When reviewing any new product, operating system, program, software (insert anything you like here) it takes time to really get to grips with the product. So, by no means is this a full review of iOS 7. And not just because I’ve only had three days with it. Also because it’s still in its first beta version and could change a lot in between now and official release this Fall.
That said, three days is plenty of time for me to gather my thoughts and get the general idea. There are parts that I love, parts I hate and others that I’m indifferent towards.
There’s much more good about iOS 7 than bad (at the moment). Looking at the big picture what Apple’s team of designers has done is unified the entire experience. No more do default apps look and feel completely different to one another. Safari, Mail, Calendar, Notes, Reminders, Messages and Game Center all have the same white, clean design with ultra thin grey dividing lines, black and blue text. It’s something iOS has needed on the looks front for a long time.
Obviously we can’t talk design without mentioning the disappearance of skeuomorphism. The practice of designing software apps to look like their real-life counterparts is a thing of the past. As Craig Federighi (my new favorite Apple exec) pointed out, they “ran out of green felt” and “no virtual cows were harmed”, there’s no stitching, no fake wood. It’s all gone. I say all, there is a tiny hint of paper grain in the Notes and Reminders app.
One of the best improvements on the design front from my point of view is the removal of the ever-present blue status bars that framed all the apps. In Safari they framed the address and search fields on top, or gave sharing/bookmarking icons a place to sit at the bottom. In iOS 7, it’s all white, and they disappear out of the way when you start scrolling. In fact, they disappear from every app when you scroll. It’s a much better use of the screen’s real estate and makes the iPhone’s display seem much larger. (I can imagine the impact is even greater on the older 3.5″ screens of the 4 and 4S.
One new subtle touch is the animation when you open an app or a folder. It zooms out from the icon and in to the next screen very smoothly and naturally. It’s not a massive change, but it impressed me. A lot.
Last but not least: Translucency. On the surface, it may not seem much like an inspired choice. Control the sarcastic “Yey, great, Apple made things a bit see-through” thoughts until you’ve heard why I love it. What Apple’s done – in its own special, controlling way – is make iOS much more customizable to how you want it to look. You choose your wallpaper and it becomes your entire phone’s color scheme. Open up Control Center, Notification Center a Folder or the Phone app and it matches your own personal choice of color.
Control Center is awesome! It’s not just the fact that we now have quick access toggles to switch often needed features like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Airplane mode on or off. It’s the way it looks and the choice of controls featured. Apple could easily have piled in absolutely everything, but decided on the features that users will instinctively need to access. Calculator, Flashlight, Camera and Timer are in there. Sure, tech nerds like those who read blogs may not care too much about those, but to the average person, these tools are vital.
How many times during your week do you need to add up a quick sum, or set a timer? How about snapping a quick photo? Or trying to find your way to the bathroom in the night without tripping over the cat, or stepping on some slugs (heaven knows how they got in the house). It’s those brief moments of need that the apps in Control Center are there for.
Notification Center has blossomed beautifully too. No more is it an annoying drop-down grey bar full of notifications you forgot to delete. The ‘today’ page is a really handy glimpse at what your day is looking like. It features the local weather summary, and the next item on your calendar. Scrolling to the bottom gives you a more detailed look at your calendar, stocks, and tomorrow’s events. Swipe across to ‘all’ and your notifications are listed in a much cleaner list. ‘Missed’ shows you only the notifications you haven’t seen yet.
Having the webOS-inspired multitasking cards is a great choice too. It makes canceling apps a much better experience. Not only do you get the pleasure of actually seeing the preview of the app so you can remember where you were, but also, the joy of throwing it off the screen is far superior to the annoyance of old iOS versions and constantly having to frustratingly punch hard to hit crosses with your finger.
Before iOS 7 I complained a lot about how I couldn’t delete Apple’s own default apps. My own reasoning was that in most cases I preferred third-party alternatives. I used Yahoo! Weather, Mailbox/Mail Pilot, Fantastical, Google Maps, Wunderlist, Spotify etc. Now, while I still use some of those, the redesign and new defaults have shortened that list slightly.
I no longer have Yahoo! Weather on my iPhone, I’ve stopped using anything other than Mail for email, Apple Maps, and Calendar. I still prefer Wunderlist for being able to assign tasks to the TiP workforce, and iTunes Radio hasn’t landed in the UK yet so Spotify is my choice for music too. Apart from that, Apple’s done a great job at making its own apps relevant again.
Those icons man. Those darn icons. Some of the new default app icons are just plain awful. Reminders, Notes and Calendar are the worst offenders. It’s not that they’re simple, it’s that they’re devoid of anything resembling attractive design. Of all three, Calendar is by far the worst. The numbers – for a starter – seem off center compared to the text indicating the day. And as much as I love simplicity and minimalism, in this case, the plain white background doesn’t work. I’m not a big fan of the orange calculator app icon either, but compared to the Reminders, Notes and Calendars ones, it’s the Mona Lisa.
For years, Spotlight search has been to the left of the main Home Screen. And so, when I launched iOS 7 for the first time I assumed it would be in the same place. When I found out it wasn’t there, I tried what any normal iOS user would do: checking within Notification Center. Wasn’t there either. Control Center: Nope. In fact, I’d given up looking for it and assumed it was left out completely until about 5 minutes before writing this paragraph. Apparently, if you drag down from any Home Screen, Spotlight shows up. It’s actually really cool and quick to access once you know where it is, but to introduce and not publicize a new gesture like that is more than a little irritating. (I’m guessing it’ll show up on the Quick Start guide when the iPhone 5S launches later this year, but still, I’m annoyed.)
Another missing feature is the old ‘tap to post’ Twitter and Facebook icons in Notification Center. They’ve gone. Completely. Now, I won’t pretend that I’ve used them hundreds of times. I didn’t. But they were still very useful if you wanted to quickly send out a status update or tweet something.
Oh, and Siri doesn’t work. At all. Not sure what else I can say about that.
Most of the new default apps are fantastic. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve gone back to using a lot of them. But not all, and for very good reason. Reminders – although missing the skeuomorph’s touch – looks like it was designed by a 13 year-old IT student on Microsoft Paint. It’s just plain ugly. The purple and blue font doesn’t work at all, and the Search bar at the top doesn’t know if it’s trying to sit dead center or right at the edge. And it’s not doing either at all well. It’s in no man’s land. Using the app is simple enough, it just needs some refinement on the design side.
The Insanely Colorful
You can’t go anywhere in iOS 7 without noticing the drastic change in color pallets. It’s like they took inspiration from a half emptied packet of Skittles and decided to go all rainbow colored. If I’m honest, in most cases it works very well. I love the Photos, Mail and App Store icons. I even like the bright green in the Messages and Phone. But sometimes the color just doesn’t make sense. Take the Notes app, anyone who’s anyone knows that yellow doesn’t show up that well on white, so why make the only useful icons (compose/trash/share) yellow?
It’s beta, and I have to keep reminding myself that there’s a chance all my little annoyances could yet change. None of the icon designs are by any means final, and neither are the apps. Bugs like Siri not working plus the 100+ others reported by our readers will surely get ironed out. When they are, we’ll be left with – what I think – is by far the best smartphone operating system in the mobile market. It’s really that good.