After six years of looking exactly the same, iOS 7 finally delivers a massive visual overhaul that will make your iPhone or iPad actually look modern. In general, iOS 7 is flatter, more colorful, and lacks skeuomorphism (interface elements that resemble real-world objects/materials, such as wood paneling or a leather ledger). Despite the new look, though, iOS 7 still feels very familiar; everything’s still where you expect it to be. It just looks fresher. We’ve been using various beta versions of iOS 7 for a few months, and while there’s a bit of an adjustment period, Apple has somehow ensured that almost everything is surprisingly familiar.
In-line with newer versions of Android and Windows Phone, iOS 7 also now makes much more significant use of typography; in many cases, where there used to be an icon, there is now simply a label with the action/function spelled out. Underlying changes have been made to iOS 7 to give developers easier access to advanced typography features, too, such as kerning and ligatures.
iOS 7 Control Center and Notification Center
Once you look beyond the visual overhaul, which actually provides very little in the way of new functionality, the most significant changes in iOS 7 are the new Control Center and the updated Notification Center. Control Center is a new panel that is revealed by sliding up from the bottom of the screen. Control Center finally lets you configure iOS without heading deep into Settings. You can enable airplane mode, toggle WiFi/Bluetooth, change screen brightness, control music playback, use your camera’s LED as a flashlight, and more.
Notification Center has been significantly updated in iOS 7, so that (just like Control Center) it provides much the same functionality as Android. Instead of a single panel, you now have three — Today, All, Missed — that show you your notifications, appointments, emails, stock tickers, and so on.
iOS 7 Multitasking
Always one of iOS’s weaknesses, version 7 also improves multitasking. Now, instead of just a small tray at the bottom of the screen when you double tap the Home button, you get a full-screen interface with app thumbnails. Instead of having to push-and-hold to close programs, you can just swipe the preview image off the screen.
Apple also claims that iOS 7 can learn your app usage schedule, and trigger updates just before you open an app. If you always check Facebook at 9am, iOS 7 will apparently check Facebook for updates just before, so that your feed is ready and waiting. Presumably this will save some battery life over the conventional method of constant push notifications — though, to be honest, these are probably still turned on by default anyway.
iOS 7 Camera and Photos
As much as the tech press hates to admit it, faster processors and fancy features are really rather superfluous: What the vast majority of iPhone users really care about is the device’s ability to snap photos. In iOS 7, the camera app now lets you shoot in square format (ideal for Instagram), and a range of filters can be applied in real time — and you can remove filters from images later, if you don’t like it. If you have an iPhone 5S, Camera also lets you shoot in slow motion, which is pretty awesome (but the question is, will it still be awesome once you’ve seen a million slow-mo videos on Vine, Instagram, and YouTube?)
The Photos app (pictured above) has been significantly overhauled to introduce Years, Collections, and Moments — essentially new ways of viewing your photos that have been automatically organized by certain criteria. Collections and Years are self-explanatory (iOS automatically collates your photos), and Moments tries to highlight important photos, such as your visit to Times Square. If you snap a lot of photos on your iPhone, these new views provide some much-needed organization.
iOS 7 AirDrop
AirDrop closely mirrors Samsung/Android’s S Beam, but with the usual dollop of Apple flair and polish. Basically, AirDrop lets you easily share any file on your iPhone or iPad via WiFi or Bluetooth, with any other iOS 7 device that’s in range. Discovery of other devices is very slick and quick, and you can remain invisible if you prefer. This is obviously a lot easier than emailing a file, or sending a low-res photo via SMS/MMS.
Other changes to iOS 7
Siri has been updated so that it checks more sources for information, and so that it can interact with new features such as iTunes Radio (pictured below) — which, incidentally, is essentially free Pandora radio for every iOS user, and ad-free if you sign up for the $25/year iTunes Match.
The App Store now has Apps Near Me, which shows you apps that are relevant to your current location — and, more importantly, the App Store can now automatically update your installed apps!
Find My iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch has been updated, so that it requires your Apple ID and password to turn the feature off, or to erase or activate your device.
Safari has been significantly updated, too — now it feels a lot more like a modern browser, such as Chrome. There’s a unified search box (a la Chrome’s omnibar), and the tab switcher is very slick. Though it won’t be ready for release, iCloud Keychain will allow you to securely store/share your passwords and credit card details between your iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks devices.
All in all, iOS 7 is one of Apple’s largest and best software updates. In testing, we have found iOS 7 a lot easier and quicker to use than its predecessors. One of the biggest complaints — that too many features are buried away in menus — has been soundly addressed. In a story later today, we’ll be investigating whether iOS 7 compares favorably against Android 4.3, or whether Apple still has some ground to cover.