iOS 7 Review: Pretty Is As Pretty Does

IOS 7 Review: Pretty Is as Pretty Does

There's little question that iOS 7 is the most transformative update to iOS in its six-year history. It's not just about the flat design. The first time I laid hands on the new operating system, I felt like I had a new phone, one that looked prettier and, more importantly, felt more useful.

Opening each app and poking around felt kind of like walking into my apartment after some talented interior designer had given it a floor-to-ceiling renovation. But, again, that implies that iOS 7 is just about looks. There's more functionality here too, especially from the do-it-all Control Center and the overhauled Camera app. But the biggest impact iOS 7 had is that I found myself using my phone more. It was fun.

What Is It

A complete redesign of Apple's iOS for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. It will dictate how you interact with Apple's mobile devices for years to come.

IOS 7 Review: Pretty Is as Pretty Does

Why Is It Important?

One thing is definite: iOS 7 is the face of Apple for the foreseeable future. You don't have to buy into it if you don't want to, but it's not going away either. And growing pains aside, it really is quite nice. That said, just because something looks pretty doesn't mean it works well. And more feature list is only as good as how those features actually perform.

An update as comprehensive as iOS 7 is bound to alienate some users. The bright bubblegum colours and gentle gradients aren't for everyone, nor is the lack of buttons and textures. If the redesign is comprehensive enough to feel like a new phone, it's also radical enough to feel a little disorienting, like driving down an unfamiliar road in a familiar forest. There's a distinct emphasis on speed and usability in iOS 7, but it comes at the expense of comfort sometimes. Android users should be OK though; iOS 7 definitely has a similar look and feel to what they're used to.

Design

iOS 7 is a redesign in every sense of the word. The most noticeable and talked about change is the death of skeuomorphism and the beginning of Apple's take on flat design. Gone are the dimensions and simulated depth of all previous versions of iOS; clean lines and bright colours take over with impressive agility. As dramatic as the change in look and feel is, you'll be surprised by how quickly you get used to it.

While the app icons are getting all the attention, the real magic behind iOS's redesign happens inside the apps themselves, at least in Apple's native offerings. What used to look like buttons for navigating around have become plain text; the Calendar is now little more than a grid and a bunch of white space. This minimal approach, a stark contrast to the leather-stitched offerings of the past, leaves the screen uncluttered, and puts function ahead of form. If the skeuomorphic elements of iOS 6 gave the apps some heft, the raw simplicity of iOS 7 make everything feel effortless.

You'll also notice the typeface right away. It's actually just a variation of the old font — Helvetica Neue Ultra Light versus Helvetica Neue — but it walks the fine line between newness and familiarity well. The light weight of the typeface makes way for more empty space on the screen and a general airy-ness about the OS. Along those lines, the disappearance of skeuomorphism might seem a little too airy, at first, but that's just consequence of the overhaul. It feels natural in no time.

Using It

On a fundamental level, using your iPhone or iPad feels different with iOS 7. This has everything to do with slightly augmented transitions from screen-to-screen. When you open an app, you zoom in to it with the other app icons flying past you, rather than just watching it open up, as you did in iOS 6. When you close an app, the other apps fly in to take their place as you zoom back out to the home screen. It's a simple little change, but it really makes operating system that feels more dynamic and engaging.

IOS 7 Review: Pretty Is as Pretty Does

The most dramatic updates come in the form of tweaks to Notification Center and the addition of the Control Center. The new and improved Notification Center acts more like a personal assistant than a collection of your unread text messages. Simply swiping down from the top of the phone now shows you the date, the weather, your friends with birthdays and upcoming calendar events.

IOS 7 Review: Pretty Is as Pretty Does

Meanwhile, the new Control Center truly lives up to its name, giving you control of everything from Wi-Fi to music to shared displays. Instead of having to navigate through three screens in settings, you can activate Aeroplane Mode or Wi-Fi from any screen with a swipe of your thumb. You can also forget about having to find just the right flashlight app, because Apple serves the feature up on a platter in the Control Center. Ditto for music controls, brightness, AirPlay and about a half dozen other features. Whether it's because they're such entirely new features or because they're not actually integral to your daily iPhone life, however, I often forgot that the Notification and Control Centers exist.

IOS 7 Review: Pretty Is as Pretty Does

The lack of buttons and the introduction of layers is also transformative when it comes to using iOS 7. Earlier versions of iOS had buttons all over the place: buttons to navigate within apps, buttons to answer calls, buttons to take pictures. Heck, even the apps looked like buttons. Instead, there's now just text. It takes some getting used to, but ultimately, it makes the phone feel cleaner. You could argue that the lack of ornamentation makes the operating system a little bit harder to use, but the learning curve is far from steep. All of the functionality is actually in the same place that it was in iOS 6 — it just looks a lot cleaner.

Depth is no longer just an illusion as it was in the old skeuomorphic design. It's actually a feature of a more three-dimensional layout. Your apps float above the wallpaper, while new layers like the busy Notification Center or the translucent Control Center slide out to obscure the apps — though that frosted glass look is not for everybody. You feel like you're floating on top of all that, navigating in and out of apps.

All that said, iOS 7 isn't just looks. Functionally, everything works better, especially the native apps, all of which got overhauled. The new features are refreshingly useful. Safari's new unlimited tabs feature makes browsing on the phone feel more like browsing on your desktop. The sleek new Mail app makes cleaning out your inbox faster and more efficient. The Music app got welcome facelift as well as new features like iTunes Radio, which is Apple's underwhelming but essentially satisfactory attempt at streaming music. Finally, multitasking is a cinch. Just like in iOS 6, a double tap on the home button brings up a carousel of all the apps currently running on your phone. Want to quit one? Just flick up and away.

IOS 7 Review: Pretty Is as Pretty Does

There are some new social features in iOS 7 too. The Camera app suddenly looks a little more like Instagram with a square option and now lets you add filters to your photos. Somehow, Apple's new filters feel more cinematic than Instagram, and the camera feels a little bit faster. The accompanying Photos app organises your pictures by moments and location (kind of like events in iPhoto) and lets you share your entire Photo Stream with friends. This is crazy convenient when you're looking for that one picture you took of your brunch out of the 1000-plus pictures on your Camera Roll, and sharing your whole stream is much easier than sending batches of holiday pictures to your friends. Meanwhile, the Messages app makes it easier to carry on a texting conversation with multiple people by adding profile pictures next to your friends' texts. This a small upgrade that fixes the old problem of not knowing who's saying what in group text messages.

IOS 7 Review: Pretty Is as Pretty Does

One thing to look out for, particularly in these early days, is that apps that aren't yet iOS 7-optimised stand out, and not in a good way. It's a disconnect, like seeing a Vermeer print hanging in a mod living room. That will get better as more and more developers update — you should see a rash of new looks today — but running into the holdouts is, and will continue to be, jarring.

Like

If you haven't figured it out already, I think iOS 7 is very pretty. It's so pretty, I found myself using my phone more in the weeks after I installed the first developer beta version. And it's not the flashy — and frankly underwhelming — parallax effect or the technicolor palette either.

The mains strength of iOS until this point has been its ability to teach users how to use a phone as a computer. That's been its hallmark, and what made Apple one of the most successful companies of the last five years. iOS 7 forgoes the handholding, but all of its new features still make sense without making you think too hard about it. It's different, but it's not opaque.

You'll surprise yourself by how quickly the redesign starts to feel familiar, and the so-called three dimensional layout makes your phone feel more powerful. Thanks to the Control Center, you can do more when the phone is locked, and thanks to the new Notification Center, everything is a little bit easier. Not much has really changed in terms of functionality. Apple just makes that functionality easier to access.

No Like

All things considered, iOS 7 might be a little disorienting for some people. Apple overdid it, a little bit. The Control Center is nice, for instance, but was it really necessary to cram 17 different functions in there? How often do you really need quick access to Aeroplane mode? Does the stopwatch really need to be one swipe away?

The same holds true for the new sharing module (which looks confusingly similar to the Control Center). There are no fewer than 13 options to choose from when you share a photo. Some people don't even have that many close friends! Sometimes you have to squint a bit to see where to tap, because one downside of a light and airy design is that sometimes links and buttons are hard to see.

And as handy as all the fancy new features are, they also do a number on the battery life. If you install iOS 7, you should probably plan on plugging in your phone at least once during the day.

IOS 7 Review: Pretty Is as Pretty Does

Fandroids will be quick to point out how the most dramatic new features for iOS were taken right out of Android's playbook. And they were. If the idea of copycatting makes you grumble, you will have plenty to grumble at here. Then again, Apple's been copying Android features for years, and generally in a way improves on them.

Test Notes

  • Again, the battery life on iOS 7 isn't what you want it to be. The iPhone does fine if you leave it in your pocket, but once you start surfing the web or listening to music or anything really, you can count on making it into the red in no time.
  • Maps finally seem to have gotten a little bit better (read: fewer melting bridges). Don't count on Apple helping you navigate public transit, though. The Maps app still lacks the ability to give directions using trains and buses. It will, however, offer you a bunch of apps that will, though, including Google Maps.
  • Even though it's finally baked into iOS, AirDrop sort of stinks. Your friends have to turn it on so it'll work, and even that tiny step takes longer than it would to just send an email or a message.

Should I Use This?

If you want to get the most out of your iPhone, you should download iOS 7 as soon as it's available (or at least, after the first bug-fixing update). But be prepared for a bit of a learning curve and, yes, some confusion. The look and feel stuff will come more naturally, but you will have to relearn how you navigate certain apps and cope with shorter battery life. You'll also have to hunt for stuff a bit, sometimes. If you're really lost, this roadmap of sorts with all the new features should help.

If you like your iPhone just fine the way it is, you might want to wait. The new features are neat and useful and all that. They are new though. And sometimes new stuff is confusing. Sure, it's pretty. But just because something's pretty doesn't mean it's for you. So if you dig the status quo, hold on to it. iOS 6 is pretty cool too.


Comments

    Just started using it. Vastly improved. Looks great. Happy camper.

      Same here. I just put in on my iPad. I'll do my iPhone later. Very impressive, so far. I really like the changes. I smiled at the way apps are now terminated as it is straight out of the WebOS playbook.

      It reminds me very much of Jelly Bean.

    Awesome Upgrade… very, very impressed. premium quality software….it's like driving a new model mercedes benz.

    " How often do you really need quick access to Aeroplane mode?"

    I use this every day via SBSettings, so yeah, pretty important for quick access.

    I noticed an improvement in my battery life as I more actively switch off things like WiFi and Bluetooth - iOS 7 is a great improvement!

    It won't let me update, keeps saying I need the latest version of iTunes, but when I click on Itunes update, it says I am running the latest version.

      Same for me, but downloading iTunes 11 directly from the Apple website seemed to work.

    Just installed it this morning. Much a do about nothing really. Yes it looks fresh and prettier. Yes the new swipe up control panel is neat and should have been there from day 1 (esp the flashlight button). Yes the new way to kill apps is so much easier and better.

    But other than that, it's not really a huge deal. Not earth shattering or ground breaking. Just a re-skinned IOS...

    I am a little disappointed about the "background moving to create illusion of depth" It doesn't move fast enough to re-enforce the illusion and seems a little laggy for it to fool me. Have to concentrate to make it partially work. There should be a depth slider in settings to increase depth or something. Look it's not a huge issue or even an issue at all, but if you're going to implement something like this then make sure it works 100% or nothing...

    Getting rid of that search screen on the left of home screen! That was worth the update on it's own I reckon.

    Last edited 19/09/13 11:47 am

      I have to agree with you with the parallax background, it's not moving fast enough or enough for you to notice unless you concentrate on it.

    Got it this morning and very impressed. I'm all for the new design change and it definitely got an overhaul at the right time.

    I thought iOS 7 was supposed to improve battery life?

    It's certainly been a fun morning playing around. Have a few gripes tho..

    1. Don't like how the home screen has it's own panel in the multitasking menu. You should be able to return to the home screen just by pressing the background, rather than have to scroll all the way back to the first panel. Also, when it comes to scrolling between apps - there is almost ZERO friction when you swipe. The panels just fly passed and take a good several seconds to stop completely. I miss the decisive swiping action of the previous multitasking menu.

    2. The new Spotlight search feels cluttered, and there's too many animations. The search bar shoots down firmly, the icons bounce elastically, and then the keyboard rushes in like it's playing catch up.

    3. Parallax effect is almost negligible.

    Am absolutely loving the new lock screen though! And the notification bar feels a lot more open and co-operative. Overall everything feels really clean

    Not having used it yet, I see everyone using the word 'redesign', but is it really?

    All the points listed seem like minor tweaks and some new icons... but underneath is the same old iOS.

    Don't get me wrong, I think it looks much better than previous iOS versions, but is it really a complete redesign?

      It is quite a substantial re-design, but, as always, there is also quite a bit of good, new stuff under the hood. You need to try it to appreciate it.

        Oh I'm sure it is smooth, and has plenty of tweaks and performance increases, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's a 'bad' thing. Just that I see all these blogs and stories splashing the 'massive redesign' slogan across them and then the most they delve into it is the new icons...

          Yes, I agree. Too many articles focus only on the new icons, but there is far more to iOS 7 than just its new icons.

    Anyone have an iPad with Retina Display and noticing that the opacity of the control and notfication panels aren't isn't as transparent as shown?

    Seriously guys, stop it with the Daft Punk...

      ...and seriously, stop it with the flood of articles on this phone, anyone would think it is Jesus spawning from Tony Abbott's head.

    If you don't stop, I will reply to my reply and then reply to that reply and then I will reply to that reply reply tho that reply reply reply to reply that reply

      and the universe will consume itself and squeeze out into a point of singularity and Steve will say "good Jobs" and we will all laugh at Stephen Hawking.

    I noticed in one of your screenshots the song playing was "on top of the world," the song being run by samsung in its galaxy marketing campaigns, was that a little, obscure joke or am i bringing WAAAY too much into this?

    I love the OS. It's beautiful, and I got used to it within the first five minutes. My ONLY wish at this point is for the Control Centre to be customisable. For instance, swapping/removing the Airplane mode or the Do Not Disturb mode for a button that quickly toggles 3G on/off would be incredibly useful for me.

      Apple + Customization would be great. but Apple likes to close their systems to the world. you will never see any ios with customizable things unless you jailbreak,

    just when i thought Giz had gotten over pinning apple articles to the front page...

    Your battery comment is not right.
    Have a iPhone 5, running iOS 7, use my phone all day.. making work related calls.. 8 hours worth of calling today.. got home.. 56% remaining.. that craps all over any other phone i have owned.

    Im sorry but i feel its one of apples worst upgrades so far! In terms of design it was a complete failure. From my point of view it just looks pretty but point is not everyone likes to use a fancy petite teenage design! I bet most of the comments here are from females. Im not being discriminating rather it is true.

    Not too sure about the new icons.
    They have made my professional looking iPad look like a Fischer Price toy!

    I like it.
    I like the pull down screen, the pull up control panel, the new decor and I take it on faith that the internals have been upgraded and most bugs fixed.
    For example Gizmodo was laggy on my iPad3 on iOS6 but I hope this will improve with the new OS and not break to the desktop.

    The best changes for me are the gestural additions. Anywhere the standard UINavigationController is used you can swipe to go back (Mail, Messages, Photos, Safari etc). Way easier than reaching up top left for a button.

    I'm not sure about how much white there is though. White around photos in the Photos app seems wrong. I do have a black phone.

    Last edited 20/09/13 9:54 am

    No one's commented on the fact that an HTC One Mini is sitting smack bang in the middle of a review for iOS 7 framing a video showcasing it's features?

    Is anyone else missing the traffic information from notification centre...?

    You know, the one that tells you how long it should take you to get from one meeting to the next..?

    Been using it for a day now on an iPhone4.

    Nothing's all that different. Response time is slower because of animations. Safari URL bar doesn't have subdirs. Spent ten minutes browsing only Kirk's posts on kotaku cause of that.

    I completely regret upgrading to iOS 7- the most ugly interface I have ever seen. Too hard to read and visually stressful on the eyes with so much white background, the illegible light colour fonts and ridiculously line . For me Apple has made a huge mistake with this one- looks just like Windows 8 and if I wanted an android I would have bought one.

    Why didn't you check it out beforehand you may ask? Well I did and the screenshots that were available did not fully describe the disaster that downloaded when I clicked update. Also as an non-tech savvy older person I trusted Apple to provide me with an enhanced experience as they have done in the past and I was sure they would live up to Steve Jobs' belief that an Apple product should not only be a functional experience but a beautiful one too- iOS 7 is appalling and certainly not beautiful with its white pages and stick like fonts but what is more appalling is Apple's refusal to allow us to revert to iOS 6 if that is what we want. We paid for our phone and for many that phone has been rendered useless by Apple's paternalist attitude that they know better and we we should be forced to change.

    I fully realise that eventually certain aps and functions won't work with iOS 6 but I would prefer to have that time with the beautiful, functional and intuitive phone I had before last week than the useless brick I have now and pray that iOS 7.1 will take us back to the interface we all know and love or at least give users the choice of the old interface of iOS 6 or the new one of iOS 7.

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