments. The standard iOS 6 spinner remains on this screen, but some progress has been made in other apps, such as Music, when a single progressing thin circle spins as something is downloading.
This is the first post-setup screen that you will encounter: The lock screen. The "slide to unlock" text isn't immediately clear from the still graphic, but, as with previous versions, it highlights from left to right. Notice the thin typography still. Also, the network signal indicator is now displayed as a series of five circles.
The notification area can also be slid down from the top of the screen, where the small chevron can be seen. The whole lock screen actually swipes to the right, rather than just a small slider at the bottom.
As soon as the lock screen disappears, your home screen icons "fall" onto the screen from the inside out. It already gives a three-dimensional effect. The icons have also been redrawn from scratch, giving the home screen a much flatter, brighter, and more vibrant color scheme. But not all app icons fill the screen, which lacks in consistency, unlike previous versions of iOS.
Swiping between screens remains mostly the same. You can also, for the first time, put Newsstand in a folder out of sight. It's not clear whether this will make it into the final version of iOS 7, because Newsstand can add to Apple's top line.
But the default apps cannot be deleted, much to the displeasure of some. Also, FaceTime has its own icon for the first time. iBooks, which comes with iOS 7 preinstalled, can be deleted.
You can see some of the transitions in the video above.
Some included wallpapers give a distance effect. When you tilt the screen side to side and up and down, the background will shift around ever so slightly to give the screen a layer of "depth." Using the inbuilt accelerometer and compass, the wallpaper shifts beyond the edges of the screen to make the icons look like they are floating above the surface of the display.
You can also set panoramic pictures as your wallpaper.
Multitasking is much more different than in previous versions of iOS. When you double-press the home button, a stream of open apps with their corresponding icons appear. It displays what's happening on screen — live.
If you want to close an app, instead of holding the icon with your finger, which before would make it "jiggle" and red Xs appear, you simply swipe up and the app closes.
Spotlight is no longer out of sight to the very left of the stream of apps on the home screen. Pulling up from the bottom brings up the Control Center (see later), and swiping down from the bottom displays notifications. But that gap in between — basically where the apps are — you have to pull down. It's hidden above the top row of apps. Like a Windows 8-like learning experience, one hopes that Apple will make this a little more apparent somehow.
But when you get to Spotlight, it sports a Gaussian blur background on top of the home screen icons. When entering text, it lists everything it can find, from contacts to email, events, and calendar entries, even applications. Wherever possible — such as if Facebook is connected and updates contact pictures — it will display a small picture associated with that person. But, failing that, it defaults to the first two initials of that person, making it far easier to spot from the crowd.
The notification area now includes natural text, rather than a list of events and things to do. It also notes the weather. It appears easier to read, but one has to ensure that calendar items are noted properly, or it can get confusing. There are also tabs at the top to include social feeds and application updates.
The key thing here is that it scrolls all the way down, further below the screen. It offers more space, but it's no longer at a glance.
Finally, at long last. It's a quick and simple way of getting to the options that you use on a regular basis. Similar to how the BlackBerry Z10 performs, you simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen to display a range of options. Those options — such as flight mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and so on — are not yet customizable. It also includes a flashlight (bottom left button) and quick access to AirPlay so users can stream presentations to nearby devices.
With the contacts app, it's simple and sleek. There's no clutter. You can call people and FaceTime them if they have a compatible device.
The new phone replaces square buttons with circles. It also takes up the whole space of the screen. The call button is extremely prominent, but the buttons at the bottom are much smaller. Because these are the same buttons in iOS 6, you intuitively go to where you need to go, regardless of the new user interface.
On calls, you still have the same options as you did before. There seems to be an increase in "green" for change and "red" for stop or delete. Much of the changes are almost entirely aesthetic. Note the thicker, deeper translucency of the home screen icons behind it.
Again, even with Visual Voicemail, the functionality remains the same. However, the confusing elements — the different-colored, not-so-prominent text — makes it difficult to determine whether something is actionable with a finger press.
Taking a leaf out of the Gmail-focused app Mailbox, you can swipe to the left and display two options. One is a simple delete button, which is marked in bright red — compared to the rest of the interface, it stands out, but arguably looks out of place. The other is a "more" button that gives the user another slide-up menu from the bottom.
This is the menu that slides up from the bottom of the screen. Note even more translucency effects — you can clearly see the red "trash" button in the background. There's lots of white space, in line with the platform's design.
The core reading and writing experience has not changed significantly. It's easier to read overall, thanks to the white space and clean feel to the email, sort of like an actual document in your hand. Core features have been added to the bottom of the screen — flag, delete, reply, and so on. But there still isn't any Gmail- or Exchange-specific features that can be taken advantage of.
Writing emails feels natural and simple. It's far cleaner, and makes it easier to write knowing there's a blank canvas to begin with.
Users can also take advantage of the dictation feature, which recognizes voice and transcribes it on the fly, so long as there's an Internet connection. It is visually more appealing to use.
When sending text messages, again the feature set remains the same. The overall design has changed. Green denotes a text message, while blue denotes an iMessage. But why this is still necessary to show remains unclear, besides the cost of each message, which is none if you use the former. Apple doesn't explain this clearly, either.
The redesigned calendar will help users organize their lives. It features a week-by-week view by default, in which you can scroll across left and right. You can search events, and switch to a "today" view that outlines the agenda for the day.
This view allows you to see exactly what's coming up day by day. From all-day events to birthdays, reminders, and dinner reservations. Anything that is readable by the operating system — such as "dinner tonight" or "drinks at 5pm" — can be added automatically to the calendar.
Siri has developed into a beautiful voice-recognizing virtual assistant. It's simple to use, and elegant in design. It also adds voice-input feedback at the bottom, which makes the whole experience feel even more sci-fi and responsive.
One of the best features is the ability to edit what you've just input — especially if you're in a noisy environment. You can simply tap the "edit" link, and change various variables. The voice is far clearer and easier to understand, even if the accents are a little off at times.
The results are easy to see. Your eyes are automatically drawn to the most important bits of information, which varies depending on what you've asked it. Apple no longer tries to squeeze in every bit of information into one screen. It recognizes that scrolling down is effortless, and users will likely not mind.
Weather updates have been a core feature of iOS since it first launched. Similar to Yahoo Weather in a sense, the kind of weather displays in the background. You can easily see the temperature, what's ahead, and what the conditions are. The only two criticisms are that it's not immediately clear which unit of measurement is being used, and the numbers do not correspond to a value, such as the day highs or the day lows.
It's worth noting that the Weather app on the home screen still isn't live updating. It remains a static image. But the Clock app, on the other hand, has a seconds hand that presents the exact live time.
You can add different cities from all around the world, and immediately see what the conditions are outside based on their slide on the screen. Weather is generally a dark app, compared to the bright whites and clear spaces around the operating system. But it's far from being skeuomorphic like iOS 6 and prior versions were.
The clock app, which has much of the same features as the weather app — with slides and world times, versus weather — is bright white and almost colorless. Again, it includes the red left-swipe to delete entries. With a mix of text and buttons, it's not always clear what is tappable and what isn't.
The clock app is simple and elegant nonetheless. Like previous versions, it displays a darker clock for nighttime and a lighter clock for daylight hours. It also explicitly states what day it is and how far ahead or behind a place is, using this natural language feedback that Apple seems to have embraced with this iOS version.
Apple Maps got off to the wrong start. But in its latest version, more than a year after it was first released, the mapping app is getting better. It now includes transit lines and significantly more accurate data. The 3D-enabled Flyover is still a cool feature to flip through.
Flyover is getting faster with every release. Even over 4G (non-LTE), it renders quickly, picking out the more prominent areas first and working outwards. You can also share directions using the inbuilt sharing feature.
These apps may be individualized in a lot of ways, but they have in common an iOS-wide sharing feature that allows you to share the addresses or directions with other iPhones, iPads, and other devices. It integrates with the App Store to show apps that are most popular in that geographic area.
Now organized into events, rather than a mish-mash of different ways, Apple has finally solved the photos problem. You can zoom out as far as you can and hover over images with your finger to quickly browse through them.
When editing photos, you can also add filters, similar to how Instagram works, which is a bit of a middle finger to Facebook. The social network is integrated, but it's not as deep as Apple's relationship with Twitter.
The camera itself has a wide range of new features. The user interface has changed significantly. Also, as many users take photos in landscape mode, the camera also flips some features sideways, so you can quickly access them without craning your neck.
Depending on the app that you're using, you can share almost anything. The default options are iMessage and your email. But photos will use Flickr, videos will use Vimeo, and almost anything else can be uploaded to Facebook and Twitter. Also, you can copy files and move them about, as well as print them with AirPort-compatible devices.
Reminders has been overhauled. With the same feature base as before — including geofencing — the style of the app has changed. Apple has begun to take advantage of text, rather than imagery. On this page, there's almost no graphics except for text. Even the priority buttons are exclamation points.
But the overall design of the app is clunky and difficult to understand. With different colors for different things, Apple doesn't explain what these are for. It's not clear exactly which lists go where, either. It's an overall confusing experience, which seems to dip further below the quality of its predecessor in iOS 6. Of course, iOS 7 is still in beta and is subject to change over time.
Apple's stocks app has also changed. Note that the platform continues to deepen its integration with Yahoo — with weather, and now stocks — to bring the most up-to-date data. The very dark elements of the app are unclear, when other apps are bright and spacious in design.
There are also more advanced data fields in the stocks app, such as opening highs and lows, volume of shares, and market cap data. For those investing on the go, it's enough to keep them ticking over.
Videos are now separated into three major categories: TV shows, movies, and music videos. With album art and high-resolution imagery, it's pleasant to view and to scroll through your media collection. It's overall an improvement on iOS 6's handling of videos.
The iTunes Store, where users can browse for music and videos on the go, is cleaner and simpler, and in line with the overall design aesthetic of iOS 7. It's simple to use, and categories are easy to access from the bottom breadcrumb bar.
Apps are auto-updating in iOS 7, allowing users to always use the latest and greatest. It works over Wi-Fi, if you specify it to, so it doesn't churn up your data bill. But for those who like control, apps can be manually updated as and when users choose.
A new feature allows you to switch on your GPS and determine the best apps for that location. If you're in Central Park in New York, you might well find park-related apps. Meanwhile, if you're in London, it might suggest a private car app, such as Uber. It helps you find new things at the places you find yourself.
For instance, at ZDNet HQ in New York, we find three major apps that many have heard of: Uber, the private car app that allows you to bop around the city with your own driver; BestParking, for those who need to find a parking space in the city — a notoriously difficult thing to do; and Airbnb, for those who need on-the-fly accommodation.
Newsstand now fits into a folder. Before, it didn't, and many found this to be frustrating and wanted to keep it out of sight. You can see the da Vinci-style app "building" — even though this is Newsstand, new apps look like this until they are installed.
One of the major gripes that users had with iOS 6 and earlier versions were the felt-like covers for Game Center, the leather binder style for Contacts, and so on. This design was scrapped with iOS 7, making everything look a lot cleaner and simpler. No more felt or leather designs, but instead simplicity.
As per a controversy in 2012, when apps were uploading vast amounts of user data to their company servers, Apple introduced a feature that formally requests access from the user when they need to access personal data, such as contacts and calendar entries. This has been maintained into iOS 7, and includes microphone and audio privacy technology.
The settings area remains much the same. It's still a complex web of different settings and switches, but it's now a lot easier to see what is what, thanks to the handy icons on the left-hand side.
As we saw earlier, apps that are ready to upgrade can be modified in the background without having the user to manually install new apps every other day. Some apps can be prevented from doing this to preserve battery life, such as Newsstand material, which often requires a lot of data in a short space of time.
Of course, for the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and prosumer customer, there's still a range of enterprise-focused features in iOS 7, including VPN technology and hooks to enable back-end mobile device management (MDM) solutions.
The iconography in iOS 7's settings makes it easier to pick out the right option. However, some features are still buried in places where you might not expect them. Location Services, which handles your location and GPS settings, is located in Privacy, when it could be argued that it deserves it own panel altogether.
The iPhone is all but an iPod touch with cellular capabilities. Many buy the device for its music functionality, synchronization, and always-on music store. The interface is similar to previous versions, but much simpler to use.
To take advantage of the larger space on later iPhone models, album art is presented in the middle of the screen, rather than spreading out over the controls. It's simple and elegant, and many will enjoy this. However, the one gripe is not knowing whether the text labels at the bottom are enabled. Options on older iOS versions typically glowed a different color. In this case, it's not clear.
Whether or not iTunes Match is enabled, you can still download your music collection that isn't on your iPhone or iPad from iTunes in the cloud. The cloud software keeps tracks of your purchases, and allows you to download music over cellular or Wi-Fi connections while you are on the go.
Safari now uses Bing as its default search engine, saddling up with Microsoft — Apple's former main rival — away from Google, which remains the iPhone and iPad maker's staunch enemy in the mobile space. Predictive search is fast and responsive, and often nails down the right result in moments, likely a testament to Bing rather than iOS 7, however.
Multitasking within Safari is now far easier, as you can scroll through your open pages quickly and simply. iOS 7 does have a lot more glitz and glamor when it comes to transitions and animations, and the browser is no different.