I’m starting to write this review on Saturday night. I’ve had iOS 7 on my iPhone 5 and iPad 4 as long as any normal human could have, which is since around half past six on Wednesday evening. In those few short days, I have only been without an iOS device in my hand while sleeping. These are my words.
Full disclosure, my words, were delayed until Monday night. How does one review something like iOS 7? It’s like reviewing the Mona Lisa or the Giza Pyramids. We’re talking about something that is just so good, that all I can do is tell you about good things. Of course not everyone will agree with me, but iOS 7 is just so awesome, that to say otherwise, makes you the guy looking at the Sistine Chapel and saying that it’s OK. We of Tech It Or Leave It are frequently asked to stop covering Apple stuff so much, and talk more about Android for example. In reply to that, I’ve always said that Apple products are so far above what everybody else is doing, that to not hold them in such high regard, would actually damage our credibility. You’re always entitled to your opinion, but there are some opinions that just make you look like a twat when you share them.
Thats where we are with iOS. I know that you can shout about how it isn’t as open as Android, and maybe you prefer the look of Windows Phone. You might even be geeky enough to know that the multitasking screen is basically lifted right out of WebOS. But I just don’t think there’s any getting past the fact that iOS 7 is by far the best mobile operating system available on any phone.
Let’s start with how it looks. It’s quite simply a beautiful work of art, jam packed full of all the little touches that feel like hardly anything on their own, but together, make an Apple product what it is. I’m not just talking about choice of fonts or colour palates, I’m talking about how when you touch a number key to dial, it instantly fills with colour, but takes a second to fade away when you lift your finger. Another example, is how the screen dims and brightens when locking and unlocking. It doesn’t turn off and back on again. It phases from the on state, to the off state. It’s such a statement of intent and thought. You can see the act of locking your phone as simply that, locking your phone. Or you can see it as putting the phone to sleep, not turning it off, and how that process should be something that happens calmly. Not slowly, so that we often think we’ve mis-pressed the lock button, but calmly. Even the transition from the first lock screen, to the screen to input your unlock code, happens with grace. The 1:1 movement ratio that continues to elude Android users, makes the act of swiping between screens feel like you’ve just moved an actual physical object. iOS feels like you’re effecting a real world thing, whereas Android always felt to me like I was performing a gesture, and then Android was carrying out the command connected with that gesture. iOS 7 continues the trend of calm, fluid, movement.
Even on the lock screen, you start to see some of the key elements that make the look of iOS 7. There’s the parallax effect, which gives the illusion of depth. As you tilt the device, you can see how the time and date live on a level that’s closer to you than the photo you’ve got set as your wallpaper. If you swipe to the left, you get the unlock code input screen, with all the buttons that have taken on the colour of your wallpaper. It looks like you’ve pulled a piece of frosted glass across the screen. As do the new control centre, and newly designed notifications screen. This seems like a good opportunity to move away from the general look of the OS, and onto some new features.
Control centre is one of the new features that has Android fans up in arms. I know there is something similar in the later versions of Android. But here’s the problem. It’s in version 4.2 and later. Allison has a 14 month old Android phone, that will never have the toggle switches on the notification screen. Most Android phones will never have those toggles. Within 24 hours of availability, iOS 7 was the most widely used version of iOS. Nobody had to wait for a new phone to come out, and everybody who bought the last three versions of the iPhone, got the update at the same time as everybody else. When there’s a new version of Android, first Google release it to manufacturers, then you wait to see if the people who made your phone have decided if it’s even worth updating your phone. Then, maybe, months later, you get your handset maker’s take on Android. So yes, I’ll accept that some later versions of Android have toggle switches available on the notification screen. But in return, you have to accept that the control centre on iOS is far far more than a set of toggle switches. It’s better than the Android offering because it’s available anywhere at any time. No need to unlock your phone to turn the flashlight on. Then of course you’ve got the obligatory toggle switches for plane mode, wi-fi, bluetooth, silent mode, and orientation lock. But then you’ve got a slider for screen brightness. That’s followed by persistent audio controls. I’ve seen music player controls in the notification screen for Android, but they are then when the app is running. iOS audio controls are always there, and always ready to take you back to the last thing you were listening to, regardless of which app you were using to do that. Then you get controls for AirDrop and AirPlay, that button which makes my phone appear on the TV. Control centre is finished off with flash light, timer, calculator and camera buttons. That’s at least three icons and an app that you no longer need on your phone. Say goodbye to that shitty flashlight app that you’ve got. You can even make space on your dock because you don’t need your camera app to hand anymore. The same goes for your calculator. I was able to give more space to real apps on my first home screen, because I didn’t need the basic utilities to have their own icon.
The new notifications screen is also beautiful, especially when it picks up all the colour from your home screen icons. Instead of just being a notification screen, this section of the phone has been broken down into three further sections. There’s the Today view that shows you the date, current weather, upcoming appointments, reminders, and tomorrow’s appointments. It seems simple and basic, but it’s one of the most useful new features. I expect it to be something that offers more, but for now, it’s perfectly serviceable. After the Today tab, there’s the All tab, which shows you all of your notifications. iOS 7 does feature an API for dismissing notifications on many devices, when they are dismissed on one. Clearly, this is something that developers need to implement. I’m looking at you Facebook. I hate having an IM conversation using my phone or iPad, only to be greeted by a notification for every sentence of that conversation on my other device. Apple have given people the tools, now they need to use them. Finally, you’ve got the Missed tab. That’s where you’ll find missed calls and such. You still can’t dismiss alerts individually, but that’s forgivable when you experience what Apple have done to improve the notifications screen.
1300 words in, and we’ve made it to the home screen. There are still icons, and there is still a dock for four of them. The icons are slightly more rounded on the corners, the font is now lighter but clearer. When you first unlock the device, the icons fly on to the screen from behind you. It’s a nice little animation, as is the way you zoom into the icon when launching the app. Folders are even nicer. You zoom in and fly around the OS. It’s truly immersive, and you never have doubt as to where you are, or how you got there. You can now put as many apps in folders as you like. I can see how that’s a good thing, but I’d advise against putting too much stuff in one folder. You could, in theory, just put all your apps in one folder on one home screen, then use spotlight to search for whatever it is you’re looking for.
Of course, Apple have updated (most of) their own apps too. The two most obvious ones are the Photos app, and Calendar. As I’m sure you’ve seen, the photos app now offers different levels of looking at your photos. You can see them all, sorted by year, or you can go in closer to photos taken at similar times or in the same places. So with absolutely no work from me, my pictures of my weekend in Scarborough are now neatly grouped together. There’s a nice range of basic photo editing tools to help you with cropping, red-eye and the ever magical “enhance”. There’s also a selection of Instagram style filters that you can apply to a picture. The filters are actually usable, because they don’t get applied to your original picture. They get added afterwards, so you never ruin anything.
Calendar has had all leather removed from it, and is much better for it. Apple have approached the problem of displaying a calendar in the right way. It’s going to live on a live updating display without a scrap of paper in sight. So there’s no need for pages that have to be turned. No flipping back and forth from month to month. Just a continuous scrolling calendar. It’s clear, clean, and bright. Finding your appointments is easier than ever before.
Other apps like Reminders, Notes, Calculator, and others, do get a cosmetic makeover, but don’t really gain anything in terms of new functionality.
To make sure that there’s nothing I’ve missed, I’m just looking over Apple’s list of new iOS 7 features. I see that I have neglected to mention the camera and AirDrop. The new camera app is great, but how great depends on how you use it. For example, there’s the “hold your finger on the shutter to continuously take pictures” function. That, I’m using a lot. It’s especially good at taking photos that Google+ Photos can make into an animated GIF. If I figure out how to get those off Google+ I’ll show you what it looks like. There’s the Instagram square shape picture function, which I still can’t explain. I take square photos for Instagram because Instagram takes square photos. What I really want is for Instagram to use proper sized photos, not Apple make it possible for me to take square pictures. But if you really want to go the Instagram route, you can see how things will turn out with live filters.
AirDrop is the new system for sharing files between iOS devices, and it’s really handy. It solves a very common problem just by showing you all the people you can share with who are near by, and letting you share with them at the touch of a button. There’s not much more to say about it, other than to point out that you can switch it to only share with known contacts, so you don’t need to worry about showing up on a strangers phone.
If I’m honest, there are a few things that I’ve missed out because they haven’t effected me yet. Safari now lets you have more than eight open tabs. I didn’t know that there was a limit of eight before, so this is clearly for people who do more browsing than I do. That makes me think, as a quick aside from this review, are we less dependent on web browsers on mobile devices because most of the services we would use a browser for on a big computer, are handled by apps on mobiles and tablets? It’s not like I need an open tab for Facebook, Twitter, Email, and other things too, because I have an app for those. Anyway…
I’m of the opinion that nothing else comes close to iOS 7. We can argue over individual features all day, but when it comes to the overall experience, and joy that you get from using your mobile device, then Apple are still the team to beat.