I've been using a pre-release version of iOS 7, Apple's upcoming update to the iPhone operating system, for a few days now.
If you're unfamiliar, iOS 7 is a top-to-bottom redesign of the current version of the software. All the apps like Calendar, Mail, and Weather have new looks and new icons. The background wallpaper moves with you if you swivel your iPhone in your hand. Colors are brighter and shapes are smoother.
It's beautiful to look at, yet completely jarring to people like me who have been using the classic-looking iOS for nearly six years now.
Still, it only took me a day to feel right at home.
Keep in mind iOS 7 isn't finished. The only people who have access to it right now are developers who make iPhone and iPad apps. Apple gives these developers early versions of the software so they can make sure their apps work when iOS 7 launches to the public later this year. Things will change. Bugs will be ironed out. Even the app icons could look different in the final version.
That being said, the software is complete enough that it's possible to get a general understanding of where Apple is going with iOS. This isn't a review of iOS 7, but a glimpse at the future of the iPhone.
I'm not a designer. I don't know any fonts beyond Times New Roman, Helvetica, and Comic Sans. I can barely draw a stick figure. So I'm probably the least qualified person on the planet to critique iOS 7's design, and I'm not even going to try.
Third-party apps look outdated in iOS 7.
However, since iOS 7's unveiling last week, several professional designers have expressed their disgust with the software's new look. Most of the complaints seem to be centered around the app icons and the new skinny font used across the entire system.
But what I can tell you is that even though most design elements have changed, everything will be right where you left it when you upgrade to iOS 7. It's the same house, just with a fresh coat of paint. You won't have to navigate a new settings menu, or relearn how to add a new email account, or jump through hoops to add a new contact.
And that's what matters most. Apple managed to refresh iOS without turning the entire thing on its head.
I also think we're on the cusp of seeing a big design change in third-party apps. When I look at apps like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, etc. in iOS 7, they match the new "flat" environment. They just look outdated by comparison. Developers have had six years to adopt Apple's style, and now they have just a few months to make their apps fit in with iOS 7's new look. Expect some big design changes to hit your favorite non-Apple apps in the coming months.
New Features And Android
Most of the changes in iOS 7 have to do with design, but many of the software features Apple did add are things Android owners have been enjoying for years. In fact, Android fans and bloggers began howling about all the copycat features as soon as Apple announced iOS 7.
They have a point.
Android evolved quickly, but Apple has taken a slow, cautious approach with iOS. It feels like Apple's iOS team has buried their heads in the sand when it comes to making big improvements that people want. iOS 7 finally brings some of those features to the iPhone.
The most obvious is the Control Center, a panel that appears when you swipe up from the bottom of the screen and lets you adjust basic settings like screen brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and airplane mode. It's been one of the most-requested iOS features for years now, and you'll finally get it with iOS 7.
There are other things: improved multitasking with apps, an assistant in the drop-down notifications menu that gives you an overview of the weather and events in your day's calendar, and a feature called AirDrop that lets you wirelessly swap files between iPhones. All are really nice features, but they all copy Android in one form or another.
In the end, iOS 7 is an admission from Apple that it needs to catch up to all the great stuff owners of other smartphone platforms enjoy.
The biggest problem with iOS 7 is that it still feels static. Unlike Android and Windows Phone, you can't get real-time information on your home screen. The weather app no longer permanently reads "73 and sunny," but now it's just a flat icon with sun and clouds. (Oddly enough, the Clock app icon now displays the correct time in iOS 7. The second-hand even moves.)
I want more from my iPhone's home screen. I want news, weather, and stock updates without launching a separate app for each. I want Apple to come up with new features, not wait for Android to do it and then copy it years later.
For some reason, Apple doesn't believe its users are ready for that.
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