Thoughts on iOS 7 beta


As every year at WWDC, this year Apple announced a new version of its mobile operating system: iOS 7. This version is a radical departure from any other iOS release. From design perspective it is entirely new. It also has some nice new features (but I still believe that the most feature rich update in iOS history is iOS 5 which introduced iCloud, iMessages, OTA updates and WiFi syncing).

Lets start with the design. First of all -as with all iOS releases- not all features of iOS 7 will be available on all devices. Devices eligible for update are iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, latest iPod touches, iPad 2, iPad mini and all iPads with Retina Displays. iOS 7 comes with a new icon set, which has raised a debate across the web regarding the wrongness of the icons. Personally I like the new icon designs, but I would prefer the colors to be less saturated. This would be the ideal icon set for me. But icons are only a small part of the new interface. iOS 7 has a sense of movement and depth. Wallpapers are live, which means that you can put a panorama image as background and while moving the phone you can see different parts of the image in the background (it is called parallax effect and you have to see it live to release how cool it is. And yes, it will soon -if not already- be copied by all the Androids. Or maybe not? Parallax effect uses the 6-axis gyroscope built in every iPhone to proved that movement which makes it very realistic. Not all smartphones have gyros, so it will be difficult to copy this or even if copied, to make it look so smooth and realistic like on an iPhone. I tend to think that Apple had it in mind when designing iOS 7. It had the clear goal, to make it so sophisticated and tried to bind it with as many hardware sensors of its devices it could, so it will be difficult to copy it.

Next big chapter in the new iOS is typography. Here with no doubt Apple made a great job. The font across the entire system is Helvetica Neue. Text rendering is perfect accross the system. Text is sharp, most of the times on white background, which makes it extremely easy to read. Many function buttons in iOS 7 (like the “back” button, or the “shuffle” and “repeat” button in the have no shape, they are plain text. That may seem strange at first glance, or confusing, but after a while you get used to it, although I’d still prefer buttons with a light shape around to inform the user that this area is touchable.

Other nice additions in the UI are the ability to have pages in folder, meaning that you can now have more than 12 apps per folder, the new UISwitch control with the minimal animation and the overall translucency across the system which provides a sense of depth.

Now that we’ve show the exterior of the new operating system, lets see the interior. Apple packed a bunch of new features in the new iOS release. First is the Control Center. Control Center gets revealed like the notification center (but with the opposite gesture, from bottom to top). In my personal opinion Apple did a big foul regarding the Control Center and the lock screen. When the phone is locked you seen the well known “slide to unlock” label (without borders to define the touchable area) and below that there is an arrow pointing the top, meaning to inform that Control Center is also accessible via the lock screen. But the whole positioning of these buttons and the lack of borders around “slide to unlock” label give the sense that the user should slide from bottom to top in order to unlock the device.

Next feature worths mentioning is the revamped Multitasking UI. Apple chose the right path here. Multitasking now shows the state of the app, and you can kill an app with just a swipe.

iTunes Radio -or otherwise the Pandora killer- is another new feature. iTunes Radio is a free radio service, that plays songs you like and learns from what you hear. Of course it gives you the ability to purchase the tracks you listen from iTunes. iTunes Radio will have also ads, except if you have an iTunes Match subscription.

In the field of security, iOS 7 provides the ability to sync your passwords across all your devices with iCloud keychain. Also if you lose your phone and you have find my iPhone enabled, the phone is locked and it should be activated again with a valid Apple ID. Siri will get also some new capabilities (like searching in Wikipedia), but the most notable change is Siri’s new user interface. The camera app follows also the trend of all these photo apps, and comes packed with filters. Safari has a new UI too, which I personally like a lot as it provides a very clean user experience focusing in content. Adding to that it now lists all the URLs in your Twitter timeline, who posted them, and what they had to say about them. Photo app is also completely revamped with a new UI that groups your images according to date and places.

Last but not least is Airdrop. Airdrop (which is available in OS X since Lion) lets you exchange files. Although Airdrop will not be available in older devices, it is a nice enhancement on how iOS users share files.

Talking about features availability: Parallax effect will not be available on iPhone 4 (parallax needs gpu horsepower. Adding that to the iPhone 4 would probably lead to poor and laggish user experience). Airdrop will be available on iPhone 5, iPad 4 and iPad mini.

I have to admit that when I saw WWDC keynote I was shocked with the radical change in iOS. But after I downloaded the beta and tried it, the more I use iOS 7, the more I like it. Using iOS 7 for a couple of hours and then getting back to iOS 6 is like feeding me with old food. In general I was not a big fan of heavy skeuomorphism. I liked the way pages turn in iBooks app, but that wooden bookshelf or the casino-table like interface in Game Center were not my best. But skeuomorphism aimed to help people understand and learn easily how to use iPhones and iPads some years ago. No all people know how to use them, so I think that Apple did the right thing by choosing to follow a more elegant, clean and content centric path for its mobile operating system.

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