3 days with iOS 7 beta – The good, the bad and the insanely colorful

Screen Shot 2013-06-13 at 21.12.11

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.

The Good

Design

APPS

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 itWhat 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.

Features

CC INSERT

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.

Default Apps

WEATHER INSERT

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.

The Bad

Design

AWFUL APP ICONS

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.

Features/User Interface

spotlight

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.

Default Apps

Reminders

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

colors

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?

Overall

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.

 

 

 

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  • druggelino

    For me the battery time has gotten HORRIBLE since i updated. and i mean HORRIBLE. Anyone else?

  • swimmer341

    @druggelino yeah, me too. I have to charge it at least two times a day. After unplugging at 6:30, my battery is down to 15% by 2:15! I used to only be down to about 70% by 2:15 on iOS 6.1.2.

  • nkathrein

    Battery… People on iOS always said our iPhone’s battery is better. See what true multitasking does to a bettery.  Every OS with true multitasking takes more power.  Being beta or alpha and a new feature this must be broken.  Hope and pray they figure this out by September or you’ll be getting 1/2 day battery life.

  • iphone_surgery

    We’ve been using it too Cam. Fantastic is our overall opinion. And some of the icons don’t irk us as much either. Soon as the bugs are ironed out it will be killer.

  • kfsanders

    Cool. Thanks for the update!

  • BrainRoopull

    Nice post, Cam.  This is why I’m subscribed to TiP…  Some articles (usually by other writers and usually forgivable) are a bit fanboyish, but you always seem to bring an honest feeling review of the tech world’s goodies.  I’m curious about the batter life after reading some of the comments to this article.  Have you tried out the multi-tasking?  How’s battery life been?  That is one of the key reasons I can’t go back to iOS… no replaceable batteries.  With a job that keeps me away from any power source for up to 14 hours a day, I can’t afford to have the phone die.  I typically carry two spares batteries!

  • jhong

    That’s weird I have IOS 7 BEta 1 Siri  works for me. Everything works.

  • jhong

    @swimmer341  @druggelino That’s probably because of the moving live backgrounds or the extra animations. They use more CPU power.

  • raptorstv

    After using the iOS7, I appreciate iOS6 more than ever now. It’s so polished, Steve Jobs was truly brilliant!

  • bkrandom23

    i just curious, when the final version of ios 7 comes out, can you update from the beta to the final software? please respond

  • TiP_Cam

    @bkrandom23 Of course, you usually can. Normally it means plugging in to iTunes an hitting ‘restore’, but you can definitely do it.

  • TiP_Cam

    @BrainRoopull Thanks Brain. Love that you’re still taking an interest in us. I think it’s been clear for a while that some serious innovation needs to be done on the battery technology front. We know from looking at the new MacBook Airs that Apple is clearly interested in battery life, it’s important, let’s just hope they’re working on something exciting for iPhone too.

  • TiP_Cam

    @iphone_surgery I agree. I already prefer to my HTC One, which I’ve beed using as my main device for the past few weeks.

  • TiP_Cam

    @druggelino Definitely. Had to charge it twice yesterday.

  • http://www.joshspadd.com/ JerenYun

    @raptorstv iOS 6 (6.1.3/4, even) was so polished because it’s overall design was still based on iOS 1 with features pushed out in stable releases. Now we have a reshifting of the design aspects, plus a load of tweaks and updates, all bundled in a package that is very much bug prone because it is a beta release. By the time of the stable release this fall, I think we’ll find iOS 7 to be much more polished than it seems now.

  • http://www.joshspadd.com/ JerenYun

    @druggelino Yup. My phone had 12% battery with all apps ‘closed’ (flicked away on the new multitask sheet), airplane mode on, and within an hour had still died, and this was with no usage except to check the battery every 10-15 minutes. (I saw it hit 1% and then shut off).

  • JuanAC

    @BrainRoopull you can buy for less than $50 a battery charger on Internet! I bought one for $30 and its perfect! Charges my phone one time and a half!and it’s small!

  • MatteoRodrigo

    Im just curious if youve used a Nexus device with pure Android Jelly Bean.  Reading your review it seems that you dont realize that most of the features you talk about are Android features.  Toggle switches for every day apps – Many Android has this standard – I have an app on my notification center that not only has toggles for all of those settings, plus flashlight, camera, and 9 of my most used apps.  Open apps easily seen?  Ive been using that for years.  The icons  and type face of Holo are gorgeous.  ios Still wont allow 3rd party keyboards- I dont know if I can give up my Swiftkey – and i have a mac and keep thinking of an iPHone.  Im just curious because I know most of the people I know with iPHones have never even touched an Android and when I show them my phone, theyre like “wow, i didnt know a phone could do that” but just keeping an iPhone is easier.  A Nexus gives you your updates too to avoid the whole fragmentation issue.  I also love having my weather and battery right in my status bard 24/7…and while many make fun of widgets, and I dont use a ton, they can be very helpful.  A news widget let me know about a shooting in Australia a few seconds before my friend in Australia texted me to let me know his workplace was on lockdown.  Theres a great Business Insider article featuring many of the new iOS features that directly are copies of Android.  You should read that and Id like to know what you think.  Like I said, I keep thinking about getting an iPHone but every time I look at its limitations, I get scared that Im going to lose all the features I use daily

  • MatteoRodrigo

    @swimmer341  @druggelino Thats scary

  • druggelino

    Oh crap, just noticed that IMDb doesn’t work on iOS 7. Gotta downgrade ASAP!!

  • BrainRoopull

    @TiP_Cam As I’ve said before…  I love gadgets… I love this stuff.

  • BrainRoopull

    @JuanAC  @BrainRoopull Yep, I went that route for a while. I used two different styles.  One of the reasons people who love iOS and the iPhone is because it is “elegant” in its simplicity.  For me, an external charger is both inelegant and expensive compared with a couple of little batteries in my pocket.  For a while, the inelegant part of having external batteries was that the slightest bump meant your battery went one way, your battery cover went another and your phone a third.  My current phone, a nicer HTC one, has eliminated that issue.  That being said, some of the new iPhone cases with batteries built in are quite nice.  Still, they’re multitudes more expensive than extra batteries.  I got three, if I’m remembering correctly, for under $20 delivered.

  • BrainRoopull

    @jhong  @swimmer341  @druggelino Coming from a multi-OS background, I think the backgrounds and animations aren’t the issue.  They will use more battery, but not much, and certainly not while the phone is off.I’d imagine this is some process that’s running continuously and not being shut down.  Earlier versions of Android suffered from this where the OS would fail to fully close programs that were running in the background. This was especially true of processes that used data.  Facebook was a particularly hostile battery killer.  Prior to Android 4.0, the only way to keep multi-tasking truly under control was to either uninstall any misbehaving apps or install an aggressive “task-killer.”  iOS enjoyed the reputation of having great battery life for years, but this was only because it a) didn’t have the same data connections the Androids did and B) only ran one user process at a time (no multi-tasking.)  The downside of having a more functional/powerful/versatile iOS is that the battery will take a hit.Even so, I’m willing to be that Apple puts some serious work into ironing out this problem.  A phone that won’t last past noon won’t be outselling any Galaxies or Ones…

  • Anthony 1960

    MLB App crashs too. Also notices you can’t delete SMS messages,sometimes a couple ,but cant clear them all

  • Anthony 1960

    @jhong Its working for me also.Can you delete your text messages ?

  • niconikx

    @MatteoRodrigo every OS out there are copies. Even the great “Android” that you mentioned. Don’t forget that Android is a rip-off of iOS. Android/Google team were included in the planning/conceptualization stage of iOS. And shortly after iPhone and iOS [iPhone OS that time] became successful, Android was born with striking similarities in UI, icons and basic functions.

  • petertrapasso

    Best iPhone apps 2013 – best social apps – Part 1 http://petertrapasso.com/best-iphone-apps-2013-best-social-apps-part-1/