iOS 7 is finally here, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have watched it grown and develop from its first beta version all the way through to its Golden Master release. It’s been an interesting journey. Some much needed improvements were made in that time, others haven’t.

User Interface

There’s no getting away from it. iOS 7 is the biggest change we’ve ever seen to iOS yet. Every other version from 1 to 6 was basically just an incremental update. Certain versions may have included major new features, like iOS 5, but the overall look and feel remained virtually unchanged.

With iOS 7 there’s no more heavy texturing, there’s no gloss on any app icons and everything’s white and clean. Going in to the Settings app reveals almost everything you need to know about the changes. A white background, divided by ultra-light black lines and a sharp typeface are there throughout the entire operating system.

Where there was once grey, subtly textured backgrounds and toggle switches, it’s been replaced by lots of color and contrast. Where there were once generic icons for each settings options, there are now bespoke and colorful icons. The change is refreshing, and one which is carried across to all areas within iOS 7.

A key part of any phone’s user interface is the phone “app” itself. What’s perhaps most surprising is that this time out – completely unlike any part of iOS – Apple went with circular “buttons” and the dial pad. It looks great. What’s more, there’s the extra added pleasure of watching the button become completely transparent when you press it.

Since we’re on the transparency theme, we can’t review iOS 7 without noticing that Jony Ive and his design team have gone transparency crazy. And I like it. Where ever you are in iOS 7 there are varying degrees of see-through-ness ranging from the dark smoky translucency in Notification Center to the white status bars in Safari and Messages.

It’s another design choice that helps glue the entire experience together, although I can’t help feeling that – along with some of the colors – Apple could tone it down a little. Don’t get me wrong, it looks very cool, but it almost reminds me of Windows Vista.

Another design choice that you may not notice immediately is the new app icon shape. They’re still squares with rounded corners, but they’re much rounder than the previous versions of iOS. What’s unusual is that, although the actual change is quite small, it helps add to the illusion of a huge design change.

It makes everything feel newer, even when you have the exact same apps. What’s more, on your Home Screen there’s now more space for you to see your wallpaper since the icons are a little smaller too.

And we can’t talk wallpapers without mentioning the new Parallax effect. When switched on, moving your iPhone will show a 3d-type effect where your wallpaper moves subtly behind the app icons. If you happen to choose one of Apple’s brand new live or “dynamic” wallpapers, the virtual bubbles change speed and direction based solely on the way you move your phone.

If this new motion is unnerving to you and leaves you feeling nauseous, you can switch it off in the settings app.

Animations throughout the experience also help glue all the apps together. Unlocking the phone has a pleasant animation where all the app icons collect on your screen.

Then, if you hit an app to open it, or hit the home key to close it, there’s a zooming in/out effect animation. This particular animation is across the entire system, and is present whether you’re opening and closing folders, or changing views in your calendar.

Those Icons!

Very rarely would I review anything and specifically mention something as seemingly insignificant as an icon, and yet I can’t ignore them with iOS 7. It’s quite clear that Apple’s trying to portray the message of fun, and color, and heaven knows what else, but I’m not sure it works. iOS’ default app icons are – for the most part – horrible.

My strongest feelings are towards Reminders, Safari and Newsstand. As much as I wasn’t a fan of skeuomorphism in previous versions of iOS, I still found the fake book shelf design more attractive than the colorful magazines found in Newsstand.

Safari? I don’t think anything needs to be said here except: What? In fact, a lot of the colors and designs featured on default app icons look as if they could have been dreamed up in a hallucinogenic nightmare in the 1960s.

Perhaps I’m being a little cruel here. App Store, Mail, Calendar, Phone and Messages are actually not bad, if not a little bright. I actually quite like Camera’s icon, and Settings is nowhere near as bad as what most others seem to suggest.


Card-style multitasking has been adopted by many software makers in recent times. Windows Phone and Android both use it, albeit in slightly different styles. Even browsers like Chrome organize pages in a similar fashion.

But, let’s not forget which platform made it as desirable as it is today: webOS. Palm’s short-lived smartphone platform had a lot going for it, but its appeal was almost single-handedly down to the way it managed running apps.

Now, iOS 7 isn’t exactly like webOS. Instead of showing cards of running apps on the home screen, it features them within its own Multitasking user interface. But, the principal guiding it is the same.

In the center of the screen is a row of app preview screens, underneath which is the app’s icon. From here you can select a running app, or swipe to dismiss it from your recent memory. (You can even use two fingers to swipe away two at once.)

Albeit that iOS 7’s version of multitasking is much prettier than previous versions, it’s still not perfect. One thing it’s clearly missing is a “delete all” feature. Swiping apps away is much easier than tapping a fiddly red cross in iOS 6 though, and it is almost certainly the best multitasking we’ve seen inside iOS to date without a jailbreak tweak.

What’s perhaps more notable in the multitasking area is iOS’ new API which will allow certain apps to update in the background. Currently with Facebook – as an example- you’ll get an alert telling you someone’s posted/liked/uploaded something, and when you go to the app you still have to wait for it to catch up.

With iOS 7 (once the developers have made use of the API) that will be a thing of the past. Apps like Facebook will update as soon as the notification comes through, and will be up to date as soon as you launch them.

iOS 7 also intelligently figures out your use patterns for those apps, and will update them at the times that make most sense for your own situation. So, if it knows you check Twitter or Facebook as soon as you wake up, it’ll make sure they have the most recent information available to you at that time every day.

Since most apps haven’t been optimized with this functionality yet, it’s too early for me to say how good it is. But if it turns out the way it should, it’s going to be a key difference between this version of iOS and everything previous.

Notification Center

Before iOS 7, Notification Center was one big jumbled mess of notifications. And it wasn’t just because of the way it listed all your notices in one big long thread. It was more that they didn’t disappear after you’d seen them already, either through the Lock Screen or direct within an app.

The latest version of the feature debuted in iOS 5 now has three pages. Arguable, the first and third are the most useful. “Today” view tells you the weather, any appointments, reminders and shows you a breakdown of your day’s calendar.

Not only that, in Google Now fashion, it can also tell you how long it’ll take you to get home or to work. Some useful background location work make this possible. It lists your frequently visited locations and the times you’re there and determines when you should see updates for traffic conditions to those locations.

Sadly for me, I’m at home 90% of the time, and so I couldn’t make use of the feature.The “all” page is pretty much the same as the old Notification Center. It’s a jumbled up mess of notifications, albeit on a much better looking smoky glass ‘drawer’. “Missed”, the third screen, only shows you the notifications you’ve not seen.

Switching between pages is as easy as swiping to the left or right. Or, you can always just manually tap on the page title itself. Personally, I’d rather there were only two pages. If I only had “today” and “missed”, I’d be perfectly content. I guess the real issue with the mess of notifications is just how many apps seem to want permission to alert you of anything and everything.

If I was to give advice on how to use it to avoid a jumbled list of all sorts of messages, I’d say just include the apps that you absolutely have to have in there; messages, mail, twitter (or third party client) etc. Try and avoid random apps who’s notifications are generally only to inform you of a new product, or to tell you to come back and spend more time with the app.

Notifications themselves received something of a refresh too. Instead of a solid bar on the top of your screen that rolls in and out of existence, we now get a translucent pop-down message that you can drag down or flick away. It’s a nice new touch, and one that takes away the last remaining pain from the notifications experience of iOS.

Control Center

Control Center is by far my favorite new addition to iOS. I couldn’t live without it, and struggle to remember how I managed for so long with older versions of the iPhone’s operating system. What I like most is that it’s the one area within iOS 7 that best shows Apple’s dedication to focus and perfectionism, and how it’s different to Android.

Apple could easily have built it so that third party developers had access to the API, enabling users to choose which four apps they wanted quick access to. And – to some extent – I can understand that train of thought. We like choice.

But regularly, Apple’s “walled garden” comes in, and shows exactly what we should have, and what we should like. Control Center’s quick access apps/features give us the ability to switch on the LED flash for use when we’re stumbling around in the night.

When we’re cooking and need to quickly set a timer (boiling an egg) we need super-fast access to our timer. Or, what if we want to add up a quick sum or instantly capture something with the camera? It’s an opinion I’ve held since the first beta of iOS 7. The four apps accessed from Control Center are perfect.

Apart from those, we also get toggles for switching services like Wi-Fi, Airplane Mode, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb and Orientation Lock on or off as well as controls for music. We can now adjust brightness without having to dig through settings. And that’s the main point of Control Center. It’s a convenience tool.

So many of the features within it would previously have required us to go through settings, or find/launch apps. It’s a real masterstroke. And – yes – this type of function has been available for some time to jailbreakers. But having it built in to the platform itself is brilliant.

Let’s not forget AirPlay and AirDrop. Having AirDrop so easily available will mean you can share any file instantly across a local network with anyone else who’s running the software.

All-in-all, Control Center’s introduction to iOS has done nothing but improve the user experience. Although graphically, it’s such a small part of iOS and is hidden most of the time, it’s quite possibly the most important.

Automatic App Updates

Over the past few years, Apple’s been gradually improving its cloud services. Although iCloud hasn’t existed that long, Automatic Downloads of apps and music bought on other devices has. Now, we also finally get automatic updates, making the badge counter on the App Store app icon a thing of the past.

What I love about it is that I now longer have to keep checking the App Store. Instead, I can go in to Notification Center and have a look at what Apple’s already updated for me. It’s the convenience of it that I love. I don’t even have to think about it anymore.

Spotlight Search

Spotlight Search was introduced to iOS a few years back but was assigned its own screen, to the left of your first home screen. Now, Apple’s seen sense and added it as a layer on top of the home screen.

To access it you simply drag down from anywhere on a Home Screen (except the very top part that activates Notification Center). Search for contacts, apps, messages etc. can all be achieved, but the new gesture-based access is a much needed improvement.


Apple’s digital assistant is finally out of beta, and with iOS 7 comes with new voices (in America) and a whole slew of new features. It can now search with Bing, Wikipedia and can read tweets as well all the other usual services like Wolfram Alpha.

There’s not doubt here that Apple’s attempt is to move Siri from being seen as a novelty feature in to one we can’t live without. Over the past few months I’ve found myself using it more and more. If I ever want to set an alarm or timer, or send a message in a hurry, I almost always use it.

And yet, I think I could still quite happily live without it. Despite the improvements made – even in iOS 7 – it’s still nowhere near being an indispensable product.

Saying that, there’s no hiding the fact that it’s improved massively since its early days. The range of services it offers now is huge. So much so, that I’d advise trying to figure out what it can’t do over not trying it at all because you’re fearful it may not offer the service you want.

And, if you’re not sure, at the bottom of the new user interface is a new help section which shows you all the kinds of commands you can try.

And – of course – there’s a new interface. And yes, it’s translucent. While Siri used to be a purple and grey microphone, it’s now a minimal white logo which disappears to be replaced by sound waveforms once you start asking it a question. All in all, it shows a promising future for Siri.

Default Apps

It doesn’t really need mentioning that Messages – like everything else new – is white, flat and minimal. The most important changes are subtle, and address some of the key frustrations found within previous generations of iOS.

Firstly, there was the issue that as soon as the keyboard was on screen, the viewable parts of a conversation thread were incredibly limited. And, while the new design doesn’t exactly give tons more on screen space, the semi-transparent elements in the UI do give the illusion that you see more than you can. Also, since it’s all the same white color, it doesn’t feel as cramped.

Gesture controls are an improvement too. In the old days of iOS, the dreaded ‘back’ icon in the top left corner of most apps was frustrating a lot of the time. With the new Messages app, to go from a conversation to your inbox is as easy as swiping from left to right.

In inbox view, the same gesture gives you the option to delete any specific conversation. Group messaging is a better experience now too since you now get your contact’s thumbnail showing up on the left.

A couple of other subtle changes worth mentioning don’t necessarily improve the functionality of Messages, but they certainly add to the experience. Firstly, the blue or green gradient in the sent message bubbles gets lighter the older the message. Also, you’ll notice a “spring” in the animations when your scrolling through a thread. It makes using feel more fluid and organic.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of Messages is something that’s plagued iOS since its inception: Apple’s insistence on using the same auto-correct for years. It’s completely unintuitive, and I don’t feel like a redesigned keyboard is going to fool anyone in to thinking anything’s changed.

For me, Apple needs to adopt a similar approach to either SwiftKey or BlackBerry’s new SureType onscreen BB10 keyboard. Both use different methods, but both are smart and learn your common phrases and can accurately guess your next words. They’re quicker and more accurate than iOS’ keyboard.


Mail, like Messages, has made use of the swiping gesture to move between inbox and conversations, but with an added bonus. A right-to-left swipe reveals the option to ‘Trash’ emails or – if you have a Gmail account set up – the option to ‘Archive’ or ‘Move’ it to a different folder.

Like the rest of iOS 7, it has some newly designed minimal icons, but apart from a few tweaks here and there, it’s largely the same as the iOS 6 Mail app. It has the same VIP options, the ability to assign individual signatures to email accounts and so forth.

Out of all the apps, I think this is the one which has changed least in terms of functionality. It’s essentially just had a new lick of paint to bring it in line with all the other iOS 7 apps.


Tabs! iOS Safari had them before, but this time on the iPhone, they’re arrange in cards which show you a preview of what’s on that particular open page. Dismissing a page only requires clicking the ‘x’ in the corner.

I think what I love more about the open tabs view is that iCloud tabs also show up at the bottom of the screen, in list view. Just scroll to the bottom and you’ll see any web pages currently open on any of your other iOS or OS X devices. It’s no longer a separate interface.

Sharing options within Safari have been updated somewhat, and now include AirDrop as well as Message, Mail, Twitter and Facebook. The sharing menu also includes the likes of adding the page to your Reading List, Home Screen, copy, print, and bookmark.

But in this case, it’s more the design change that’s notable. Yet again following suit and fitting in with the rest of iOS 7. Hitting the bookmark icon in Safari reveals the bookmark list, but also gives you access to links saved in your Reading List as well as those shared on Twitter.

My favorite aspect of the new Safari app is a feature that also makes its way to the new Maps app as well as any video or photo viewing apps. Once you start reading your web page, the top address bar shrinks and the bottom options bar completely disappears, making as much use of the screen’s real estate as possible.


Calendar may not have received a huge functionality update, but its new user interface is so much more intuitive than any previous version. On the design front, it seems to have taken a cue from Fantastical.

The default view shows a row of dates along the top, which you can scroll left or right to zoom through your days. Your daily breakdown for the selected day fills the majority of the screen and is also scrollable. What’s particularly great is that no matter how far ahead or behind you scroll through the weeks or months, you simply hit the ‘today’ icon in the bottom left to bring you back to today.

Top left is the name of the month, tap that and you’re taken to the month view, tap the top left ‘year’ label and you see an entire year of dates. The zooming out animation between views is particularly pleasant and fits in well with iOS 7.

Another useful feature is the search tool. When within the daily view, if you hit the magnifying glass icon you get a long list of all your events, ordered chronologically. You can – of course – use it to search for specific events. In general use, it works efficiently.


Where to start with Weather. Before iOS 7 I had a selection of 5-6 weather apps I liked to use. My favorite was by far Yahoo! Weather. What Apple seems to have done is taken influence from Yahoo! and created its own beautiful app with a similar look and feel. But, in my opinion, much prettier.

Apple’s added some stylish animations and graphic. Objects like clouds, rain, snow, thunderstorms, light up the – once again – translucent surface. All the important information shows up on screen, and you can scroll across the middle bar to check up on hour-by-hour updates. At the bottom is the snapshot of the next five days including general weather condition plus the highs and lows.

Like with old iOS versions you can swipe between your favorite places, and you can add as many as you like. I think what’s perhaps the neatest feature of iOS 7’s Weather app is the overall view that shows all your locations in one screen.

Using a pinch gesture you’re transported to a list view that shows snippets of information: city name, local time and local temperature as well as the beautiful weather animations underneath. Scroll to the bottom and you have a quick access option to change between Celsius and Fahrenheit.

While it’s not the most in-depth weather app, it’s my own personal favorite. I don’t need to see weather patterns, or wind pressure. I just need a good idea as to what I should expect, and what’s going on in my favorite cities. This is just right.

Camera and Photos

The Camera app’s user interface has been completely revamped. Instead of being an option inside a singular camera view, Panorama now has its own bespoke screen, as does the video camera, alongside the regular camera and the new square ratio UI. Changing between them is simple, and only requires swiping to the left or right.

iOS in the Car

Another feature I didn’t get to test out, but it’s an example that Apple’s all about making the iPhone work for you in any and every possible situation.

iOS in the car connects your iPhone to specific vehicles’ in-dash displays to give you a much more immersive experience of Maps and, when combined with Siri Eyes Free, means that your iDevice almost disappears in to your car. It looks like another fantastic feature, but its limited compatibility at launch could be its only major hindrance.


iOS 7 on the iPad has been a pretty disappointing experience. And, I guess most of it is down to being in beta. But, even with all the new versions of the software (even the GM version) I’ve experience tons of crashes, and many times I’ve had to soft reboot the iPad because it’s frozen and stopped responding.

It needs a lot of improving if consumers are going to be convinced by it. Many of us were surprised when Apple announced that iPads would be getting the update at the same time as iPhone and iPod users.

It’s not just the bugginess that’s frustrating. It’s also the fact that some of the text size and typeface choices made by Appel are simply baffling when using a non-Retina display on the iPad mini or iPad 2. They’re often hard to read and – for me – iOS 7 has made the experience of using an iPad much less pleasant than it used to be. I think a lot of iPad users are going to be disappointed when the update arrives.


For the most part, iOS 7 is the update that iOS has needed for years. It’s nicer to look at, it’s more intuitive and it’s added some much needed new features. Background app refreshing and Control Center are probably the two most important updates, but the Notification Center update is right up there with them.

Right now, iOS 7 is the freshest operating system on the market. Apple’s successfully managed to rid itself of the “old dinosaur” look and feel of previous versions, while adding plenty of improvements under the hood to get developers excited. One of those is the ability to use physical game pads with any iOS game, others will be more apparent to the business user and the security conscious.

Although it has it’s little details that frustrate me, iOS 7 is by far the best version of iOS to date. It’s still a brand new OS, and already developers are getting on board with the changes. Many are completely redesigning apps to look and feel like the new platform. But what’s more impressive is apps like Flipboard who take a key graphical change like the parallax wallpaper effect and apply it to the app.

iOS 7 – for me – highlights what’s great about iOS in general. By adding in so many new changes for developers to grapple with, we’ll see more and more stunning apps land on the App Store with beautiful design and innovative features. And I can’t wait to see the results land on the App Store.

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