A new generation of iOS is nearly upon us, revealed at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this week. Guided strongly by (Sir) Jony Ive, iOS 7 marks a clear departure from the skeumorphic UI elements of the past decade as 3D shadows and leather stitching have been replaced with clean lines and flat layers.
In terms of features, there’s certainly nothing groundbreaking – but more than enough to bring iOS inline with the competition. Like any major UI changes, it’s been met with an unhealthy dose of controversy.
Read on for a sneak preview of what’s new in iOS 7, arriving in the autumn.
Look & Feel
Many have been quick to highlight similarities to the current generation of Android or Windows phones. I must admit when I first saw the new lock screen, I did a little double-take thinking they were showing a Samsung device with the widgets removed.
Design similarities end there though – widgets and live tiles remain trademark features of the other platforms. Apple is finally catching up on the current design trend of stark simplicity, playful colors and utilitarian interfaces; coupled with those little touches that makes us adore Apple products.
Two other strong design elements bear mentioning here: layers, and translucency. The picture you choose as your background will “bleed” through to parts of the interface. The background also gains it’s own parallax effect to give a sense of depth, so moving your phone around will tilt and pan around. Turn down your sound and watch this quick demo:
Note: Reports indicate the parallax effect and translucency won’t work on the iPhone 4.
The simple design extends to system apps, perhaps the biggest UI change being in the calendar (“look, it still holds together even without the stitching”). It’s unknown how this will affect existing applications, inconsistent UIs have plagued Android apps thanks to dramatic design changes every generation.
App Launcher & Lockscreen
The “wall of icons” remains unchanged, but the icons have been flattened, fake reflective overlay removed, and a different system font is introduced.
Another change that will make many users smile is the news that app folders can now have multiple screens. Notification center can also now be accessed from the lock screen, with a Google Now type overview of upcoming events and weather.
No longer limited to 8 pages, with a fresh new tab switching UI and unified search field. Other features are brought across from the new version of OS X, such as iCloud-based password management and social integration for easy access to links that have been shared with you.
Left and right swipe gestures are also added for navigating; these gestures are replicated throughout system apps (basically replacing back button in the top left for many iOS 6 apps).
Control Center & AirDrop
A new bottom drawer offers quick access controls for music, brightness, camera, a calculator and flashlight, among other things including the new AirDrop functionality which has existed in Apple’s OS X for a long time now.
All AirDrop really offers is the ability to send files over Bluetooth. AirDrop can be set to work only with contacts nearby, or everyone in your immediate vicinity in case they’re not on your list.
Photos & Camera
Perhaps one of the biggest features for consumers who tend to fill their phone with hundreds of snapshots. The standard grid of photos is getting a smart organisation features that groups things into individual events (excuse me – “moments”) and locations at the macro level, intelligently grouping those further when you pinch to zoom out, and finally showing you every photo in the year.
The camera also gets a minor update, adding Instagram-like effects, the ability to swipe left and right to change modes and a new “square” photo setting.
While icons at the bottom of the screen in the traditional app-switcher tray are still clear and present, apps now have preview screens similar to Android that you can flick upward to close, a welcome change from the “tap and hold” gesture used to kill a background process or unresponsive app.
Previously, apps would need to subscribe to push events or would be essentially paused when not in focus (except for apps that involved music streaming). Now, a background task agent will try to intelligently schedule updates when you need them: if you regularly check your RSS feeds at 7am, they’ll be updated before you bring the app to focus, so you don’t need to sit and wait while it syncs.
Similarly, notifications can now tell apps to load the details related to each notification (say a new Twitter mention or Facebook tag) in the background, rather than after tapping the banner.
Finally, the rumoured iTunes Radio takes to the stage for a US-only debut. The service will be supported with advertising unless users pay for iTunes Match. The service is Apple’s own streaming radio, anyone familiar with Spotify should understand the concept. Listen to specific genres, mark favourites then find songs you should also like – it’s nothing groundbreaking, but you’ll now have deep integration with other Apple services, and Siri.
Find My iPhone and Activation Locks
Perhaps one of the most underestimated new features are upgrades to the already quite fantastic Find My iPhone service. Currently, using the “erase data” option is a final resort – your phone becomes untraceable after, so it’s only useful to protect sensitive data. In iOS7, you will be able to continue displaying a message like “this phone has been lost, call 000”, though it’s not yet clear if GPS tracking will continue to function. In addition, you can add an activation lock, tied to your iCloud account – so that even if the thief removes the SIM card and formats everything, your iPhone will still require authenticating to activate, essentially rendering the phone useless for the thief.
Pictures alone don’t do this update justice – for mini videos of the new iOS features, visit this Apple page.
Apple has been very careful about this update to not alienate the huge existing user base. Let’s be honest – it is, mostly, a design update – with features to put the ageing iOS inline with other mobile OSes. As someone who primarily uses iOS, I’m thankful for that, even if it isn’t breaking new ground for the industry as a whole.
What do you think about everything new in iOS 7? It’s hard to be anything but pleased as iOS user, but perhaps you’re looking at it from the eyes of an Android or Windows Phone user. Was there something that might finally make you switch, or are you just resolutely against anything Apple makes? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments, but try to stay objective!